25 September – 1 October 2016.
Here at the end of the book of Nehemiah we are confronted with two problems. The first is that we have to read through all these genealogies, these long, long lists of names! But the second problem is much more serious, and is connected to the reason why those genealogies exist. This second problem is a deep and dangerous racism. Those lists of family ancestors are there to support a very bad idea: that so-called true and good Israelites are those who are racially pure and have no connection to foreigners. This is a dangerous mentality, and sadly one we will have to face a lot in the second half of the Old Testament.
Regardless of the country or culture, this type of racism always leads to the same evil results – and in Nehemiah 13 we see those results starting to appear.
All the people had come to celebrate the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its wall, to praise God, to give thanks, and to listen again to the laws of Moses. Then suddenly they hear read out the terrible verses from Deuteronomy 23:3–6 which demand that anyone of Ammonite or Moabite descent be thrown out and rejected. One moment the people are happily celebrating and praising God together, then the next moment the Jews turn on their Ammonite and Moabite neighbours standing there next to them and violently chase them away! Didn’t they remember the wonderful Ruth, who was also a Moabite woman? Did they forget that Ruth’s child David was Israel’s greatest king – a man with Moabite blood? No, when people get caught up in the passions of nationalism, racism, and hatred, they never remember these things.
Even worse, in vv. 24–25 we see Nehemiah beating children and pulling out their hair, because they were speaking the “wrong language”. In Taiwan’s history, how many children suffered this same punishment! But worst of all, Nehemiah is so proud of his actions and prays for God to remember these so-called “good deeds”.
In Matthew 3:9, John the Baptist warns the Jews against depending on racial purity. He tells them that God can raise up children for Abraham from stones if he wanted to. And in Romans 10:12, Paul tells us that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. Instead, the good news is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, regardless of their race or nationality.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis