By Kelly Carr
In this issue and the next, we asked authors to share their favorite Old Testament stories. Even if these accounts are familiar to you, we hope you gain new perspectives on them.
One of my favorites is the book of Nehemiah. I first learned about Nehemiah and his quest to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls from my high school youth minister. I learn something new each time I read it.
History: the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians. When the Persians took over Babylon, they agreed to let the Israelites go back to their homeland, bit by bit. Nehemiah, who was in good standing with the Persian king, asked to go to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls so that the returning people would be protected.
These things stand out to me:
• All the people who helped rebuild are listed. It was a team effort—priests, Levites, and government rulers worked alongside regular citizens. Someone took time to name each person and honor all the hard work. That’s a reminder for me to notice and thank everyone’s efforts, big and small, on a task.
• I’m impressed by Nehemiah’s humble leadership; when I get frustrated by world leaders who make selfish choices that hurt their own people, I’m thankful for Nehemiah’s integrity. He cared so much that he joined in the work with his own hands.
• When the wall-builders were threatened, Nehemiah said, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families.” People took turns building and guarding. Some even worked with swords in hand. Nehemiah believed that even if the Lord didn’t keep them from a fight, God would fight for them and through them. So Nehemiah got his people prepared. I’m reminded that we’re not promised life will be easy. But God promises to be by our sides.
• The wall was finished by hand in only 52 days. That’s God.
But rebuilding isn’t the only impressive thing about this story:
• The people rededicated themselves to God as they moved back in. They gathered and stood while Ezra read God’s Book of the Law aloud from sunrise until noon. Humbled by God’s words, they wept, bowed, and worshiped. On another day, they spent a quarter of the day reading from the Law and a quarter of their day confessing their sins and worshiping God.
• They wrote out promises to live by God’s regulations.
• They dedicated the wall in celebration. They had cymbals, harps, and lyres. They got singers from across the region to create two large choirs. Picture this: the choirs started on either side of the city, walked up to the top of the wall, and promenaded toward one another, singing praise to God as they went.
In 2005, I had the privilege to visit Jerusalem and see its current wall. Although it’s not the same one Nehemiah rebuilt, it is a beautiful visual of God’s protection.
I’m thankful that God’s people showed repentant hearts, hard work, and dedicated praise to honor God for his provision and protection. I’m thankful that God continues to promise his forgiveness, provision, and protection to us today.