This is a good opportunity for me to remind you that Ezra and Nehemiah come at the rebuilding of Jerusalem from two different perspectives: Ezra is a priest and an expert in the Mosaic Law who is interested in the Temple and spiritual purity, while Nehemiah is a social leader, determined to get the walls around Jerusalem rebuilt and the people back in shape as a nation.
The interesting thing about both men is that they are convinced that both areas of Israelite life, both Temple life and city life, were to be governed by the will of God. Both men arrived in Jerusalem because God sent them there. Both men were convinced that the fate of Israel as a nation had been because of its unfaithfulness to God and its continuing willingness to follow other gods. (This will come out more strongly in our third reading of Nehemiah on Sunday).
This raises an potentially interesting conversation about our societies obsession with the separation of church and state. It has been maintained throughout North American history (perhaps more strongly in the U.S.) that the role of church and state be completely and totally separate, one was not to influence the other. Of course this is a pipe dream and a bit of a farce really. The state is continually making decisions and legislation that affect the spiritual rights of the individual. The rule really intends to keep the church from affecting the running of the state.
Unfortunately, the Bible shows us on multiple occasions that such a separation is not only impossible but against the will of God. As Sovereign Lord, the Bible teaches us that God does indeed influence the leaders in this world, bringing some to power and stripping others of it. It certainly teaches us that our spiritual beliefs and practices greatly affect our social attitude, values, abilities and successes.
Here is one thing I will point out specifically from Nehemiah today: as you are reading about the groups rebuilding the different sections of the walls, be careful not to gloss over it too quickly! Notice who is rebuilding the walls. It is not just masons and stone cutters. There are merchants mentions, goldsmiths mentioned, apprentices mentioned. Everyone, regardless of their “trade” or talent came together and helped to get those walls back up. And look at what they did! They rebuilt the walls (some estimate their total length to be just over 4 km, or 2.5 miles) of Jerusalem in 52 days. Many hands to indeed make light work.
More importantly, the people were willing to help in tasks that were not within their “gift set”or their area of comfort. Yet they banded together and got the job done.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture
Tomorrow’s Reading: Nehemiah 6-7