Burned Gates and broken hearts: Listening to Hanani.

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3)

A broken man fell back against a marble column and felt himself slide to the floor. His heavy heart dragged him down beneath a tide of grief, drowning him in despair. He was the cup bearer for the Persian king, under whose rule the exiles of Israel languished. They head been in exile for so long that Jerusalem was in danger of fading from their collective memory. Nehemiah’s job was to taste the wine before the king, to ensure it wasn’t poisoned. But today the old man was wishing it was. He felt like dying today. That’s what you get for asking hard questions of honest friends.

 He had asked his friends how things were going in old Jerusalem. “How are things in the old city?” he queried, hoping for a report of good things. But what he heard broke his heart. The people, a once proud race with a destiny as old as time itself, now are scraping and scratching just to survive. His friends describe the refugees as full of trouble and shame. This was a people once ruled by mighty kings, like David and Solomon, known all over the world for their law and their God. Now they are hiding in the rubble of a shattered kingdom like dogs in a junk yard. “The walls are destroyed and the gates are burned with fire.” Psalms have been written about the majestic walls and busy gates of Jerusalem. There was a time when other nations were waiting in line to trade with Israel. They were in awe of the kingdom of Israels God. But now the smoke of their destruction bears witness to the unheeded warnings of the prophets who died calling the rebellious nation back to God. A people shamed and broken, defenses crumbling, and gates destroyed. This was a hard reality to face, but if there was to be any hope of restoration the need for it had to be looked square in the eye. The exiled people were blessed to have a servant of God like Nehemiah and his friends, who were willing to take a hard look at what had become of God’s people and allow themselves to be broken over it. Nehemiah was moved to weep, to pray and to act on behalf of his beloved Israel. Because of his courage and faith History was changed.

We need a visit from Hanani and Nehemiah today. If they were to walk the streets and attend the churches in our country today would they not find reason to weep? Would they not be moved to Pray? Would they not call God’s present day people to act? The story of Nehemiah should not be relegated to ancient history, for it is our story as well. Hanani, the messenger, had the courage to describe the condition of Jerusalem honestly. How Nehemiah would have preferred a 21st century spin on things. He would have been spared much grief if Hanani had been a little less brutal in his assessment. If only Hanani had learned from our generation he could have made things sound so much better. Perhaps he would have said something a little more palatable;

 “Well Brother, Ole’ J-town is plugging along just fine. They have a few challenges with construction issues and such, but overall projections are looking pretty standard for the demographic we’re working with. We’re keeping things very positive and trusting God to give us the victory. Amen. God is good, all the time, Brother.” 

But he grew up in a time where problems were called problems. Good was called good. Evil was called evil. The best way to deal with life was head on, not head in sand. We need a visit from Hanani and Nehemiah today. If they visited today would they not see a once faith-filled people now scraping around like refugees? Would they not see a people who have virtually forgotten their destiny amid the rush to just get by? Churches once known for a vibrant life of mission and worship, are now ghostly museums of a forgotten faith. A church that was born in a prayer meeting on Pentecost and who turned the world upside down with an apostolic boldness that proved stronger than the Roman Empire, now prayerless and consequently powerless. We’ve traded prayer for politics, evangelism for entertainment and discipleship for donuts and coffee. We’re oblivious or powerless to address the broken walls of holiness and burned up gates of compassion.

No our condition is not unique to this generation. If you read the works of Tozer, Ravenhill, E.M. Bounds and others you see that every generation comes to a place in which revival is needed. Every generation finds its walls crumbling and gates burning. Every generation reaches a point in which God’s people have forgotten who they are. The question is what will this generation do about it. The good news is there are those who, like Hanani and Nehemiah don’t buy the “keep everything positive” hype and are willing to take an honest look at our people, our walls and our gates.  God always gives us those people if we are willing to listen to them. Some generations fail to listen, which is why Israel went into exile. They ignored, even killed their prophets. Others listened, which is why history is blessed with accounts of revival and renewal. I think we’re in a time in which the voice of Hanani is calling out to us, “Look at your walls! Look at your gates!” Will we listen then, like Nehemiah, weep, pray and act? Or will we keep telling ourselves we’re okay until there are no more walls to inspect?

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