PART 1: WHY ARE THE WALLS BROKEN DOWN?
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year [November of c. 445 BC = about 13 years after Ezra arrived back in Israel], while I was in the citadel of Susa [one of the four capitals of the Persian empire], 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 ‘Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
10 ‘They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’
I was cupbearer to the king.
THE FACTS OF THE BREAKING DOWN OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM
2 KINGS 25: 1-11
So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He camped outside the city and built siege works all around it. 2 The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
3 By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. 4 Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled towards the Arabah, 5 but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, 6 and he was captured.
He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. 7 They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
8 On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. 10 The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.[c 530 BC] 11 Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon.
WHY WERE THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM BROKEN DOWN?
OK…in a literal sense the walls of Jerusalem were broken down by the army of Nebuchadnezzar to ensure that Jerusalem could no longer resist the authority of Babylon; to punish the Jews by destroying their beautiful city, to humiliate them by taking away the symbol of their strength.
But, of course, the walls of the City of God could only be broken down at His command…so WHY did He allow the walls to be broken down?
The key word in 2 Kings 25 is the very first tiny, little, word… “So”…it alludes to what went before…
He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. 20 It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 24: 19-20)
The kings of Judah – and the people – had continued, over many years and generations, to do “evil” – despite the many warnings and pleas that God gave through His servants, the prophets.
And what was this “evil”?
2 Chronicles 36: 11-14 summarises all the reasons why God allowed the Jews to be taken into captivity to Babylon and why all the walls were broken down:
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years. 12 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God’s name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. 14 Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.
God used the Babylonians to break down the walls of Jerusalem because His people had become unfaithful and, despite pleas and warnings, had refused to repent and return to their worship of the One, True, God.
WHAT DO WALLS AND GATES SYMBOLISE?
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire (Nehemiah 1:3)
For the Jews (and indeed all peoples of ancient times) walls were very visible pronouncements of the strength, power, importance, wealth and dignity of those inside. They were the very real objects of defence against anyone who would seek to attack them. You were safe behind your walls. You could rule all around you from behind your walls.
Gates were the ways by which those within the walls could sally out and interact, influence and even rule those who were outside. Gates were also the way to control who – and what – came into the city within.
But the walls and gates of Jerusalem have a spiritual symbolism as well that resonates down to us today…
Jerusalem – beloved of God – is the Church.
The “walls of the church” are what makes the Church strong –
- Our faith in God and our trust in Him.
- The Word of God, the Bible, that gives us our firm and strong foundation of what is right and what is good.
- The Power of God that protects us and the Strength of the Holy Spirit that equips us to do all things
“Gates” speak of our what goes in and out of the Church of God –
- We are not called to stay behind the walls of the Church – nice and safe and sound – but to go out into all the world and proclaim the Good News to all of creation.
- They are also protected places allowing us to decide what we let INTO the Church from the world outside – customs, habits, ideas, arguments.
JUST LIKE JERUSALEM OUR WALLS HAVE BEEN BROKEN DOWN AND OUR GATES BURNT!
- JUST LIKE THE “REMNANT” WE TOO FIND OURSELVES IN “GREAT TROUBLE AND DISGRACE” (NEHEMIAH 1: 3) BECAUSE OUR WALLS HAVE BEEN BROKEN DOWN:
- The Church in our nation is weak, it is shrinking in size, it is increasingly aging, the young are not attending – the “missing generation” is getting bigger and bigger.
- Society largely mocks us, marginalises us (it no longer listens to our Godly wisdom and direction), sees us as outdated, out-of-touch and irrelevant.
- Enemies beset us and we seem to have no protection against them – humanists, post-modernists, extremists, moralists, followers of other religions.
And why is all this?
- WE HAVE NOT:
- Trusted in God with all our hearts
- Remained faithful to Him alone
- Remained obedient to Him
- INSTEAD, WE HAVE
- Compromised with the world + not risked standing up for Christ and the faith
- JUST LIKE THE “REMNANT” WE TOO MUST ACCEPT THAT OUR “GATES HAVE BEEN BURNED”
- We have allowed the world to have access to our hearts and souls and minds
- We have allowed the “enemy” to get into the church
- The “whole Gospel” is not proclaimed
- Truth has been infected with lies
- Our view of God has been watered-down
- Morality has been compromised
The broken walls of Jerusalem are NOT the crumbling society in which we live. They are the broken walls of the CHURCH!
WHAT DID NEHEMIAH DO WHEN HE FOUND OUT ABOUT THE WALLS AND GATES?
- HE SAT DOWN AND WEPT
He heard the truth of the situation and it made him physically cry. Why? Because he had a deep love for Jerusalem. It had a great spiritual significance for him.
- HE MOURNED
His life, as cupbearer to the king, was busy, busy, busy…but he knew it was time to put aside his busyness and to stop, and sit down, and spend time mourning – a deep sorrow for what had happened and what had caused it to happen. Mourning speaks of anguish of heart, knowing that wrong had been done, asking for forgiveness. Now it could be argued that he had nothing to ask forgiveness for – it was not he who had been unfaithful! But he knew that, as part of the Jewish nation he bore a collective responsibility for the unfaithfulness of the people. And he knew that he had not yet played his part in putting things right
- HE FASTED
He committed himself to showing to God how committed he was to repenting and turning back to God. Fasting meant that he put aside all the things that focused on himself – eating, putting on nice clothes – in order to focus totally on God and on His worship.
- HE PRAYED
He openly confessed the sins of the nation. He now sought the direction of the LORD in what he should do. He reminded God of His promises to renew, restore and rebuild the nation if it returned to Him…and then
- HE ACTED…
Like Isaiah before him, he said “Here am I, send me”…but this is the story for the next session.
THE POWER OF WHAT NEHEMIAH DID SHOULD CHALLENGE US AS TO WHAT WE DO…
…and is so clearly evidenced in what happened next: the walls WERE rebuilt – in the face of terrible opposition.
…and what he did is so clearly the example of what we should do.
Many of us have, this week, been inspired by the story recounted in the UCB Word For Today (Friday 11th March) which I reproduce here in full:
YOUR PRAYERS CAN MAKE GREAT THINGS HAPPEN!
11 MARCH 2022
‘When a believing person prays, great things happen.’
James 5:16 NCV
While holidaying in England, D.L. Moody visited a London church that was spiritually dead. The pastor recognised him and asked him to preach at the morning service. Reluctantly, Moody agreed. Afterwards, he told a friend the congregation was so unresponsive it was all he could do to finish his sermon. Later, he remembered he had committed to preach there again that night. Wishing he had never interrupted his holiday plans, he spent the afternoon dreading what was ahead. But behind the scenes, something was happening that Moody knew nothing about. After the morning service, an elderly lady met her invalid sister for lunch and told her about Moody’s upcoming visit. Her sister’s eyes lit up, and she exclaimed, ‘I’ve been praying God would send Moody to England! Put away the lunch, Sis. We’ll spend the afternoon fasting and praying for tonight’s service.’ When Moody took the pulpit that night, an ‘electric’ sense of God’s presence filled the sanctuary. He preached like a man on fire, and when he issued an invitation for people to follow Christ, five hundred responded. Thinking they had misunderstood, Moody had them sit down while he re-explained the gospel call. But when he issued a second invitation, the same five hundred stood to receive Christ. That Sunday initiated one of the greatest revivals ever to sweep England. What helped make it happen? Two elderly ladies who understood their church desperately needed the fire of God’s Spirit. They believed God’s promise, ‘When a believing person prays, great things happen.’ Today, tap into the power of prayer. Your prayers can help ignite the fire of God and make great things happen.
THE CHALLENGE FOR US
Are we serious about the sad state of the “walls” of the church in our nation? If so, then how passionate are we about seeing them rebuilt, and seeing the land revived, and therefore seeing the church become strong again where people in their hundreds turn to God?
- IF YOU ARE, THEN WE ARE CHALLENGING YOU TO:
- Ask to hear from the LORD the truth of the state of the walls of the church.
- Allow physical and spiritual tears to fall – grieve for the state of the church at this time.
- Mourn and Fast – this speaks of a time of serious repentance. When we mourn in this context we are so sad that things have come to this; and we acknowledge our sins and the sins of our predecessors, and we ask for His forgiveness; and we repent – that is we turn from how we are living now to a new way of living totally for Him; and we fast in order to focus on all this, and to show that we are serious about all this, and to declare to Him that we are willing to deny ourselves the things that we want in order to see the walls of the church rebuilt.
- To pray, and pray, and pray again for the state of the walls of the church today; and for God’s mercy on us; and for God’s direction for us; and then to commit ourselves to doing whatever He calls us to do in order to do our part in the rebuilding of the walls.
- AND WE ARE SUGGESTING THE FOLLOWING FOR US ALL:
- That we set aside time for prayer and fasting. You do not have to wait till the church has a structured day of prayer and fasting. Nehemiah did not wait till he had called a meeting of the Jewish council in Susa. He got straight down to praying and fasting on his own. He was that challenged. Are you? Am I?
- That over the next 2 weeks we focus in our prayer life on the state of the walls of the church; that we cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness.
- That on Friday 18th all those who wish, who feel led, join together at church for our “Revival Prayer” meeting where the focus will be on worship, repentance and rebuilding, concluded with sharing communion together.
- That, continuing to pray, we set aside – as many as possible – Friday 25th as a day of prayer and fasting for repentance and seeking the will of God for the rebuilding of the walls of the church (more notes on this, and a guide to “what is fasting?” and a suggested “prayer sheet guide” will follow in due course)
Are we willing to face the music and admit that the church in our land is in disrepair primarily because of its neglect of God and our many sins against Him?
So, what are we going to do about it?
Are we going to be willing to be like Nehemiah…to sit down and weep over it?
Our culture won’t sit still for a moment. We are just too busy. Will we, like Nehemiah, take time to stop our business and consider the real problems before us? There are babies being murdered by the thousands. Women and children being trafficked for sex around the globe; including in our own back yards. Drugs, alcohol, gangs and pornography are in our schools. Divorce is rampant even among Christians. Children are being neglected by their own parents. Are you willing to sit down for a moment and weep over this? Our walls are breaking and burning, and it seems that no one is really noticing, sometimes, not even the Church.
Nehemiah confessed “the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”
Nehemiah was a humble man who recognized his own faults and did not seek to immediately blame others. The walls were broken and burning, and though his hands took no part in it, he did not remove himself completely. He joined in it so that he, too, might benefit from the gift of repentance.
The first step to our church’s renewal is going to be the repentance of every individual man, woman and child who names the name of Jesus. Should a Christian repent? We should be the best at it. Not one of us is exactly where we need to be. None of us pray, seek, and knock as we should. We keep blinders on of various kinds. We have all sinned. We all ignore real problems as we continue on in our comfortable “Christian” bubbles, all but totally removed from the Great Commission. But if the individuals of a nation repent, the whole nation repents. When the nation repents and turns to God, it heals. It begins with the Nehemiah’s of our day. It begins with you; with all who at this very moment can see and admit, like Nehemiah, that not only has our nation sinned against God, but so have we.