The walls of Jerusalem were completed in October 445 BC. It must have been an awesome triumph for the returned Israelite exiles. The temple was in place, and the city of Jerusalem once again was fortified. If nothing else, it was a symbolic victory. God’s people had not been been defeated. They were rising again.
Chapter 6, however, doesn’t dwell very much on the victory of the completed walls. Rather, the focus is on the trials of Nehemiah. He was besieged by enemies who wanted to deceive him and to trip him up and even to kill him. There were enemies outside the walls and enemies inside the walls.
We could think of the apostle Paul, who was “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers” (2 Corinthians 11:26). There was danger at every turn.
But God builds us up through suffering and trials. The writer of Hebrews called it “discipline” (Hebrews 12:5-11). God’s discipline is designed to yield the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” It is God’s very Fatherliness toward us that brings his discipline. He disciplines us because he loves us, and he wants us to grow. Even Jesus was allowed to be tempted in the desert.
Nehemiah was tempted to sin by entering the temple – something that was not allowed. Nehemiah humbly resisted that temptation. Nehemiah also faced Sanballat and Geshem, who wanted to stop the work on the walls, who were spreading lies about Nehemiah’s work, and who basically wanted Nehemiah dead. Nehemiah humbly resisted them.
And Nehemiah faced his own people. And this is what caught my attention. There were some who were connected to Tobiah, who had married into a prominent Israelite family. Some of those family members considered themselves “bound” to Tobiah. I thought this was interesting. They felt more bound to Tobiah than to the nation’s work in following God. They had forgotten that their true family is the family of God.
It reminds me of Paul – in danger “from false brothers.” And it reminds me of Jesus – “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:33-35).
God has created a new family that supersedes any other family allegiance we may have. Certainly, Jesus was “pro-family” in the sense we understand that phrase today. He highly valued marriage and a covenantal sexual ethic and honoring parents and caring for children. But when push comes to shove – when our biological families try to draw us away from obedience to God – we know what we must do. Our ultimate allegiance is to the family of God (the church) over even our biological families. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
In Nehemiah’s day, those with allegiance to Tobiah didn’t understand that. It’s hard even to understand this today. Think about these things. I’d love to hear your thoughts.