Monday, 22 June 2009

The strength of walls and those who guard them

This blog has been provoked by watching a video one of my sons published on YouTube. He spent two years based in China and much of his break time exploring and photographing the Endless Wall. You can see the video here but it is the final quote which captured my imagination. It is from the war-lord Genghis Khan "The strength of walls depends upon the courage of those who guard them." You will need to watch the video to see the point of the quotation.

City walls were important in ancient times and meant the difference between chaos and security. The first city builder was Cain, who built a city in direct defiance of God's instruction; Gen 4:12,17. He build it because he felt vulnerable. We still tend to build 'walls' when we feel vulnerable! The writer of Proverbs commented on the way a rich man uses his wealth to create his own self-made security; Prov 18:11. The wise man put his faith in the name of the LORD, as the previous verse tells us Prov 18:10, but the 'rich fool' puts his confidence in his own resources. Such man-made walls, like China's Endless Wall, are doomed to ultimate failure.

The image of the security that walls bring, however, is a familiar Bible metaphor. We create structures to our days and lives and churches to act as a defence against the invader. We build our walls thinking that our central 'doctrinal truth' will be safe behind the walls of our denominational creed. My son's video comments that China's walls were built... to keep the barbarians out, to keep the people in, and to keep the soldiers busy. He comments that 'all of them failed'. They always do, and our doctrinal and denominational walls,which are often build for the same three reasons also fail... for the same reasons. And it is the reason given in the strange Genghis Khan quote, the strength of walls ultimately depends upon the courage of those who guard them.

At the turn of the 6th Century BC, as Jerusalem's walls faced the hordes of Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Isaiah gave a curious prophecy; I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, Is 62:6 No doubt many who heard the words thought it was another promised of 'security for the chosen people and their city', but within a few short years Nebuchadnezzar's battering rams had breached the walls of Jerusalem, and left the 'doctrinal faith' of its inhabitants as a burning ruin.

Did God fail in his promise? or had the promise always had another dimension? As Luther's hymn boldly declared 'the city of God remaineth'. But Luther wasn't thinking about the earthly Jerusalem but about a city which is a metaphor for God's people remaining safe in the will of God, in spite of all attacking barbarians. It is these walls and these 'guardians' of the wall that God has in mind. He calls them 'watchmen', says that he has appointed them to their posts, and that they will continue to pray 'day and night'. It is in the hands of these 'guards of the wall' that the purposes of God rest, not in doctrinal walls and denominational safeguards but in intercessors who will 'not be silent, but who will lift their prayer to God day and night.

Has God appointed you to such a post? We need you to stand your ground now as much as at any time in the history of Christianity. Don't waste your energies on building man-made walls to keep the invaders out and the faithful in, lift your heart to God and pray. Ultimately the safety of the 'city' will not depend on the strength of the walls but upon the courage of those who guard them.

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