Wednesday, January 23, 2008

an eye on rebuilding

If we look at the book of Nehemiah as a story, as Tim has been challenging us to do, then the latter half of Chapter 2 is where we're finally past the introduction and the plot is beginning to assume a life of its own.

Under the cover of night, Nehemiah surveys the situation around Jerusalem, traveling from gate to gate and from well to well, studying the state of the wall and seeing the lay of the land. From there he goes to the other leaders of Jerusalem and makes his appeal to them, to begin the work, which they agree to wholeheartedly.

I think every time I've studied Nehemiah in a small group setting, the study leader has the point to make of advance planning; that is, Nehemiah didn't just start a building effort, he made sure he knew the scale of the problem, and then, once he knew what would be involved in a rebuilding effort, he asked the other leaders in the city to get on board with him.

That's certainly a good lesson to draw here; one that I draw is "Know your part in the story." Taking the time to understand the situation and to plan what to do is in large part a facet of Nehemiah's personality; we've already seen how he did that in chapters 1 and 2, where the reminder of the state of the walls around Jerusalem moved him to prayer, and to lengthy reflection on what would be needed to rebuild the walls, so that when the king asked him what he would need, he was ready. Given a different personality, Nehemiah could have approached the problem differently, yet still have seen the walls rebuilt.

From what the book indicates, Nehemiah wasn't a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah cheerleader sort of guy. He knew his strengths and how to use them so his goals would be received well. Other people may be better at other forms of persuasion, all just as valid, and while it doesn't hurt to know how to use Nehemiah's planning strategy, it's good to know what your strengths are. It's easy to imagine another leader emerging, if Nehemiah hadn't, who would know how to sell a planner/organizer on the idea of rebuilding the wall; or even someone else entirely, like a go-getter who would just start rebuilding the wall and whose example would galvanize other people into action at his side.

Again on the nature of the walls: These were defensive bulwarks, meant to hold marauders and bandits at bay. The siege of Jerusalem under Sennecharib in 2 Kings lasted for years because the Assyrian army couldn't get through them, and the siege under Nebuchadnezzar ultimately succeeded because his army set the gates afire and was able to breach the walls. Because the defenses were down, the city was subject to invasion and attack and any number of other breaches in safety and security because of the holes.

As we continue as a church to consider what walls we need to rebuild, we should ask ourselves what problems we are seeing in our lives personally, in our church, and in the larger culture, and then ask ourselves what walls are damaged to allow that sort of threat to be roaming free. Our country has been beset in recent months with a rash of financial problems that are snowballing into a recession and possible stagflation, among other problems. Is there a wall that we've allowed to topple that has led to people forgetting that basic economics rule, "Don't buy stuff you can't afford"? Has handing our culture over to materialism and crass consumerism cost us in other fronts? The U.S. trade imbalance, subprime loans, massive credit card debt, and even the environmental problems we're only beginning to grasp and to see, all have their roots in the American nightmare of "more, more, more, now, now, now." (One wonders where we should begin rebuilding that wall, though I'm sure it has nothing to do with whether we call our major retail season "Christmas" or "the holidays.")

Nehemiah 2 ends with some of the other officials in Judea asking Nehemiah if he intends to commit treason against Artaxerxes. This isn't just an idle question. Under Cyrus, work on the Temple had been stopped because of concerns that the area had had a history of being ungovernable. Hezekiah had sided with Egypt against Assyria, and the last kings of Judah had been defiant enough of Nebuchadnezzar that he took the strong measure of relocating the entire upper class of the city to Babylon to quell notions of further rebellion. When Nehemiah launched his enterprise of rebuilding the wall, he made it clear to the people that he wanted to build at their side, as one of their equalsm rather than by edict, as their governor. If word gets to Artaxerxes that his new provincal governor is planning a revolt, Nehemiah will be bringing ruin down not only on his own head, but upon the very people whose lives he wanted to improve.

No comments: