Day 112--More than a Wall--“Heartfelt Celebration” Nehemiah 11:1 – 13: 31
April 22, 2021, 9:12 AM

Day 112 “Heartfelt Celebration” Nehemiah 11:1 – 13: 31

Nehemiah came to Jerusalem as the foreman of a construction project. By the time the book ends, he is a governor of the Israelites, reestablishing moral codes and purity laws that were being overlooked, disregarded or otherwise forgotten. Nehemiah is also a layman, meaning that he is not one of the priestly leaders. He is a man with a heart for his people, and a heart dedicated to God.

As we come to the end of the book today, I realize that what started with a wall became so much more. When we are working on behalf of God, and we are genuinely serving God, the projects we take on have so much more dimension. For example, when we feed hungry people, we are doing more than helping one person survive, although that would be enough!! When we feed people, we are demonstrating the basic human right to nourishment, to survival, to care, to compassion. When we feed one person, we are showing that this person matters to God, and through our ministrations, that the person matters to us as well.

Those walls around Jerusalem stood for much more than security. Those walls were an investment in the future of a people group, chosen by God to carry on his will in the world. Those walls stood for cooperation as the Israelites labored together—priests, Levites, family groups and talents helped work on them. Those walls also stood for separation at a time when that was clearly important to the Israelites. We hear once again about the Ammonites and Moabites being sent away from the city, and we recall the story about King Balak of the Moabites trying to get Balaam the prophet to curse the Israelites, but God would only allow Balaam to bless them. (Number 22-24). History clearly matters, and guided the actions of the Israelite leaders as they worked to rebuild the City of David.

So what did I learn from Nehemiah?

  1. Not everyone needs to be a ‘religious’ person to be a religious person. Nehemiah held onto his faith even in exile. He had a living, real and resilient faith, but he was not a priest or a Levite or a scribe. He was in a position of power in the court, but he traded it for his conviction, based on his prayers to God, that he was supposed to become the supervisor of a construction project rather than remain in the court of the King, although he clearly maintained his relationship with the King over the years, which was also impressive to me.
  2. Cooperative leadership works. Servant leadership works. Prayerful leadership works. None of this is magical or guaranteed, but I loved the picture of an entire city group of people helping with a task. It reminds me of the time that I took teenagers on a mission trip—on several in fact—around the US so we could help repair and rebuild people’s homes who could not afford to do this on their own. The teens repaired roofs, built ramps for wheelchairs, made rickety porches strong again. We didn’t get to choose the projects, and not one of us was a leader, but we managed to work together to do the work that was assigned to us. Our leaders had faith in us to take on the tasks we were given, and my very simple task—cleaning a filthy, filthy bathtub and then recalking it, created so much stress for me that I stood in that tub and cried before I got down to business and did the work. When leaders have faith in their workers, the workers can do amazing things.
  3. It wasn’t about the wall. Of course it WAS about the wall, but the wall didn’t last forever, did it? The walls that surround Jerusalem today were built in the 1500’s on the ruins of ancient walls, but the walls that stand today are not the same walls. The Temple did not stand ultimately either. But the faith of the people, and the stories they tell each other about faith and strength and struggle and blessing—these are a kind of wall that reminds people where they can find their true security, which is found in the constant and abiding presence of God.

I could go on. But this is the beginning of what percolates in my soul when I read Nehemiah. When people talk about Nehemiah, they always talk about the wall. But that’s not what is going to stay with me. I am most interested in how he led the people, loved the people, and always put God first. The wall was a product of those gifts, but it was only a part of the greatness that Nehemiah exhibited.

Sure, we can argue once again about purity vs impurity, foreign marriages that were dissolved, and there is a place where Nehemiah’s temper gets the best of him in a way that is not at all exemplary, but once again, the scriptures seem to make sure that we also see the humanity of these people who serve God, which is not an excuse for bad behavior, but is the reality of being human. Nehemiah was certainly a very human leader.

As we end, let’s remember two things: first, Nehemiah’s simple prayer at the very end of the book “Remember me, O my God, for good.” (Neh 13:31b)

Second, a wonderful reflection on celebration in our contemplation today, written by Dallas Willard: “We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence on it or living for it.” (p.554)

So let’s celebrate that we are finishing yet another book of the Bible today! Do something fun, have a great dinner with your family, bless someone else—but celebrate—sing, dance, share joy. God delights with us.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

 

 

 

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