Friday, April 29, 2011

Rebuilding the Walls

I am taking an intermission from my series on Proverbs 31 to write about something that jumped out at me the other night during our kids' story time of all things. We have some books that my mom gave us with ideas on how to answer some of kids' biggest questions about God and the Bible. Even though they are geared toward older kids our twins love carrying them around and calling them their "Bibles". So cute. They often choose to hear one of these as their story, too.

The other night they picked "102 Questions Children Ask about the Bible" and the question was:
"Why didn't the Jews ever change their clothes while they were rebuilding the walls?"
My ears perked up - maybe because I was folding laundry while Daddy was reading - is this a Biblical mandate for laundry reduction?? We read on...

You are probably familiar with the story of Nehemiah. He was cupbearer to the King - of Babylon. (Nehemiah 1:11, NIV) He was also a devout Jew and was devastated to hear that the walls of Jerusalem lay in rubble. The walls of a city at that time bespoke its reputation and more importantly provided the main defensive strategy against invaders. The Jews had been in exile in Babylon, but a remnant had returned to live in Jerusalem, still under Babylonian authority. The walls were broken down and the gates were burned. Attempts to rebuild had been labeled rebellion. Nehemiah prays, and given the opportunity, boldly asks the King for permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and devises a strategy for rebuilding the walls. It is a community effort, but not without opposition. Detractors within and without seek to keep the walls in disrepair. Discouragement, ridicule, threats, and fatigue faced them at every stage of the rebuilding. But, "the people worked with all their heart." (Nehemiah 4:6, NIV) Part of their strategy was to always be prepared for work and for a fight...half of the men did the work while half were equipped with weapons. "Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other." (Nehemiah 4:17, NIV) Lastly, they didn't spend a lot of time on creature comforts:
Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. (Nehemiah 4:23, NIV)*
As I have continued to ponder this story over the last couple of days, I can't help but see some analogies to our own family. The last four years have been pretty brutal, in part from choices we made and in part from the vagaries of living in a fallen world - stuff happens. I can't list everything we've been through, but suffice it to say it has been a lot. Just when we think we're getting our feet back under us another wave of circumstance bowls us over and leaves us wondering how we'll rebuild this time. I think, without realizing it, my husband and I have followed the example of Nehemiah. We work hard. We try to prepare and react well to each situation that we face. We have trimmed away at luxuries that we once considered commonplace. I think that we can do more, though.

In particular I am considering the weapons that Nehemiah dispersed among his crew. In their case they had their spears, their shields, their bows and their armor at the ready. The weapons we need are not physical, but spiritual, and are described for us in Ephesians 6:14-18 (NIV):
Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests...
We need to work with one hand and be ready to fight with the other. We have the same enemies of discouragement, ridicule, threats, and fatigue hurled at us in the spiritual realm. Only God can provide us with the strength to keep rebuilding for His honor and glory.

If you find yourself in a similar position, and I know many people do these days - we aren't the only ones who have been beaten down in the last few years - I hope you will be encouraged to read the story of Nehemiah. In the end they overcome, and so shall we!

* I had to laugh when the NIV version was different from the version in the 102 Questions book. I'm not sure which version they used (it is not cited) but they quote: "During this time we never took off our clothes, except for washing. This included me, my brothers, the servants, and the guards who were with me. And we carried our weapons with us at all times. (Nehemiah 4:23)" It was the phrase "except for washing" that caught my attention. Were they washing the clothes or themselves? It is unclear. Since this version differed from the NIV I looked at the footnotes in my study Bible and saw this note, "The meaning of the Hebrew for this clause is uncertain." I believe this refers to the "even when he went for water". To me it looks like one version interpreted this as washing (something) and the other interprets it as going for water. I am no Hebrew scholar and haven't studied the Hebrew text here, but my guess is the verse should read: "...each had his weapon, even when he went to the bathroom!" Every mom I know can relate to that translation! :-)


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