“I want God to be a wall of protection around me.”
Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to build a wall. It had been 140 years since the Babylonians tore it down, ninety years since the Jewish exiles began returning, and seventy years since the temple had been rebuilt. Yet the city of Jerusalem was still empty, unprotected, and at the mercy of surrounding hostile nations. The sad state of his homeland moved him to tears. Inspired by God, and with the king’s blessing, Nehemiah headed to Jerusalem. Natural leader that he was, and despite many threats from the hostile neighbors, he and the other Jews quickly built the wall to half its height.
Then real trouble arose – not from outside the city but from within. The people cried out to Nehemiah that their own countrymen were taking advantage of the current food shortage to charge them exorbitant interest, to take over their fields and homes through mortgages they could not repay, and to enslave their children to satisfy their debts. The injustice threatened to end the wall-building project. It made Nehemiah angry, but wisely he waited until his anger had cooled and until he considered what should be done. Then he went to the men who were responsible for the injustice.
So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Nehemiah 5:9-11
The men listened to his rebuke and pledged to make restoration for the damage they had done. The work on the wall resumed and was soon completed. God blessed the work and soon Jerusalem was once again the chief city of the Jews.
The people labored on a stone wall of protection, but the real wall that surrounded them was God. He saw what they did not see: the wall which they were raising, which they wanted God to bless, was enclosing a stew of sin and injustice. God would not have allowed it to proceed if they had not confessed the sin and eliminated the injustice. God would not allow himself, the true wall, to surround and protect such an unholy assembly.
You and I don’t build stone walls for protection today, but we do raise up other walls: armies, police, security systems. We also cry out in prayer for God to protect us and be that hedge around us. But what are we asking God to protect? What’s inside the wall? As I look around I see much that God would refuse to protect, not only outside the church but inside it as well. Abuses of marriage, adultery and other sexual sins, pornography, child abuse, neglect of Bible study, robbing God of our offerings. It’s time for the church to confess its sins and agree to stop these unholy practices. Today, be Nehemiah and react with passion against the injustices in your own life. Then God will once again build up the wall of protection we long for and bless our cities.
Image by Tim Lucas on Flickr, CC by 2.0