Most of us have never lived in a walled city. We do, though, fence or wall our living spaces. Why do we do this?
In many parts of the world, and through many centuries, cities were defined by their walls. Jerusalem has had a whole series of walls in its history. We first see it at the time of Abraham, with a mention of Melchizedek, King of Salem. We don't know anything else about the city itself, except at this time, it had a priest king that knew God.
When the Israelites came back to the land, it was a fortified city of a tribe known as Jebusites. It was not conquered until King David saw it as a good central location for the capital of a unified federation of tribes, as it was not part of any tribe's territory. David and then his son Solomon expanded the city and its walls. Over three thousand years, it has been attacked 52 times, besieged 23 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and destroyed at least twice.
The walls were destroyed by Babylonians in 586BC, rebuilt under Nehemiah in 445BC. Those walls were enlarged and rebuilt several times, but destroyed again by the Romans in 70AD. Rebuilt as a Christian city under Constantine, it was taken by Persians in 614, Muslims in 637, Crusaders in 1099, and by Saladin in 1187. In 1219, his successor had what was left of the walls removed, so that the city would have no value as a fortress to possible returning Crusaders. (Interesting thought: vulnerability as a defense!) After the Ottoman Turks took the city in 1517, they rebuilt the walls that stand today.
The most cherished piece of wall in Jerusalem is not the city wall, but the last remaining wall of the First Century Herodian Temple area, on the west side of the Temple complex. The original wall is made of cut limestone blocks, 2 to 8 tons each. Smaller courses have been added later, during the Arab rule and later Turkish period. It is said that the Roman soldiers who demolished Jerusalem left this wall to demonstrate the size of the walls they destroyed. It is revered to this day as a connection with the last Temple, whose place today is occupied by Moslem shrines.
Walls can work both ways. They can make attacks more difficult (but not impossible); they can make a siege possible, isolating those inside from help and sustenance. They can be conquered by stealth, as in the stories of Troy, and King David's midnight invasion of Jerusalem. Our last century also had a famous Wall--but the Berlin Wall was not built to repel invaders, but to imprison its residents. When it fell, it was not attacked from the outside, but from the inside. There are still a few places in the world where there are walls of guards and wire isolating people from the outside world.
Walls are not always visible. We often construct walls in our minds, that keep things out, or keep things in. Sometimes walls can be very comfortable, helping us avoid hard questions, or keeping us safe. Some of our walls are uncomfortable, keeping us from things that might be good for us. Walls can be a trap. Walls can be an invitation to an attack. Finding the right walls is one of the challenges we face in our lives. Nehemiah's walls could be locked against outsiders; the story of Ruth was retold in that period as a reminder that outsiders are not always dangerous; they can be a healthy addition to our community, and we are called to reach out of our comfort zone.