Five days after taking office, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13767, which authorized the building of a wall on our Southern border and other measures to increase the number of immigration officers to defend our borders against illegal crossings. This authorization for a physical wall has a cost, estimated by the Department of Homeland Security, of over $20 billion. However, Congress has not yet taken action to fund this project or the envisioned increase in immigration enforcement personnel. To say that Trump’s commitment and authorization to build a wall has ignited extreme controversy would be an understatement. Some pundits are claiming that we are on the brink of civil war, and that polarization is in no small measure because of the wall which was the centerpiece of Trump’s campaign and his legislative initiatives.
This authorization follows earlier legislation passed as a bipartisan measure, the Secure Fence Act, in October 2006. That legislation, depicted by Harry Reid and other Democratic Party leaders, as the brainchild of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, nevertheless received 26 Democrat votes in the Senate with only 17 opposed. Obviously, opposition to the act was more “extreme” than the act itself. The need for restraining flow across our porous borders was and is an undeniable reality, and commitment to a high cost project covering about 700 miles was properly deemed necessary.
Further, we had a two-tiered fence rather than a wall, augmented with some hi-tech surveillance equipment. Even this commitment was considered by many to be an economic albatross and Republican Sen. Fay Hutchison (R-KA), in 2007 at the urging of the Department of Homeland Security, offered an amendment to the Secure Fence Act giving DHS wider latitude in deciding the extent of fencing versus electronic surveillance would be appropriate. The amendment passed.
This controversy over a wall is not unique in the annals of history. Israel has built a wall longer than 700 km to keep out Palestinian Arabs now living in Judea and Samaria (often called the West Bank). To supporters of Israel, this wall is deemed an essential defense against terrorism. But for the manic opposition, the wall is portrayed in a bogus way as Israeli apartheid. Further, an underground wall to protect Israel from Gazan terrorists coming through tunnels is also being erected. And a third wall to prevent overwhelming Syrian migration is also in the works. Hungary has also erected a razor wire wall to protect itself from being overwhelmed by refugees, and, in 2008, Poland re-erected a wall on beaches shared with Germans in order to prevent German nudists from flooding the more modest Polish beaches. (Walls do not always pertain to matters of life and death.)
Throughout history, many notable walls have been erected. Hadrian’s Wall was erected by the Roman emperor and was constructed between the North Sea and the Irish Sea and was about 80 miles long. It was to protect Britain from the barbarians who lived to the north. The Great Wall of China, built in the 14th century, runs about 4500 miles and is 15-30 feet high. In addition, there is fencing or a wall between India and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Bangladesh and India, part of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, part of the China-Hong Kong border, and the Hungary-Serbia border.
In addition, there is fencing or a wall between India and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Bangladesh and India, part of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, part of the China-Hong Kong border, and the Hungary-Serbia border.
However, Trump’s projected wall has generated controversy not only because of practical questions about the effectiveness of the wall, the cost of the wall, the length of the wall, and the relative merits of a wall vs. a fence vs. technological surveillance vs. barriers. Rather, the wall is controversial because it has become symbolic of deep ideological and social rifts between rival politicians, commentators, and so-called activists (i.e., underminers of law and order) and our newly elected President.
This practical and symbolic controversy has its best parallel in history in the re-building of the wall of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. That wall had originally been destroyed, along with Solomon’s Temple (“the First Temple”) by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BC. Babylonia in turn was conquered by Persia, and the Persian king Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem with a group of men to rebuild the wall.
When Nehemiah arrived, he met incredible opposition by the non-Jewish locals – the Ashdodites, the Ammonites, the Arabs, and the Horonites — led by Tobiah and Sanballat. Not only that but he was even opposed by Jews living in the land who had managed to remain despite the earlier Babylonian invasion. The poorer Judeans living in the area near Jerusalem were suffering debt and economic exploitation by certain wealthier Jews, as well as being beleaguered by a hostile non-Jewish population (groups named above). The building of the wall, and heightened opposition to the wall by the locals only added to their socio-economic burdens.
They were being crushed from above by their own rulers, and horizontally by local Jew-hating tribes. The poor Jews cried out a list of oppressions to Nehemiah as they complained about his “wall controversy” which only added to their burdens. Even today, about 2600 years later, reading their list of oppressions should tear at the heart of any reader of the book of Nehemiah (chapter 5). Nehemiah listened to their pleas and insisted that the debt burden and tax burden of the Jewish people be reduced or eliminated altogether by their rulers. And Nehemiah prevailed. He was a leader’s leader, and carried the prophetic imprimatur of a holy God to support his mission.
Nehemiah’s enemies did everything they could to prevent the building of the wall. They relentlessly mocked his workers. In today’s climate we see endless mockery of Trump by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and even, though in a less vitriolic way, Jimmy Fallon. They belittled his work by depicting the work as inadequate and superficial. They were in a constant rage at the work. The opposition to Nehemiah invited him to meet with them and work with them; yet in reality they meant him harm, and Nehemiah wisely saw through their strategies.
The opposition hired prophets of doom who were predicting terrible outcomes for Nehemiah and his rebuilding project. Are not the so-called reporters of the mainstream media – Don Lemon, Wolf Blitzer, Jim Acosta, Joe Scarborough, Shepard Smith, etc. — and mouthpieces of the Democratic Party establishment modern counterparts of the prophets of doom hired to predict failure and to utter vicious curses upon Trump’s projects, ideas, and ideals? High level peer pressure was put on Nehemiah. Many of the Jewish nobles in the area were related to the oppositon by intermarriage into the family of Tobiah one of the leaders of the Ammonite opposition. Thus, even the Jews in the locality were connected with the non-Jewish elite. Today, the deeply entrenched elite, fondly called “the swamp” or “the sewer” by the so-called deplorables and Trumptards, led by John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House, are examples of those committed to denying Trump his agenda.
Despite the relentless opposition to Nehemiah, we read “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” Yet, the Scripture, filled with holy realism, also states, “Tobiah [leader of the opposition] sent letters to frighten me.” The enemy will never publicly admit that it has been overshadowed, let alone defeated.
May it please God, the readers of this article, and the American electorate, the wall on our Southern border will be built, the opposition will lose confidence, and their never-ending fear mongering will continue to be mocked and spurned.