In 1987, the Berlin Wall came down. It had been a hated symbol of Communist oppression for forty years. But few people know what really caused its fall.
The leaders of East Germany agreed to let certain people pass through the wall to visit relatives in the West for a weekend pass. People stormed the checkpoints to visit relatives in the West. Soon the pressure of people wanting to see family nearly broke the wall.
But that wasn’t all. Germans lined up to visit the West just for the fun of it. Germany is famous for its Autobahn, a long interstate with no speed limits. In East Germany they made a little car called the Travi. Like most cars made under Communism, it was a terrible car—nevertheless, East Germans were curious to see how they would perform on the Autobahn. They flooded the checkpoints trying to get their cars through to race them on the Autobahn.
It’s often little, ordinary things that tear down spiritual walls, too. The same pressures that brought down the Berlin wall—family connections and the desire for worldly things—can destroy the walls God builds around us to protect our lives, more than the devil ever could.
We see this in Nehemiah, chapter 13. The wall around Jerusalem had been completed and dedicated. Now they had to use the wall to preserve the nation. Nehemiah wrote in 13: 1-4
“On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.”
The Law of Moses was their spiritual wall. When they read it, they discovered that they had missed something important. The Ammonites and Moabites—the pagans living in their land—were not only living in Jerusalem, but intermarrying with the Jews, even though the Bible expressly forbade this. This wasn’t racism, this was obedience. It probably made no sense to the average Israelite. Why should they discriminate against Ammonites and Moabites? It wasn’t their place to question God’s motives—they should just obey.
Today, we have the same problem. We should not discriminate against any race or ethnicity. African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans, and Arab Americans should fully participate in American churches, and there is nothing wrong with intermarriage with them. In Numbers 12, when Moses married an Ethiopian woman and his brother and sister complained, God rebuked Miriam and Aaron for complaining. To discriminate against those whom God calls us to welcome is a sin.
But the Bible does not approve intermarriage with unbelievers, nor does it approve sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage. The reasons why are the same as they were in Nehemiah’s day, and that was to keep ourselves pure for God.
In Nehemiah 13: 4-9 we see an example of what happens when we don’t.
“Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.
One of the three enemies of Nehemiah was Tobiah, and he was discovered to be living in Jerusalem! Tobiah had lost his position as an Ammonite chief, and was living off his in-law, Eliashib, the High Priest of Jerusalem! Tobiah had been unable to get through the wall, but his relative did! So the High Priest opened up the wall to the Jews worst enemy and gave him an apartment inside the temple itself.
We have a responsibility to take care of our loved ones, but we have a greater responsibility to take care of the things of God. If our race, nation, or family comes before God, then our race, nation, or family has become an idol.
There is only one member we can choose, and that is our spouse. With that choice comes responsibility for our spouse’s entire family. Be careful what in-laws you choose. That’s one of several reasons why God forbids sexual relations outside marriage. We risk creating children with them, and that is a responsibility that lasts forever. Choosing the wrong spouse is risking a lifetime of bondage. To become entangled with the wrong family endangers not only our relationship to God, but all our children after us.
Our society pushes a life priority that is entirely wrong. It goes like this: Feelings first, family second, and God last.
Feelings first. We have sex or get married because we have feelings for someone. “Love” in our common understanding is a helpless, hopeless feeling, which we are not able to control. If we have sexual feelings for someone, we believe if we don’t act on them we will die. We have been told constantly to follow our heart, instead of following God’s Law or even or own reason. As a result, we get into relationships that defy not only God, but common sense.
Family second. Because we have been told that families are important, we go along with our loved ones who live immoral lifestyles. If a family member sins, we feel we should cover up for them, if they get in a foolish argument we take their side even when they are wrong, if they refuse to work we still support them, and if they get involved in a sinful relationship, we turn and look the other way. We accept things in our own family that would horrify us in someone else’s family. This was Adam’s first sin, to put his relationship with Eve over God’s commandment. Not only did he not rebuke Eve when she ate the forbidden fruit, but he joined her in eating it. The same sin is repeated in modern families all the time.
God last. Our honor of God is conditional on our first two priorities. If our feelings tell us we no longer love our families or spouses, then we feel justified in dropping them. If our families tell us that honoring God in worship is inconvenient with family plans, then we quit the church to go with the family. If we don’t feel like worship, then we don’t worship, because in our minds, God is a distant third to our feelings and family.
God has a different order. His order is God, family, and then feelings. Our first obligation is to obey God. Because when we obey God, we honor our families. If we don’t feel like honoring our families we do it anyway because our God commands it. “Honor your father and mother.”
This isn’t easy. We are not used to saying “no” to either our feelings or our family. Sometimes our feelings seem so strong that we think we’ll go crazy if we don’t listen to them.
But our feelings change from day to day. Recognizing and resisting our feelings makes us stronger, not weaker. Feelings are like kids: we should cherish them, love them, and listen to them. But we should not let them run our lives.
Eliashib was high priest, but he was a prisoner of his relatives. He put a relative first who was the devil himself, and gave him a room in God’s temple, because at some time he or one of his relatives became married to an unbeliever. I have seen the same thing in many Christian families—even my own. If we are to be serious about God we must put God first and build our homes upon solid connections.
Nehemiah’s reaction was stern and swift. He had Tobiah kicked out, his grain supply cut off, and his furniture thrown out on the street. Nehemiah would not allow Tobiah to be supported by the temple.
But family is not the only cause for walls coming down. Business and entertainment can take the place of family in this order. We see this in 19-23
“As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, "Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you." From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.”
Here the order was feelings, business, and then God. The merchants and sellers felt that if they could not work seven days a week at selling stuff, then they were being cheated. So they set up shop at the gates of the temple on the Sabbath Day. They justified this by saying it was good for business. God’s law may have been against it, but business came first.
But God has a different priority: God, business, and then feelings. Our business is dictated by God’s law, not what we feel like doing.
Jerusalem twice is still a walled city. But now there are no gates on the walls. There are just roads and highways that go right through the city walls. It would be impossible to close the gates today, if they wanted to. The walls are just decorations, no more.
Are our spiritual walls more than decorations? Do they matter to us? We may call ourselves righteous all we want, but if don’t listen to God, our faith is useless.
Christ said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek God first before family, business, and entertainment and He will reward you. Set God first in your life. That is ultimately the only way to survive this dangerous world.