On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 2 (Nehemiah Rebuilds the Wall)

walls-of-jerusalemThe OT book of Nehemiah is remarkably readable — and I’ve just read it. It recounts the story of Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king of Persia.

After the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was taken into Babylonian Captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, the Persians defeated the Babylonians and annexed their territories into the Medo-Persian Empire. Hence, the ruins of Jerusalem became Persian territory, as did the surrounding nations.

Nehemiah and Ezra were Jews serving as officials in the Persian king’s court, and they were contemporaries, each involved in the return of some of the Jews — a minority — back to Jerusalem and the re-establishment of Jerusalem as a city and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Nehemiah was specifically charged by the Persian king with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem — a hugely significant decision.

(Neh. 1:1b-3 ESV) Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel,  2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.  3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” 

(Neh. 2:17 ESV)  17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 

The specific problem was one of shame in an honor culture. How can a nation have honor when its temple has been destroyed and its walls are in ruins? Of course, it was more than honor. Safety and protection were also critical — but a city without walls was a shamed city.

And it’s likely true that Nehemiah was too much of a diplomat to point out that the walls were needed to protect the citizens from invasion by their neighbors. After all, the neighboring kings were also subjects of the Persian king and really shouldn’t be invading another city in the same empire. In theory, the Persian king protected all his cities — and so why worry about walls? So Nehemiah spoke in terms of honor.

Of course, as Alexander the Great would soon prove, the Persian king could not protect Jerusalem from all its enemies — such as the Greeks. And even while Persia remained in power, there would be bandits and other criminals eager to sneak into the city to steal. And no wise city leader would trust his neighbors not to invade if they saw the opportunity. Who knows whether the Persian armies might have higher priorities than protecting a few Jews?

The gates were a key part of a city’s defensive system. It was imperative that people be able to enter and leave the city — and yet there had to be a way to keep out invading armies and other bad guys. The solution was to build gates that could be opened or closed — and when closed, would be solid enough to protect the city against the enemy. Hence, the city gates were generally made of very large, expensive timbers. When the gates were burned, it became vastly more difficult and expensive to rebuild the walls. Fortunately, the stone out of which the walls had been made had not been burned or reduced to dust.

Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild the city walls were opposed by local kings — who were also subjects of the Persian king. Why would they object to the walls being rebuilt?

(Neh. 2:19 ESV)  19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”

The neighboring kings were unhappy at the prospect of Jerusalem being restored to its former glory. After all, during times past, the king in Jerusalem had ruled over his neighbors. And a rebuilt Jerusalem would be a competitor for trade. Therefore, they accused Nehemiah of rebelling against Persian rule. After all, a city with a well-built wall might rebel and use the wall to defend against a siege by the Persian army.

Nehemiah replied only that God would restore prosperity to his people, and under his leadership, the Jews began rebuilding the walls.

(Neh. 4:1-3 ESV) Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews.  2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?”  3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building — if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”

The neighboring kings then began to ridicule their efforts. They were too afraid of the Persians to actually attack the city (yet), and so they engaged in psychological warfare — seeking to destroy the morale of the workers. And they implied threats. To say, “Will they finish up in a day?” suggests that something may happen at night to make them wish they had!

(Neh. 4:7-8 ESV)  7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry.  8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 

As the walls went up, the neighbors became more desperate — finally plotting to attack the workers, who were very nearly defenseless until the walls could be finished.

As a result, Nehemiah posted armed guards and made it clear that they’d not go down without a fight — and so the neighboring kings declined to attack.

(Neh. 4:16-17 ESV)  16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah,  17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 

And so the project was completed in less than two months!

(Neh. 6:15-16 ESV) 15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.  16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

And honor was restored — as well as the safety of the Jews living there.

(Neh. 7:3 ESV)  3 And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” 

And so Nehemiah had the gates kept closed at night and even during twilight — because he knew they were surrounded by enemies.

So while Nehemiah is usually taught as a lesson in  leadership, it’s also a lesson in walls. City walls are a source of honor and safety. Until the walls could be built, the city was at risk of an attack from neighbors — so much so that armed guards were posted around the clock and the building of the walls had to be pursued urgently. The prospect of a walled Jerusalem brought fear to her neighbors.

And yet despite these fears, God wanted the walls built so that his people could prosper in their city and be safe — and have honor among their neighboring nations.

The neighbors likely feared that, over time, the Jews would regain their previous power under such kings as David and Solomon — putting themselves at risk of being conquered or else forced to pay tribute. They feared rebellion by the Jews against Persia, which might lead to reprisals against the entire region. And they likely feared competition for trade. Never discount the financial side of the equation.

And yet despite making their neighbors fearful, and despite the need to maintain guards and defenses at the risk of life, Nehemiah rebuilt the city — as God desired.

In short, there’s nothing wrong with a good wall to protect people from criminals and invaders. But walls must be coupled with Torah — and the Law of Moses has very specific instructions about sojourners — foreigners living among the Jews. The walls were needed for safety, but they were not there to keep all foreigners out.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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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23 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 2 (Nehemiah Rebuilds the Wall)

  1. Gary says:

    I think it would be a huge stretch to equate a city wall in ancient times with a border wall today of thousands of miles and with a travel ban that separates families, interrupts students’ educational careers and prevents the ill from receiving needed medical treatment. Nehemiah set out to build a wall around Jerusalem not around all of Judea.

    The clamor by American conservatives today to build a wall all along the Mexican border is motivated by a desire to turn the US demographic clock back to a time when the dominance and majority status of Whites (and the right kind of Whites at that) was unquestioned. That time has passed and it’s not coming back. Safety concerns are an irrational argument for walls and travel bans as immigrants are only 20-50% (depending on the study you choose) as likely to commit crimes as are native born Americans. Our crime rates would actually go down if we admitted more immigrants!

    It all comes down to not liking an influx of people who look differently than us. In the 1980’s many Irish came to this country, especially New England, illegally and it was hardly noticed. Why? We liked their Irish accents and they were White and Christian. America in the 21st century is multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and there is simply no going back to the 1950’s.

    As Christians especially we should embrace this diversity as God is bringing the world to us. This tide of ethno-nationalism that has reached even the White House will subside and when it does those who were seduced by nativism and xenophobia will wear a badge of shame. Right now White Evangelicals, or at least 81% of them, are helping to lead the way in the opposite direction of the welcoming gospel of Jesus Christ. If Jesus were here with us today in the flesh is there really any doubt as to whom he would identify with? Hint: It definitely wouldn’t be with those who are trying to wall out the poor, the sick, the Black and the Brown, and the homeless refugees.

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    Do you have locks on the doors of your house? Do you lock them? What is your purpose for locking them? Do you lock the doors to your car/transportation when you are away from home? Using your own philosophy you should allow anyone to come into your house any time they desire, in fact total strangers should feel at home, to raid your refrigerator and cook your own food and eat it. If two or three families were to do that would you be able to support them. Leave the keys to your vehicle in it at all times someone may have a desire to use it for a time, or maybe keep it for themselves.

  3. Gary says:

    Larry, if locks on our houses justify in your mind a wall of over a thousand miles to keep Mexicans out of land our forefathers stole from them then we have no rational basis for discussion.

  4. buckeyechuck says:

    Gary, you have just said something very profound. There is no rational basis for discussion because your points are invalid. I just read the Jay’s post again and nowhere did Jay say that the walls of Jerusalem and the U.S-Mexican border wall were the same thing. He may or may not get there eventually, but at least wait until he makes that point before you attack it. And you say that our forefathers stole land from the Mexicans? And just who did the Mexicans steal it from? And who did the Aztecs steal it from before that?

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    You can imagine anything possible to avoid the logical answer. So I will rephrase this while explaining to you, the wall is not to keep Mexicans out !!! It is to keep drugs and illegal criminals out, now if you desire to call all Mexicans criminals then I believe that you would have a case. Mexicans can and will continue to enter this country who do it legally just as many do now. Just as you lock your house and vehicle now, only because of the criminals, burglars, thieves is there any reason to protect yourself. In this case the government is striving to protect you and you seem to be on the side of the criminals, burglars, thieves and the drug smugglers. Could you have need of their services?

  6. Alabama John says:

    Today we have the examples of what has happened to countries that have allowed all to come in. What has happened to them is what we are wanting to avoid. WE would be pretty stupid to not learn from their example.

  7. Dwight says:

    Larry, makes a valid point that many overlook. Most of these so-called let-any-one-in protestors, have locks on their doors and on their cars, etc. These celebrities who protest have security guards, locks, etc. These politicians have the same. If they were not concerned about free movement, then they should open their doors and not worry about it. I mean there are honest people out there too. And let’s say the people just want a place to crash, who can deny them a place. This is hypocritical.
    Oh, yes, most of these people have fences in their yards, some fortified fences with cameras.

    I live in Houston, Texas and have relatives near the border, some live 3 miles from it. The corruption from Mexico has infiltrated the border cities. They can’t keep up with the gangs and drugs, etc.
    Walls control, like they did in the old days, the flow of people, because all walls have openings.
    What is strange is that we talk about separating families by deportations and yet at some point the people chose to separate themselves from their families by sneaking across the border.
    And strange that Mexico complains about our border and immigration laws and yet doesn’t want anybody undocumented people to stay in Mexico from South America. They just don’t allow anybody in, but are willing to send them through…for pay.

  8. Monty says:

    Buckeye Chuck

    That was my thoughts. The idea that native American peoples all got together and sang Kumbaya around the campfire is lunacy. They killed one another the same way the different African tribes have killed each other for ages. They battled each other for the land. So I guess we have to go back to when God dispersed the people at the Tower of Babel. I’m sure God knows who the original settlers were of any land mass, but I guarantee you the land has changed ownership many times since. America is our land but we had to fight for it to keep from coming under German domination or Japanese, and perhaps we will have to do so from radical Muslim invaders or whoever the next group is that seeks total domination.

    I think allowing masses of Muslim people in will not end well for America. Like it or not we are at war at least ideology wise with Islam. I saw an interview with American Muslims who were asked if Sharia Law would take precedent over the Constitution and they virtually all said, “Yes.” Now granted it as a very small sample size and perhaps it was edited to look a certain way. But if Muslims are true to their beliefs then it’s not hard to imagine them holding the Koran to a higher standard than the Constitution as Christians should the Bible’s teachings.

  9. Eric Thomas says:

    Gary,
    Immigration being made orderly has nothing to do with race. We live in a world where a refugee ran a truck through a market full of people because of ideology. Making someone answer questions and fill out paperwork and looking into their history’s to see if they pose a threat to the people they are responsible for is something I think Jesus would expect. Churches look into the people who work with kids. It’s not wrong they are just being responsible to protect kids.
    I’ve been to over a dozen countries and they all vetted me. I was asked questions on my intentions while I was there and when I was leaving and if I was going to try and get a job there etc. I didn’t care. I thought it made sense. I think if Jesus were here in the flesh he would approve of the leader of a nation protecting the people he is responsible for.

  10. Gary says:

    Eric, I completely agree with you. Of course we need to seriously vet any refugees we allow into our country. As a matter of fact we have had extreme vetting ever since 9-11. Adults who come to us from other countries as refugees have gone through a vetting process of years before they ever set foot on American soil. What is being attempted now with the blanket ban on individuals from six nations really has nothing to do with extreme vetting. We already have extreme vetting. Rather the proposed ban is the first step in reducing immigration including even legal immigration. We don’t have to guess about this. Steve Bannon and his Breitbart news organization have been quite clear in the direction they want to see our nation go in. In my opinion it is a direction that is the opposite of what Jesus’ disciples should want. On this issue Pope Francis is pointing Christians in a Christ like direction. It is incredibly sad to me that 81% of conservative/Evangelical Christians have chosen a selfish and heartless response to the refugees of our world. To me it is little different from America’s turning away Jewish refugees before World War 2. It was America First then and it is America First now. Christ cannot be Lord of those who believe in America First.

  11. Jim H says:

    This is getting a little ridiculous. A country that doesn’t enforce its laws is a country losing it’s national sovereignty. This vacuum will always draw a criminal element and those who want to destroy every value this country was founded on. And giving them illegal protections is itself illegal. At 76 years of age growing up in the Houston area, I remember we very rarely ever locked our house. We kids rode our bicycles everywhere and neighbors looked after every kid in their neighborhoods and let you know if you were out of line they would talk to your parents, and your parents would address it and thank the neighbor who made them aware of it. It was a great time of carefree freedom for me, even though we had very little, but no one else were much better off. I am very concerned that so many Americans seem so indifferent to the importance of the rule of law. Those so eager to accept among those immigrants who may want to do us harm may well feel different if our government purposely placed such individuals in their neighborhoods. The trend to lawless anarchy should be a concern of everyone. Some wonder if this has eschatological importance. It has in aeons past. Our creator God does have his just limits of patience.

  12. Gary says:

    Jim, immigrants are a convenient scapegoat for concerns about crime but the facts just don’t support this popular association of immigrants as criminals. Immigrants are only 20% to 50%, depending on the study, as likely to commit crimes as are native Americans. While crime rates are no doubt higher now than they were in the 1950’s our current crime rates are only about half of what they were in the last quarter of the 20th century. What is driving the crime that we have now is the drug trade and especially the war on the drug trade. The intense war on the drug trade started under Nixon and has been a failure. We would remove much of the incentive for crime if we decriminalized drugs and instead used the money to treat drug addiction as a public health issue. Countries like the Netherlands that have taken this approach have seen their rates of drug use decrease.

  13. Monty says:

    Illegal immigrants are all guilty of a crime. They are technically “criminals” for being in our country illegally. 100% of all illegal immigrants have violated our law in being here illegally. Last week ICE rounded up over 150 illegal immigrant “felons” across the country and I feel quite certain that didn’t make a dent in the amount that are left here. Not sure how you can know what percentage of illegal immigrants commit crimes other than being here illegally when we don’t even know who they are or where they are. Pretty sure most of the drug smugglers and sex traffickers aren’t getting caught. I know local stories of illegal Mexicans who have been citied multiple times for DUI, whereas me or you would be put under the jail and our license revoked, they just keep getting a slap on the wrist and let go, They don’t even have a license to take away.

  14. Monty says:

    While local anecdotal stories abound here is verifiable story of the type of thing that happens far too often. http://video.foxnews.com/v/5325331830001/?intcmp=obnetwork#sp=show-clips . While one could, I suppose, (if you had valid facts)make the argument that an illegal alien DUI that results in a death of an American citizen happens no more often than with citizens of our own country, the point is that person should never have been in our country to begin with.

  15. Gary says:

    Monty, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not all undocumented immigrants committed a crime in entering this country. Multitudes were brought here as infants and children by their parents or guardIans. Jay is an attorney. He can confirm that to commit a crime there must be an intent to commit a criminal act. These children and now young adults have committed no crime except to live. How about showing a little Christian compassion? Do you really believe Jesus would endorse deporting these innocent people who have known no home other than the US?

  16. Monty says:

    Gary,

    An immigrant is a person who migrates from one country to another. Of course kids born here are not immigrants. Your response is just a deflection from the content of my post. People who migrate to our country without going through the legal processes are here illegally, or do you disagree? I’d love to hear if you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing to round up illegals who are felons or should we just continue to leave them be?

  17. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think a good comparison is that if a person enters your home without your permission it is an illegal action, but if they are let in by permission it is legal.
    The question then comes, “How many people who believe that people coming across the border by sneaking in is a good thing would let those same people sneak into their home and just take up residence there?” I bet many of the celebrity protestors who live in their big houses have fences and security because they don’t want to happen in their home what they preach should happen to the US. Just like many of those celebrities who preach against people owning guns have body guards who have guns for protection. This is a lot of hypocrisy out there.

  18. Gary says:

    Monty, children who entered this country without going through proper governmental channels are most certainly undocumented immigrants. What else could they be? By the way, I’m all for deporting felons who entered this country illegally. But that has nothing to do with children who were brought here by their parents or guardIans.

  19. Monty says:

    Gary,

    I guess if you and I were in a court of law, technically you would be right, the kids(not born in the US) of illegal immigrants are technically not guilty of committing a crime(if it’s as you say) but surely their parents are, and that was my intent of my post, and I think you know that. No where did I bring up or mention kids. President Trump isn’t deporting kids. I’m sure it would brake a child’s heart whose parents stole a bike and gave it to them and they were caught with the bike illegally and had to give it back to it’s rightful owner. I’m sure they would cry and be upset about having to give up their bike. But the fact remains the bike was received illegally. Even if it was no fault of the child. Your argument is that the child should be able to keep the bike because it’s the only bike he’s ever known and it would be terribly upsetting to give up a bike for a child. Can’t we have some compassion here? Who wants to upset kids? Maybe that’s a poor analogy but your answer seems to be “let’s not have immigration laws if you make here, congratulations you’re in.” Good for you.

    We have thousands of other laws that are applied every day in our nation and when enforced regretfully they often times break up families. The laws enforced bring heartaches. If a single parent commits a felony and is convicted they will probably serve some time, even though that might mean that the state gets control of the kids involved. It’s sad. It’s heart breaking. But I don’t hear anyone saying “don’t punish felons because of the children”. If families know they can very well will be deported and sent back then that is a deterrent or at least a choice that has to be made by the adult involved. It’s silly IMO to blame people’s poor choices for committing crimes they know they are committing and then blaming it on the system. The reason we have so many illegals is because it’s so ridiculously easy to get into our nation and there has been little to no punishment if caught, even if its been multiple times. It’s sort of like say bank robbery was never enforced(use any other law you like- prostitution- speeding-doesn’t matter) and then suddenly the law starts cracking down and being enforced, you will have a certain number start howling “hey wait a minute, you can’t do that?” “Why not?” “Well because you haven’t been enforcing it.” It would seem compassionless to some, especially to those who have been breaking the law and getting away with it.

  20. Dustin says:

    If these immigrants were white and spoke English without an accent, would people have a problem with it? Would anyone know they were immigrants?

  21. Gary says:

    “100% of all illegal immigrants have violated our law in being here illegally.” Monty, those are your words that I responded to. I think any reasonable person would have also understood you to be including children who are now adults in your sweeping and emphatic statement. I can’t read your mind. One of the problems I have with many conservatives today is their frequent exaggerated claims. It is important that we all try to be accurate in what we say and write. I believe you have a charitable Christian heart but that was not reflected in what you wrote.

  22. Gary says:

    Dustin brings up a very good point. With approximately 10 million undocumented immigrants in our country today the only way to deport all or most of them would be to engage in profiling people who look or speak differently than native born Americans. It would take a police state even then to accomplish deportations on such a massive scale. Far better in my opinion is to leave undocumented immigrants already here alone as long as they are law abiding. By all means deport the felons.

    The irony of large scale deportations would be that it would wreck our economy and raise prices in many areas of commerce. Even worse some industries would see many businesses shut down and unable to operate economically for lack of employees. That’s why I’ve emphasized that it doesn’t even require Christian charity to be pro-immigrant, documented or undocumented. All it requires is enlightened self interest.

  23. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    It appears that you do not believe that we should at least require those whom you believe should get to stay here to get registered and become citizens. Why would you not require that? What other country in the world could you just be a sojourner forever? Why would anyone not desire to have the credentials to back up their citizenship of a nation they chose to be in?

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