Sermon: 28 January 2018 at Northrand Methodist Church
“Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.””
Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
Nehemiah was a Jew, living in exile. He was the cup-bearer to the King Ataxerxes of Persia. When Nehemiah heard reports of how the Jews were suffering and defenseless in Jerusalem, He requested a leave of absence from his master to go and rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. The Lord allowed the king to show him favour and give permission and provide resources for the wall of Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
What is the background to this story? The people of the kingdom of Judah, those who remained in The kingdom after the people were taken into exile to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. They included the descendants of Judah and Benjamin, plus a remnant of the Israelites who had fled after the fall of the Israelite Kingdom In Samaria. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were destroyed after the people turned away from God’s command to worship him and him alone and began to worship idols. God allowed the armies of Assyria to first destroy Israel and then for the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. The people were taken into exile. After Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, the walls were destroyed meaning that the inhabitants of the city were not safe.The Babylonians used the siege method, to prevent anyone coming in or out of a city and cut off the supply lines of food and other provisions. Eventually the people starved, the city was too weak to defend itself and it was invaded by the Babylonians who destroyed it, looted the temple of its treasures, destroyed it and destroyed the city walls. Most of the people were then taken into exile and only a remnant was left. This was prophesied in the book of Ezekiel. The empire of Babylon was eventually divided among the Medes and the Persians after the deaths of Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar who succeeded him.
Admiring The Problem
On his return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah recruited men to rebuild the wall, organized them into teams and they began to work. When they heard that someone had come back to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the enemies of Israel, Sanballat, Tobiah, the Ammonnites, the people of Ashdod (Anakites) and the Arabs did not want the wall to be rebuilt and plotted and schemed to keep it from happening. They had rejoiced over the destruction of Judah and did not want to see the kingdom rise again or the people to possess the land. The Jews rebuilding the wall were under constant threat of being attacked. So, the men who built the wall worked with their weapons at their side while the others kept watch and were ready to fight in the case of an attack. After some time, the men were exhausted and those watching could see it. There were two problems. The men experienced physical, mental and emotional fatigue because they were working and watching and had to be ready to fight. They also experienced discouragement because they saw that there was a lot of rubble that needed to be cleared and they felt overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding the wall. They felt defeated by the task.
The Significance of the Wall
What was the significance of the wall? Walls restrict entry to the city, the only way to enter an ancient city was through the gates. The watchmen at the gates were stationed there to prevent people entering the city that should not be there. Walls provide protection. Before the advent of modern aerial warfare with explosives, no one dared attack a city with walls because the army only has to defend the Gates. The walls remained in some parts from the original city of the Jebusites after they had been defeated by King David. The significance of the wall was to keep the city safe from invasion. The destruction of the walls of Jerusalem was symbolic of the Lord removing his spiritual barrier of protection from the Jews because of their idolatry and sin. However, the Lord promised to return a remnant of the Jews to Jerusalem and to protect them. This is why Nehemiah was inspired to return to rebuild the wall to fulfill the promise made by the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. Building the wall was the beginning. This was to be followed by the rebuilding of the Temple as described in the book of Zechariah as well as in Ezekiel. The earthly Jerusalem is a shadow of the heavenly Jerusalem described in the book of Revelation.
So the Jews felt defeated by the task at hand. They could not see how they would clear the rubble and finish building the wall. Some of those walls were built before The Israelites possessed the land. So these were mighty solid structures and they needed to clear the rubble. They were focusing on the problem and not the vision as foretold by the prophets or the possibility of accomplishing the task, which was finishing the wall and creating the feeling of safety, that the people craved. We call it admiring the problem. How many times do we feel defeated by the rubble when we need to rebuild something in our lives?
Mind, Body and Spirit
What is it about human beings that makes us susceptible to fatigue and discouragement? Human beings have a mind, body and a spirit. The spirit is the divine essence, the eternal part of us that is created in the image of God. There is a Mind-Body Connection which means what happens in the mind, affects the body, and what affects the body affects the mind. The spiritual connection is one that people rarely talk about. The Spirit man is eternal while the body and the mind are destroyed by death. The three elements of our nature are constantly interacting and affecting each other. Sexual immorality not only brings diseases to your body and affects your mind, but it also affects your spirit. This understanding is important for our total wellbeing.
So how do we prevent fatigue?
1. Look after the body. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Ant temple must be kept clean, repaired and adorned. So we must rest, sleep, groom ourselves and exercise. Jesus took time to rest. That was the purpose of the Sabbath. 1 Corinthians 6:19
2. Care for the mind, relax, do something fun, Jesus and the disciples didn’t work all the time. They relaxed, ate together and conversed. In Exodus, there are occasions for celebration such as the Passover and different festivals for people to enjoy.
3. Nurture the spirit. How do we nurture the spirit?
1. Personal Devotions – read the word, praise, worship & pray. Studies have shown that this relieves stress. Worship with others, stay in community. Pray with your family.
2. Maintain good relationships, the Bible talks about a friend who is closer than a brother in Proverbs 18:24. Our relationships help to keep us in good spirits.
3. Read literature and listen to music that is uplifting, too much negativity in the world and it affects your spirit.
4. Maintain personal boundaries. The Bible says guard your heart in Proverbs 4:23, for from it arises the issues of life. A famous poem, the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann says ‘Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. You also need to avoid needy people who drain your physical and emotional energy
5. Avoid negative thinkers – those who remind you of how bad things are, how much better things were or how there is no hope for the future. They are also known as Roadblock prophets. The Jews around Jerusalem also reinforced the negativity which served to discourage the buildersRemind yourself that of Jeremiah 29:11, the plans of God to prosper and not to harm you.
What are you building in your life? Is it your career? A family ? a business? Is what you are building based on a vision from the Lord? The Bible says in Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord Builds the house, the builders labor in vain. So when your vision is supported by God’s desire for your life, you have every reason to succeed. When you are tired look to the Lord for strength. In the book of Isaiah 40:31, the word says ,Those who hope in the lord will renew their strength. They will rise up on wings like eagles, they will walk and not grow faint.’ I would like to encourage you to get your vision from the Lord, because that vision will not fail. Do the work and when you feel discouraged, put your hope in the Lord.