For a short while, I was sharing my SOAP notes from Discover One Thing here. Then, life happened, and I just focused on getting my posts up over there. But today, a friend asked, so I obliged… and am sharing my note separately on this site.
Sometimes in the middle of those long lists of names in the Old Testament, there lies a little oddity that gets me wondering about the backstory… and as I fill in the scene with words, God shows me something I’m not expecting at all: another drawing together of Old and New. Today, on Discover One Thing, I retell the story of Nehemiah’s most unlikely wall-builders: Shallum’s daughters.
Can I encourage you to read scan Nehemiah 3 and read Nehemiah 4 before you read the story?
S~ Beside him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler over half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs – he and his daughers. Nehemiah 3:12
The sun was nearing its descent, sending bright glare directly into Rebekah’s line of vision as she worked. She squinted, and the motion drew beads of sweat through the furrows of her brow, running between her eyes and down her browned nose. The strong grunt she let escape her lips with the next heave of stone was more of exasperation than effort. She paused to lean back on her heels for a moment and inspected her hands. Where once the soft, pampered skin of a woman of royalty shone, bleeding cracks fissured under layers of dirt and clay.
She was not alone in this strange transformation. She looked to her left where her sister Deborah squatted deeply to lift another stone with her father Shallum’s assistance. Rebekah admired Deborah’s strong, broad frame. She wished for such a build, but she had her mother’s body type: winnowy, lithe, supple – beautiful, but not made for this backbreaking work. As she let her mind wander, a sharp voice from the field beyond the wall brought her back into focus.
“What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore this wall by themselves? Weak – feeble. Look! They even resort to using little girls for hard labor!” The foreigner pointed directly at Rebekah. “This wall of rubble won’t stand for a single day!” (Neh. 4:1-3) Sudden tears mixed with sweat as Rebekah leaped down and crouched behind the half-built wall, shuddering in shame and anger. Above her, her father took a deep breath as if ready to shout, but then bent his head and continued with the mortar work in front of him. Deborah knelt by her sister.
“Courage, sister!” Deborah wrapped an arm around Rebekah’s shaking shoulders and listened to her sister’s complaint.
“He’s right, you know. We will never be able to rebuild the wall. We think we can bribe God into making this work, but we can’t. We’re just a bunch of women, and goldsmiths, and government officials. None of us even know what we are doing! We cannot succeed.”
Deborah was silent. Internally, she had the same thoughts, though she brushed them away with focused hard labor, intent on letting work overcome her fears. Still, they lingered, far underneath, and now her sister Rebekah had put them into spoken words. The anguish was contagious, and Deborah gulped.
Shallum joined his daughters, taking a long drink of water from the clay jug they kept in the shadow of the wall. His face was red not from heat but from fury.
“Don’t listen to those foolish men. They are trying to dissuade us from God’s work.” His voice cracked as he spoke. Even his anger could not disguise the fear and discouragement he also felt. He slid down against the wall and drew his daughters into an embrace. What was he doing, inviting his daughters into harm’s way? The taunting would lead to killing, he had no doubt. How could he protect his girls and work at the same time? His anger turned towards Nehemiah. How dare he ask such things of his people? This was impossible work.
Just then, a trumpet sounded, calling the Israelites to gather outside the temple court. The family of father and daughters rose and joined the throng, grateful to get away from the taunting voices and hard labor.
Nehemiah stood at the temple entrance.
“They come at us with taunts, and yes, with dagger, spear and sword, but we come against them in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies!” The Israelites heard the echo of David standing in defiance against the taunting Goliath. (I Samuel 17) “They have defied Him, but the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord, and fight for your countrymen –“ Shallum looked over to his neighbor Malcijah. Rebekah turned her head towards Hasshub – yes, she would fight for him! “Fight for your sons and daughters, your wives and homes!” Shallum squeezed the shoulders of his girls. “Remember, the victory is ours, for the hand of the Lord our God is with us!” (Neh. 4:4-14)
“The hand of the Lord our God is with us!” The throng took up the battle cry, clapping their hands and shouting ever louder, drawing strength from the truth of the words and the power of their praise. As Nehemiah gave new instructions for the people to divide into shifts of guards and workers, Shallum regained his confidence. Yes, this could be done. Rebekah and Deborah smiled as they listened. Though they had been daughters of a ruler, they had also learned excellent battle skills, for Shallum had no sons. He had taken it upon himself to teach his girls, both to defend themselves and to defend their country. These young women were not your average Israelites. They knew they could do this.
The next morning, Rebekah clothed herself in the armor Shallum had ordered specifically to suit her. (Neh. 4:16) She settled the helmet on her head and thought of the salvation of her God. She draped the chain mail over her frame and remembered the covering of righteousness she received as a daughter of the Most High God. She fastened the belt around her waist and recalled the truth shouted by her countrymen the day before – the Lord their God was with them! She pulled on her shoes and breathed a prayer for peace. She took up her shield and mouthed, “The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart trusts in Him – I have faith! – and I am helped…The Lord is the strength of His people; He is a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.” (Psalm 28:7-8). She took up her sword, small but perfectly weighted for her body. “I stand in the name of the Lord my God! I will declare His goodness. I will dwell on His faithfulness. And in His truth, power, and protection, I will defeat my enemies!”
Yesterday’s frightened, defeated Rebekah was replaced by today’s warrior woman as she stood proudly beside her father. Her armor glinted in the morning sun. Today, she was reborn. Today, she stood in victory.
And the enemy was silenced. (Neh. 4:15)
A~ Focusing on my weakness… Listening to the enemy’s taunts… Isolating myself and feeding my own frustration, fears, and resentment… leads to defeat.
Focusing on God’s power… Listening to the truth of His word… Drawing into community with those who speak truth and strength and courage… leads to victory.
Just like the Israelites, I have a choice: I can focus in on defeat, or on truth. I can cower behind my weakness, or I can stand strong in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). I KNOW the hand of the Lord my God is with me as I strive to follow this Christ-centered life. I know the enemy loves to throw his darts at me every chance he gets, but victory is mine when I focus on the right things, draw in with a band of Christ-followers, arm myself, and use wisdom in the way I conduct myself and use my time, talents, and energy.
P~ Lord, today I choose to stand firm in your truth. I refuse to nurse my own fears, weaknesses, and resentments. I choose instead to focus on Your strength and power, made available to me through Your Spirit. Help me to stand firm and fight with the weapons You have given me. Help me encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ when they get overwhelmed by the enemy’s attack as well. You are good, God, and You reign victorious. Your hand is with me. I stand in that truth today.
Wondering about that S~ O~ A~ P~ business? Read about it here.