The book of Nehemiah opens with an image of Nehemiah in exile in Babylon. He hears from some of his relatives that those who have returned to Judah and Jerusalem are still living in a destroyed city. They have moved back to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, but have left the wall destroyed and the gates torn down.
They have become used to the way things are, and are just going through life day by day.
There isn’t much hope that things are going to change.
There isn’t much effort made to make things change.
They have become comfortable with how things are, even though they know they are pretty bad.
How often are we comfortable with the way things are, even though we know they are not how they were meant to be?
The people that returned to Jerusalem returned as a result of God’s direct promise. He told them that even though they were going to be exiled from the promised land, from the place that was meant to give them wholeness, peace, and prosperity, he was going to take them back. He would gather them from where they were in exile and bring them back into the land.
He would restore their fortunes.
When they returned to Jerusalem they obtained this promise, but not completely. After they rebuilt the temple there was a mixed reaction. There was joy and singing because they temple was rebuilt, but there was weeping because the rebuilt one was nowhere close to the beauty of Solomon’s amazing structure.
They were in the promised land, but they were still under foreign rule.
They returned to Judah, but its cities were still destroyed.
Some had returned to Jerusalem, but many had stayed where they were in exile.
They lived in this strange mix of ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’
They already lived in the land, but they were not yet living in the fullness of the promise.
The people seem to have grown comfortable with the way things were, but the gap between their realty and the promise God had given them drove Nehemiah to do something. He risked his life asking the current ruler of this area of the world if he could go back and rebuild a city which had been a cause of such disorder in the past. God helped him to obtain the various resources he would need to begin the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah knew that his work was not going to bring in the fullness of God’s promise, yet he was willing to do what he could to change the situation God’s people were living in.
We, just like those who returned from exile, live in the ‘in between.’ We have received rescue from slavery to our own sinful selfish natures, but we do not experience the fullness of the promise that God has given us. We live knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, but we long for his return so that we can experience that love in all its transforming fullness.
There is a gap between what we experience and what God has promised us, and I hope we let that gap inspire us to do great things.
May that gap help us work so that we give people hope that it will not always be this way.