What Donald Trump Could Learn from Nehemiah About Building Walls
Donald Trump would like to be known for building a wall. But his adversaries keep frustrating his plans. Well, Nehemiah is a guy who is known for building a wall and had to overcome a lot of resistance to do it. Perhaps he has something to teach our president about how to get it done.
Now if the president were to get the border wall built, it would be the most significant accomplishment of his presidency and put him next to Herbert Hoover as a president whose name is connected with a huge civil engineering accomplishment. He would be remembered for decades as the president who protected our national security along the southern border.
It’s worth noting that God devoted an entire book of the Bible to recording the history of a construction project, the building of a physical barrier around the ancient city of Jerusalem. One implication here is that our view of what counts as ministry is much too narrow. Nehemiah’s job was as sacred and as much a form of ministry as the work of the high priest. Who’s to say that President Trump’s effort to protect our southern border with a wall is not as much a form of ministry as Robert Jeffress’ preaching in the pulpit?
If the president is doing what God has called him to do - and I believe he is - then he needs to follow the same path that Nehemiah did. First, he needs to pray. When Nehemiah heard about how unprotected the city was, he “wept and mourned for days, and continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).
Nehemiah’s prayer included what I call “identificational repentance.” He repented on behalf of his people, saying “we (not “they”) have acted very corruptly against you and not kept the commandments...you commanded through your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:7). He - as we must also do - identified himself with the people of his land and joined them in repenting for its sins. We do not pray from a position of moral or spiritual superiority but from a position of humility.
Nehemiah, as a political leader, acknowledged his need for ordinary people to join him in both repentance and supplication. “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name...” (Nehemiah 1:11[emphasis mine]). Who are the “servants who delight to fear your name?” Well, that’s us. Ordinary Americans who love our country, want to see God protect it, and are willing to join our prayers to those of our president and fellow-citizens to see that it happens.
To put it bluntly, the wall cannot be built apart from the intercessory prayer of the saints. The question for us right now as Christ-followers is not “Where is the money for the wall?” but “Where is the intercessory prayer for the wall?” The battle over the wall is a matter of straight-up spiritual warfare. It will not be resolved by what happens politically but by what happens spiritually. If we pray as we should, the president will get his wall. If we don’t, he won’t.
This is because the second thing that President Trump can learn from Nehemiah is that anybody who sets out to build a wall for God will encounter intense, vitriolic, and hateful opposition. We are told that it “displeased them (Nehemiah’s adversaries) greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people” (Nehemiah 2:10). The phrase translated “displeased them greatly” is literally “it was very evil in their eyes,” in the original Hebrew.
And so, too, the president’s adversaries think what the president is seeking to do is something evil. Speaker Nancy Pelosi frequently refers to the wall as something “immoral.” While the president seeks the welfare of our country, his opponents do not. While we and the president want a wall to protect our national security and to protect the safety and security of our cities and neighborhoods, the president’s enemies want open borders so they can get more voters (Democrats) or get more cheap labor (the GOP establishment).
The opposition will resort to insults, name-calling, and threats. Nehemiah said his enemies, “jeered at us and despised us” (Nehemiah 2:19). The word translated “jeered” means “to mock, to deride.” The word translated “despised” literally means “to hold in contempt, to raise the head loftily and disdainfully.”
The president and we who support him have been subjected to this from the day he won the election. We are ridiculed and mocked and regarded as “rubes,” as one Democrat put it. We are regarded as inferior in every respect to our cultural betters who sneer at us and our MAGA hats in utter contempt.
The opposition in Nehemiah’s day was so intense that it created a shutdown over the wall (sound familiar?). Nehemiah’s leftist opponents threatened them with death and dispirited them. “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves, we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10).
The political “moderates” of Nehemiah’s day also interfered by criticizing the pro-wall folks as extremists and begging them to return to the establishment fold. “The Jews...came from all directions and said to us ten times, ‘You must return to us’” (Nehemiah 4:12).
The third lesson that the president can learn from Nehemiah is that perseverance is the key to ultimate success. During the mid-wall shutdown, Nehemiah rallied his citizens. He gave a pep talk “to the nobles and to the officials, and to the rest of the people” (Nehemiah 4:14), urging them not to fear their opponents but instead to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14). As a result, “they all returned to the wall, each to his own work” (Nehemiah 4:15). It wasn’t long before the wall was finished, and everyone who saw it knew that “this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16).
Here was Nehemiah’s rallying cry: “Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your homes” (Nehemiah 4:14). My wife and I are at a stage in life where virtually no matter what happens we’re going to be okay. But what motivates me to stay engaged in the culture war - which right now centers on the border wall - is that I am deeply concerned about the culture we are leaving behind to our children and to their children after them. I am determined to fight for them.
The action we can take right now in the culture war is to pray for our president and the wall project, to support him against his adversaries, and to persevere until the wall is built.