The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.Nehemiah 4:17-18
The story of Nehemiah is one of reestablishing God’s presence in Jerusalem after the exile of the nation in Persia. God has placed in the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem to protect those living there against their enemies in the area.
While the historical account has merit for describing the return of the Jewish exiles, it also carries some analogous themes for the vigilance required in establishing the kingdom of God within each generation.
The kingdom has a central place of ancestral lineage as a figure: the city of Jerusalem.
1:5 Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”
It is a disgrace for the city to lie in ruins.
1:17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”
Those outside the city are opposed to its presence.
1:10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
The ones reestablishing the presence of the kingdom meet with resistance.
4:7-8 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.
Countering the resistance requires a sharp vigilance while the work progresses.
4:17-18 The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.
Those involved with the construction are relying on God’s strength and protection to accomplish the work.
4:4, 9 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 9 So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
Infighting needed to be identified and resolved
5:5, 9-11 Now our flesh is the same as that of our kindred; our children are the same as their children; and yet we are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been ravished; we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” … 9 So I said [to the leaders], “The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. 11 Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”
The Torah of God was central to the community
8:2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
The people collectively confess and agree to follow God’s instruction
9:38 Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests.
The community purifies itself
13:3, 30 When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. … Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign
While this is not an exhaustive list of themes, they briefly outline the level of vigilance necessary in the work of establishing the kingdom in a hostile environment. As we seek to work alongside God in growing his kingdom in this world, we can take to heart his responsiveness and favor as we cautiously but diligently set ourselves apart to fulfill the work in each generation.
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