According to commentators, the final syllable of the name Jerusalem suggests the words “peace” [shalom] and “prosperity” [shalvah]. We don’t hear it in our English rendering, but try this instead: think “yer-u-sha-lay-im.” (Hear it now?)
At any rate, both peace and prosperity were in short supply during Nehemiah’s tenure in Jerusalem, but he was a man of vision. Even as an Israelite born in exile, Nehemiah would have known the Hebrew scriptures, and I am reading Psalm 122 this week with Nehemiah looking over my shoulder because this psalm of ascent affirms and corroborates the value that Nehemiah placed on the city of Jerusalem (yer-u-sha-lay-im).
Here is his blueprint in Psalm 122:3:
“Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together . . .”
Coverdale translates the description as “a city that is a unity in itself,” and Eugene Peterson adds, “the city itself was a kind of architectural metaphor for what worship is: all the pieces of masonry fit compactly, all the building stones fit harmoniously.”
Here is Nehemiah’s purpose in verse 4:
The city to which the tribes ascend, all GOD’s tribes go up to worship, to give thanks to the name of GOD — this is what it means to be Israel,” (The Message).
“Whatever the limitations of its citizens,” says Derek Kidner, “Jerusalem was where God saw fit to build His House.” This was Nehemiah’s vision, and the peace of Jerusalem that the Psalmist (David) pleads for in Psalm 122 was a means to an end, this end being worship. God is the one sufficient reason that justifies the rebuilding of the city. God is the one sufficient reason that his people join to worship. As people of God, even today, we find our framework in worship. Hear words from the pen of David (Psalm 122:9), but let your mind envisage Nehemiah’s heart:
“For the sake of the house of our God,
GOD, I’ll do my very best for you.”
For Nehemiah, doing his very best for God involved career displacement, physical danger, and continual risk.
Charles Spurgeon told a story about a reaper, laboring in a field on a summer’s day. He paused in his work, looked for his whet stone and began sharpening his blade. Was he wasting precious time? Of course not, for each sweep of the tool will be more effective for its having been sharpened. And this is the role that worship plays in the life of the believer. It is the pause that brings all our work for God and all our words about God into focus. It is the stone that whets our appetite for God, Whom we desire all the more for having experienced some of his loveliness. In our longing for peace of heart, peace in our home, and peace in our world, it may be time to stop, to reach for the stone and to sharpen our blades.
This post is the fourteenth in a series in which I ponder “just one thing” each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah as I travel slowly and thoughtfully (on snowshoes!) through the chapters with my Sunday School class. If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/