It appears they began working with one hand while holding a weapon with the other hand. They both worked and were armed. This is an actual and literal description of physical activity. Sound hermeneutics and exegesis require the passage be interpreted and expressed as literal. It is not intended to be spiritualized…At the same time, this passage may also be an illustration related to guidance, that is, there are times people of faith must do the work of proclaiming the Gospel and at the same time defend the Gospel. There are times to build and fight at the same time.
God’s divine revelation is an amazing book–—replete with new lessons and guidance upon continuous readings. Take the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. We tend to see it basically as an historical narrative of Nehemiah, a Jewish captive in Persia and a wine taster for King Artaxerxes, which he was, and his mission to rebuild Jerusalem. But, perhaps there’s more to it.
In chapter one, Nehemiah requests the king to be allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem. The king was pleased to grant him his request and allows Nehemiah leave from Persia and his duties to return to Jerusalem. Interestingly, the Bible makes special note stating: “Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him . . .” I wondered why God chose to include the fact that the queen was with him? Is it possible it’s a hint he might have consulted her, and she might have taken pity on Nehemiah and his concern for his country?
Chapter three is strange in that it names all the builders of the walls. It’s a bit like the genealogy chapters where name after name is communicated. Most of us wouldn’t even know how to pronounce the majority of names given.
Chapter 4 relates how zealously the workers worked to repair the various gates and walls; however, they begin also to feel threatened by the surrounding inhabitants who ridiculed the Jews for what they were accomplishing. They begin to do something differently. It describes half of them continued working while half carried spears, shields, bows and breastplates. Then verses 17 and 18 describe this remarkable activity:
“Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens
carried with one hand doing the work, and the other keeping hold of
a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword strapped to his
waist as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.”
It appears they began working with one hand while holding a weapon with the other hand. They both worked and were armed. This is an actual and literal description of physical activity. Sound hermeneutics and exegesis require the passage be interpreted and expressed as literal. It is not intended to be spiritualized. Spiritualizing Scripture has done harm to texts and to what God intended us to learn.
At the same time, this passage may also be an illustration related to guidance, that is, there are times people of faith must do the work of proclaiming the Gospel and at the same time defend the Gospel. There are times to build and fight at the same time.
Today, the Church is assaulted and attacked from different directions with false teachings and even heresy. These attacks involve morality, identity, and adulterating sound doctrine.
Just as Nehemiah and the Jews acknowledged and recognized dangers and threats to their work and took extreme steps to protect the work and themselves, Christians should follow their example and counsel by doing the same though it involves a spiritual battle–—not a physical one.
What steps can be taken? For one be faithful and steadfast to biblical and theological teachings handed down through Scripture and the early Church Fathers. This requires faithfulness and willingness to study both. Secondly, be careful and cautious to solely apply sound hermeneutical (interpretative) principles to God’s Word with attention to context. These are areas of assault and weakening God’s communications and intentions. Thirdly, give attention to apologetics, the defense of the Gospel, Scripture, and the Church.
The above are defensive actions. Give priority to proclaiming the Gospel and “the whole counsel of God.” Be true to all of God’s Word, not just to pet or favorite passages. Be zealous in making Christ known as Judge, Lord, Redeemer, and Savior–—the only way to the Father and source of one’s salvation from sin and death. Don’t scrimp on who all Jesus Christ is, why He came and what He accomplished on the cross and in His resurrection. Present Christ and the Gospel in both truth and love. Make sure people know God is a mystery–—three in one, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
These are just a few suggestions; there are others. Just as the Jews were ridiculed for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Church and Christians faithful to God’s Word are being ridiculed and threatened in many ways today. Nehemiah and the Jews in their day serve as an example as to how to confront not only physical attacks, but spiritual attacks we are confronted with today.
Nehemiah 4: 6 states: So, we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” This may be a message for today, that is, “. . . for the people had a mind to work.” May we also “have a mind to work.” This message is for Christians today, both clerical and laity.
Helen Louise Herndon is a member of Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in St. Louis, Missouri. She is freelance writer and served as a missionary to the Arab/Muslim world in France and North Africa.