Walls Unmade, Walls Restored

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 12.43
43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. 

Joshua 8.6-10
6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!”

Reflection: Walls Unmade, Walls Restored
By John Tillman

When the people of Israel came into the promised land from their sojourn in Egypt and forty years of desert wandering, their first act in the land was the destruction of a wall.

Except for the blowing of trumpets, they walked in grim silence around the wall of Jericho. The inhabitants of Jericho were terrified. On the seventh day of walking, the walls of Jericho were unmade. They collapsed along with any hope the city had for survival.

In Nehemiah, the Israelites are returning to the promised land. They have sojourned under the rule of foreign kings. They have wandered, geographically and spiritually. They have been leaderless and without a wall to protect them. After the physical labor of remaking the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah assigns the spiritual labor of dedicating all they had done to the Lord.

Nehemiah’s dedication ceremony has echoes of the march around Jericho. The people march, led by priests with trumpets. This time, however, they march on the wall not around it and they are not a silent, threatening army. They are a praise-filled glorious choir.

This was a solemn moment for the people because they, better than anyone, realized that the same God who had unmade the walls of Jericho had unmade the walls of Jerusalem. Without the blessing of God, any bulwark is mere boasting. Without God’s sustaining influence, any affluence is insufficient. Without his protection, any practical self-defense measure will fail.

In joy, they circled the city with praise. In reverence, they marched upon the wall God restored. Through prayer, they raised a greater line of defence than any stone wall.

As you end this year, where do you find yourself in this story? Perhaps you feel like you have been wandering in the wilderness? Perhaps circling a wall that needs to come down? Perhaps treading the top of a wall, praying it doesn’t collapse? Have some things you had faith in been unmade? Have you struggled at reconstructing your faith? 

In their ceremony, Nehemiah circled the wall one way and Ezra the other. Find your Ezra. Partner with them in accountability and responsibility. Spend some time circling yourself, your home, your relationships, your work with worship and prayer. Recommit yourself to the future and to relying not on your own cleverness or strength but on God. Rejoice in what God restores and let your rejoicing be heard.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God. — Psalm 90.1-2

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 12 (Listen 6:30
Revelation 21 (Listen 4:34)

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 13 (Listen 5:57Revelation 22 (Listen 3:59)
Genesis 1 (Listen 4:55John 1 (Listen 6:18)

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Orchestrating Our Prayers

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 12.31, 38, 40, 42-43
I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate….the second choir proceeded in the opposite direction…The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God…the choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Reflection: Orchestrating Our Prayers
By John Tillman

Imagine John Williams walking in to conduct Star Wars or the Jurassic Park score or one of his other masterpieces and there being one banjo and a kazoo… 

Ezra and Nehemiah were rebuilding not just the physical structures of the wall and the Temple, but the logistics and schedules of the workers and musical performers who made worship happen. And as the text emphasizes, this took a considerable investment (Nehemiah 12.47) from the community. 

Music, like little else, has the power to move us, touching us on an emotional and spiritual level. For many reasons (often involving finances) church music in many, many places has retreated from the large orchestras and choirs of the past to pragmatic, small combos of musicians. 

Expansive worship can be expensive. Especially if you are, as Nehemiah and Ezra were, following the precise directions and orchestrations dictated a few centuries ago by a master musician (David) composing in his golden age and having his music performed and arranged by the virtuosic voice of Asaph. Virtuosos don’t skimp on instrumentation.

As much as I personally enjoy a variety of instrumentation and both modern and ancient musical styles, there is something powerful about hearing the full range of sound that orchestral composers imagine. 

Hans Zimmer, for the score of the mind-bending film, Inception, assembled the largest brass section that had ever been recorded. For his lofty, dreamlike score for the film, Interstellar, Zimmer employed the unique sounds of the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ, currently housed at the 12th-century Temple Church in London and played in the movie by its director of music, Roger Sayer.

We worship in spirit and truth, not according to musical styles and yet, at times, I long for the thick, layered instrumentation that stories in movie houses get, but are rarely supplied to the story of the gospel. Sometimes I miss the inclusive sound of a choir that carries my voice with theirs.

In our hearts, however, we are the new temple of God to replace the one Nehemiah built. No matter what echoes around our ears, in our hearts, we can antiphonally sing scripture back and forth with the Holy Spirit in perfect harmony.

May we become virtuosos of prayer, playing every note in a harmonious crescendo.
May the prayers of our hearts be louder than a thousand brass instruments, and the sighs of our spirit be more vibrant than the air thrumming through a thousand pipe organs.
May the music of praise spill forth from our hearts, as the music of Ezra’s Temple, spilled over Nehemiah’s walls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord. — Psalm 116.15

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 12 (Listen -6:30)
Acts 22 (Listen -4:26)

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If music is a universal language, prayer can be similarly described.

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