Lesson #2 – Good and Bad Walls
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down.
Why might you build a wall or a fence?
- To mark my lot line
- Privacy – I don’t want people watching me
- I want my dog to be both safe and free to run
- A high wall, topped with razor wire? Keep the bad guys out
There are good and bad walls.
Walls grant us privacy. That’s good if we use our privacy for rest and fellowship. It’s bad when it hides abuse and violence.
A wall offers protection. Good when it keeps out evil. Bad if we are isolating ourselves from everyone, trusting no one.
Walls mark our boundaries. Per the neighbor in Robert Frost’s poem, “good fences make good neighbors.” But it’s not so good if my wall surrounds a fiefdom, space that I hoard for my own glory and selfish pleasure.
What makes the difference? Not the wall itself, but its purpose.
There are bad walls in the Bible.
The wall of Jericho was intended to keep out God’s people and plan. God brought down the bad wall of Jericho.
There is Scriptural evidence that God directed the destruction of Jerusalem’s wall. The book of Lamentations bemoans the state of Jerusalem after the city was overrun by the Babylonians and places the blame on her sin.
Lamentations 1:5, 7-8, 2:8 (NIV)
Her foes have become her masters;
her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief
because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile,
captive before the foe . . .
In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into enemy hands,
there was no one to help her.
Her enemies looked at her
and laughed at her destruction.
Jerusalem has sinned greatly . . .
The Lord determined to tear down
the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
together they wasted away.
Lamentations (generally accepted as written by the prophet Jeremiah) describes in heart-wrenching detail the judgment that fell on Jerusalem because she abandoned her God. The city wall had become a wall of pride, a wall of greed, a wall that protected evil, a wall that used and abused people for profit. The wall intended to protect of the city of God had been perverted. A good wall gone bad.
Remember how the Israelites wandered in the desert 40 years until the ungodly generation passed? Similarly, the wall of Jerusalem lay scattered on the ground as those who brought judgment on the land passed. Then God raised up Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, a good wall built on the foundation of faith.
Note: In your Bible, Nehemiah comes before Lamentations. The books of the Bible aren’t in chronologic order. They are clustered by type (Old Testament: law, history, poetry, major and minor prophets; New Testament: gospels, church history, letters, prophecy). Nehemiah falls under history, Lamentations under major prophets. The books complement each other, complete each other’s story.
Rebuilding starts with Nehemiah’s prayer:
Nehemiah 1:5-7 (NIV)
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Nehemiah’s confession included disobedience to the commands given through Moses. The basis for this is found in Deuteronomy 28, the blessings of obedience:
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.
The chapter continues with the opposite outcomes for disobedience.
We see similarities between our culture and the condition of Jerusalem before the wall came down: increased greed and arrogance, acceptance of evil, rejection of godliness. We, like them, have turned aside from God’s commands.
Read the entire Deuteronomy chapter. What blessings and curses there do you attribute to our own nation? Make them a call to prayer, a call to establish good walls.
Take note of the confession and repentance included in Nehemiah’s prayer.
It is tempting to pray as though America’s troubles are all someone else’s fault. I think, “it’s not about me.”
God, however, keeps me honest.
God: Have you experienced financial gain at someone else’s expense?
God: Have you voted for programs that work well for you without even considering whether they harm others?
Me: I might have.
God: Have you failed to stand up for what’s right because you were worried what others would think?
Me: Umm, yeah. That’s happened.
God: Are you content with the status quo as long as it’s fun for you?
I can surround myself with a defensive wall built with excuses: “everybody is doing it,” and “I’m not as bad as those other guys.” Thus I build a bad wall, a wall that comes between God and me.
Prayer is honest communication. I can’t lie to God. The bad wall must come down; I have to let go of my excuses and accept personal responsibility for my action (or inaction). It is about me.
Nehemiah’s prayer goes beyond personal repentance. It acknowledges our corporate sin.
This isn’t about salvation. Salvation is personal. Salvation is between me and God. No one else makes that choice for me, and I make it for no one else.
Why should I repent for someone else’s actions? It’s not fair.
Every day we reap the benefits of actions taken by those who came before us. We enjoy the heirlooms left to us by dear departed grandparents. We attended schools supported by someone else’s tax dollars. We worship in a sanctuary we did not build. We travel roads laid out in the horse and buggy era. And we never cry, “It’s not fair!”
As we share in their blessings, so we share in their failures.
We can become so accustomed to our surroundings that we overlook things we shouldn’t—like the homeowner who no longer notices the missing picket on the front fence or the loose stone in the foundation. We are comfortable within our culture’s walls and don’t notice that our good walls have gone bad.
Remember that blessings and curses, our obedience and our sin, roll over to future generations. We build good and bad walls. That thought should give us pause. It is our call to prayer.
Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address speaks of the high price of a nation’s sins:
“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’”
If Mr. Lincoln was correct and our Civil War had to repay the cost of slavery, we should be earnestly praying for God’s mercy and our nation’s repentance.
What stones of our generation’s actions (or inaction) carry a price that will be paid by our children and grandchildren? Are good walls going bad before our eyes?
I love how the book of Nehemiah connects with Lamentations and Deuteronomy–and with current affairs. What good and bad walls have you inherited from previous generations? What good and bad walls are you passing to the next generation?