The Daughters of Shallum (Nehemiah 3:12)
“Leah,” Bina called to her sister, “over here. We need some flatter stones to fill these holes.”
Leah looked up at her older sister perched precariously on a flimsy ladder.
“Bina!” she called up, “be careful!”
Bina looked down at her younger sister. “I will,” she cried with a grin, “if you hurry and bring me the stones.”
Leah shook her head and began to pick her way back across the rubble to where her other two sisters, Gabriella and Shiri, were sorting through tons of fallen rock.
Reaching them, she repeated her sister’s request for flatter stones. Gabriella and Shiri nodded and quickly began to pull out ‘flatter stones’ in order to fulfill Bina’s request.
Leah stood watching her sisters. They were covered in dirt and their hair clung to their sweaty faces. They had been working in the rubble pile all morning, sorting rocks for Leah and Bina to use to repair the fallen wall. Watching her sisters, she was amazed at their determination and stamina. She watched as Gabriella pushed and pulled until the large stone she had been working at finally broke free. She stumbled back slightly, but quickly caught her balance and hefted the large stone onto the ‘flat rock’ pile. Standing up, she caught Leah’s eye and smiled.
“You’re a credit to your name, little sister,” Leah cried out, “Strength of God, beyond a doubt.”
Gabriella blushed. In the last few days Leah had watched her shy, unassuming younger sister come alive. When they had begun the work on the wall, Gabriella had been the most unsure. She had been timid, afraid of the massive stones and, even more so the men who would walk past and laugh at the four girls working on the wall. But something had changed. The more stones she pulled from the rubble, the more strength she seemed to gain. Something about digging through the rubble and finding the perfect stone to fit the wall had empowered her. As Leah watched, Gabriella paused and looked up from the rubble, admiring for a moment the wall she was helping to build. Nodding, she turned back to the rubble, determined to find the perfect stone for the hole Bina was now pointing at.
Leah turned back to her older sister high atop the ladder. Bina, of all the girls, had been the most determined to take on this job. When their father came home and told them about the plan to rebuild the wall, Bina was the first to volunteer, “I’ll help, father.”
“Ah, yes, Bina, my daughter. The men will need food and water brought to them regularly,” he had said.
Bina’s face had twisted in irritation. “Father, I’m not their maid,” she had snapped, “they can get their own food and water—just like we will while we’re helping rebuild the wall.”
The other sisters had stared at her—they should have expected this from Bina. Always ready to cause a stir, and to drag them along with her.
Bina had turned to her sister and announced proudly, “we’ll help build it, won’t we.” The other three girls looked more doubtful. “I don’t know, Bina,” Leah had said, “I don’t know that we’re strong enough for that kind of work.”
“Not strong enough!” Bina shouted. “Just yesterday I saw Shiri heft an entire bag of grain onto her head and bring it home without a moment’s hesitation,” she said, pointing at the youngest of the group. “And you, Leah, I’ve watched you carry two buckets full of water back from the well and you never spill a drop!”
Leah had blushed, “well, yes, but those are water buckets.”
“So,” responded Bina, “water buckets, grain, stones—what difference does it make? We can do this, Leah. Gabriella. Shiri. We can do more than just cook and tote water for the men. We can do this—we can help make our city great again. We can rebuild Jerusalem.”
The passion in Bina’s voice had made the hair on the back of Leah’s neck stand up. ‘Could they really do this? Were they strong enough and smart enough to help rebuild Jerusalem’s walls?’ she wondered.
Bina stood, eyes looking from one sister to the next until they finally came to rest on Leah. Leah, the wise, her sisters jokingly called her. She was the smartest, the most discerning of the three. Bina could rile her sisters up, ruffling their proverbial sails with her outgoing spirit and often brash words, but it was Leah who guided the ship.
Leah turned for a moment and began looking out the window, partly to escape her sister’s fiery gaze and to give herself time to think. Her eyes had landed on a section of the collapsed wall. She stared at the rubble scattered across the ground, and then closed her eyes.
No one, not even their father would disturb Leah when she closed her eyes like this. She was deep in thought, her calm face belying her racing mind as she considered the problem from all angles. ‘If we take those stones there and place them there, they’ll form the best base for the wall—they’ll make it strong. Those stones there, they’ll be perfect to fill in the smaller holes.’ Slowly, the wall took shape in Leah’s mind until, at last, she opened her eyes and turned her gaze back to Bina.
“Yes!” cried Bina, “you see it, don’t you, you see how to build it!”
Leah inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, a smile forming on her lips. Turning to her younger sisters, Leah smiled at them and nodded slightly. “It’s ok,” she whispered for their ears only, “this is why we’re here.” The two younger girls nodded, their trust in Leah’s vision unwavering.
“Father,” Leah said, “we’d like to help build the wall. May we tell Nehemiah we’ll begin work on our section before the week is over?”
Shallum gazed at his four daughters and shook his head slightly. “I should have known,” he said, a smile playing at the edge of his lips. “Do what you will, daughters. But one question first, is there room for a gray-haired old man on your wall-building crew?”
The girls laughed and Bina wrapped her arms around her father, “Of course! We’ll need someone to bring us food and water.”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
Sign up to receive the daily Advent meditations via email.