PART 4: BUILDING WITH A SWORD IN OUR HANDS
BUILDING HADRIAN’S WALL
WHO built Hadrian’s Wall from 122AD?
It wasn’t conscripted labour, or slaves, or even the local building firms. We know as a fact that the wall was built by the elite of the Roman army – the Roman Legionaries. Building of fortresses and walls was seen to be the most important of tasks and was always undertaken by the fittest of all – the Roman Imperial Troops.
Now take a look at this photo of a scene on Trajan’s Column in Rome (Trajan was Hadrian’s immediate predecessor):
Notice the two men on guard in front of the building work. They are not Roman Legionaries; they are what are called “Auxiliary troops” – very necessary, very skilled, but not of the same calibre or standing. They did the guarding. Notice the attire of the legionaries doing the actual building…they are in full uniform with their plate armour being worn as they worked. This would have been heavy, hot, hard-working conditions. Why not strip down? Because while working they had to be ready for anything; ready to grab their weapons at a moment’s notice and fight off any attacker. This is how you built a wall in the ancient world.
What on earth has this got to do with us????
NEHEMIAH 4: 7-23
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’
11 Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’
12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’
13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our work.
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!’
21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, ‘Let every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so that they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.’ 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.
WHEN WE REBUILD THE WALLS, THE ENEMY WILL GET ANGRY
Verse 7 tells us of men of other nations who were living in and around Jerusalem. They had been there for years. They had “put down roots” there, they claimed it as their own. Oh, I have no doubt that they had ingratiated themselves with the returning Jews – become their friends, invited them around to their houses, shared their food and drink and, most insidiously, their culture and their gods with them. I am sure that they were happy and content as long as their position in Jerusalem wasn’t under threat.
But now they had a man – Nehemiah – who had told them in answer to their questioning him about what was going on:
‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’ (Nehemiah 2: 20)
This was NOT what they wanted to hear and now we are told that these non-Jews became “angry and…greatly incensed” (Nehemiah 4: 1). They began with ridiculing the work of the Jews (Nehemiah 4: 1-2), and when this didn’t work they began to plot to “come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (Nehemiah 4: 8).
Listen, all God’s people. The wise saying goes “evil prospers when good men do nothing”. Our enemy, the devil, is an adept at “not rocking the boat”. Like Sanballat and Tobiah, the devil has put down roots in a church that is compromised and unfaithful. The devil whispers lies and deceptions into the ears of those who do nothing and the church is lulled into false doctrine and worldly-living.
The moment we rise up, like Nehemiah and the Jews, and say “enough is enough! We are now going to rebuild the Church to be what God has always intended it to be!” then the devil and all his demons are going to “take off their gloves” and there will be “no more Mr Nice Guy” and he is going to start by getting the world to ridicule us – mocking our quaint old-fashioned views and morality. When that does no good, he is going to then plot to fight against us with every weapon in his arsenal.
The devil will be angry when he sees us rebuilding the walls of the Church.
FIRST RESPONSE: PRAY AND GUARD
I love the reaction of Nehemiah. There was no fear and no panic. Instead –
“We prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (verse 9)
Nehemiah knew that the threats from people was the human face of a spiritual battle. His “first port of call” rather than his “last resort” was to pray. For he knew that:
- God had called him to rebuild the walls
- God is Almighty and so greater than all those hostile to what they were doing
So, they prayed to keep in close relationship and communication with God, to pour out their concerns and to ensure that they remained closely in His Will at all times. How could they therefore lose?
But he knew that they had a part to play – that they were co-labouring with God. Yes…they could have sat back and waited for God to pour fire and brimstone down on their enemies. They knew, however, that this was not what God called them to do. He was calling them to play their part. And this began with posting a guard to keep an eye out for any attack of the enemy – which could come at any time – day or night.
Let us have the same reaction as Nehemiah. We know that the moment we start rebuilding the walls of the Church that the enemy will attack – using human forces as well as spiritual ones.
This attack is aimed to stop us rebuilding the Church. This attack will come from a spiritual direction in the form of (for example):
- Battles of all kinds in the mind
- Depression, anxiety, mental illness
And this attack will come from a human direction as well in the form of (for example):
- Other religions
Like Nehemiah let our first response be to pray and pray and pray.
Like Nehemiah let our first response be to guard ourselves and our Church. Let us be ready for the attack whenever and wherever it comes. Let us be vigilant. Let us be watching out and listening to the media and to the conversations of those around us.
SECOND RESPONSE: BEWARE OF THE ENEMY WITHIN
How Nehemiah must have been disappointed when he was then told (verse 10):
- We are tired – exhausted – how can we do this work?
- The work is too hard – there is too much to do – it’s impossible!
And then he saw the courage of the Jews failing them – the enemy is going to attack us! (verse 12) – and this was coming from Jews who were not even doing the work of rebuilding!
The world today has been rocked – horrified – at the crass attack of Russia on Ukraine. Soldiers have had to man roadblocks to stop “fifth columnists”, infiltrators, and traitors from wreaking havoc in the major cities.
In the same way, let us not be surprised when we hear complaints of the work of rebuilding the Church as being so hard as to be impossible; when we hear so-called religious leaders, who have no part in the rebuilding of the Church, telling us that we are putting ourselves in danger with the world in resisting its ways and rebuilding our walls.
THIRD RESPONSE: WEAPONS AT THE READY!
Nehemiah was ready for the worst. He stationed whole families with their weapons at the most vulnerable places – ready to fight.
I love this – whole families – old men and young, women and children – all of them!
And he encouraged them with the Truth – “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” – how could they lose?! – so “fight for your families” (verse 14).
Hear the word of the Lord all you His people! Yes, the enemy looks big and strong, but we will be ready for them – let us identify our most “exposed places” – this is not our church building, this is where we work, where we play, where we rest – our offices, our clubs, our cinemas, our homes with unbelieving families – and let us be ready to fight the battles that are going to have to be fought.
And our weapons? They are not literal swords and spears and bows and arrows. They are the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. They are our prayers. They are the Power of the Holy Spirit within us and emanating from us in “wonders and signs”. They are our worship in song. They are our good deeds and all the “fruit of the Spirit”. And we must put on the full armour of God as outlined in Ephesians chapter 6.
FOURTH RESPONSE: BUILDING WITH A SWORD BY OUR SIDE
How Nehemiah apportioned duties to all those who were involved in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is very telling:
- Half did the work of rebuilding while the other half protected them and acted as a very visible deterrent to attack (verse 16).
Remember that when Joshua was sent with the young men to do battle with the Amalekites it was the worship of Moses, Aaron and Hur up on the rock that determined the victory. We too must ensure that for every one of us that is working to rebuild the church through sound teaching, challenging and standing up to society, we need another one deep into powerful prayer on our behalf – fighting the spiritual battles.
- Those who carried materials carried a weapon in the other (verse 17). The rebuilding of the walls relied on those who carried the stone and the mortar, brought up the wood and the metal, supplied the food and the drink. They could do this while also carrying a weapon.
Today we need the “supply lines” of the church – the carers, the cooks, the cleaners – those who are freeing others up to build the walls of the Church. Let them do this with their eyes and ears open to see and hear the attacks on the Church. And let them be ready with the spiritual weapons – as described above – to fight the battles. The work of the suppliers is SO VERY IMPORTANT!
- The builders wore their swords by their sides as they worked (verse 18). You can’t build with one hand. Both are needed. But, just like a Roman legionary, the Hebrew builders had to be ready at a moment’s notice to put down their stones and pick up their swords to fight against the enemy.
So too with us. There are those amongst us who are in the forefront of rebuilding the walls of the Church. Let us ensure that we are not vulnerable but are clothed daily with the whole armour of God and with the sword of the Spirit and with prayer close by our sides.
- The man who sounded the trumpet stayed with Nehemiah (verse 18). Why? Because no-one could know from which direction the attack of the enemy would come. The trumpeter would sound the warning and call the people to battle – alerting them to the point of attack.
Oh how we need the prophets today! Those who are being shown and told by God where the battle will take place. And may the rest of us have our spiritual ears open to hear their call – the call of the LORD – so that we might not be taken by surprise. Let us pray for more prophets in the Church.
FIFTH RESPONSE: GOD IS WITH US!
Nehemiah ends where he begins. He cries out:
“Our God will fight for us!” (verse 20)
How can we fail?
Yes, the work will be long and hard – the Jews worked “from the first light of dawn till the stars came out” (verse 21); they had to stay alert and “on the job” even during their rest time – they were to stay in Jerusalem by day and night (verse 22); their focus was so on their job that they did not even have time to satisfy their own needs (verse 23). And so the work to rebuild the walls of the Church will be long and hard.
Are you up to it? Are you committed to it?
The wall of Jerusalem WAS rebuilt – Nehemiah reports that despite the moaning from the people and the opposition from outside “the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6: 15).
The walls of the Church WILL BE rebuilt…IF we remain committed to the task.
This is our Vision 2022.
Will you be a part of it?