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.