Walls: Keeping In or Keeping Out

Nestled in California’s scenic Simi Valley is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It overlooks rolling hills, equestrian farms, and country mansions. Not far from the memorial that marks the late president’s burial site, and conspicuous by its stark and irregular appearance, is a huge slab from the Berlin Wall. It recalls the days when the US and the USSR aimed for stasis using the aptly named policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD!) At 2:20 pm on June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, President Reagan gave a speech of 2,703 words heard by Berliners on both sides of the wall and by millions around the world. In that speech he said: “Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Walls can be wonderful things if properly maintained – just ask Belshazzar or, better still, Nehemiah. From ancient times, walls provided protection against attack, the ability to withstand a protracted siege, defensive positions from which to ward off assaults, and security from wild animals. When walls are used to protect rather than imprison they are indispensable assets. Nehemiah understood that it was a cause of reproach that Jerusalem did not have a wall. It was as though leaving the city open to every outside influence was a tacit message that there was nothing of real value in the city that needed to be protected. His burden, a massive part of his life work, was the building of the wall of Jerusalem “that we be no more a reproach” (Neh 2:17). Some years before, this was the symbolism Ezra invoked in his prayer, speaking of the relative security the remnant enjoyed: “For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia … to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). And speaking of the security Israel will experience in the Millennial Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, God said, “I … will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zec 2:5).

However, an inherent feature of a wall is that it involves separation. Certain things (and people) are kept out – enemies, plagues, dangers – so that certain things (and people) may be kept safe. And this is where, when it comes to spiritual matters, divinely-lent discernment, a Biblically-nourished wisdom, and a heart for God are necessary. I need to know what will harm God’s things and people; I need to value properly what is priceless to Him; and I need to participate heartily in the work of “strengthening the things that remain.” When the wise man went by the field of the slothful, he witnessed the sad results of a wall that had been ignored by one who had no heart for the work: “Lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down” (Pro 24:31).

Before you join the wrecking crew, make sure that the wall you are tearing down is not one that God – or godly believers guided by God’s Word – erected. King Saul built a wall around his personal preference and conviction that none should eat until he had exacted maximum vengeance against his enemies. That personal conviction was to be held so sacrosanct that anyone breaching that wall was to die – even if it were Jonathan. But when a wall that God’s Word had erected was broken through (“Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, no soul of you shall eat blood” Lev 17:12) the punishment Saul levied was a verbal slap on the wrist. By way of contrast, look at Moses. When the “wall” that guarded his personal honor was broken down, his response was to meekly pray for the offender (“O Lord, heal [Miriam] now). But when the wall guarding Divine truth was smashed (Ex 32), Moses grinds the calf to powder, makes the Israelites drink the bitter water, and issues the challenge, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” If a wall is of human design, constructed to keep in, needlessly restrict, or cruelly enslave, then by all means break out the sledges. But if it be “of God,” think long and hard about the damage that might result. You may jeopardize a work, damage the deposit, and imperil the people of God. You and your family might one day find yourselves exposed to a danger that the very walls you destroyed would have prevented. Jacob lamented that his sons Levi and Simeon committed an act of cruelty that should never have been done, and in doing so they “digged down a wall” (Gen 49:6). How much better it would be if we can pass on to our children a work that is guarded and secured by the walls of divine principles and truth! How much better it would be if, instead of grief in the heart of our fathers (like Jacob), we could all produce gratitude in the heart of our children, allowing them to echo Isaiah’s words: “And they that shall be of Thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, ‘The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in’” (Isa 58:12)! When it comes to God’s things and His walls, will we be known as those who razed and ruined or those who raised and restored?