The word “wall” is used 265 times in the NIV. It also talks about gates a lot. Like a lot lot. The word “gate” is used 338 times.
Want to guess how many times it talks about bridges? Never.
If I listened to some voices out there I would assume that the Bible only talks about bridges and never talks about walls. Now I’m all for bridges – literally and metaphorically – but what gives?
Well, with all of the recent discussion of walls in the news and from bloggers, we should really think about the implications of the Bible’s discussion about walls both literally and metaphorically.
Ok, so, the Old Testament and walls. You had the walls of Jericho falling, the building of the walls around the towns and villages in Israel, and the wall around Jerusalem (to name a few). Generally speaking, in the Old Testament walls were something that represented strength, security and peace.
When walls were “broken” it was generally a sign that the Hebrew/Jewish people had forsaken their identity somehow, and allowed an enemy to pillage or destroy their community. So walls had two distinct meanings in the Old Testament. The first was literal, and the second was figurative.
The Old Testament made a big deal about building walls. “Let us build up these towns,” he said to Judah, “and put walls around them…” (2 Chronicles 14:7), “Then he worked hard repairing the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the terraces of the city of David.” (2 Chronicles 32:5). “They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.” (Ezra 4:12).
And that’s just some of the discussion regarding walls. So why did they keep building walls? What was so important about building walls?
Well, they say good fences make good neighbors. First and foremost, walls were a military development. Walls were a tool for defense. They allowed the people within a community to have sanctuary, and to develop a society larger than a roaming band would constitute. While wandering in the desert had its purposes, the Hebrew/Jewish people desired a “land,” and a land required walled cities to maintain, as cities and organization were necessities for the long-term maintenance of a society. Walls established the identity of a city. A wall said to other communities, “here is the boundary of my defensible domain, within this wall there is order.” Walls brought order out of chaos. This order prevented abuse from those who would take advantage of the weak in a community. While anarchy seems like “freedom,” unfortunately, anarchy is simply opportunity for the more powerful to abuse the less powerful. So a wall created space to provide for the weaker segments of a society. And more!
Walls were a big deal for a reason. When a community has identity and space to grow, it can develop beyond subsistence. And again, while subsistence seems like a hipsterish ideal, you must have something beyond your own needs if you are to give anything away. So walls. They were kinda important.
Tearing down walls:
Now we get to Jericho, Jerusalem when it was conquered (walls torn down, then rebuilt, and then torn down, and then rebuilt, and then torn down…), and more – the times when walls were torn down.
When walls were destroyed it generally meant that a group was being overcome by an enemy. In this world, we like to think there are no enemies. Everybody basically wants to live together in peace, right? Well, according to the Bible, there are a bunch of people out there who like power a lot. We might call them “bad people,” but who knows, they might have simply had a poor upbringing and really be sweet on the inside. Really though, who cares about the complexities of their souls if they want to pillage you, right?
The destruction of walls meant the destruction of identity. It meant the weak were going to be overrun. It meant abuse. It meant chaos. For the Jews, the destruction of a wall meant that the people were going to be sent into exile, as their identity had been lost. (We could discuss the reality that they had lost their identity prior to being overrun, but that is a tangent!).
Repairing the walls:
Standing in the gap. Repairing the breach. Restoring the foundations. What was that all about? Why was the repairing the wall the first order of business whenever Israel returned from exile – before building homes, before building businesses, before building the temple, before anything else? A wall was the first thing that the Hebrews/Jews would create to say to the world that they had rediscovered their identity. They had cried out to God, and wanted to come back to a place where they could reside in this rediscovered identity.
They no longer wanted to reside in the borrowed identity that they were forced to live under in exile. They wanted to be unique. They wanted to have something they could take pride in. They wanted to have something to give the world. Without walls they were at the mercy of others – giving or receiving based on the whims of those with power and identity. With walls they had power, and therefore had some measure of control over their destiny.
Jesus and walls:
Now Jesus. Jesus didn’t have a home. Jesus roamed. Jesus was so not about walls. Right? …But wait a second. Jesus was a “narrow gate.” He was the way into a new “kingdom.” What? A gate implies walls, doesn’t it?
Jesus brought the discussion regarding walls and gates into the spiritual and metaphorical realm. With this move into the spiritual and metaphorical, Jesus crystalized the idea that walls really dealt with the character, spirit, and internal makeup of a person. All of the sudden, the “Kingdom” resided inside of people. There is literal discussion about entering this spiritual kingdom through a narrow gate (with its implied wall).
So the deity of Jesus was represented by a walled city.
Jesus had identity. Jesus had power. Jesus was a refuge. Jesus created a safe space for society to develop. Jesus allowed for an internal wealth that he provided for the weak. Jesus created order out of chaos. Jesus was the consummate argument for spiritual and metaphorical walls.
Walls allowed for identity.
Without a unique, literal storehouse of identity, the Jews had nothing to give the world.
Without his distinct character and spiritual depth, Jesus would have had nothing to give the world.
Without identity, what do we have to give to anyone else? If we are not secure in our selves, we have nothing to offer the world around us except need. Now, we all have broken places – but isn’t that what redemption is all about? Rebuilding the broken places? Isn’t God sort of “taking the land” within us, one Jericho at a time? Removing “strongholds” of negative patterns and issues and replacing them with character and spiritual depth (metaphorical walled cities)?
Many would say that walls are selfish, or that walls are conceited, or unnecessary or a host of other critiques. Unfortunately, I would say that such a view runs contrary to the Bible, and runs contrary to reality. (A proper critique of walls might not say that they are unnecessary, but rather might argue for wider gates, if any critique was needed.)
We must have walls, metaphorically and literally, or we are simply residing in chaos. We are iron mixed with clay. Without identity/walls, we are reeds shaken by the wind, tossed to and fro by “every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). But when we have walls, we can welcome people in through the gates. We can open up the storehouses and share with them. We can provide water for their thirst, and respite for their weary hearts and minds. We have identity.