Friday, June 30, 2006

Nehemiah 4

1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews.
2 He said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it 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, “That stone wall they are building—any fox going up on it would break it down!”
4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.
5 Do not cover their guilt, and do not let their sin be blotted out from your sight; for they have hurled insults in the face of the builders.
6 So we rebuilt the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work.
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 the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry,
8 and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.
9 So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10 But Judah said, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, and there is too much rubbish so that we are unable to work on the wall.”
11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see anything before we come upon them and kill them and stop the work.”

I take pride in knowing Scripture relatively well. Of course I could always do better, and I wish to. One of the portions of Scripture that I wish to know better but don't is the Ezra-Nehemiah cycle. I confess to not knowing how to make sense of this text to do it justice, and have decided to re-read Nehemiah first before writing a post on it. I will heed verse 6, and hear it addressed to me, "For the people had a mind to work." Get to work, Clint. But patiently, for walls are not built in a day, nor biblical faith fortified through light work.

[author note: following text added July 3rd]

I am fascinated by the parallel structure in this book:

Chapter 1-7 narrates re-building the walls of Jerusalem, and setting guards around the walls so that the workers can work in safety.

Chapters 8 and following narrate the public re-reading of Scripture (the law) to the people, and then their covenanting together to maintain it, even putting a fence around the law by writing it into their own administrative charter.

It is an example (of which there ar many) of the parallel between Jerusalem and Scripture, both functioning as public signs as well as real places where one can go to live and revive faith, manifestations of God's economy.

"There is too much rubbish and we are unable to work on the wall." What is the rubbish that keeps me from steady work at reading the Scriptures and studying them regularly? Is it the pile of other books here by my Poang?

Sometimes I think our best intentioned and beloved activities are the ones that divert us the most from the devotional life. I'm not talking about responsibilities like caring for children or family, or doing necessary work set before us. But, in my case for example, I invest considerable time reading books, mostly theology, but also a lot of practical stuff and novels here and there. Is this thing that I love too much of an obsession, to the point that there is rubbish all around tripping me up from building a solid wall?

What is the rubbish in your own life?

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