But you are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17)
Jerusalem, the city meant to declare God’s name, lies in rubble on the ground. The glory of Solomon’s era has passed. Now it stands bare, lifeless, stripped, and unprotected, a shameful shadow of its former splendor. A powerhouse brought low. A chosen people scattered. A city desecrated.
Nehemiah, having heard news from afar about the beloved city, mourns over the reproach of his people. He knows that the pride and hard-heartedness of his people have caused their own destruction. Previously, God warned them of this, that if they haughtily turned away from him, there would be consequences. Certainly, the consequences have arrived: captivity, broken fortifications, reproach, and an entire city in distress. Grieved, Nehemiah pleads with God for the people by confessing their sins:
O great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe your commandments, please let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against you. (Nehemiah 1:5–6)
He is so grieved over their sin and the physical representation of that sin — Jerusalem’s rubble — that he travels to Jerusalem to see it for himself. There, standing above the city, taking in its remains, he weeps.
And God responds.
God responds to an entire wayward nation because of this singularly repentant man. He loves a broken and contrite heart. Through Nehemiah’s leadership, God restores a whole people to himself, as well as the beloved city’s fortification.
From rubble to complete restoration. This is the way of God when his people submit to him.
There is another man weeping over Jerusalem, some 500 years after Nehemiah’s time. The city is not in physical rubble, but it is in spiritual shambles, full of religious people who are dangerously hard-hearted toward God. Soon, lacking the spiritual eyes and ears to understand his desire to gather them, protect them, forgive them, lead them, restore them, they will crucify the Weeper.
He longs to transform their spiritual rubble into complete life restoration because this is his way, the way of Jesus. If they would just let him.
Perhaps today you are weeping too over the rubble of sin or failure or things out of your control.
Perhaps you are reflecting on the rubble left from long-ago decisions, rubble that you are trying desperately to hide, run away from, or move past once-and-for-all.
Jesus stands over that rubble, weeping with compassion for you. But more so, he calls for you, his spiritual Jerusalem, to come to him:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem….how often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. (Matthew 23:37)
Even standing in their rubble, so many are still not willing to submit to him. Are we?
We don’t often believe him when he says he forgives. We don’t often believe he can love us enough to fully restore us to our Garden of Eden glory.
Whether we believe it or not, the substance of God’s love is mercy and grace. He is mercy and grace. He does mercy and grace. He gives mercy and grace. He doesn’t just forgive (mercy). He blesses and bestows favor (grace), enough so that a life completely broken down can be fully rebuilt. It is his response to all repentant, softened hearts.
From rubble to restoration. This is the way of God.