On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 1 (The Walls of Jerusalem)

walls-of-jerusalemI have to start with a confession. I have trouble staying awake when the preacher starts a sermon bringing up Nehemiah and building walls. I do.

It’s just that I’ve heard it so many times before. It’s as though preachers think we never listen.

I mean, I can imagine the preacher thinking in his study, “No one ever studies Nehemiah. So let’s do a 30-part series on Nehemiah. And the best part of Nehemiah is the part about building the walls of Jerusalem. We can talk about teamwork, leadership, and all sorts of things that all start with the same letter …”

Heard it. Tired of it. And so I’m not going to do that. This might be boring for entirely different reasons, but it won’t be because it’s been preached 500,000 times.

You see, Pope Francis recently said,

A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.

Well, someone said something that reminded me of all those Nehemiah-building-the-walls sermons. Why is it okay — preachable, even — for Nehemiah and the Jews to build walls and not okay for the US to build walls?

The Vatican is surrounded by a very tall, large wall. I’ve been there. And the Swiss guards who defend the Pope have very real machine guns with very sharp bayonets — and look none too friendly.

So the Pope seems to have over-simplified things. I mean, Jesus spent much of his ministry in Jerusalem — which had some really big walls — and Jesus never asked for them to come down. In fact, when the Romans tore the walls down — along with the Temple — in 70 AD, this was taken as a sign of God’s displeasure — but not his displeasure with the walls. Nowhere are the city walls of Jerusalem spoken of in the Bible in other than laudatory terms.

So I have no idea what the right answer is, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what the scripture says about walls. But also about sojourners. The blogs have lately been filled with studies regarding sojourners, but they rarely consider that God clearly approved of city walls.

So the answer isn’t quite as simple as some would make it. Nor is it all that difficult. We just need to start with scripture — all of it — rather than with our political perspective. Scripture should direct a Christian’s politics — but we often let our politics tell us how to read scripture. It’s a bad habit we need to break.

The Torah is quite clear that the Jews were to care for the sojourners in their midst. It’s often been argued that sojourners are much like illegal aliens. Maybe. Maybe not. But if illegal aliens are to be treated well — why put up the walls?

So what does the Bible really say? I don’t know — not enough to feel comfortable expressing much in the way of an opinion. Not yet. So I figure I’ll take a look. We might chase some wild geese or take some bad turns, but who knows what we’ll learn along the way?

The walls of Jerusalem

In the ancient world, cities had walls because walls kept out the bad guys — invading armies, thieves, other criminals. The system was set up to control who could enter. And in times of invasion, the surrounding population would flee the countryside and seek safety inside the city’s walls.

The early books of the OT mention city walls as an accepted fact. There is no approval or disapproval. It’s just how things were, among both the Jews and the surrounding nations. Then there’s —

(1 Ki. 3:1-3 ESV) Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem.  2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD.  3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. 

Solomon’s completion of the wall around Jerusalem is listed as one of his great accomplishments.

(2 Chr. 8:3-6 ESV)  3 And Solomon went to Hamath-zobah and took it.  4 He built Tadmor in the wilderness and all the store cities that he built in Hamath.  5 He also built Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, fortified cities with walls, gates, and bars,  6 and Baalath, and all the store cities that Solomon had and all the cities for his chariots and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.

And conquering and fortifying other cities with walls was a matter of national pride.

(2 Chr. 14:2-7 ESV)  2 And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.  3 He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim  4 and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.  5 He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him.  6 He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace.  7 And he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they built and prospered. 

When king Asa built walls around additional cities, he is credited with being one of the good kings of Judah.

(2 Ki. 14:11-14 ESV)  11 But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah.  12 And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home.  13 And Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh, and came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate.  14 And he seized all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house, also hostages, and he returned to Samaria. 

The partial destruction of the walls of Jerusalem by the Northern Kingdom allowed the theft of gold and silver objects from the Temple and the king’s own palace. This was perceived as a bad thing.

Later, Uzziah is credited with destroying the walls of the cities of the enemies of the Jews, that is, the Philistines, and with building walls for his own people —

(2 Chr. 26:3-6 ESV)  3 Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem.  4 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.  5 He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.  6 He went out and made war against the Philistines and broke through the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod, and he built cities in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines.

(2 Chr. 27:2-3 ESV)  2 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the LORD. But the people still followed corrupt practices.  3 He built the upper gate of the house of the LORD and did much building on the wall of Ophel.

Hezekiah is praised for strengthening the walls of Jerusalem.

(2 Chr. 32:5 ESV)  5 He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance.

When king Manasseh repented to follow God, he built more walls for Jerusalem —

(2 Chr. 33:14 ESV)  14 Afterward he built an outer wall for the city of David west of Gihon, in the valley, and for the entrance into the Fish Gate, and carried it around Ophel, and raised it to a very great height. He also put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah. 

When Nebuchadnezzar defeated Judah, the wrath of God was made clear by the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem —

(2 Chr. 36:19 ESV)  19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.

So the pattern is simple and clear. Good kings build or improve city walls. Bad kings allow the walls to be breached.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 1 (The Walls of Jerusalem)

  1. Price Futrell says:

    Walls, armies, fighting men and equipment.. Seems reasonable protections were expected by wise men….Why would anyone want to sojourn into an unsafe environment…?

  2. Mark says:

    There are other walls too besides the physical barriers. Some keep certain people out of church leadership for various reasons. Some partition one group of sins and people who commit them from other people with different sins deemed ok. Some are used to keep the various age groups separate from one another in a church.

  3. Just slight counterpoint. One of the themes in Genesis is the fact that godly people don’t build cities and ungodly people do. Seems to be the idea that Cain and those like him could not count on God’s protection, so they protected themselves.

    In contrast, Abraham and his family are praised for “not seeking a city,” knowing that the Lord would provide one. (Hebrews 11:9-10) No walls for those sojourners.

  4. Dustin says:

    If we take a flat reading of the text, then the walls make sense. However, if a more critical approach is taken, one can find an ironic slant to the stories of the kings. Much like our world today, the kings asked the people to trade freedom for security. Most kings helped create cities that had little need for God.

    I feel the whole narrative of the Bible leads to breaking down the barriers, literal and figurative, that provided provide no real security.

  5. David says:

    When Christ’s prayer that God’s will be done on earth as in Heaven, is answered, there will be no defensive walls, prisons, or law enforcement. No walls is God’s ultimate will, but the time doesn’t seem to be here yet.

  6. Price Futrell says:

    My belief is that a separation will always exist between good and evil… Evil will not be able to enter into the presence of God without His permission…However it exists in reality, Heaven and Hell are separated. If that is His nature, why should it not be ours ?

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price,

    Obviously, good and evil must be separate.

    (Lev. 20:26 ESV) 26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

    But “alien” and “evil” are not equivalents.

    And then there’s —

    (1 Cor. 5:9-10 ESV) 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

    In fact, at least in this part of the world, we’re finding that the vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic, Pentecostal, or evangelical Christians.

    What am I missing?

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David,

    Quite right. There will be walls around heaven, but the gates will open.

    (Rev. 21:24-27 ESV) 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

    In the ancient world, the gates were closed at night. Since there will be no night in heaven, the gates will always be open. But not everyone gets in.

    The metaphors are confusing because the bad people are presumably destroyed in the Lake of Fire before we get to this passage. So it’s best to take the language as saying no one who is unclean in this life will enter the gates of the new heavens and new earth in the next life — not that there will be sinners who will be barred despite the open gates.

    So the image is of a city open to all — but it’s because the universe has been purged of evil and so there is no need to restrict entry anymore.

  9. Price Futrell says:

    I hate talking about what there is no way to know but my point was simply that there is some limitation to who can enter heaven as I understand it… It is not a place that allows free access to whomever.. one must qualify… beyond that… who knows.. I’d ask why would walls be necessary if evil is removed entirely… As good as it is, there would be no need to forcibly keep people in nor any need to keep evil out if there is none…… Perhaps it’s just the imagery of security and might that people understood…

  10. Price Futrell says:

    Oh, missed the first comment…. Why choose Hispanics ? If we choose to allow open access without some element of qualification then the whole world is welcome… No one is inherently evil but lawlessness, or the act of lawlessness is not how one would enter the Jewish community and expect to be treated nicely… Insisting on being allowed into heaven is unlikely to work either… Furthermore, what happened to the sojourner or alien who refused to abide by the Jewish laws or expectations of being allowed to stay or sojourn ? It seems that the wall is a symbol of control.. perhaps I’m wrong.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Tim,

    Very interesting point I’ve never seen before.

    In Hebrews the contrast is between bedouin tents and a heavenly city — not between bedouin tents and an earthly city. So it seems unlikely that the point in Hebrews is that seeking a walled city is bad.

    In Genesis, the city passages you refer to (I am assuming) say,

    (Gen. 4:17 ESV) 17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch

    Some commentators assume that Cain built a city in order to have a wall to protect him from enemies. But the text doesn’t say that. (And how many people lived in the city at this stage of human history? It bears some thought …) And later on, some cities are referred to as “walled cities.” So I’m not sure we can assume that “city” means “walled city.”

    Perhaps Cain’s act is one of defiance. He has had enough of the life of the nomad. He refuses any longer to abide under God’s terms. The only other reference to building a city in Gen. 1–11 is the incident at Babel: “Come, let us build ourselves a city …” (11:4). Here the whole city-building, tower-erecting project is one that God condemns. But nowhere in Gen. 4 does God state his displeasure with Cain’s urban enterprise. Thus Cain’s building of the city might represent a divine lifting of the punishment that was once mandated for Cain. He is now free to establish roots and permanence again. If this is the case, however, surely it would be stated more directly. We suggest that Cain’s act of city building is an attempt to provide security for himself, a security he is not sure that God’s mark guarantees. In the words of J. Ellul, Cain “wants to find alone the remedy for a situation he created, but which he cannot himself repair because it is a situation dependent on God’s grace.”

    Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 238.

    If Hamilton is right, building a city may be a sign of lack of faith in God to protect him. Even without a wall, being in a community with other people would surely provide greater safety, as neighbors could be counted on to look after each other, especially if they are mainly relatives.

    But it can argued the opposite way —

    One element of the narrative that seems to be in favor of such a reading is the fact that, within the narrative itself, the purpose of the “sign” was to provide protection for Cain from anyone who might attempt to avenge Abel’s death. Such was the express goal of the “cities of refuge”: “They will be places of refuge from the avenger [lemiqlāṭ miggōʾēl], so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly” (Num 35:12). The subsequent narrative testifies to the association of Cain’s sign and the cities of refuge in that even in Lamech’s day Cain’s city was a place of refuge for the “manslayer” (see comments below). Thus within the narrative as a whole, Cain’s city may be viewed as a “city of refuge” given to him by God to protect him and his descendants from blood revenge (see Deut 19:11–13). The importance the author attaches to the “city” that Cain built can be seen in the fact that the remainder of the chapter is devoted to the “culture” that developed in the context of that city.

    John H. Sailhamer, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, 1990, 2, 67.

    (Gen. 10:8-12 ESV) 8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

    Here, the “city” is “great.” No condemnation of walls.

    (Gen. 11:4-9 ESV) 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

    Interestingly, while we always teach that the tower was sinful, the text is equally against the city — although I think the sin was in the arrogance of “let us make a name for ourselves” and opposition to God’s plan that the earth be filled with humans.

    (Gen. 13:12-13 ESV) 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

    Here, two of the cities — not all the cities — are designated was wicked.

    Thereafter, there are zillions of references to cities, some called “walled cities.” But the term seems neutral thereafter. And, obviously, God ultimately came to dwell in a city, with walls.

    So I certainly see your point as to Babel (not that I claim to totally understand all that is going on in that story) but not as to Hebrews. It would seem that cities are not innately bad, nor are city walls. But the people in Babel built the city for wrong reasons — making the city and its tower bad things. Whereas, Jerusalem was expanded and strengthened by David and Solomon to serve as God’s dwelling, and that makes the walls good. And in most cases, they are morally neutral. That is, no city is judged negatively for daring to build a wall. But walls for God’s people are commended. And cities for sinful towers are bad cities because of the ungodly purpose, not because of the walls. Something like that …

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