Given the “White Flight” syndrome, the obvious answer is that, yes, we may be reluctant to go and minister in the cities, prayerwalk in the cities, and engage those in the cities — much less live in the cities. But notice Nehemiah 11:1-2 once again:
Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.
Scholars have estimated that approximately 100,000 people came back to live in Jerusalem. The leaders lived in Jerusalem — and those leaders would help determine the direction for Israel’s culture, finances, military, etc. Yet, they needed more than just the leaders — they needed Israelites to come and help contribute as well. So they cast lots and 10% of the population was to come and live in the holy city. Notice verse two “And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.”
Though this was the holy city, we know that even this city was prone to issues most cities have. Jesus healed a number of beggars who were blind or lame — they were prevalent in Jerusalem. The city officials were corrupt when they were conducting illegal activities such as moneychanging in the Temple. Even Jesus’ trial broke numerous laws — not the least of which was condemning an innocent citizen to die like a common criminal by crucifixion.
How blessed it is to see this willingness — faithful, on-fire believers on fire for the city. How tragic, though, that instead of us relating to these men, we relate to another who served as a reluctant prophet. Turn with me to the book of Jonah.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:1-3, ESV).
Four times in the book of Jonah, God refers to Nineveh as “that great city” (1:2; 3:2; 3:3; 4:11) — ‘great’ meaning that of power, persons, and influence. Nineveh served as the capital of Assyria and had plundered Israel and other countries and committed great atrocities against them. Persons? 120,000 as Jonah 4:11 says. Influence? No doubt with its powerful military, they could be very influential — and very wicked at that (which we will speak about in a moment).
Can we relate to Jonah? When we look at the maps of our presidential elections, we see that the cities hold to very different values than do the “heartland” states. The cities are populated and diverse, which allows for more opportunities for numerous races and classes to prosper, but also allows for more racism and violence and many other issues that are exclusive to the city. Yet, God is not simply wanting his people to have the right values! He wants his people to have a righteous heart!
If we who have the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the only thing on earth than can make a sinful heart righteous — do we really do well to run away from the city?
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