I have a friend whose house burned to the ground. Practically everything his family owned was reduced to ash. Yet in the midst of his shock and uncertainty for what lay ahead, my friend said that he felt strangely liberated. Losing all their worldly possessions meant his family was free to start over.
If you were given the opportunity to reboot your life, what would you do, and why? Would you work to recapture what was lost, or would you try to build something completely new and different? Would you try to become someone completely different?
This situation is where we meet Nehemiah. The Babylonian exiles have essentially burned life as his people knew it to the ground. The walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins hundreds of miles away. As the people of Judah surveyed their situation under Persian rule, they were essentially asking themselves: Who are we now, and what happens next? Do we try to go back, or is there no such thing as home anymore?
For Nehemiah, Jerusalem was more than a place. It was a symbol—a physical location on a map that pointed to a spiritual belonging. He and his people didn’t just belong to that city. They belonged to the God who had led them there so many years earlier. Their identity was tied to the temple of the Lord shining from that city on a hill in Zion. So when the opportunity to repair Jerusalem’s fallen walls became a possibility, Nehemiah prayed, “Please, Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant” (Nehemiah 1:11). Then he set his face like a flint toward home and went back to rebuild.
As you read the book of Nehemiah, remember that true belonging is about more than a physical place to store your stuff or lay your head. For the Christian, we are tied to the ancient story of God’s redeeming work, which has its roots all the way back in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Even if everything around us burns to the ground, we still have a home in the presence of God. Even more, we have an identity. We are His people, and that is something no exile, catastrophe, or war can threaten or change.
Written by Russ Ramsey