Priests of the Bible 13 Eliashib

Priests of the Bible 13 Eliashib

Some of the priests mentioned previously did one significant thing to qualify for a mention. Eliashib the High Priest serving in the time of Nehemiah, the grandson of Joshua, mentioned previously, did at least two. These were quite contrasting. We would be wrong to place Bible characters into either a wholly good category or wholly bad one, for most, if not all, were mixtures of good and bad, albeit in differing proportions. Concerning the two things that Eliashib did, which we are about to consider, one was good and one bad.

444BC, Nehemiah led the return of the third wave of returnees from Babylon (a few craftsmen), around 14 years after the second wave of returnees under Ezra (mostly priests and Levites) and around 93 years after the first wave under Joshua and Zerubbabel. The hoped for renewal of the land had not happened and, according to his sources, those who had returned from exile were in a sorry state. While the Temple had been built, there was much other building needing to be done, notably that of the walls round Jerusalem, that provided security for city dwellers. This much concerned Nehemiah. With the blessing and support of Artaxerxes the king, Nehemiah was commissioned to go to Jerusalem and supervise the building work. This he quickly undertook with resolve, ingenuity and passion.

Here we meet Eliashib for the first time, although little is said about his priestly activities. “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel” Nehemiah 3:1. While many others were involved in the building project, the fact that the recognised spiritual leader led the way in doing his bit is significant, especially as it was hazardous activity as they were opposed in a variety of ways. We read about two of the main opposition, who were to play a part in the second notable Eliashib action: “But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?” Nehemiah 2:19.  

Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem continued to do mischief against the Jews who had returned from exile. It is not clear what time had elapsed but Nehemiah had temporarily disappeared from the scene, returning to serve the Persian king where he was the cupbearer. We don’t know what led up to all what happened but Eliashib gave Tobiah a room in the Temple and we learn that one of Eliashib’s grandsons married the daughter of Sanballat. When he found out, upon his return, Nehemiah was angry, not just because of what Tobiah and Saballat had done earlier to thwart the purposes of God but Eliashib had broken God’s command in consorting with the enemy: “Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. … and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God … One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me” Nehemiah 13:3-5, 7, 28.

We can take encouragement and warning from these two actions. Firstly, re-building whatever is the spiritual equivalent of the walls of Jerusalem is a right priority for today’s people of God, especially those in position of leadership, and Eliashib’s example is one worth following in this regard. Secondly, in our daily activities, there is often temptation to compromise for some perceived gain and make pacts with the enemies of God. The people of God are under huge pressure to adopt the status quo. While we do well to live peaceably with our ungodly neighbours and even find common ground to work for the greater good, we are also called to holiness, which requires worldly separation. It is tragic that instead of being remembered as one of the key players in the much-needed building of the wall, meant to keep God’s people secure, Eliashib will forever be remembered as one who supported those who had no interest in advancing God’s cause but rather were intent in undermining it.    


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