With the panic surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we may wonder what society and the world will look like when this crisis ends. Small businesses fear that they may not be able to recover from minimal sales these past few months, people have been laid off from jobs, and schools have converted from in-person classroom settings to online.
Can we rebuild? What does that look like? How long will it take to recover?
We may have asked ourselves these questions as we watch the numbers on the news continue to rise. As the Bible has no specific guidelines on a pandemic like this, how do we look forward to the future?
But does the Bible have examples of people rebuilding after a disaster? Most definitely. As we take a look at a man named Nehemiah, who returned to Israel after a 70-year captivity took place in Babylon, we learn what rebuilding after a horrific event looks like.
Nehemiah helps to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and city and Israel flourishes until Alexander the Great pops onto the scene, writes the Embassy of Israel.
Let’s dive into what Nehemiah can teach us about rebuilding after a disaster.
How Bad Was the Damage to Jerusalem?
Nehemiah may not have faced a pandemic, but when the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, they left Israel destitute and without hope.
Not only did the Babylonians take the best of the best (Daniel 1), leaving only the poor and frail behind, but according to accounts in the Bible and Josephus, the Babylonians set fire to Jerusalem.
This means, when Nehemiah returns, he has to start from square one. They’ve burned the buildings, the stones, the foundations (Nehemiah 4:2), and it looks bleak. To top it all off, Israel’s enemies aren’t too keen about their return, and continually taunt and threaten Nehemiah, to prevent him from completing his project.
In essence, the situation looked bleak – much like our own disaster may now seem. Nevertheless, Nehemiah trusts in the Lord and proceeds with rebuilding Jerusalem. We can learn a great deal from when he chooses to do so.
It Takes Time to Rebuild
Although Nehemiah does remark at the surprising speed God allows them to rebuild once he arrives in Jerusalem, it takes a lot of time to get to that point. Ezra, another returning exile, returns with families into Jerusalem in 457 BC, and Nehemiah doesn’t start building until 444 BC, according to this timeline from BibleHub. That means 13 whole years pass before they begin repairs.
To those exiles who arrived in 457, they may have experienced a great deal of sorrow and loss. The city they once knew, or had heard about from their parents during the Babylonian exile, has been reduced to almost nothing.
Nevertheless, once they begin to rebuild, they complete the wall before the year expires, and Ezra reads the law for the people, reminding them of God’s goodness and promises. When all seems most hopeless, God allows the people to rebuild and they flourish for about one hundred years.
Enemies Will Try to Deter the Rebuilding Process
Israel, throughout its history, has accumulated a number of enemies. And when the Israelites return from the Babylonian exile, they walk right into a group of foes who do not want to see the city rebuilt.
Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and other Ammonites and Horonites, are less than pleased when they hear that the Israelites have begun to rebuild the wall (Nehemiah 4).
He first resorts to taunting.
As much as we hate taunting now, like when someone insults us online or in the workplace, taunting during Nehemiah’s time packed a whole different kind of punch. He prays that God handle the situation, and that his enemies will have their insults fall on their own heads. Then he goes back to work.
When Sanballat sees that they’re actually succeeding in rebuilding, he fights against the Israelites. They have to station guards outside the city to block his attacks (Nehemiah 4:9).
Sanballat also attempts to lure Nehemiah out of the city to do him harm, but Nehemiah pointedly sends Sanballat’s messenger back each time.
In the end, Jerusalem rebuilds, in spite of enemy opposition. Whatever God has brought together, no man can separate (Mark 10:9), and that certainly rang true for Nehemiah. In the same way, Satan likes to tear apart what God is healing or rebuilding. When God restores something, expect the devil to make an attempt to deter progress.
Healing Can be Painful
One particular passage really stands out in Nehemiah’s narrative: when Ezra reads the law for the people in Nehemiah 8. Most people, when he does so, react by crying bitter tears (Nehemiah 8:9).
They’ve realized in this moment how much they’ve lost. Perhaps they thought about all the family members who perished in Babylon and never got to see the rebuilt city. Or maybe they wondered if the Babylonian captivity would have never taken place if they’d listened more carefully to the law Ezra is reading now.
In either case, even though they’ve rebuilt, they realize how much they’ve healed from, how long those decades in Babylon felt. And this evokes an emotional reaction. In the same way, when we heal from a disaster, the process involves a lot of pain, a lot of mulling over emotions and memories we don’t want to unwrap.
Nevertheless, God restores us, even amidst the pain. There are times for mourning and celebration (Ecclesiastes 3), and sometimes those seasons can intermingle.
Why Does This Matter?
We’ve been told that the Bible doesn’t answer every problem. It seems to remain silent on issues like social media, dating, and COVID-19, since none of those three existed during the historical timeline of the Old or New Testament. But that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t have examples of godly people experiencing disasters, and how they coped and rebuilt from those.
Part of the reason why I wrote a modern-day Daniel set in a high school was because I saw how Daniel related to issues that teens experience now, and how his standing up for his beliefs plays an important role in how teens tackle difficult issues today.
The Bible is described as living and active (Hebrews 4:12). That means that no matter when the writer penned that particular book of the Bible, it can have relevance on our lives. So when we face rebuilding from a disaster, we can turn to Scripture for examples, for encouragement, and most importantly, for healing.