Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
In Nehemiah, the Israelites were rebuilding Jerusalem. Let’s jump right into some Scripture and see how the rebuilding process was going,
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come up and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Nehemiah 4:6-8).
A lot of people were opposed to the rebuilding of the city; and it ended up with Nehemiah and the Jerusalem crew being surrounded by enemies who were planning to strike at them. We too, as believers, are surrounded by enemies. Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Our world is not a Christian one, and there are many people who would like nothing more than to cut us down and destroy our faith. Beyond that, there are dark forces that manipulate such people; so we’re not only dealing with dickheads, but also the devil. What should we do? The Holy Spirit recommends you check out what Nehemiah’s crew did: “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” (Nehemiah 4:23).
So…we’re supposed to never change clothes and continually brandish weapons? No, of course not- I mean, they had to, but that wouldn’t work for us. In the Bible, clothes often represent our standing with God. Even way back in the beginning, as soon as Adam and Eve were separate from God they realized that they were without clothes. Therefore, as his way of forgiving them (before kicking them out of the garden), the Lord clothed Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:21 reads, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” You can also see this at work when reading about the Armor of God:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).
This is a cool passage, because when you really think about it, each piece of the armor represents part of our relationship with Christ. And by maintaining those aspects, we have full protection from the Lord. From another perspective on clothes, way toward end of the Bible in Revelation 19:8 it is written,
Fine linen, bright and clean,
Was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints).
This straight up tells us that dressing in white clothes in the Bible is a symbol for acting rightly. It’s glossed over by some folks (myself included), but the Word of God is fairly clear that we’re supposed to not just believe, but also behave in a righteous manner. James put it this way,
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:14-17).
So when the Holy Spirit recommends staying clothed, what he means is that we should hold tight on to God and do our best in the Lord to live righteous lives.
What about the weaponry that Nehemiah was talking about? Actually, Jesus also told his disciples to be armed. We read, “He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one’” (Luke 22:36). So did Jesus promote violence? Absolutely not! A few verses later someone tried to use the swords they had and Jesus freaked out. History records,
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him (Luke 22:49-51).
From this we can see that the Bible isn’t advocating Christians to be armed to the teeth. The sword we are to carry is the Word of God (that is, the Bible). Remember earlier when we were looking at the armor of God? One of those was “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And Hebrews 4:12 backs this up with,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Actually, Jesus straight up calls his words a sword. Check it out, “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16). So when we’re told to stay armed, what it really means is that we should keep God’s Word at the ready. This isn’t a new teaching or anything though; Moses was preaching the same thing during his time, before much of the Bible was even written:
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
So how do we keep the Word of God always at the ready? To do this you should read your Bible daily. Jesus said to sell your stuff if you need be to get a Bible (that is, the sword he was speaking of); so getting a Bible is pretty darn important. You can get a free Bible app on your phone now too, so there’s really no excuse to not get one. But don’t just read it, consider what you read and pray about each day’s reading. I’m always learning new things, or at least being reminded that there’s still a lot of Bible I don’t understand (even after numerous read-throughs). You don’t have to read a lot at one time; try to find a balance that fits with your life while still feeding your soul. Then, with some Biblical understanding under your belt, you’ll be able to answer your accusers when they come and try to knock your faith.
Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was the Israelites way of defending themselves against their enemies. You are defending your faith with your armor and your sword (deeds & Scripture). By building your life around God, you’ll have an impenetrable defense. As it is written, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).