Rebuilding the WallsPosted: August 5, 2010
Lessons for the Church from Nehemiah
Christians are no longer bound to the letter of the Law; but the Old Testament reveals the nature of God and of mankind, and instructs us today by analogy.
Persian King Artaxerxes was moved with compassion by the grief on the face of Nehemiah, his cupbearer. Nehemiah had just heard that the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, yet lay in ruins. Its people lacked strong leadership and were defenseless against their enemies. The king commissioned Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. This is an apt metaphor for the Church, which in many ways lies in ruin and defenseless against the world. The Lord hears the cries of those who mourn for his Church, and moves them to aid in its restoration.
Most Jews actually stayed behind in Mesopotamia; only a relative few chose to return. Likewise, most Christians are satisfied and unmoved by opportunities to serve in a greater way. They lack the vision or fear the risk involved in moving beyond their comfort zones. Many of those who stayed did contribute to the effort — it is always easier to contribute than to go yourself.
Many Jews who had returned were found to have intermarried with the pagan peoples surrounding them. We have many such pagan influences in society today, in our entertainments, our associations, and our pursuit of material goods. The vast majority of our celebrities are promiscuous and unscrupulous, yet we admire and support them; and recent history reveals that many Americans prefer an immoral president, for they would not like to be judged themselves. In many cases, our Christian sons and daughters have literally intermarried with the world. The Jews were ordered to expel their foreign wives, without excuse (Ezra 10, Nehemiah 13:23-28, see also 6:18).
Nehemiah journeyed to Jerusalem, where he examined the situation of the walls secretly, for he knew that some would oppose his mission. Sure enough, he was opposed and mocked by the foreigners surrounding Jerusalem, who had enslaved and oppressed the Jews.
Nehemiah aroused the Jews to the labor at hand. It appears that the Jews as a whole participated, but not all were equally diligent. Even the high priest helped rebuild the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1). In contrast, the upper classes from Tekoa were too proud to work under their assigned supervisors (3:5), while the common people also worked on a separate section (3:27). Shallum did not let his lack of sons discourage him, and his daughters were not too fine for hard work (3:12).
Malkijah, though a civic leader, was not too proud to repair the Dung Gate, so named because both animal and human waste were taken out of the city thereby and dumped (3:14). This was probably the gate overlooking the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna), still known as a dumping ground in Jesus’ time. No doubt the stench from the nearby dump hung heavy in the air.
Some leaders repaired the sections of the wall nearest their own homes (3:10, 23, 29, 30). Perhaps this was a mere matter of convenience, but how easily self-interest may enter even into the work of God!
When threatened with enemy attack, the Jews armed themselves. Half of each crew guarded while the other half worked, and each built with one hand and held his weapon in the other. Christians are always under attack, spiritually if not physically, and must always remain prayerful and vigilant. We must not be distracted by daily activities but be ever watchful for ourselves and one another.
Nehemiah kept the trumpeter close by him, instructing everyone to run to the sound of the trumpet (4:18-20). Likewise, Christians must learn to band together and rally to the point of need. Everyone was commanded to sleep within the city, armed and clothed, in case of attack (4:22-23). The work of God must come before personal considerations.
Sadly, the upper classes took advantage of this emergency. In order to buy food and pay taxes to the governors, the common people were having to mortgage their lands and enslave their sons and daughters to the wealthy while they worked on the walls. Even in the Church there are those who take advantage of their brethren for a profit, and call themselves blessed by God. What is it about wealth that makes men more greedy? We must heed the warning of Jesus that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24 et al.), for their temptation is great.
Those who are truly blessed by God and worthy of leadership are those who are most conscientious. Neither Nehemiah nor his staff, during his 12 years as governor, accepted the government support to which they were entitled, nor did they profit from their positions. On the contrary, he fed and supported many citizens and sojourners (5:14-18).
When the walls were complete, Nehemiah put his brother and one named Hananiah in charge of the city. Nehemiah declared the latter to be “a man of integrity [who] feared God more than most men do” (7:2, NIV). Such was also Nehemiah, and so should be we all.
© 2002 Paul A. Hughes
“Nehemiah—The Man Behind the Wall” by Dorothy D. Resig