Bible Study 11.7.11, 11.10.11, 11.13.11 For Worship 11.20.11Posted: October 31, 2011
Bible Study 11.7.11, 11.10.11, 11.13.11 For Worship 11.20.11
Ezra 3:10-13, Nehemiah 2:11-18, 3:1-4, 4:6
Ezra 3:10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel;
11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for
ever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy;
13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard afar.
Nehemiah 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.
12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; and I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no beast with me but the beast on which I rode.
13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Jackal’s Well and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which had been destroyed by fire.
14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool; but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.
15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall; and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.
16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing; and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest that were to do the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”
18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been upon me for good, and also of the words which the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
Nehemiah 3:1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel.
2 And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
3 And the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired.
Nehemiah 4:6 So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work.
During the 60 years (597 BCE – 537 BCE) the Hebrews spent as exiles in Babylon they kept alive the hope of returning to Jerusalem. Psalm 137:1-6 captures the lament of the exiles and their determination to remember and return to Zion:
137:1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
When the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, Cyrus the Great, instituted a relatively enlightened Imperial Policy. Conquered peoples were allowed to return to their homelands, engage in limited self-rule, practice their religions, as long as they paid a reasonable tribute to the Empire. Many Jews returned to Jerusalem, but what they found upon their arrival was ruins. They had grown up with stories of the beauty and magnificence of Jerusalem and they came home to ruins — what a letdown.
Life was hard. The surrounding fields had not been cultivated. The terraces that supported agriculture in this area of hills and valleys had not been cared for. The cisterns had filled in with debris. Just finding enough to eat was a major challenge. And there were unfriendly neighbors. The Samaritans, the Amalekites, the Moabites were not happy about a colony of Jews trying to re-occupy the site of Jerusalem. The Jews wanted to rebuild the temple, but they also needed a wall for protection.
It is hard to establish a chronology for Nehemiah and Ezra. Some scholars believe Ezra may have returned to Jerusalem as early as 480 BCE. He was not among the very earliest of returnees to Jerusalem. Ezra tried to inspire the Jews in and around Jerusalem to keep the law and rebuild the temple. Most scholars believe Nehemiah was an official in the Persian Court and he was sent to Jerusalem by the Emperor to be the governor of the province about 450 BCE. Probably Nehemiah and Ezra did not overlap. Nehemiah inspired the people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem to provide protection and to re-establish the City’s identity. In a place and time when all great Cities had defensive walls, to be without a wall was to not be a City. We need to note that the rebuilding of the Wall of Jerusalem was almost ninety years after the Jews had been allowed to start returning from Babylon. And this leads to an interesting historical footnote. The Jews did not all pick up and leave Babylon to return to Jerusalem. They filtered back. Bargil Pixner believes the family who ultimately occupied Nazareth, the family from which Jesus sprang did not come back to Palestine until about 120 BCE. They had stayed in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley for almost 400 years before returning to Israel. Even after the Maccabees established a Jewish Kingdom in Israel, many, many Jews remained behind in the land between the two rivers. They were successful farmers, physicians, scholars in the Persian Court. Indeed, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Babylon became the undisputed center of Jewish scholarship. The Babylonian Talmud was considered to be far superior to the Jerusalem Talmud.
The importance of our scripture from Ezra and Nehemiah is to emphasize how difficult rebuilding and repairing can be in our lives. We should note in the passage from Ezra that they were not celebrating the completion of the new temple, rather they were only celebrating the laying of the foundation of the new temple. The completion would be many, many years in the future. The few people who could still remember the original temple, were weeping with joy and sorrow, because they knew they would not survive to see the completion of the project.
Rebuilding our lives after disaster is a long, painful and effortful process. Six months after the tornado people are still trying to put their material lives back together. Spiritual recovery from that disaster for many will require years of work. When someone dies, or a relationship breaks up, divorce, can require years of spiritual work in recovery. Faith communities only rebuild slowly after disaster. When congregations suffer conflict, they often require years of rebuilding in order to recover. When spiritual communities fail to resolve their difficulties and do not revision their future they often remain crippled as organizations.
Nehemiah helps us to see what is required for re-building. Everyone has to do their part. Each person is given a section of the wall to rebuild. And they succeeded because as Nehemiah says: “So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work.” If people have a mind to work, there is very little they cannot accomplish. In order to have a mind to work people have to be on the same page. They have to have a similar vision of the needs of the community, and their mission in the world. It takes a visioning process to bring a community of people to the point they have a mind to work. Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem was not unlike bringing a community of people through a capital campaign. First, the whole community has to be willing to embrace the project, and then each person has to understand his or her part in making it happen. The people have to have a mind to build.
Now in case any of us think Nehemiah had an easy task, if we read a little bit further we find out that those Samaritans, Amalekites and Moabites, were waiting for the opportunity when no one was looking to attack the Jews before the wall was completed. So the work was slowed as half the builders picked up swords, shields and spears to ward off any would be attackers, while the rest of the workers continued building. Whenever we are trying to do something significant there will be distractions. Other people will attack us even try to tear down the little bit of work we have accomplished. We need to anticipate opposition and plan ahead to protect the work from distractions.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. What instruments did the Levites us in the dedication ceremony of the foundation of the new temple?
2. The musical Levites were known as the sons of who?
3. What did the Levites sing?
4. What were the reasons people wept?
5. What time of day did Nehemiah choose for his inspection of the wall?
6. How many different gates did Nehemiah inspect?
7. How did Nehemiah share with the people the project to rebuild the wall?
8. What system did the people settle upon for the rebuilding of the wall?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Have you ever attended a church dedication? What was the feeling on that occasion?
2. Have you ever been involved in a church fight?
3. What is the most devastating disaster you have experienced in your life?
4. How did you rebuild after your personal disaster?
5. How do you think communities of people develop a common vision?
6. In your experience what are the chief obstacles to a community of people owning a common vision?
7. What was the most difficult community task you have ever led?
8. When you encounter conflict or opposition in community, what is your initial reaction?
9. What role do you think prayer may play in bringing a community together?