Is building walls good or bad? If we build walls to cut ourselves off from other people so 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 protect ourselves from impending danger, then it is good. Good wall-building is the theme of the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. From it 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 building spiritual walls in the Christian’s life today. Some Background The events in 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 years of delay. However, the walls around 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.
The scars of that destruction were still visible in piles of rubble that lay around the city. It was at this point (445 BC) that God stirred the heart of Nehemiah to motivate and mobilize the Jewish people to rebuild the walls of the holy city. 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 (Neh. 6:15). Some remnants of what appears to be Nehemiah’s wall can still be seen today in the archeological excavations of ancient Jerusalem.
Why This Book?
God did not record the Book of Nehemiah just to tell us an exciting and accurate account of how Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt in the 5th century BC. There are many important lessons here for Christians in the 21st century. Spiritual wall-building should be a way of life. As God wanted the city of His temple to be strong and protected, so God wants the Christian today to be strong in faith and protected from the attacks of Satan’s spiritual warfare.
Every Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), but not every Christian has strong, solid walls. In fact, some Christians are like some of the people in Nehemiah’s day – content to live with broken-down walls. How are our spiritual walls? Spiritual wall-building is not easy. There are obstacles and opposition to overcome. There are discouragements and doubts along the way. We see all these drawbacks at work in the Book of Nehemiah, especially chapters 4-6. But the encouraging truth of Nehemiah is that solid spiritual walls can be built and God will bless every effort in spiritual wall-building.
What Are Spiritual Walls?
Spiritual walls relate to the strength and stability of our Christian testimony. They relate to our ability to defend 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. Compare a walled city to 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; it was not a “flash in the pan” settlement. It was visible for miles around. The wall set the city apart from the surrounding countryside. That’s the way the Lord wants us to be. He wants strong, solid believers with a testimony that is plainly visible in this dark world. He wants 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. Do we want a strong wall or are we satisfied living in Rubble City?
Building Principle #1 – Concern
The first three chapters of Nehemiah contain a number of vital principles for building spiritual walls in our lives. In chapter 1 we see the principle of concern. When Nehemiah realized the sorry extent of Jerusalem’s broken walls 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 concern if we want our spiritual walls rebuilt. Do we weep when we cannot defend the faith because of a pathetic lack of knowledge of God’s Word? Do we fast from those things that contribute to the broken condition of our spiritual walls?
Nehemiah’s concern for the problem in Jerusalem was further observed in his will to go and do something about it. (Note his prayer requests in 1:11 and 2:4-6.) When Nehemiah was informed of the problem, he lived in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, 800 miles from Jerusalem. But Nehemiah did not let distance diminish his concern. Even though he had a prestigious job in the court of the Persian emperor, as a Jew, he sacrificed the 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 pleasure for strong walls? Spending time and energy on God’s interests usually results in loss of worldly prestige and pleasure. Think of some godly men and women you know. What sacrifices did they make to build strong spiritual walls in their personal lives, fellowships, families and churches?
Building Principle #2 – Confession
Another principle of wall-building in chapter one is confession. Why did Nehemiah voice his concern for the wall in a prayer of confession (1:5-11)? He knew that Jerusalem had been destroyed because of Israel’s sin in departing from the Lord (1:7). Notice that Nehemiah, who was not guilty of following other gods, links himself to the sins of the nation (1:6). Think of your nation. Because we have followed false gods like materialism and secular humanism, our moral and spiritual walls are in ruins. Are we 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.
Building Principle #3 – Confrontation
A third principle of wall building is confrontation. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem he confronted the problem head on, by first confronting the broken wall itself. He made a thorough inspection to determine the extent of damage, so that a rebuilding plan could be formulated (2:11-15). Next he confronted the people with the challenge to rebuild the walls, so they would no longer be a reproach and a disgrace (2:16-18). Imagine how the surrounding nations laughed at the Jews who were content to live among the ruins of what was once Solomon’s beautiful Jerusalem. Nehemiah made sure the people understood that God was behind this wall-building. Finally, Nehemiah confronted the opposition (2:19-20). In spite of the mocking and slander, Nehemiah boldly claimed success because he knew that God would give them the power and resources to carry out His building plans.
And God has not changed His principles of operation after more than 2400 years! The principle of confrontation must still be practiced today. If our spiritual walls are in need of repair, we must first face the problem squarely. After 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 involve the elimination of certain unhealthy habits so that rebuilding can begin. Is laziness permitting spiritual rubble to remain in our lives? Confrontation involves maintaining a more disciplined lifestyle so that rebuilding can commence. Remember that this building principle will also involve confrontation with Satan’s tactics which are always designed to get Christians to stop building. But when we have a will to build, God shows us the way to overcome opposition.
Building Principle #4 – Construction
The final principle of wall-building in Nehemiah 1-3 is construction. Chapter 3 is not just a collection of hard-to-pronounce Old Testament names. There are lessons for spiritual wall-building in this name-filled chapter, which is often skipped in devotional reading. All the names and occupations listed indicate that everyone was involved in the project of rebuilding the wall. It was not just carpenters and masons, but also goldsmiths, perfumers, district officials, levites, priests, temple servants and merchants. Spiritual wall building is everyone’s responsibility. It is not just the job of preachers and foreign missionaries.
Notice that the words “opposite” or “in front of” are used several times throughout the chapter (3:10,23,28,29). Those who lived near the wall took on the responsibility of repairing the wall nearest them before moving on to other sections. It’s important for us to make sure our own spiritual walls are strong before we can be effective in repairing the spiritual walls of our home, church or some other ministry. For example, do we habitually practice the basics of personal wall construction – regular time in God’s Word and in prayer?
All Together, All At Once
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 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 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 challenge to us from the book of Nehemiah. Let’s not be content to live with broken-down walls. Let’s be like Nehemiah’s wall-building team and strengthen our hands for this good work. “Let us arise and build.”
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org