When I heard the stories of the disappointments and disasters that became the reality during the Covid 19 Pandemic, I cried. Sometimes, news hits us hard. This was also the case in the book of Nehemiah when Nehemiah heard that the Jewish remnant, which had survived the exile in Jerusalem, was in trouble and disgraced. He sat down and wept for days while also fasting and praying before God.
As the cup bearer for King Artaxerexes, Nehemiah delivered the wine to the king, but the king noticed how sad that Nehemiah looked. Nehemiah shared that he was sad because Jerusalem was burned down and lied in ruins. The conversation in Nehemiah 2:4-5 gives us a peek into a pivotal moment: The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Guess what? The king agreed to let Nehemiah journey to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city.
One he arrived there, he surveyed the disaster in the city and to the wall that bordered the city’s perimeter. He invited the people who still lived in Jerusalem to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem to get them out of disgrace and to protect themselves. I love their response in Nehemiah 2:18b: ”Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
We aren’t told anything about any questions that they may have had or any concerns about starting over. I think that once we’ve been in any kind of quarantine that keeps us from our normal lives, at some point, we are ready to move forward. Ready to rebuild. Let’s get on with life and do what we can to change up the way it has looked for months during the depressing pandemic.
I know in my life, when the end of May 2020 arrived, I wanted to establish a celebratory tone to mark the graduation of our daughter. Our yard sign proudly displayed her in cap and gown. We even hired a professional photographer to snap some pictures of her in a beautiful garden. The garden just happened to have new tall purple wildflowers growing which according to the photographer, had not been there in the past week. As she stood in front of the purple flowers in her white dress and purple cap and gown, I felt a newness, a springing forth jump into my heart. I hadn’t been to a park in ages due to being home bound in the quarantine so this lovely garden helped me see the growth that happens in nature, so I am glad God made my heart glad in that moment, in spite of the disappointments of not having an actual graduation with 800 other students. We planned a graduation party and Senior Piano Recital to continue our excitement heading into the next few weeks!
In Nehemiah 3:6 – 12, we begin to see that the entire community worked to do what they could to rebuild the wall and repair it back to its original condition. Rebuilding the Old Gate section of the wall allowed many individuals to add on to the last person’s contribution to it. Everyone did their part to get the job done and the wall began to take shape. I’m picturing how they had to spend time salvaging the old stones that weren’t cracked and destroyed. They placed them one upon the other until the debris pile vanished and the wall appeared.
Rebuilding requires those who are willing. You may have skills like are mentioned in this passage of being a goldsmith or perfume maker, but you can still rebuild. They stepped out of their comfort zones to do this work. Restoration may not be your specialty but God just needs our willingness with action. Nehemiah records that the daughters of a ruler rebuilt a section of the wall with their dad. No matter what they technically knew how to do, they all figured out a way to move forward with rebuilding.
After people who lived outside of the walls began to notice the new wall going up, they didn’t like it. They opposed it and plotted to come and fight the people in Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 3:9, it says, “but we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” I love that they prayed when the enemy tried to thwart the plan. They realized the threat could destroy what they had labored to do so it was wise to post a guard.
When I began to get excited about my daughter’s end of year celebrations, I knew there would probably be all kinds of issues that would threaten to mess up our plans. Sure enough, the photographer had snapped pictures in three different locations from the garden to two separate fields of long grasses and wildflowers then last of all, we travelled to the barn. Just as the photographer positioned my daughter against the barn door, an enormous boom of thunder crackled above us and instantly, the wind blew sheets of rain sideways.
We had noticed that the clouds had gathered and looked dark gray and blue, but thought we had just a few more minutes to grab the last few pictures. Instead, we took cover in the barn and safely rode out the storm for a few minutes before racing back to our cars to leave. We discovered that a tornado warning had been issued. This Springtime storm caught us by surprise.
As we stood on the barn floor looking out to the monsoon, my daughter spoke such wise words with a smile, “Well, this isn’t the first time things didn’t go our way, especially this Spring.” She protected her heart by not falling apart. Although the unexpected occurrences in our lives aren’t welcomed, we also know that we’ve lived through them now and we’ll get through whatever may come at us. When I was my daughter’s age, I may have become irritated and irate because the storm appeared out of nowhere and changed our plans. I love that in our case, my daughter didn’t let any emotions grip her and guide her away from peace. Everything that we do flows from our hearts so the wisdom in Proverbs 4:23 reminds us of this truth: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows out of it.”
I know that when Nehemiah and the people began to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, enemies noticed. They attempted to threaten, frighten and throw God’s plan off track. Their lies tried to derail the construction and bring fear to the builders. Nehemiah encouraged the workers after hearing them share their concerns in Nehemiah 4:11 – 16: Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest point of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and our daughters, your wives and your homes. When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. From that day on half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor.
Just as Nehemiah did at the beginning of this story, he again prayed but this time it was for God to strengthen his hands. An ungodly prophet tried to get Nehemiah to go to the temple for shelter in case the fighting started, but Nehemiah perceived that the man had sinister intentions in Nehemiah 6:12-13: I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.
They completed the wall in 52 days with the help of God then societal rules went into effect creating a new normal. Their enemies did not succeed in stopping the work of building the wall, but because they existed, Nehemiah appointed gatekeepers, musicians and Levites. He put two men in charge of Jerusalem and told them to appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards. In order to keep the enemies out, Nehemiah established order.
In our lives, I believe that God wants us to establish order to protect our hearts and families. Psalm 119:9 asks a question then responds: How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. The Lord knows that the enemy’s lies will attempt to distract us and create fear. Focusing on His Word will protect the hearts of those who trust in it and in the God who inspired people to write it. We will need to spend time with the Word of God learning how it is a sword to fight off the enemy and his lies. The workers in Jerusalem had to hold their swords so the enemy would know that there would be trouble if they came inside the walls of the city. The other builders kept laying stone upon stone while the community rallied around the cause of keeping them all safe.
During our rebuilding after any threat to our wellbeing, it is wise to read in God’s Word about how we should prepare. There’s great wisdom about this in Ephesians 6:10 – 18 (CSV):
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith with which can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.