Nehemiah and Detroit, Pt 1
Some early information that is good to know. Much of Nehemiah is written in first person as it was probably Nehemiah’s personal or prayer journal. What make up large portions of the book are excerpts from his journal.
“…while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
So, Nehemiah is in Susa working for the king of Persia. He is visited by some friends and he asks about Jerusalem. Now, some scholars date the book to around 430 B.C. and the destruction of the city would have taken place in 586 BC by the Babylonians. That is a difference of more than 150 years. Nehemiah has probably never been to Jerusalem, never seen the walls or the gates, only knows about it through stories and its old fame among the Jews.
His friends tell him that the city is empty, anyone who can left has left, everyone who is still there is looking for hope. Urban blight and decay has set in. There is little opportunity. Unemployment is high. It is a sad place to be.
Here is why I find comfort in these early parts of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is undoubtedly called to work in that city, but he never hears God audibly say, “Go.” He heard of a place of great need and was emotionally, physically and spiritually moved for that city. Sometimes you hear people talk about hearing God say to do this or to do that. My friend DJ says that he heard God say, “Go to Clarkston.” Mark Driscoll says he heard God say, “Plant a church in Seattle.” Listening to guys who had audible callings makes me second guess my calling to Detroit sometimes, because I never heard God say “go.” But Nehemiah never audibly heard God, rather he had Jerusalem put on his heart the same way that I had Detroit put on my heart when friends of mine would come and tell me about what was happening here.
Like Nehemiah had probably never seen Jerusalem, I had never been to Detroit before. I had heard of it. I had seen the movies and TV shows about it, but I had never seen the city. But as more and more news came to me about the city, as more and more good people told me how things here in Detroit who had grown up in the area, my heart became moved for the city.
Then came the process of figuring out if this was really what Nehemiah was supposed to do…