Currently my 3 yo is obsessed with Nehemiah. It is not the typical story for a kiddo his age to latch onto. Basically God calls Nehemiah to lead the rebuilding of the ruins of Jerusalem with the remnant who still live there (years) after the exile. As the story begins, Nehemiah hears that the walls of Jerusalem, the city of God, are in shambles and he weeps because they are open to attack. Nehemiah, servant to the foreign king, asks for his favor and requests to return and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The king lets him go with his support. My son really likes the part where the naysayers (Sanballat is their leader) come and start sewing seeds of doubt about the task set before them. Nehemiah swiftly quiets them (for a while anyway). Hearing and beginning to believe the hopelessness of their tasks people are discouraged and Nehemiah says this:
“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14Remember, they are building a wall - not going to war - or are they? In addition, to the threatening outside forces there are internal tensions that crop up and disrupt the work. Despite these difficulties (they did work with a sword in one had and a tool in the other), they rebuild the wall in less than 2 months.
Once the wall is in place they call families to return to a safe city. Soon afterwards, Ezra, reminds the Israelites who they are and who God is by reading His word. The people repent and rededicate themselves to God's ways. The culture of the whole city has been transformed and it all started with a wall.
Often, this story is used as an example of great leadership - casting vision, dealing with enemies, delegating work, etc. There is no doubt that Nehemiah was a leader who listened to God. Dr. Elizabeth Youmans first challenged me to think about wall building (and rebuilding) in a more personal way. If we are supposed to guard our hearts as the wellspring of our lives - how do we do that? Maybe walls have something to do with it.
Throughout history a wall was a symbol of strength, protection and pride (one of the seven wonders is the wall of Babylon). The gates were crucial and only allowed "safe" people to enter. Often you read about the elders of the city meeting by the city gates. If attacks came, it gave the city the advantage and defense in the battle. Have you read the stories of cities under siege for months on end? They had good walls! Walls created safe places of protection where culture could flourish. Even today we see this in playgrounds. There was a study done of playgrounds with and without fences. Kids felt much freer to roam if there were fences - without fences they stuck to the middle of the yard. Walls and fences provide some safety.
Is that how we see walls and fences today? When we talk about walls we normally refer to tearing them down, overcoming them, how they separate us, etc.?
So how do you see walls? I'd love to hear your thoughts!