On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read, the people found a statement which said that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God.
For they had not been friendly to the Israelites when they left Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing.
When this law was read, all those of mixed ancestry were immediately expelled from the assembly.
Before this had happened, Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah,
had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah's disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, frankincense, Temple utensils, and tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the special portion set aside for the priests. Moses had decreed that these offerings belonged to the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers.
I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to the king in the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes of Babylon, a though I later received his permission to return.
When I arrived back in Jerusalem and learned the extent of this evil deed of Eliashib -- that he had provided Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God --
I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah's belongings from the room.
Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the utensils for God's Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.
I also discovered that the Levites had not been given what was due them, so they and the singers who were to conduct the worship services had all returned to work their fields.
I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, "Why has the Temple of God been neglected?" Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties.
And once more all the people of Judah began bringing their tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the Temple storerooms.
I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah, one of the Levites, in charge of the storerooms. And I appointed Hanan son of Zaccur and grandson of Mattaniah as their assistant. These men had an excellent reputation, and it was their job to make honest distributions to their fellow Levites.
Remember this good deed, O my God, and do not forget all that I have faithfully done for the Temple of my God.
One Sabbath day I saw some men of Judah treading their winepresses. They were also bringing in bundles of grain and loading them on their donkeys. And on that day they were bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on the Sabbath.
There were also some men from Tyre bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise. They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah -- and in Jerusalem at that!
So I confronted the leaders of Judah, "Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?
Wasn't it enough that your ancestors did this sort of thing, so that our God brought the present troubles upon us and our city? Now you are bringing even more wrath upon the people of Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!"
So I commanded that from then on the gates of the city should be shut as darkness fell every Friday evening, b not to be opened until the Sabbath ended. I also sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day.
The merchants and tradesmen with a variety of wares camped outside Jerusalem once or twice.
But I spoke sharply to them and said, "What are you doing out here, camping around the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you!" And that was the last time they came on the Sabbath.
Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to guard the gates in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath. Remember this good deed also, O my God! Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love.
About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.
Even worse, half their children spoke in the language of Ashdod or some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all.
So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear before God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land.
"Wasn't this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?" I demanded. "There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives.
How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?"
One of the sons of Joiada c son of Eliashib the high priest had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, so I banished him from my presence.
Remember them, O my God, for they have defiled the priesthood and the promises and vows of the priests and Levites.
So I purged out everything foreign and assigned tasks to the priests and Levites, making certain that each knew his work.
I also made sure that the supply of wood for the altar was brought at the proper times and that the first part of the harvest was collected for the priests. Remember this in my favor, O my God.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)