The First Step Was … Not a Wall

An Inauguration Sermon Error

Inauguration Day morning, January 23, 2017, then-President-elect Donald Trump heard a sermon preached by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church. Having read the sermon manuscript, I would like to point out one simple factual error.

In his introductory remarks, Jeffress said this:

The first step of rebuilding the nation [of Israel] was the building of a great wall.

He said this in reference to Nehemiah rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, having been commissioned to do so by Cyrus, king of Persia after seventy years of foreign captivity. But he said this in error.

By the end of that devastating period of time, the city lay in ruins. Its walls were demolished and its gates were burned with fire. Nehemiah described the once majestic city as “lying in waste” (Nehemiah 2:17). He returned with a company of Israelites to rebuild the city walls in the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia (445/444 B.C.).

But was this the first step of rebuilding the nation? Jeffress claims it was, though the Bible teaches differently.

Checking the Facts

The year was 536 B.C., and Cyrus King of Persia decreed that captive Israelites could return to resettle their homeland in Judah (Ezra 1). When they arrived at the site of Old Jerusalem, they took the first step towards rebuilding their nation. And yes, it was a building project; but it was not building a wall.

The Jewish people rebuilt the Temple first, the center of Jewish worship and culture.

The Jewish people rebuilt the Temple first, the center of Jewish worship and culture. They focused on this project in earnest in 520 B.C. and completed the work in 516 B.C. (Ezra 5). Did Israel build a wall to provide protection and security? Yes. But they built it second, not first. After they completed the Temple, Nehemiah arrived to lead the wall building effort. Despite a barrage of opposition, which Robert Jeffress also highlights, Nehemiah found a way with God’s help to finish the wall with blazing efficiency. They completed the work in only 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15).

A Thoughtful Observation

If you ask me which project to tackle first in a city rebuilding mission, conventional wisdom would lead me to choose the walls before the Temple. I would do this for logical reasons. The walls would provide a safe zone in which to build the Temple. If I build the Temple first, then the Temple and the rest of the city would continue to be exposed to enemy interference or attack.

But God’s blueprint gave different instructions. He valued devotion over defense, worship over safety and relationship over comfort. Do you? When you set out to restore your relationship with God or to rebuild relationships that have been demolished, do you give first place to your personal walk with God? Or do you assign that a place of secondary important, focusing on practical, earthly factors first.

God values devotion over defense.

Walls of defense and protection are important in their place. This fact cannot be ignored. But our first and greater need is a strong, biblical, vibrant relationship with the God who made us and redeemed us from destruction.

He is the God who restores. He is the God who rebuilds. And he is the God who defends us.

2 replies
  1. Sheila Mcguyver
    Sheila Mcguyver says:

    Thank you for this. I heard that one of the first things Trump did was to take out references to LGBQT rights from the White House web site. That’s a blow to all of us Christians who have fought for the rights of gays and transsexuals. For a few years now gays have been gaining more and more rights, but transsexuals have been sadly behind in having their rights addresses. I feel as if all of the good progress we have made has been reversed with this horrible man elected to office. No wonder so many Christians fought against his election! I am glad to see that this site has taken a stand and will not back down and give in to this guy!

  2. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    Sheila, please note that this article only points out the biblical and historical error in the sermon that Robert Jeffress preached to now-President Trump. But I have refrained from either endorsing or criticizing President Trump or his administration. I have also refrained from criticizing everything in the sermon that Jeffress preached. Some of what he said is entirely biblical and entirely true. But he is wrong to say that Israel built their wall first. The DID build a wall, but they built their Temple FIRST. I trust that this is clear. Please forgive me if I was unclear.

    That being said, Shepherd Thoughts conscientiously promotes a biblical view of gender, marriage and sexuality. You can read a summary of this in my article entitled “Principles of Gender Roles.” I do not believe that the modern LGBQT and self-identified transsexual movement is biblical. Quite the opposite, and I say that as graciously as I know how. For a more complete understanding of this view, you can listen to this audio message, “We Need To Agree with God’s View about Homosexuality.” This is the view of historical, biblical Christianity.

    God bless.

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