January 27, 2020
1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
At this point in our story, Nehemiah has rallied the remnant of Israel around the wall project. Each family is taking a different section of the wall to repair, and each family is making progress. When the non-israelites around the city hear of the progress, they become angry. Why were they angry, do you think? What was at risk for them if the Israelites rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem?
This part of the story is largely about power. If Jerusalem were to rise from the ashes, it’s likely that more Israelites would return home to live in and around the city. A strengthening Israel would threaten the regional power of Sanballat the Heronite and Tobiah the Ammonite. So they begin to ridicule and mock. And their mocking has some truth to it. They call the Jews feeble. As a people, at this time, they were a mere shadow of who they had been. They mock the timetable “Will they finish in a day?” and the workmanship – “What they are building – even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones.” Those things have a thread of truth as well. The people building the wall weren’t experts. They were untrained people working on a difficult project on a compressed timetable.
Seeds of truth make ridicule painful. If someone told me I was a terrible doctor, it would have almost no impact. I’m not a doctor in any way, shape, or form. I’ve never done any doctor-ish things that could be judged. But if someone said I was a terrible parent – well that hurts. I can easily recall my failings as a Dad. The threads of truth entangle me in the lies, and suddenly I’m caught.
But in his attempt to shame, Sanballat touches on an even deeper truth. And it has become one of my favorite verses in the Bible. “Can they bring these stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?” In one sentence Sanballat accidentally communicates his greatest fear, and the foundation of God’s plan all along. It’s not about a wall. It’s not about a city. It’s not about Nehemiah or Artaxerxes. God’s plan is to bring life back to His people. Completing the wall will demonstrate to the world that a resurrection of the Jews is in process. They have been broken. Their city gates burned. Scattered to the four corners of the empire. Yet God isn’t limited by those realities. He is creating his own reality – his own life – out of the rubble. Out of my rubble. Out of your rubble.
What I love about this verse is that it acknowledges the truth of our beginning. Broken and bruised. Imperfect. In the same breath it reveals the truth of God’s ability. Bringing life to broken and burned things. I hope this thought brings you comfort today as we inevitably experience our imperfection and pain. May you see the life that God is raising up.