When Nehemiah heard how Jerusalem, the capital city of his homeland, remained in rubble years after the original return from Babylon, he immediately set out to improve it. Petitioning the Persian king for assistance, surveying the damage, and organizing the restoration, Nehemiah quickly changed not only the face of the city but also the hearts of its inhabitants. They had restored the temple and worship under the leadership of Ezra, but now they began to see how Jerusalem could once again flourish with life if they were willing to make it happen, which they subsequently did. Most people remain far removed from the effort needed to rebuild following a war such as people witnessed throughout Europe following World War II. However, on a spiritual and individual basis, the principles are amazingly similar. During the time of Nehemiah, Psalm 147 captured the heart of a people who once again saw beauty in their lives after living in captivity and living amidst destruction. And they recognized, most of all, the One who made their return possible: “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful” (Psa. 147:1).
Despite their challenges, despite their opposition, and despite their past history, the people who returned to rebuild Jerusalem recognized this opportunity as a beautiful situation because it signaled something significant: God forgives. They had lived with the consequences of rebellion for generations, and now they had to the opportunity to begin to reverse its effects. This is, essentially, what God offers all men today. Sin takes us down a road of personal destruction, but God is willing to forgive us and help us rebuild our lives (Psa. 147:2). But He does more than address our external behavior, God forgives to heal our hearts (Psa. 147:3). The God who knows each and every star by name also knows all of us by name and thus can forgive accordingly (Psa. 147:4-5). He knows everything we have done, every sin committed, and still offers to forgive if we will humble ourselves, repent, and do His will (Psa. 147:6).
All of this provoked a beautiful thought in the psalmist and should in us as well: God cares. He cares when we respond to Him with thankful hearts (Psa. 147:7). He cares what happens in His creation and to His creation (Psa. 147:8-9). But most of all, He cares what happens to us spiritually (Psa. 147:10-11). While the people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, stone by stone by stone, they learned just how much God cared. And as we rebuild our lives spiritually, step by step by step, we should come to the same realization.
Thus, as the psalmist surveyed the landscape of a city once in ruins but finally rebuilt, he bore witness to a beautiful blessing: God provides (Psa. 147:12). He provides a place for us to live with our children (Psa. 147:13). He provides peace and prosperity (Psa. 147:14). He provides control over nature through His providence (Psa. 147:15-18). Most of all, He provides spiritual guidance (Psa. 147:19-20). The children had ignored and neglected all of these in the years leading up to their captivity, just as we often take them for granted as we go about our daily lives. This is why it is so essential to reflect regularly on our past, on the world around us, and on everything God does for us so as to build a perspective in life less demanding and more appreciative, less tied to the world and more devoted to our God.
In a way, I understand what Nehemiah must have felt when he heard of Jerusalem’s disrepair. When people have all kinds of opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness, to worship Him with thankful hearts, and to rebuild their lives around the guidance He provides in His word, and yet fail to do so, it is heart wrenching. It demonstrates the principle often seen but difficult to accept that some people prefer rubble in their lives to the beauty of what Christianity offers. However, for those who see in this psalm the joy and hope that is possible by returning to God, I encourage you, as the Jews of old, to rise up and build!