For last few months, the national news has been dominated by the politicking in Washington over two major spending bills- an infrastructure program and a social agenda program. While I am not qualified to discuss the merits of either one, I have found in my readings an example of one of the most successful urban and community re-development programs in history.
I challenged myself this year to read the Bible cover to cover. I am using a chronological reading plan that helps the Bible make sense. While I am fairly well versed in the New Testament, I have found the Old Testament to be packed with the Genesis narration, the history of the Jewish nation, and some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.
Nehemiah is an Old Testament book. God’s people had been exiled from their homeland to Babylon as a consequence of their continual disobedience to God. The temple, most of the city buildings and the entire wall surrounding Jerusalem had been left as a heap of burned-out ruins. In Nehemiah’s time, Babylon had been conquered by Persia and Persian King Artaxerxes allowed two waves of exiles to returned with the goal of reestablishing the Jewish state. Ezra, a scribe to the king, returned and oversaw the re-building of the temple.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. He was dismayed to hear that even after many years, the returning exiles had not yet rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. A city without a wall was no city at all. He asks and receives permission to return to the city with the intention of rebuilding the entire city wall. It would be a monumental task.
Nehemiah was an excellent leader and planner. Before launching his plan to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls he discreetly walked the city at night, surveying the extent of the problems and forming tentative strategies for their repairs. He formulated a plan that would engage the entire community in the project. He called everyone out to take a stand by the crumbled walls in front of their house and start to rebuild.
And on it goes from there. There are lots of interesting human elements including Shallum, who worked on the wall along with his daughter. If these were teenage girls, you know this was an act of God. Also interesting is that Nehemiah had everyone work on the portion of the wall in front of their houses. Smart. What section of the wall do you want to be the strongest? Best built? Safest? The one in front of your bedroom. Everyone had “skin in the game.”
The list of names of people who built the wall is representative. Many more than are listed labored here. The first person mentioned is Eliashib the High Priest. Why do you suppose he is listed first? Because he is the spiritual leader of Israel and any Jew reading the account would be shocked. There are fascinating combinations of people working side by side. In verse 8, Uzziel the goldsmith is laying bricks. Who is next to him? Hannaniah the perfume maker. Unless things have changed a lot over the years, I don’t see goldsmiths hanging out with perfume makers. Yet, they lock arms on the wall and they build. High Priest. Men. Women. Teenagers. Perfume makers.
It’s amazing what can be done when everyone is on the wall. They all thought, I have a role to play in this. Do you think they look back at these 52 days of building as a waste or the greatest days of their lives? The mission was so important that everyone had a place, everyone’s contribution mattered. That’s unity.
Yet, not everyone in Jerusalem joined in the efforts. The Tekoites were a clan in the city and most of them worked diligently on the wall. Yet, not everyone. Their nobles would not “stoop” to work on the wall. The text indicates that behind their refusal to help was a sense of superiority that kept them from joining in.
I don’t know what the outcomes will be from these two new major spending (tax) bills but I hope they are positive and unifying . As 2021 starts to wind down and the holidays approach, I want to focus my efforts on the “wall in front of my house”. I want to build back my relationship swith my family, friends, and community to be better in 2022. We can always expect a few Tekoites to be in the mix of responders. Don’t be one of them. You don’t get the joy of being a part of anything. As Paul Harvey once said, “I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist.”
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