Sunday, August 22, 2010

From Ashes to Glory

Recently I was reading from the book of Nehemiah. Written by the prophet Nehemiah, who served as a cupbearer in the court of the king of Persia, the book tells the story of Nehemiah and other Jews returning to the ruined city of Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. However, they faced opposition from several men, including Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. Despite having a small contingency of workers and dealing with continual harassment, Nehemiah worked around the clock on the walls, eventually rebuilding it all the way around the city to half its original height in just 52 days.

Although I've read the story a few times before, the other day I noticed a verse I hadn't previously noticed. It's in chapter 4:

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2, emphasis mine)

The Israelites were using charred stones, stones that had been burned and piled up with other rubbish. Stones that had survived the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the walls. For some reason, that statement stood out to me. I suppose it's reasonable to explain the use of those old charred stones as being practical, as perhaps there were no new stones available. But I'd like to think that it's another example of God's ability and desire to take what was once rubbish and transform it into something useful.

When the walls of Jerusalem were first built, they were new. They were glorious. They represented safety and protection for the city and its inhabitants. After the Babylonians captured the city, there were probably few Jews who thought they would ever see it again, let alone see the walls rebuilt. And yet God divinely orchestrated the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the walls. Against all odds, the stones were taken from the ashes and once again used to symbolize glory.

I think this story resonates with me because I'm drawn to stories of redemption. For any of us who once felt useful and now feel useless, this story is for us. Or perhaps some have never felt useful--this story is for you, too. I think God delights in transforming and redeeming. No matter how charred our lives have become, no matter how long we've been sitting in the rubbish heap, just waiting, He can and will breath new life into us and display His glory through us yet again.


Jana said...

I love this, Lisa. Thank you for sharing. I had never noticed this before, either.

Lisa said...

Thanks, Jana. It's amazing how often God will point out something new to me even though I may have read that particular story/passage several times before.