Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rebuilding the (Temple) Church

I am often asked what the name of our distributon company (NINEVEH'S CROSSING) means. I keep coming up with variatons on the same answer. Here's yet another one.

In a recent email to our Nineveh's Crossing customers, I added these two Scriptures at the bottom.
Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!" ...Then everyone whom God had inspired to do so -- prepared to go up to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:3)

My answer to them was this: "It is the God of heaven who will grant us success. We, his servants, shall set about the rebuilding; but for you there is to be neither share nor claim nor memorial in Jerusalem." (Nehemiah 2:3)
That might have been okay, but two weeks later I wasn't sure anybody understood why I put them there. So I added this mysterious explanation:
In case you don't get the significance of the scriptures that follow, they're both addressed to exiles who were, in part, in NINEVEH, and they were asked to leave their place of exile, and CROSS back to the promised land and build the church.
Ah, now, that got a response from one alert soul who wrote:
I am sorry but I do not understand the meaning or application of the two Scriptures at the end of the email I just received. Thank you. (Annette S.)

Well, Annette, you're probably a lot more astute about ancient history than the writer of that explanation, and so you have forced me to hide under a small mountain of books, in an effort to explain my speculative view of history.

Alas, I've emerged from my canyon of paper to come up with this even more speculative defense. (Does pride have no corner where it can simply say, "I have no clue what that means, I must have had too many cornflakes for dinner?")


The Scriptures and my oblique remark relate to Nineveh's Crossing's desire to have something to do with rebuilding and reuniting the Christian Church. Recently, I re-read parts of Ezra and Nehemiah, and saw a connection between how Ezra was rebuilding the Temple (analogous to the Church) and Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls to protect the people and the Temple (analogous to a defense of the Church). We see ourselves as trying to do both. Evangelization has numerous facets: (a) building up of existing Christians, (b) conversion of people who call themselves Christians but really aren't, (c) conversion of unbelievers, (d) restoring Christians who have fallen away, (e) and stoking the fire where the embers are almost cold and dark. Jonah apparently was preaching to non-believers (see first drawing).

Ezra (see second drawing) and Nehemiah were stoking the fires as they preached to the people in Jerusalem. As Jonah crossed through Nineveh, the city repented and came to God. As Ezra and Nehemiah crossed from Babylon to Palestine with building materials and treasures to restock the Temple, so they were rebuilding (and reuniting) the people of God to their rightful worship.

It seems to me that a great body of Christians are in exile; they are in a lot of places, but they're not home in the Church that Christ started and the Apostles built. We're in Babylon and perhaps in Nineveh. God is calling us back to rebuild the Church. But to do so, we're going to have to CROSS over a wilderness and find our way to Jerusalem. The physical wilderness that Jonah and the Jews transited is a metaphor for our spiritual and perhaps physical journey, if not also for our physical confrontation with metaphoric whales and robbers along the way; and Jerusalem is a long understood metaphor for the physical and spiritual Church.

Indeed, the journey for most of us will not be an easy one. Jonah had to battle his own lack of faith and trust in God and probably showed up at Nineveh's gates bleached white and smelly from being in a whale's stomach for days (At the right Jonah is cast forth by the whale. I personally think that what scared the Ninevehites into repentance was Jonah looking like a walking ghost; he probably spelled like hell...[pssst,'re writing about Jonah not you. Oh yeah, sorry.] ...he probably smelled like hell. Did he "scare the hell" out of Nineveh's inhabitants?)

Ezra and Nehemiah were afraid of battling robbers and raiding parties during their journeys back to Palestine. Nothing worthwhile is easy. If it's not whales, it's robbers. And after you get where you're going, you have to contend with hecklers and political opposition. (Ezra 4)


My very shallow understanding of history during this time of the Old Testament puts Jonah at Nineveh's gate about 785 BC. Nineveh at the time (see colored drawing), appears to have been the Assyrian capitol. To Nineveh's South are the Babylonians, and to their East the Medes. In the 600s, Nineveh is decimated by the Babylonians and the Medes who split up Nineveh's wealth. In the late 600s and 500s, the Babylonians take Isarel into exile. And in the 400s, Ezra and Nehemiah are allowed to return with some Jews to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem's walls. (Today the ruins of Nineveh can be found across the Tigris river from Mosul, Iraq.)

So, it seems possible that when Ezra and Nehemiah return from Babylon, they draw some Jews out of the area that was once NINEVEH, and together they CROSS back into Palestine to rebuild the physical aspect of their faith, the temple (drawing at the right) and the walls. I saw the two Scriptures I cited as a call to Christians to unite and to rebuild the Church and its defenses.

Thank you, Annette, for asking the question. It is always fascinating to me to try and figure out what my mind was doing when I write stuff without thinking very hard about it. Hope this helps.


The wonderful black and white illustration above are by French artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883) who produced hundreds of quality Bible story illustrations in his lifetime. (I wish Blogger had an easy way to capture drawings.) In all of them there is a leader, a group of people laboring, and the rebuilding of a spiritual struture within the physical realm. Fascinating stuff.

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