Tobiah, The Enemy

We are not surprised that Nehemiah was sorely grieved when he returned to Jerusalem after a long absence and found that Eliashib the priest had prepared a great chamber in the house of God for Tobiah the Ammonite and installed him there. In that chamber had previously been stored the wealth of God's house, for aforetime they laid there the meat (meal) offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of corn, and the new wine, and the oil. These supplies were necessary for the maintenance of the energy and life for God in His house; they were given to the Levites and the singers and the porters and were the offerings for the priests. But they were all cast out when Tobiah entered the chamber and his household stuff filled the place instead (Neh. 13).

Now this Tobiah was an enemy of Israel and of God. He was an Ammonite, and in the Book of Moses it was written that the Ammonites should not come into the congregation of God for ever, because they met not the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them that he should curse them (chap. 13:1-2). This old enmity was strong in the man and very active, for when first Nehemiah went to Jerusalem Tobiah was "grieved exceedingly that a man had come to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (chap. 2:10). And when the wall of the city was rebuilt he was "very wroth and conspired with others to fight against Jerusalem" (chap. 4:7-8). Eliashib was a traitor to God and His people when he gave Tobiah this chamber in God's house; he was the Quisling of his day, and the result was that the service of God ceased, for the Levites and the singers fled every man to his field and the temple was forsaken.

The incident is not recorded on the sacred page merely to interest us in the joys and sorrows of the Jews, but for our learning and that we might be warned by the treachery of Eliashib. I will give the story, its simplest application and for this will quote a familiar passage from the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price" (chap. 6:19-20). Think of this amazing fact — through the infinite grace of God your body is His temple. Now your body is governed by your mind. It is the great chamber pictured in our story and everything for God's glory through you, and your own spiritual blessing and prosperity depends upon what is stored in your mind. As Eliashib the priest had "the oversight of the Chamber of the house of God" so you have the oversight of your own mind and there goes into it that that you choose. And what goes into your mind controls and directs your body and life. The flesh stands in striking analogy to Tobiah. It is that evil nature in men that makes them "lovers of their own selves" and enemies of God, for "the carnal [fleshly] mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8). Eliashib who ought to have stood for God to the death against the entrance of the Ammonite, was allied with Tobiah the enemy, and he allowed him to fill the great chamber with his household stuffs, and the meal and frankincense and wine and oil and corn for the service of God's house ceased to flow into it. So if "the flesh" is allowed to clutter up and control your mind there will be no room in it for the things that are true and honest and just and pure and lovely and of good report, and the God of peace will not be with you (Phil. 4:8-9). And His praise and service will cease in your life. "To be carnally [fleshly] minded is death" (Rom. 8:6).

"They that are in the flesh cannot please God, but ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Rom. 8). Yet the flesh may assume a dominating place in your life; your safety lies in cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart and walking in the Spirit. It was God's mercy to Israel that Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem. The record tells us that he said, "It grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat (meal) offering and the frankincense." Nehemiah's work seems to be analogous to the work of the Holy Ghost. He is sorely grieved when your mind is controlled by the things of the flesh and He works to restore you the joy of God's salvation. If you find the flesh too strong for you, remember that "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh," and that the Spirit of God now dwells in you and "walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live."

The Spirit is the power by which Tobiah and his household stuff is cast out and it is by the Spirit that what is good is brought in. He waits upon us to fill our minds with Christ, for of Him the Lord said, "Howbeit when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth … He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of mine and shall show it to you. All things that the Father has are mine: therefore said I that He shall take of mine, and show it to you" (John 16:13-15). What a range of things is here: here are the meal offerings and the frankincense and everything else that can energise your soul and make you not only a Levite in service but a priest in worship and a happy singer of the praises of God. Consider the story well and the Lord give you understanding in all things.