Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
In the book of Nehemiah, the people are rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. This process takes a lot of people all working together towards the same goal. When we accept Christ into our hearts, we’re not only freed from our sins and given a place in the kingdom of heaven, but we also become a part of the “Body of Christ.” That is to say, that as a believer, you are a part of Jesus here on earth, through his church. And while we are on this earth, we’re called to be a part of the church and to help to build it up as representatives of Christ. I know some people are very resistant to this concept and think that they can make it without church, or that the church is too flawed to be a representative of Jesus in the world.
While reading, the Holy Spirit showed me that the story of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem actually fits well with our place within the church. To answer naysayers; yes, the church is horribly flawed. There is corruption, sin, instability, and enough in-fighting to make any believer start wondering why Jesus even set up the church system in the first place. Likewise, Jerusalem was in absolute shambles when Nehemiah came upon it. When he asked some people from Jerusalem how things were going now that the exiles were allowed to return to their homeland, Nehemiah found out that things were pretty bad. We read,
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” (Nehemiah 1:3).
Nehemiah realized that the situation in Jerusalem was dire. But rather than sit at home in Susa, he immediately requested the king to let him go to Jerusalem to help the situation. After organizing the people, they began to rebuild the broken-down walls of Jerusalem. Scripture records,
The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah- Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth- places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jersualem as far as the Broad Wall. Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters (Nehemiah 3:6-12).
Now, aside from being an awful mouthful of names, this passage actually can teach us a lot about how we are to look at the “Body of Christ.” One of the first things to notice is that almost everyone who is building the wall has a different job within the community. Likewise, there are many different roles and people in the church. Paul tells us,
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Paul reminds us that as Christians we’re all united by Christ and his Holy Spirit. Through this, we’re all called to be a part of the body, which is the church. You might think that you have nothing to offer God, but take note; even the perfumers were active in building up the wall of Jerusalem. Going back to the above passage it talks about people from Gibeon and Mizpah helping to restore the wall of Jerusalem. As a member of the Body of Christ, you can be sure that you might be called to use your Spirit-endowed gifts far from your home. Or, like Jedaiah, you might be called to contribute close to home. But, keep in mind, that if the people of Gibeon and Mizpah didn’t come when they were needed, a whole section of the wall might not have been completed. So wherever or how-ever you are called by the Lord, please, don’t ignore the call, we already know the church is flawed, but your contribution can help to repair those cracks.
Another lesson we can learn from the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem is that some people in the church might already have established positions. That is to say, that one person might already be serving God in one way- when suddenly they’re called to add on another. Take for example the Levites, the Bible tells us, “Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district” (Nehemiah 3:17). The Levites were called servants of God whose job was to work in the Temple (which according to the book of Ezra was already rebuilt), and yet the Lord called them to also help in repairing the broken walls of Jerusalem. So don’t be surprised if God adds more to your load as a member of the body. However, keep this in mind; any job with the Lord is glorious. The Levites were not only helping at the Temple, but they were also aiding in protecting their community. Therefore, the Levites were double-dipping in noble tasks. Obviously, contributing to the work of the Spirit in the church are the pastors. Well, God called them to work on the wall too, “The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region” (Nehemiah 3:22). But we need to remember that our pastors and spiritual leaders are not just doing a job, it’s the job they were called to do. For Paul tells us,
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Those who are called into a leadership role are expected to not only fulfill their duties at church, but are also expected to be a part of building up the community as a whole. So these men are working double-duty all the time. So, you know, go easy on them when you’ve got a bone to pick or a gear to grind.
What I am getting at is this: you too have a part in your church and your community- the two should be connected. Because by serving the church in some way, you are strengthening our cracked and broken walls against naysayers and helping others in your community (either directly through service projects or indirectly by strengthening the church that leads them to Christ), which is a noble task indeed. Actually, when everyone else is doing something in connection with the church and you’re not (no matter what your reason may be) you look bad. Check out Nehemiah 3:5, “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” The nobles of Tekoa felt they were above having to help in the work at Jerusalem, and indeed they probably were. However, when you read that passage, do they look good? No, they look like jerks. So let’s say that you don’t like the way things are done at your church or disagree with one of the leaders so you don’t think you should have to help out. Guess what, you look like a jerk- no matter if someone else has wronged you; when they contribute and you sit with your arms crossed, you become the bad guy. Now, for those of you who do help out at church or in the community and you want others to do the same, you can use this exact same principle to motivate others. Take a look at Nehemiah 3:20, “Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.” Baruch rocked the wall and made it look good. So too, as you’re called to serve in the church or your larger community by God, do it with flair and excitement- after all, you’re working for God. When people see your work, they want to do better and they want to get involved as well. So if you want more help, or to motivate others to step it up a little, do your very best and they’ll see how awesome it can be.
Now, let’s flip this around a little and make it personal. You should know that you’re faith is not a one-shot build either. Oh no, your faith and your relationship with God is not just all on you, it is built by many people and takes time. If you’re a Christmas-Easter Christian, don’t really expect much to develop in your relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the foundation, when you were saved that foundation was laid. However, as followers of Christ your wall of faith is made of many parts. You have bricks of Bible-reading (if you are a Christian and haven’t at least made it once through the Bible, your wall is very flimsy, for there’s a ton of stuff to learn from it). I mean, check out this passage, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I love that passage because it says “all Scripture.” That means even the really boring stuff (like the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem) is jam-packed with things to learn. Aside from the Bible, you also have the mortar of sermons and other supplementary material to assist your Bible bricks in being built up. And, just like the wall of Jerusalem, your wall of faith is built by many people contributing like pastors and fellow Christians. The Bible reminds us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Fellowship in the Body of Christ is just as essential as having a team working on a building project. You may have an expert builder in your pastor, but that’s just one man, and as we’ve seen from the book of Nehemiah, it takes a village to do the job right.