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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Moving Into the City

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 11.1-2
1 Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. 2 The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.

From John: The urban/rural divide is often highlighted in treacle-sweet holiday romances where a big-city big shot gets stuck in a quaint small town and falls for the simple life and, of course, an attractive romantic partner. This repost from 2020 highlights the fact that Christians may find a mission of love that goes beyond romance by bringing the love of Jesus to the heart of cities both large and small.

Reflection: Moving Into the City
By John Tillman

In our urban-slanted view of culture, it is hard for us to imagine why the population of Jerusalem needed to be propped up by a lottery, choosing one-in-ten men to move into the city. “Who wouldn’t want to live in the city?”, we might think to ourselves.

But when we drill down, we find that in this situation, the city was literally being rebuilt from the ground up and there were armed forces threatening attack. Jerusalem wasn’t a glittering capital, even with its restored Temple and rebuilt wall. Being chosen to move there was more like being drafted into military service than getting to move to a midtown condo.

Cities of the world today need God’s people in them, just like Jerusalem did. Cities simultaneously hold some of the greatest potential for our planet and the greatest evils. 

The urban population, 34% in 1960, has continued to grow over the past 60 years. Today 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, it may be 68%.

The growth isn’t happening primarily in Western mega-cities. Urban population growth is concentrated in less developed regions of the world where for the first time a majority of people are living in urban areas. 

But this is not a situation in which people are trading horrible conditions and deprivation in the country for blissful, glittering, city-of-tomorrow dwellings that futurists expected humanity to be living in a fifth of the way through the 21st century. In fact, 40% of global urban population growth is happening in slums which exacerbates health risks and introduces new hazards.

Cities also produce 80% of the world’s GDP but this statistic is misleading. All the financial productivity of the cities is literally fed by the rural areas surrounding them. Also, very little of the financial benefits earned by cities ever manages to make its way to helping the workers who live in the slums or the rural residents who support the city’s elite.

As we wait for the day we will live in the New Jerusalem, let us not abandon the “Jerusalems” in our own nations.

May we, the church, pray earnestly for cities and ask the Holy Spirit to prompt us toward helping the most helpless, and confronting the most powerful.
May we make our light shine through good deeds, showing God’s mercy and his grace to us, and turning slums and suburbs into cities on a hill.

*Statistics from World Health Organization.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever. — Psalm 145.1

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 11 (Listen 5:05
Revelation 20 (Listen 2:49)

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My Word is My Bond

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 10:28-29
28 “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.

Reflection: My Word is My Bond
By Erin Newton

The turn of each year brings a sense of hope. Many of us look to the future, hopeful of a better set of circumstances. Many of us envision a year of accomplishments. Each year is an opportunity for renewing our commitments.

Nehemiah describes a time of renewal. Ezra read the law of Moses to the people, bringing them to confess their sins. In response, the community came together to bind themselves to God. It was more than lip-service. The people of God vowed to be held accountable.

One of the inevitable downfalls of our New Year resolutions is the lack of follow-through. Gym memberships soar in January as everyone commits to “really getting into shape this time,” but all regular gym members know the crowds will dissipate by March. The lofty goal of reading the Bible in a year is usually stalled by the end of February or whenever you get a few chapters into Leviticus. (It’s ok, I study the Old Testament and sometimes find it boring, ha!)

Usually, the cost of membership keeps some of us trudging to the gym every few weeks, so as not to waste our money. Reading the Bible? Well, that’s free and can be difficult to trudge through without motivation.

So what did it mean for God’s people to bind themselves by oath and curse?

Deuteronomy also ended with a renewed commitment to follow God, alongside a promise of blessings for obedience and curses for negligence. The Israelites, recently returned from exile, were keenly aware of the consequences for neglecting God’s word. Despite the reality of taking such an oath, their hearts responded to conviction.

Renewal is the story of God’s people. When we reflect upon the story of Jesus born in the manger, we must respond to why this birth is more important than any other. As we move closer to Easter, we must respond to why this death is more important than any other. When we accept Jesus as Lord, our hearts are renewed. New purpose, new focus, new life.

Our stories are never quite so simple. We mess up. We fall short. In many ways, our resolution to follow God is thwarted. I once saw a motivational poster near a gym that read, “If it means enough, you’ll find a way. If it doesn’t, you’ll find excuses.”

May we use this new year to bind ourselves to God once again.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Remember, Lord, how short life is, how frail you have made all flesh. — Psalm 89.47

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 10 (Listen 4:41
Revelation 19 (Listen 3:47)

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Confession and Covenant

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 9.32-35
32 “Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes—the hardship that has come on us, on our kings and leaders, on our priests and prophets, on our ancestors and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today. 33 In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the statutes you warned them to keep. 35 Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.

Reflection: Confession and Covenant
By John Tillman

Nehemiah’s generation wrote a prayer to God that is a long confession and history of their own sins. These sins incapacitated them from their mission of manifesting God to the world. Rather than being a distinctive “kingdom of God,” Israel became indistinguishable from the other nations.

Not only did Israel’s kings and leaders, priests and prophets abuse their own people, they misrepresented God. When pagan nations saw Israel’s kings and leaders acting just like their own leaders, why would they assume that Yahweh was different from their gods? 

Like Israel, we are to represent the distinctiveness of God and to bring about God’s kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. Making known Christ and his kingdom is the essence of Epiphany. This is not just mystical or metaphorical. We make Christ known in practical ways. After all, many non-Christians today don’t believe in anything “mystical.” But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t manifesting Christ to them. Are we doing so faithfully? As we live, act, and worship, we show others what Christ is like. Or do we?

When unbelievers wonder how Christ might treat them, they will think about how we have treated them. When they wonder what Christ might do for them, they will think about what we have done for them. What assumptions about God do our actions lead people to believe?

God’s kingdom, even though it is “from another place” (John 18.36) becomes visible when we live “here” as we should “there.” When we maintain a connection to God’s kingdom, living it out in front of people, they sense it even if they don’t know what to call it. God’s kingdom is attractive. People may like you or trust you or see you as a leader and not know why.

Like Nehemiah’s assembly, we need to regularly spend time confessing our misrepresentations of God. As this year closes, spend some time reviewing and confessing. But then, shift from mourning sin to moving in line with God’s Spirit into a new year.

Nehemiah’s community made a new covenant to once again be God’s distinctive people. Christ has made a new covenant for us to be, not just citizens, but heirs with him. God will be faithful to us. And to whatever degree we, by God’s grace, can be faithful, his kingdom will shine through us, calling many to live in his light.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. — Psalm 118.14

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 9 (Listen 7:46
Revelation 18 (Listen 4:48)

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Read, Rejoice, and Feast

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 8.2-3, 12
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. 

Reflection: Read, Rejoice, and Feast
By John Tillman

The day-long worship program described by Nehemiah fits the mechanics of modern worship gatherings. The spiritual leader, Ezra, stands high on a platform with the scriptures. The scriptures are read out loud. Levites and others “make it clear” so people could “understand what was being read.”

What is unfamiliar is the effect it has. This was not an emotionless day of informational, academic, scholarly dictation. It was inspirational and correctional. It was uplifting and convicting. Nehemiah has to remind them to celebrate! They should eat good food! They should rejoice! 

This passage is one of the sweetest passages about God’s word in the scriptures. The purpose of studying scripture is to stir the heart. The purpose of explaining scripture is to motivate joy and celebration.

I get chills thinking about the changes that could happen in my life if I loved God’s word and responded to it as these people did. What if everyone in my church did? What if everyone in my city did? What if everyone who read The Park Forum did?

If you are a part of our community at The Park Forum, one of our email subscribers, this passage expresses much that we hope would echo in your heart and life. We want to be a community that loves God’s word—loves studying it and explaining it to each other. We pray that it leads to rejoicing and celebrating.

I hope that post-Christmas, you are basking in the glow of celebrating, rejoicing, and eating good food. I also pray that you will catch the passion for God’s word that Nehemiah records. Make a commitment now, before the end of the year, to engage the scriptures with us, studiously and emotionally each day. Read, rejoice, and feast on the scriptures with us.

And bring someone with you! Nehemiah says, “men, women, and others who could understand,” so none should be excluded from our assembly as we read the scriptures together. Ask a friend to subscribe and walk with you in 2023. (Share this link.) 

Through the scriptures, we come to know God. Knowing the height and breadth and depth of God and his love for us (Ephesians 3.18-19) through scripture is a reason to weep with joy and act with love throughout the year. I pray your lives would be altered and strengthened by the scripture and that the society around you would never be the same.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. — Psalm 146.1

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 8 (Listen 4:07
Revelation 17 (Listen 3:19)

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