Build the Wall By Your House
Build the Wall by Your House
With all the confusion and fear in the world, we may feel overwhelmed. However, God's Word shows us some simple things we can and must do.
As you know, there's a lot going on out in the world these days and we hear a lot of conflicting information. Now, this isn't necessarily going to be another one of those sermons, but the introduction is sort of like that. You know, for a year and a half, we've had a public health crisis going on about COVID, and politicians and public health officials have pontificated and argued about what we have to do, what we shouldn't do, what we can do. You know, someone instituted a vaccine passport, at the same time, others are working hard to make it illegal to have one. And the same for various mandates and vaccines.
And, of course, COVID is not the only thing going on. At one point, actually, when I started jotting down notes for this sermon, and really I was thinking, this has been percolating in my mind for probably two or three months where I started having ideas and thinking how I'd put them together. But there was a time when I thought, "Is anything going to replace COVID as the lead story in the news?" And then Afghanistan came along or rather our withdrawal and it was like there was no such thing as COVID. All it was was withdrawal, you know. And then Hurricane Ida came ashore. Shows you I've been working on this a while.
And there's politics. And the U.S. Congress has been debating, you know, this infrastructure bill and what they called what, social infrastructure? I'm glad they stopped using that term and just admitted it's spending. I hear Congress passed one part of it today. You know, how many trillions and trillions of dollars should we borrow and spend? Well, also, at the local level, there's disputes, each state. Cincinnati just had to elect a whole slate of city councilmen because most of the rest had been arrested, which is kind of embarrassing. I'm glad I live in Claremont County.
And in the church our congregations, we have disagreements and disputes and, you know, sometimes if you're like me, it gets overwhelming. What are we going to do? What is all this? Sometimes I think, "I'd love to go back to the lakes in Minnesota and paddle my canoe."
And maybe I can comment just a little bit about that because as I was thinking of how nice it was, you know, I thought about our Challenger programs for young adults. You know, we have the Boundary Waters Adventure, and I'll put a plug. If you're a young adult, either here in the room or watching online, we've got a new one coming up next summer that I highly recommend. Challenger Sierra, I believe we're calling it. Now, these aren't pleasure trips, but they are pleasurable and they're in beautiful parts of the country.
You know, our goal is to give those on the trip the opportunity to have a new experience, spend time together, have shared experiences, and build leadership. You know, canoeing is great for building teamwork and cooperation. I wonder, well, I don't want to do a show of hands, but most of you have probably been in a canoe. And if you remember back to your first time when you realize, okay, just doing whatever doesn't work so well. If you're not both working together as teamwork, you're not going where you want to go.
And setting up a camp in the wilderness, you know, and unveils a variety of tasks and tasks that are most easily accomplished when everyone does a part. Everyone does his part, but you also trust others to do their part because you can't do everything. You can't even very efficiently try to make sure everybody else does the things they're doing, but you can do something. You know, there's always the something that you can do.
You know, I think of when you're camping in an area where there's a danger of bears, you know, you've got to trust everybody to do their part to put their food in a safe place. Now, up in Boundary Waters, we've got a fairly...well, I want to call it ingenious, but I didn't think of it, but, you know, we pile all of our food into a canoe and we anchor it off the shore because bears might think of food hanging from a tree, but they don't think of food floating out in the lake. At least they haven't figured it out so far. But, you know, when I put my food out there, I'm having a certain degree of trust that the others have put their food out there, you know, because bears coming looking for food aren't going to check the address on the tent. You know, they'll check them all out.
Of course, bears. It's often squirrels and chipmunks. We had a chipmunk visit us this summer and he was very industrious about checking out every bit of place he could find food. But these are experiences. They involve cooperation, teamwork, and trust. I had the privilege of teaching canoeing at Camp Buckeye this summer, a pre-teen camp, and I stressed the basics if I could, and I told them those words, remember this, cooperation, trust. I added fun because when you do those things right, it's a lot of fun.
And I'm talking about this now because it came to me that these same principles really apply now to how we can face the complex issues in the world today. It's sad there's a distinct lack of trust, but with God's people, it can be different. And I thought of a story in the Bible that I think illustrates this pretty well about everybody focusing and doing their part to contribute to the greater whole, you know. Because, you know, this story that we're going to turn to, it involves some degree of danger, some animosities, some great challenges, and a lot of people facing a problem that they could not fix. Not on their own, they couldn't fix it, but working together, if each did his own little part, they accomplished a lot.
If you will, I'd like to turn to the Book of Nehemiah. Some of you may be way ahead of me. And remember Nehemiah is... Oh, no, it's before Psalms and Job. It's even before Esther, now that I think about it. Nehemiah. I'm going to begin right at the beginning of the Book. We'll see, of course, this occurs during the time that the people of Judah had been conquered by Babylon and taken away. But then in its turn, 70 years later, Babylon was conquered. And the Persian Empire allowed people to go back to their homelands, including the Jews. But that didn't mean everything was going well for them. So, some of the Jews who did go back to Jerusalem, we're going to see had some problems. Starting in Chapter 1 verse 1 of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 1:1-3 "The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, I was in Shushan, the Citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, 'The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. And the wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.'"
Now, if you keep on reading, you'll see Nehemiah was greatly distressed. And when you come down to it, he sat down and cried. And he was a grown man. I don't think he was immature, he was just greatly saddened. But he did more than cry. He also prayed. Nehemiah realized, and if you read his prayer, which I won't take the time to do here today, he confessed to God that the problems the Jewish people were having were because they had turned away from God and they had broken His law. But we'll see that Nehemiah also reminded God of His promises. We can skip down to verse 8 of this first Chapter.
Nehemiah 1:8-10 Part of Nehemiah's prayer, he says, "Remember, I pray, the word that you commanded your servant, Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to me, and keep my commandments and do them, though some of you were cast to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there.'" Notice there's a little "yet I" in there. "Yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.'" Nehemiah reminds God. “Now these are your servants and your people whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.”
Now, we often focus on Nehemiah's leadership in this story, and rightly so because he was a great leader, someone we should look to and say, "Yeah, I want to borrow from his traits." But we can see here that he recognized something that we need to recognize. You know, the problems of the world are largely brought on because the world has turned its back on God and is not obeying His law and not seeking Him. And we could be like Nehemiah when we realize that and weep. We can sigh and cry for the sins of our people.
You know, we see that in the Bible. Jeremiah is well-known as the weeping prophet who cried for what was happening. And what I'm getting at is, even though we might not be literally brought to tears very often by what's going on around us, we don't want to exalt. You know, we shouldn't be in a position of saying, "Look at those evil people. God, let them have it. Give them what they deserve." No, that's not the example we see in the Bible and not one we want to follow.
We can join Nehemiah in praying for God's mercy. And we can also seek to do what we can to make things better. And I do this knowing all the while I can't fix the world's problems. Now, Nehemiah was in a far better position than I am to deal with the problem he was looking at because it turns out he was a trusted high servant of the Persian emperor. And detailing the story, which isn't my focus today is it shows that he continued serving the emperor. And one day the emperor said, "You're not looking so good." Well, that's not what it says in the Old King James, but he said, "You're looking sad, what's wrong?" And Nehemiah was terrified. You're not supposed to be sad around the emperor. But he let it out. He told him that he was distressed for the fate of his people in his capital city and he asked to have something done. The emperor gave him power.
Upon this discussion, after Nehemiah prayed and asked God for favor, the emperor gave him permission to travel back to Jerusalem. And he even made Nehemiah the governor. So, he had some authority over the people. He had control of resources. He was allowed to draw on the resources of the empire for the job that he had.
Have you ever wished you could be put in charge? Have you ever thought about the troubles we're having in the nation and thought, "Well, if I were the President, I would..." And you can fill in the blank. Or, "If I were Speaker of the House, I'd rally Congress." And I have these blanks because whatever you're thinking of is different than what I'm thinking of, probably. And I've literally done this. A lot of the parts of this sermon came to mind as I was out walking my dog. I'm the dog walker in the family. And I walk through the neighborhood, and sometimes what's going on in the world and what I've seen in the news is in my mind, and I'll think, "Oh, this is what needs to be done," or, "That needs to be done."
You know, it's amusing sometimes little kids do these things. I dunno if you've listened to children when they're younger. I've heard some of them say, "If I were President, I'd make everyone be nice. You know, I'd make it a law that people have to always tell the truth." I wish those kids could do that. Of course, they don't realize that even in positions of great influence, there's limits to what you can do. And it can be very difficult to get something done even when you have power because it takes cooperation. People have to work together. Nehemiah realized the limits of what he could do by himself. So, one thing we see in the story after he traveled to Jerusalem, he checked things out and he got a better idea of what to do, and then called a meeting. I want to turn ahead in 2:16. He did this tour at night without letting anybody know.
Nehemiah 2:16 It says, "The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, and the officials, or the others who did the work."
Okay. So, the situation is going to be plain to see, though, that he wants to rally the people to work together. So, he describes it to them. Going on in verse 17.
Nehemiah 2:17-18 "Then I said to them, 'You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, its gates are burned with fire. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.' I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, also of the king's words that he had spoken to me." And look at the response. "So they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' They set their hands to do this good work."
It's interesting. In verse 17, Nehemiah says, "Come let us build the wall," and the response, they all said, "Let us rise up and build." They rallied together. They were going to do this, accomplish it together. Now Nehemiah is important as a coordinator, but we want to remember, what could he do on his own? Well, you've got this Book open. I'm betting most of you have read Nehemiah at one time or another, and if you're like me, Chapters 1 and 2 are really interesting. And then Chapter 3, maybe I'll just let my eyes skim across that and get on to Chapter 4, you know, because Chapter 3 is this long list of this person did on this and they worked on here. Let me give you a sample right at the beginning.
Nehemiah 3:1-4 "Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate." And, by the way, the Sheep Gate, we believe, was near the temple. That's where sheep were brought in for sacrifice. "They consecrated it and hung its doors. Built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to Eliashib, the men of Jericho built. Next to them, Zaccur the son of Imri built. Also, the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. Laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. Next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam..." And next, next, next. The list goes on and on.
What do we make of it? One thing, this was a big job. It was going to take a lot of people, but they broke it down into a bunch of little sections. No one person, no one little group could do it all or even a big part of it. They had to work side-by-side focusing on their own section. You know, everyone could do something, and it would work best if they did their local something that was right there. And there was no mention that the priest went to check up on how Meremoth the son Urijah was doing on his section. They could've walked by and said, "Oh, that looks good," but for the most part, it seemed like they had to trust doing their own part, just like when we're in the Boundary Waters.
You know, there's two or three people assigned to each tent, and when you get to camp, those people set up their tent. And they don't generally go and see if the other guys... “Did you drive in your tent stakes properly?” Because then they're not getting other things done. You know, if I'm out in the canoe getting some fresh drinking water, I've got this trust in my mind that the fellow I asked to build a fire is building a fire, you know, because I can't be thinking focusing on the fire if I'm trying to get the water. Let's go a little further here in Chapter 3 and pick up in verse 28 and get to what inspired this message, to be honest.
Nehemiah 3:28-30 Says, "Beyond the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. After them, Zadok the son of Immer made repairs in front of his own house. After him, Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs." It's fun to say this fast. "After him, Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. After him, Meshullam the son of Berechiah made repairs in front of his own dwelling."
Now, I'm not sure if everybody working on this project lived in the city. So, some people might have traveled in and they were assigned a place, but those who were there, they worked on the part right there in front of their house. You know, building the wall in front of their house made sense because that's the part of the wall that was going to defend their family and their children. You know, that makes sense to work close to home. And where are you going to be the most careful to do good work than you are on the wall that's defending your family and your home?
As I said, this little section thinking about this kind of came to my mind while I'm out walking Mocha the dog. And she's sniffing things. You might say, you know, working in front of their own house was smart to do, but it's also what they could do, what they could do to make Jerusalem a better place. And I think same is true for each of us. And the world around us has some serious problems. Things are messed up. You know, Jerusalem's wall was broken down. Our society and culture are breaking down, at least from our standards, you know. We've had riots in the cities and looting, you know, demands have been going on for some time for governments to defund their police. You know, activists have convinced educators that boys and girls aren't necessarily boys and girls, so now they can choose if they want to be this or that or neither.
Sometimes I say these things and I'm just amazed that it comes out. Health departments are urging everybody to wear masks and get vaccines, while some state legislatures are passing laws forbidding such. There's conflict. And again, I'm not focusing on which side or another we should be on, but the fact that there is a problem and I might come up with ideas that I think would fix it. Maybe you do, too. But ultimately, I know the real fix is going to be when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom. That's going to be the one thing that will fix society, that'll build the wall perfectly.
Still, I've had this habit of turning ideas over in my head. Especially when everything was shut down, I had a lot of time to walk the dog. And I think, "Oh, if only the government would... If only people would stop... If we could just manage to do this or to do that." And I'd say, in my frustration, "I can't make any of those things happen," which maybe is a good idea because I might have one idea one week and the next week I'm thinking, "Boy, it's a good idea. Good thing I couldn't make that happen because now I think that was a bad idea," you know. I don't know if you've gone back and forth some of those things.
In the midst of these thoughts, though, what can I do? What can each of us do? You know, metaphorically, I can work to repair the wall in front of my house. Not only I can, but I should like Meshullam, the son of Berechiah. Now, I'm not needing to build a wall, but I can work to lead my family in obeying and worshiping God. I can smile at my neighbors and be nice to them. Sometimes that seems like, are you serious? That's something to focus on? Yeah. I can be an example of God's way, you know. I can try to make the world a better place by my little part in it. I can't fix whatever illogical decisions my local school board might make, and I'm not complaining about the West Claremont School Board, but I've heard of a lot of school boards making decisions. I can't affect them, but I can teach my son God's Word, and I can encourage him to learn and practice those true values.
You know, you could say he is the wall in front of my house. Connor, if you're watching, I mean that just as a metaphor, no offense. You know, I can't control what decisions national governments make. I can't control the policies they set, but I can be a law-abiding citizen. I can pay my taxes, I can contribute and, you know, not contribute to the confusion and mess. You know, I can make my country and my community a better place, and I can keep in mind what the apostles said in Acts 5:29 when they said, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
And I pray that God will lead me by His Spirit to know when that time might come because that's been one of my favorite scriptures since I was a little boy. But I'm thankful I can say I've never had the government require me to do something breaking God's law, at least not coming to mind immediately. That time might not be far off. We want to be alert and aware. But it's good that we're not there. We live in a nation where we still have a surprising amount of freedoms, dwindling as they seem to be.
But in the meantime, while we are watching and we want to be ready for that time of persecution, we need to focus on the wall in front of our house and enjoy the good that life offers us, as we're relating, again, walking the dog. There have been times when I'm thinking these problems and my stomach is churning, "Oh, there's this and there's that." And I've literally stopped and said, "Frank, look, flowers." You know, or this time of year, "Look at the beautiful colors on the trees and the children playing in their yards. You know, there's some good in life right here and now. You know, the bad's going to come whether I focus on it or not. I shouldn't let the good go by without noticing while I'm working on that wall that's right there. I can enjoy and appreciate the blessings that God has given us.
Now, these are so far quite a bit of generalities, you know. We don't literally need to repair a broken down city wall, but what is our task? I'm speaking kind of vaguely, but what does God want me to do? He says some things in Scripture if you'll turn to Deuteronomy 10. I'm still being a little generalized, but I think this narrows it down. Deuteronomy 10, beginning in verse 12. Oh, this is largely highlighted in red in my Bible. Says I must have want to comment something on it in class.
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 “Moses said to Israel, ‘And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?’”
I always like to add that. I learned that from Frank McCrady when he'd always emphasize this to the youth. It's for your good, it's for my benefit to obey these laws. And I'll make a connection with this. I'm not going to turn there, but in Matthew 22, beginning in verse 36 is the story where someone asked Jesus Christ, what's the greatest commandment? What do I have to do? And Jesus recited starting from Deuteronomy 6:4, "To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might." And He added the scripture in Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." And He said, "On these two hang all the law and the prophets." We like to say that all the other laws are based on that. The 10 Commandments breaks down that way.
I think sometime in the last week I mentioned that to the students here at ABC. It's like, "Okay, if the 10 Commandments tell me how to love my neighbor, well, I can start to love him by not committing murder. Not killing my neighbors is good start for love, you know, not stealing from him, not lying to him, and so on." You know, the students chuckled when I said that. Nobody here is laughing a bit. It must be the timing. Anyways, it doesn't have to be funny, but this is building the wall in front of my house, obeying God's commandments. The little ones, the big ones. We're doing that today. We're honoring the Sabbath day, remembering it, and keeping it holy. That's part of what God requires us to do.
I can't control how other people obey God's law, just like I can't fix the overwhelming problems in the United States today. Can't fix Cincinnati's problems. I can't even fix the problems in the Cincinnati congregations of the United Church of God. I can do my part by fixing my problems. At least I can strive to. I can repair the wall in front of my own house, live God's way in my life. When I do that, as I said, I think I'm making Cincinnati better. If I'm repairing that wall, if I'm living by God's way and not getting all frustrated and upset at others, you know, I'm making the congregation a little bit better.
Now, since I'm focused on what I'm doing in my life and house, I should mention a responsibility for parents. I mentioned Deuteronomy. I'm going to turn to Chapter 6 because right after the passage where God said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might," He went on to say something special about that law that applies to parents. It's in Deuteronomy 6:7. Well, actually, I'll pick up with verse 6.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 "These words which I command you today shall be in your heart." That's that new heart that Mr. Cook was talking about. It should be in my heart. "And you shall teach them diligently to your children. You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up."
The way that goes together, I thought in a box and with a fox and in a house and with a mouse. Some of you are getting the reference, sorry, the green eggs and ham came around a lot after God inspired Deuteronomy. But wherever you go and whatever you're doing, show your young people God's way.
Now, I'm not sure in my metaphor if doing that is building the wall in front of the house or more building the house itself. Either way, it's something I can do. I must do. I can't raise other people's kids. And you know, that's in our nature, isn't it? Especially before we have kids. That's one thing. I didn't have children until I was a little older than most, and I'd sit in congregation, "Can't they make that kid be quiet?" And then I noticed when I had a kid that I was having trouble to be quiet. The people that had already raised children didn't seem to have a problem with it. They knew. You know, those of us that hadn't yet...anyways, I'm getting off track. That's not in my notes. What I'm saying is I can't raise other people's children, but I'm responsible for my own household as each of us. That's the wall in front of my house. I'm responsible to love God with all I've got, to live by His commands.
I wish everyone would do that. I wish all the leaders in Washington D.C. would do that. They would suddenly commit to obeying God's law, make God's Word the law of the land. Not just Washington, London, Moscow, every national capital. That wish doesn't seem to be coming true in this life. I can't make that happen, but I can and I must commit myself. I can't make them live by God's Word, I can try to make myself. I find that's enough of a challenge as it is.
Now because we've been called by God the Father into His church, we have another assignment for which each of us has a small part to do. In Mark 6:15, you might want to turn there, but it's pretty brief, Christ was talking to His disciples, you know, near the end of the time He would spend with them. He's about to go to heaven and they're not going to see Him again.
Mark 6:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature."
Go to all the world. Now, That's a pretty big job. That's a large wall to build. You know, similarly, at the end of Matthew, the longer version of what we call the Great Commission is "Go make disciples in all nations." That's a job I can't do on my own. I'm not sure if I could do very close. I don't feel too bad about that because I've noticed Peter Edington can't do it on his own. Herbert Armstrong wasn't able to do it on his own, but the Church of God working together can accomplish a lot in that. We can be tools in God's hands to accomplish a tremendous work. And I have a part in that. You know, my part is less noticeable than others. I've spoken on this before, but I can be a light in the world. Remember, as I said, I can smile at my neighbors. I can let them rejoice in my clean lawn that has no Halloween decorations in it. I'm not sure if any of them have, but trying to set that right example. You know, I can be ready to give an answer.
Why aren't your kids trick-or-treating? I'm thinking of what answer I would give. Not because it's pagan and only evil people do that, but I might say, "Well, we follow the Biblical holy days that show us God's plan and His love for us." There's various ways to do that. You know, living in this area, I can help improve our television program's effectiveness just by sitting in the room back behind us. You know, and I've got a "Beyond Today" sticker on my car. Small part, but you wonder if people see those and go, "What is that? Maybe I'll google it," you know. Maybe they're watching beyondtoday.tv.
As a matter of fact, I could share. I'm sure Mr. Edington is thankful. We had so many people turn out on Wednesday that I ended up having to go back to my office. All the chairs were full. So, that's great. We want to have a variety of people coming in and helping this. You know, I can't create and present an effective media work to preach the Gospel, but I can try to build the wall in front of my house in the little ways that I have to do. You know, if every Christian does his or her small part, a gospel message goes to the whole world.
Now, there's another aspect of all this that I haven't addressed because I'm focusing, we've got work to do. We've got our part. You know, and there's confusion. There's frustration in the world, you know, and the advice that, you know, we can focus on what we actually can do sounds pretty simple. What about when it's scary or even seems dangerous? Because sometimes it is, even the simple things.
You know, walking my dog in the neighborhood a year and a half ago, I was wondering what's going to happen. I remember getting groceries from the grocery store and wiping everything down with bleach water, which was not good for my hands. But, you know, we were living in a world where suddenly we didn't understand all the dangers nearly as much as we do now. What about dealing with the fears of the unknown? You know, that's a subject worthy of an entire sermon, which I'm not going to go into. You know, there are books on addressing fears, good advice. But when I can't address all of that, I've got a word or two on the subject.
And another...what I think is interesting Biblical story, it's one of my favorites that I have to confess I never noticed this aspect of it until my wife pointed it out to me. But first, I want to say fear is not necessarily bad. God built fear into us and it's only a fool who never feels fear. And only somebody tongue-tied could say that without messing it up. You know, God gave us fear to protect us from danger. So, recognizing danger and harm, that's smart. If someone points a gun at me, it's smart for me to duck or hide. You know, I hope that our experience with COVID has helped us to see there are situations in which it's wise to acknowledge potential danger and take steps to avoid that danger for our own safety.
But I believe, along with that, though, that panic is almost never good or helpful. In fact, sometimes panic can bring bad effects as does overreacting. And it's not always easy to know the difference. One way to not let fear and precaution lead to panic, though, is to think. Appreciate, you know, where you are in life, who you are, what's your relationship to the all-powerful God? That could help.
The story I want to refer to begins in 2 Samuel 24. We'll read a little bit of that if you want to start turning, but I'm not going to read all of it. But we find there a story of I think a person who provides an interesting example of someone who I think assessed his situation, understood the danger and was pretty comfortable. When others panicked, he did not. Okay, I'm talking and turning at the same time, not very effectively.
So, I'll mention the story in 2 Samuel 24 focuses primarily on King David. And King David is not the person I'm saying sets this example. You know, the course of this story, at some point, King David decided to do a census of the fighting men in his country. You know, and he had his head general Jeroboam go out and number all the people. "Let me know how many we've got." Now, there's not a lot of details here, but it seems that David and perhaps many in the country were realizing how strong they'd gotten and were growing distant from God. And it seems this might be a case where David was starting to rely more on his military power and wasn't trusting in God. I think that's the reason God would bring punishment. And he did. I finally found 2 Samuel 24. I want to begin reading in verse 11.
2 Samuel 24:11-13 "When David arose in the morning, the Word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, 'Go tell David, thus says the Lord: I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.' So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, 'Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' plague in your land? Consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me."
Now, David chose the punishment that would be of the shortest duration and that would not involve outsiders because David might have grown a little bit distant from God at this point, but he still knew God was merciful and he wanted to trust in God's mercy. And when things got really bad, David would call on God to relent. So, in the answer,
2 Samuel 24:14 "David said to Gad, 'I'm in great distress. Let us fall under the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great. Don't let me fall under the hand of a man." So, continuing on in verse 15.
2 Samuel 24:15-16 "The Lord sent a plague upon Israel from morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba. Now, from the far north to the far south, 70,000 of the people died,” 70,000 men of the people. "And when the angel stretched out his hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the destruction and said to the angel who was destroying the people, 'It's enough.'" I'm not sure if He said it like that. He said, "It is enough." I lost my place. There we go. "'Now restrain your hand.' And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel." So, this angel, you know, is by Jerusalem and David's in Jerusalem. "He saw the angel striking the people and he said, 'Surely I have sinned, I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house.' And Gad came that day to David and said, 'Go up, erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.'"
I hope I'm pronouncing Araunah's name properly. This is an interesting story that leads or can lead to a discussion of many lessons about leadership and about responsibility, about God's punishment. But this version of the story leaves out a main point that I wanted to get to. Now, I still wanted to cover this part here because it's a concise presentation, but there's this unimportant fellow, it seems, named Araunah the Jebusite. And, by the way, the Jebusites were one of the native peoples that were in the promised land before Joshua let Israel in to conquer it. And, you know, they'd lived in Jerusalem, actually, Jebusite. The name of Jerusalem before was Jebus because they lived there. Finally, King David conquered Jebus and set up his capital there. They didn't kill all of the Jebusites.
And what we see of this fellow named Araunah leads me to think, and I can't absolutely prove it, but his relationship to David and his willingness to help serve God makes me think that this Araunah had adopted the religion of Israel and that he worshiped the true God. Again, I can't prove it, but I think that seems to be likely. And there's an aspect of the story in the version in 1 Chronicles. So, if you'll turn forward in your Bible quite a few pages because we got to get past the rest of 1 and 2 Kings to 1 Chronicles 21. 1 Chronicles 21 beginning in verse 14, we see the exact same story, although I'll mention this person that we saw named Araunah is here called Ornan. I like Ornan better. It's easier to say.
Ancient Hebrew, if you remember, they wrote the consonants and not the vowels. So, that probably accounts for part of the difference why in one version, one writer has Araunah the other Ornan. 1 Chronicles 21 beginning in verse 14. This part of the story sounds familiar.
1 Chronicles 21:14-15 "So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel and 70,000 men of Israel fell. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. And as he was destroying the Lord looked and relented of the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying, 'It is enough; now restrain your hand.' And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite."
Okay. So, we've seen this before and we know David will be commanded to go to that particular place and build an altar and sacrifice. So, let's drop down to verse 20. As I said, I believe Ornan knows the true God. I mean, not like they hang out and drink beers together on Sunday watching football, but I mean, he's worshiping this God and knows His ways. So, he's not surprised when David wants to build an altar. But let's see what happens before David. So, this is when the angel is approaching, it says. So, imagine this plague, people dying right and left.
1 Chronicles 21:20 "Now Ornan turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat."
And so what goes on? David came to Ornan, he looked, and David wants to buy the threshing floor and Ornan wants to give it to him. But imagine this scene, this deadly plague is killing thousands of people and suddenly a terrifying vision of an angel appears in front of these five men, and four of them hide. I imagine them diving into the bushes, hiding. And Ornan, the older man, I imagine he looks, "Don't see that every day," and he goes back to work. He continues threshing his wheat.
Why? Why didn't he run and hide? Now there's room to speculate here. To be honest, the Bible doesn't tell us, so I'm supplying an interpretation. Some would say, well, maybe he was mentally deranged and he just didn't understand the danger. I don't think so. That doesn't fit with his dealings with David later. What I like to think is that Ornan worshiped God and had a relationship with Him, and he was satisfied with his place in life. He was satisfied with how much of the wall he was building in front of his house, to mix metaphors.
I believe he thought, "If my life is going to end right now, I'm ready. And if not, I've got work to do." I'd like to think I could be that way. I'd like to think...I don't know that I'm there yet, but as I said in our earlier metaphor, he saw death right there. He didn't panic. He didn't hide. He went on building that wall in front of his house. And there's something here for us because we are in the midst of a plague. Now, we're not going to see an angel walk up to us. I don't think we'll see an angel walk up towards the house, but with death around us, we could be like Ornan's sons and dive into the bushes, or we could be like Ornan himself and get about the tasks and responsibilities that we have.
Now, I should stop and say I am not by any means saying that we shouldn't take precautions to prevent harm. As I said, if I see someone pointing a gun, I'm going to duck. If I'm around people coughing, I might choose to wear a mask. I'm certainly going to wash my hands more often. So, you know, not panicking is not the same as being careless. No one says we should be careless, well, I'm not saying we should be careless. I just hope that, again, when you or I face death, we can be the way Ornan was, and know that we're looking forward to resurrection in God's family, that we'd be confident with our relationship with God and our fellow Christians. I think that can be built into what we're doing as we're working on the wall in front of our house.
You know, we live in an interdependent world. You know, I'm going to be affected what other people say and do. So, their work on the wall is going to affect me. You know, I'm especially affected by what government officials do, but what I say and do does affect other people, you know, and I don't want my message to be misinterpreted. I don't want to say, "Well, I'm doing what I do and I don't care about other people." Hopefully, we'll say, "Yeah, we do care about other people."
But I can't make other people think or do what's right, and in this metaphor, I can't build and repair an entire city wall, and I can't even build my next-door neighbor's wall. But if things are to be set right in the world, I've got to do my part. I've got to build the wall in front of my house. And just like cooperating in canoeing, to go back to my earlier story, I can't paddle in the front and in the back at the same time. I've got to paddle wherever I find myself in the canoe. Of course, this message isn't about paddling a canoe, and it's not about building a wall, it's about personal responsibility to live God's way and to help do the work of the church.
What can I do? What must I do? I can say while striving to maintain control of the fears that I'm bound to experience, I must love the Lord, my God, with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my might and obey and keep His commandments while teaching that to my family. I need to be a light in the world and ready to give an answer of what God teaches. That's my way of fixing my little part of the world, my way of building and repairing the wall in front of my house. And if I do that, the entire job will get done as God chooses.