How well do you know English? Are you sure? Have you received “ham” in your email inbox? “Ham” means a legitimate email (as opposed to “spam”). Would you recognize the scent of “petrichor”? That’s the “pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.” No doubt we can all describe a WOMBAT situation. WOMBAT stands for “waste of money, brains, and time.”
Most of us reading this speak English as our native tongue, and it’s an important part of our identity. This was the case for the Israelites returning from exile. In their absence, various other peoples and languages had moved into the former nations of Israel and Judah. These peoples worshiped other gods, yet the Israelites intermarried with them. They then strayed so far from the covenant that some of the children could no longer speak Hebrew (v. 24). This is the key issue that concerned Nehemiah in today’s reading.
Nehemiah, cupbearer to the emperor, had come to Jerusalem in 445 B.C., led the rebuilding of the city walls, and with Ezra also led a spiritual revival among the returned Jewish exiles. Then he had returned to Babylon, and in his absence things went very wrong. The people broke the Sabbath. They stopped giving the Levites their portions. They corrupted the temple. When Nehemiah returned in 432 B.C. he found things in a sorry state. The intermarriages were wrong not for ethnic reasons but for religious ones. As had been the case with Solomon (vv. 26–27), such marriages had led to spiritual compromise and idolatry.
Thanks to Nehemiah’s courageous leadership, worship of the one true God was restored.