The Wall

The wall in question is, of course, the wall [or walls] of Jerusalem.

One entire book of the Old Testament, Nehemiah, is constructed around this wall in more ways than one. The book of Psalms also makes reference to it in a number of places. Positively in Psalm 48, where the city of God is seen to be ‘in good shape’ spiritually, as well as structurally in terms of its strength and security. But negatively in Psalm 51 where David reflects on his moral failure as Israel’s leader and the impact his sin has had on the city from which he reigned.

 

It is mildly amusing that a phrase so innocuous as ‘the wall’ should literally reverberate around the world, provoking reaction from every quarter. But don’t panic, it is not my intention to pass comment on the particular structure in the news at this time! What struck me in following this saga has been the fact the Bible appears to have an inordinate fascination about another wall. A wall that had more to it in terms of its significance than might immediately meet the eye.

The wall in question is, of course, the wall [or walls] of Jerusalem. One entire book of the Old Testament, Nehemiah, is constructed around this wall in more ways than one. The book of Psalms also makes reference to it in a number of places. Positively in Psalm 48, where the city of God is seen to be ‘in good shape’ spiritually, as well as structurally in terms of its strength and security. But negatively in Psalm 51 where David reflects on his moral failure as Israel’s leader and the impact his sin has had on the city from which he reigned. There he expresses his plea for restoration with the words, ‘…build up the walls of Jerusalem’ (Ps 51.18). So too as an expression of the grief felt by the exiles in Babylon when they remembered the Holy City and how their captors had torn it down ‘to its foundations’ (Ps 132.7).

One comment on this topic struck me recently in a particular way. It was where Nehemiah told the people of Jerusalem, ‘I devoted myself to the work on this wall’ (Ne 5.16) – a work he described later as being ‘a great work’ (Ne 6.3) – one which he would not allow to be interrupted. In many ways this is how Nehemiah has gone down in the collective memory of God’s people. He is ‘the wall-builder’. Although this certainly was true, there is far more bound up with that epithet than we might imagine.

The first clue to this comes in the opening chapter of the book. There we meet, not only Nehemiah, its author, but also Hanani, one of his brothers who had come to the citadel of Susa along with other men from Judah. Nehemiah questions them about the state of the city and the Jewish remnant who had survived the exile and they tell him of great trouble and disgrace among the people and that ‘The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates…burned with fire’ (Ne 1.3).

Nehemiah’s response to this report was to grieve and fast and pray. Indeed we are given the words he used in his prayer and they are very enlightening. Despite the fact that a once great wall, reduced to rubble, visibly dominated the news from Israel, his prayer says nothing about this structure. Instead he pleads with God about the spiritual and moral state of his people – himself included.

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