One of the most surprising things of this election year is Donald Trump’s claim that he will build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Now, accomplishing that feat on its own would be interesting enough, but Trump is going even further. Not only will he build the wall, he will have Mexico pay for it. The thing is, Mr. Trump really hasn’t explained how he’s going to do this. What makes this claim even more outstanding is that the President of Mexico has publicly stated that they will not pay for it. Will Trump succeed? I suppose it’s possible but it seems highly unlikely. Trump’s wall claim seems like most things in politics, big promises made to make headlines but excuses for failure almost always follow.
I’m not here to speak for or against the wall or to delve into the politics of it all. You’ve heard enough of that already. But, Trump’s promise brings to mind an interesting account from God’s Word. There was a time when God built a wall, and had a foreign kingdom pay for it. That time comes from late in the Old Testament history of Israel, from the book of Nehemiah. To understand the miracle that this was you need to know who Nehemiah was. Nehemiah was a Jewish captive in Babylon during the time that God’s people were exiled. Like other prominent Jewish people who arose to high standing in foreign lands (Joseph, Daniel) Nehemiah had ascended to the position of cup-bearer for the king. While in this position, Nehemiah heard about the great disrepair of the city of Jerusalem. With boldness, he petitioned king Artaxerxes he be allowed to return to Israel and help in the re-building process of the city’s wall. Artaxerxes not only granted the request, he decided to pay for the entire venture. Nehemiah recorded his request in chapter 2 verse 8,
… and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy. And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
There you have it. Not only did Artaxerxes give Nehemiah time off, he covered the expenses for the materials. God, in His power and wisdom, was able to use a foreign king to accomplish His will. And this wasn’t the only time, either. In the book before Nehemiah’s, his contemporary, Ezra, encountered a similar circumstance. Once Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians he gave the order for the Jews to return to their land and re-build their temple. Ezra was tasked with this responsibility, but God was also working behind the scenes. We’re told,
In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, 4 with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury (Ezra 6:3-4).
Much like Nehemiah’s re-building of the wall, Ezra’s expenses would be paid by a foreign king. But, this didn’t make either task easy. Ezra was plagued by the native peoples living Judea. They wanted a share in this great endeavor, but they were also idol worshipers. The entire reason Ezra’s people had been sent to captivity was because they intermingled with false gods. He wasn’t about to let that happen all over again, so he refused to join with the other nations in the temple reconstruction. This decision, although correct, would prove to be the source of headaches and difficulties in the project. We’re told,
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5).
The native people tried to turn Darius, Cyrus’ successor, against Ezra and the Israelites. But, once Darius realized the truth of the matter, he issued his very own decree; once again, fulfilling God’s will by paying the way for the project,
Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River (Ezra 6:7-8).
Nehemiah, likewise, faced his own share of hardships as he tried to rally his people to rebuild the city walls. We’re told that the workers had to hold a weapon in one hand and their tool in the other. Half of the man-power needed to be directed at protection. In the end, though, the wall was completed in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). No plan of man can thwart the will of God. In the short accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah’s work, God used three separate foreign rulers to not only accomplish His will, but pay for all of the expenses.
The lessons of Ezra and Nehemiah remind us of many things. We see the importance of perseverance and faithfulness to God’s plan. We see tremendous examples of leadership in both Ezra and Nehemiah. We see the utter folly of trying to resist the true God. We see how God values both the physical (wall) and spiritual (temple) protection of His people. But perhaps greatest of all, we see God’s plan of grace. Long before Ezra and Nehemiah’s triumphs, the Israelites were humiliated by captivity under the Babylonians. Not only were they carried into slavery, away from their homeland, but God’s holy temple was sacked and looted. What a disgrace for both God and His people. But, throughout it all, God had a perfect plan. He used the oppression of Babylon to bring His children back to repentance; so that future followers like Ezra would learn to resist idol-worshipers, and future believers like you and I would have confidence in the work of Christ. But, at the same time He also provided the mechanism for their re-building process. He moved Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes to kindness and favor with His people, so much so, that they funded the re-building of Jerusalem. Never before had foreign rulers so willingly submitted to a nation in such a lowly status.
If God was able to accomplish so much in that setting, what can He do for your life? Well, He can certainly help with with those lingering financial issues, or that friendship that seems to be on the rocks. He reassures you with love when you’re in the thick of an unfriendly world. He listens at all times when you’re distressed or in need. Just like the Israelites, God’s got you covered at all times. You have a Friend who can use His own enemies to accomplish His will. What is too great for Him? But, the matter that God places as highest priority for you is your salvation. He wants you to know and believe that you are forgiven and redeemed. Examples of His eternal power like those in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are more than just things to wish for, or “ooh” and “aah” at in amazement. God is showing you the power of His grace in your life; powerful enough to save you from sin and all of it’s effects. So, when you hear a politician’s outrageous claims, remember Who is really in control, what He has done for you, and what He wants for your life.