6.04.2014

Nehemiah, Urban Christian

I've been studying the Bible seriously for about 20 years now.  I try to rotate through, such that I end up hitting every book every five to seven years or so.  I'm currently in Nehemiah for the fourth time, and I looked back and noticed that the first time I studied it was 1996, my first full year out of college.  That took me back, and made me realize how instrumental Nehemiah has been to my understanding of God and faith and cities.

If you don't know the book, it's about a faithful person who hears of Jerusalem's walls and gates in ruin and petitions his king to return to Jerusalem to help rebuild it.  Though a short book (13 chapters), it packs a lot of punch on a lot of weighty issues, like repentance and adversity and community. 

Most of all, it speaks of God's special concern for cities and for justice and righteousness in cities.  The fact that Nehemiah spent so much time lamenting over and the restoring Jerusalem's walls and gates speaks not only to the importance of the physical aspects of cities but also to their symbolic importance and their social workings.  That Jerusalem was in tatters mattered to Nehemiah and to God, as did restoring both the city's physical infrastructure and its civic functions. 

Studying this book for the first time in 1996 as a new Christian learning his faith in a big city, this was an important angle on God's heart.  I drew encouragement from the way Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, the way he responded to the naysayers and mobilized the people, and the way he saw very physical tasks as being inextricably connected to spiritual dynamics.  I am an urban Christian in large part because Nehemiah was an urban Christian, and we proclaim a God who has special concern for urban places.
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