This afternoon I was reading through the Book of Nehemiah and I was struck by a number of things. I decided that I would add a new section onto this site and share my thoughts. This may not seem appropriate because this site is a site devoted to trying to share the faith with those who are skeptical, but the purpose is to demonstrate the value of studying the Bible.
Ask a Christian about the book of Nehemiah and they will summarize it as, “Nehemiah rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem by faith”. While this is an accurate summary, it does not at all capture the anguish and the difficulty that was experienced by these people. In order to truly understand the Bible, I think we have to do what the teacher played by Robin Williams in the Movie “Dead Poet’s Society” recommends when he tells us to try and live through the experiences that are recorded on the page. When we do that, we find that the simple summary is entirely inaccurate and that the true lessons of Nehemiah are much deeper.
The Hard Work Required to Perform a Miracle
The first thing that struck me about the account of the miraculous restoration of Jerusalem performed by Nehemiah is the amount of back-breaking labor that was required to perform it. Consider the lament of those who are doing the work that is recorded in chapter 4:
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10)
They are surrounded by rubbish, surrounded by enemies, they are praying, they are working but the enormity of the task is getting them down. Don’t you think that if you were in the process of what you will later claim is a miracle that things wouldn’t be so bleak? There is a tendency to think that when God is working, everything should be easy. This lament demonstrates that sometimes miracles require hard work. This lament also demonstrates their reliance on God. “We cannot rebuild the wall”. The unspoken part of this prayer is, “but God is with us and with his help we will succeed.” After a long and painful ordeal, their faith is finally vindicated.
When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (Nehemiah 6:16)
God Remembers Our Work
The second thing that struck me as I was going through Nehemiah was the fact that God remembers our work. As I was reading through the book, part of me complained, “Come on already! It has taken almost two pages just to summarize the different people who are working on different parts of the wall. What is the point of including all of this in the word of God?” As I continued to study, one point became clearer. While I don’t know or care about the people in the story, God knew and loved all of those who were involved. The detailed account of who did what is a reminder to us that God sees and will remember everything that we do.
The Analogy of the Gates
Another thing that struck me as I was reading through the book of Jeremiah was the gates. As the chronicler describes the various sections of the wall being rebuilt, he describes a number of gates into the city. Evidently, Jerusalem had a Sheep Gate, a Fish Gate, a Refuse Gate, a Fountain Gate, an Old Gate, a Valley Gate, a Water Gate, a Horse Gate, an East Gate and an Inspection Gate. Each of these gates was an entrance to the city of Jerusalem and faced in a different direction and was repaired by different groups of people. For some reason, this struck me as a picture of the unity of the church.
As I shared in my essay, “Jesus Christ the One and Only“, one of the edifying things about the church to me is the unity of belief that is demonstrated amid tremendous diversity. If there is a God who created human beings in his image and wishes to have a relationship with us, then he must appeal to people in a cross-cultural way that spans different types of people. This picture of the city of God with different gates facing different directions maintained by different people struck me as a beautiful picture of the church at work on its great commission. God appealing to all kinds of people, and all kinds of people responding in faith.
We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn. (Matthew 11:17)
Many skeptics reject the faith of Jesus Christ because they claim it is too exclusive. “All roads lead to God”, they say, “and Christianity excludes too many people to be true.” I would argue that while all roads might lead to God, all roads also go in two opposite directions. The relevant question is not, “Which road are you on?”, or even “How far along on the road are you?”, but rather, “Which direction you are heading?”. If you head towards God’s love, then you will eventually come to the city of God and be met by people who were on the same road as you. As the church converges on the city of God from all different directions, we are united by our love for our savior and each other.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)
A Nation in Peril
The final aspect of the book of Nehemiah that struck me is that it demonstrates the truth of the words of Solomon :
That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
I challenge anyone familiar with current events to read the account of the famine given in Nehemiah and not think of our current problems in the United States. In that account, a rich class of money lenders is taking advantage of a famine by charging outrageous usury on those who have to buy imported food and thereby forcing families to sell their farms and vineyards and even their daughters. Nehemiah becomes angry and rebukes these men for their greed. Truly the United States needs a Nehemiah to stand up against rampant greed and corruption.