A Stranger to Danger

May 21, 2012 - 5:00 am

“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 singed with fire’.” — Nehemiah 1:3

Known primarily as one of the major players spearheading the Jewish return to Zion at the outset of the Second Temple period, Nehemiah’s story begins in the imperial court of Persian Babylonia. It is there that Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, received the bad news that those brave Jewish settlers in Israel – those who had taken the first steps in returning from the Babylonian Exile to their ancestral homeland – were in peril. Impoverished, and beset by hostile neighbours, the fledgling community cried out for a leader who would help them achieve their goal of rebuilding Jerusalem and re-cultivating the land.

However heart-breaking this news was, we must remember that Nehemiah was an exalted servant of the Persian emperor. He had a comfortable position at the court; the king liked him. What could have induced him to leave and make the arduous journey to the land of his ancestors? In the verse cited above, we read that Nehemiah was ultimately moved to action when he heard the plight of the city of Jerusalem, particularly the sorry state of Jerusalem’s once impregnable city wall.

The 16th century Jewish sage, Rabbi Samuel Eidels, noted that the word employed by our verse to describe the wall’s disrepair possesses the Hebrew root “Y-Z-T,” meaning, “singe.” The sense conveyed by this root stands in stark contrast to the more dire tone conveyed by an alternative root, utilized several verses later, “A-K-L,” meaning, “consume [by fire].”

In other words, according to Rabbi Eidels, Nehemiah was not informed of Jerusalem’s impending doom – of the complete and utter destruction of its city wall. Rather, Nehemiah was told simply of some damage the wall had taken. And while this news was certainly cause for concern, we would have expected Nehemiah merely to offer his sympathies, or some words of encouragement, and then move on to some other issue.

Instead, Nehemiah turned his entire life upside down, arranging to assume personal responsibility for the safety and upkeep of the community of Jerusalem – and in the process demonstrated to us the proper commitment to Israel’s welfare. After all, Israel is the land in which God Himself has chosen to rest his Name. Nehemiah knew that if we are to be true servants of God, we must be prepared to defend His Land, and His people from even the slightest threat.

Consider what you might do today to show your support for God’s people and His land…


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