Building Walls

Nehemiah 2:18 - Then they said, "Let us arise and build." So they put their hands to the good work.

Read the first three chapters of Nehemiah.

Is building walls good or bad? Well, that depends on what kind of wall we build. If we build walls to cut ourselves off from other people so that we can live in self-centered isolation and selfish indulgence, then wall-building is bad. But if we build walls to strengthen our position and to protect ourselves from impending danger, then it is good. Good wall building is the theme of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. From this book of Scripture we learn that God wants every growing Christian to be involved in spiritual wall building. Nehemiah's record of building the material walls of ancient Jerusalem has a lot to teach us about the building of spiritual walls in the believer's life today.

The events in the book of Nehemiah took place relatively late in Old Testament history. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were no longer in existence and the 70 year captivity of the Jews in Babylon had come to a close. Many Jews had already returned to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra. The rebuilt temple had already been completed after some years of delay. However, the walls around the city of Jerusalem remained in ruins. More than 100 years before, Nebuchadnezzar and the invading Babylonians had overrun the city and completely destroyed the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The scars of that destruction were still visible in the piles of rubble that lay around the city. It was at this point (about 445 B.C.) that God stirred up the heart of Nehemiah to motivate and mobilize the Jewish people to rebuild the walls of the holy city. The book of Nehemiah records how God blessed this building project and brought it to completion in record time. In spite of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles and unrelenting opposition, the wall was completed in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Some remnants of what is believed to be Nehemiah's wall can still be seen standing today in the archeological excavations of ancient Jerusalem.

Now God did not give us the book of Nehemiah just to tell us an exciting and accurate account of how Jerusalem's walls were rebuilt in the 5th century B.C. There are many important lessons here for Christians living in the 20th century A.D. Spiritual wall-building is to be a way of life for the growing Christian. As God wanted the city of His temple to be a strong and protected city, so God wants the Christian today to be strong in the faith and protected from the attacks of Satan during spiritual warfare.

Every Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), but not every Christian has strong and solid walls. In fact, some Christians are like some of the people in Nehemiah's day--content to live in the midst of broken down walls. How are your spiritual walls? Spiritual wall-building is not easy. It's hard work. There are obstacles and opposition to overcome. There are discouragements and doubts along the way. We see all of these drawbacks at work in the book of Nehemiah. (See especially chapters 4-6.) But the great encouraging truth of the book of Nehemiah is that solid spiritual walls can be built and that God will bless every effort we make to persevere in spiritual wall-building.

What do we mean by "spiritual walls" anyway? Spiritual walls relate to the strength and stability of our Christian testimony. They relate to our capability of defending the faith. They relate to our moral strength in time of temptation. They relate to our ability to separate from the unbiblical values and attitudes of this world's system. Think of a walled city compared with an unwalled city back in the days before modern warfare. The walled city was much stronger and more easily defended. It was known and established because walled cities were not "flash in the pan" settlements. It was plainly visible for miles around. The wall clearly set the city apart from the surrounding countryside.

That's the way the Lord wants us to be. He wants to see strong, solid believers with a testimony that is plainly visible in this dark world. He wants to see Christians with a consistent lifestyle that is distinctly biblical even if it means painful separation from the values and the attitudes of the surrounding world system. Are we committed to a strong and solid wall policy or are we complacently satisfied with living in Rubble City? How can we build solid spiritual walls in our lives? The first three chapters of Nehemiah contain a number of vital principles.

In chapter 1 we see the principle of Concern. When Nehemiah realized the sorry extent of the broken walls of Jerusalem, he was very concerned. He was not just interested in the report but was concerned to the point of weeping and fasting (1:4). We too must show this kind of concern if we want our spiritual walls rebuilt. Do we weep when we realize how we cannot defend the faith because of a pathetic lack of knowledge of God's Word? Do we fast from TV, for example, when we realize how certain programs have contributed to the broken condition of our spiritual walls?

Nehemiah's deep concern for the problem in Jerusalem is further observed in his will to go and do something about it. (Notice the focus of his prayer requests in 1:11 and 2:4-6.) When Nehemiah was informed of the problem, he was living in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire. This was about 100 rough road miles from Jerusalem. But Nehemiah did not use distance as a cop-out from the concern God gave him. Do we?

Furthermore, Nehemiah had a very prestigious job in the royal court of the Persian Emperor. But as a Jew, Nehemiah was willing to sacrifice the pleasures and privileges of his high position for the sake of God's interests and a broken-down wall. Are we concerned enough about our spiritual walls that we would sacrifice this world's prestige and pleasure for strong and solid walls? Spending time and expending energy in areas of God's interests usually results in loss of worldly prestige and pleasure. Think of the sacrifices that have been made by godly men and women you know in the interests of strong spiritual walls in their personal lives, campus fellowships, families and in their churches.

Another principle of wall building that we can see in chapter one is the principle of Confession. Nehemiah voiced his concern for the wall in a prayer of confession (1:5-11). Why confession? Nehemiah knew that Jerusalem had been destroyed because of Israel's sin in going away from the Lord (1:7). Notice that Nehemiah, who was not himself personally guilty of following other gods, links himself to the sins of the nation (1:6).

Think of the condition of our own nation. Because we have followed false gods like materialism and secular humanism, our moral and spiritual walls lie in ruins. Are we Christians willing to link ourselves with the problem and confess that we have sinned? Whether it be personal, family, church, or national spiritual walls, rebuilding cannot begin before confession.

A third principle of wall building is Confrontation. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem he confronted the problem head on. He first confronted the broken-down wall itself. He made a thorough inspection to check out the extent of the damage, so that a proper plan for rebuilding could be formulated (2:11-15).

Next he confronted the people with the challenge to rebuild the walls, so that they would no longer be a reproach and a disgrace (2:16-18). Imagine how the surrounding nations must have laughed at the Jews who were content to live among the ruins of what was once Solomon's beautiful and powerful Jerusalem. Nehemiah made sure that the people understood that God was behind this wall-building idea. God is always the promoter of spiritual wall-building.

Finally, Nehemiah confronted the opposition (2:19-20). In spite of the mocking, despising and slander, Nehemiah boldly claimed success because he knew that God would give them the necessary power and resources to carry out His building plans. We can be sure that God has not changed His principles of operation after more than 2400 years!

The principle of confrontation must be practiced by growing Christians today. If our spiritual walls are in ruins or are in need of repair, we must first face the problem squarely. When we determine the areas and extent of damage we must then come up with a plan for spiritual rebuilding. Do we have a problem with sexual temptation because of what we have been feeding our minds? Confrontation will probably involve the elimination of certain unhealthy intake so that rebuilding can begin. Is laziness or wasting time permitting spiritual rubble to remain in our lives where strong spiritual walls should be?Confrontation will most likely involve planning and maintaining a more disciplined and structured lifestyle so that rebuilding can commence. Remember that carrying out plans of confrontation will also involve confrontation with Satan's tactics which are always designed to get the Christian to stop building. But when there is in us a will to build there is a God who shows us the way to overcome any opposition.

The final principle of wall building that we find in Nehemiah 1-3 is obviously Construction. Chapter 3 is not just a bunch of hard-to-pronounce Old Testament names. It is the detailed record of how the walls were reconstructed. There are lessons for spiritual wall-building even in this name-filled chapter, which is usually scanned or even skipped in devotional reading programs! All the names and occupations listed here indicate that everyone was involved in the project of rebuilding the wall. It was not just the carpenters and masons, but the "butchers, bakers and candlestick makers!" Spiritual wall building is everyone's responsibility. It is not just the job of preachers and foreign missionaries. It is the responsibility of each of us.

Notice that the phrase "beside" or "in front of his house" is used several times throughout the chapter (vs10, 23, 28, 29). Apparently those who lived near the wall took on the responsibility of getting the wall "in their own backyard" built first before moving on to other sections. How important it is for us to make sure our own personal spiritual walls are strong before we can even hope to be effective in the spiritual walls of wider spheres such as our church or some other ministry. Do we, for example, habitually practice the basics of personal wall construction--a time in God's word and in prayer every day? (Let's not cheat in our answers!)

One more point about the construction of the wall in Chapter 3 is particularly noteworthy. The whole wall was being built all at once. That is, one section was not being completed before another section had begun. Building activity was going on all around the city at the same time. The same is true in spiritual wall-building. We don't, for example, complete a section of the wall called "resisting temptation" and then move on to another section labeled "life style evangelism". We don't work on the Bible study part of our wall to the exclusion of the prayer and Christian service sections. No, we work on all parts of the wall at the same time. Balance in the Christian life is a very important part of constructing spiritual walls.

Building strong spiritual walls is not easy, but it can be done. This is the great encouragement and challenge to us from the book of Nehemiah. Let us not be content to live with broken-down walls. Let us be like Nehemiah's wall-building team and strengthen our hands for this good work. "Let us arise and build."
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