We have now reached Nehemiah’s final chapter where we have seen the restoration of the physical and spiritual life of the nation of Judah in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was concerned about the health and welfare of the Jews that were languishing behind the broken walls and the burned gates. We know that the restoration of Jerusalem began with the rebuilding of the Temple as seen in Ezra 6:14b - They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.” Upon Nehemiah’s coming to Jerusalem, he mourned and fasted and inspected the walls and gates and then began the rebuilding process. In fifty two days the work was completed by the people who overcame enemies and exhaustion. As we have studied through the Book of Nehemiah there are several principles of leadership that we can glean. We have already mentioned a number of them during the last few months. Today I will highlight the main themes on leadership that I believe make Nehemiah a significant biblical leader…
Nehemiah had a vision to see the restoration of the City of Jerusalem. When Nehemiah heard the report of the devastation in Judah and Jerusalem he too was devastated. As a result of this great problem for his people he developed a vision in his mind. I believe that as he fasted and prayed God gave him the courage to begin his journey towards Jerusalem. Vision involves:
- In Nehemiah’s care vision provided a solution for a problem.
- Vision involves strategic planning; like when he approached the King or when he inspected the walls and gates.
- Communication is paramount to the success of the vision. In Neh 2:17 - 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Nehemiah records 11 different prayers in the course of his Book. Successful leadership is founded upon prayer… Through the prayers of Nehemiah and the people they overcame their enemies and they found encouragement to carry on working. I am sure many of us have heard the saying “a family that prays together stays together.” This was true of those working on rebuilding the walls and gates. They prayed together and worked together, side by side, they fought together for the fulfillment of Nehemiah’s vision. Neh 9: 5-37 records the longest prayer in the book; they give praise and thanksgiving to God, they acknowledge their sin and God’s mercy, they thank God for the help to conquer the Promised Land, and again how they disobeyed God once in the Promised Land and that God is just in all his ways.
Obedience towards the Scriptures
Another principle of leadership is the reverence of the leaders and the people towards God and His Scripture. Godly leadership must have a hunger for God’s Word. We are told in Neh 8:1-12 that the leaders, especially Ezra and Nehemiah, open the Scriptures and explained them to the people. The people spent a considerable period of time, from early morning till noon, standing and listening to the Law of Moses being read. This tells me the leaders valued the Scriptures and so did the people of God. In the case of Nehemiah the people were convicted of their sins and exhorted to keep the Sabbath holy, stay away from mixed marriages and take care of God’s house.
Vision, prayer and the love and obedience towards God and His Word are the positive sides of leadership. Howeverin the final chapter of Nehemiah he records some of the ongoing challenges of leadership that he faced in Jerusalem. In Neh 13:6-7a - Nehemiah tells us he was not in Jerusalem… But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission 7 and came back to Jerusalem.
I will briefly list some of the ongoing challenges to his leadership and the fulfillment of his vision, the restoration of the physical safety and spiritual health of the people of God in Jerusalem.
1. As a result of mixed marriages with the Ammonites and Moabites, the Priest Eliashib (which means God restores) openly supported Tobiah an Ammonite. This was forbidden “because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them” (Neh 13:2). Tobiah was given a room in the Temple for personal storage. Nehemiah “was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9 I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense Neh 13:8-9). Nehemiah again raises these concerns in Neh 13:23-28.
2. The second challenge Nehemiah faced upon his return to Jerusalem was a ongoing neglect to the house of God. He addressed these concerns earlier in Neh 10 with regards to caring and providing for the Temple ministry including meeting the needs of the Levites. Now “rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” (Neh 13:11).
3. The third obstacle also related to a previous concern for Nehemiah regarding the Sabbath as seen in Neh 13:15-22. The Sabbath was a significant aspect of the Jewish people being seen a holy and different from the surrounding pagan nations. The Sabbath was a public demonstration to the world that they were God’s chosen people; to neglect this was to neglect God. So Nehemiah brings correction to this.
Interspersed in these challenges Nehemiah does not forget the importance of prayer and leadership. Three times he prays to God “Remember me” (Neh 13:14,22b, 31b). He also boldly prays “Remember them…” (Neh 13:29) with regards to those who defiled their priestly calling.
The Book of Nehemiah was a fantastic time in Jewish history. Nehemiah was successful in seeing his vision come to fulfilment. He knew he was called of God and had a vision to fulfill. He depended deeply on God in prayer. He submitted to authority and had a strategic plan in the rebuilding of the walls and gate of Jerusalem. He worked hard and courageously while discerning the tactics of the enemy. He was a great recruiter and enlisted the help of many people. Nehemiah was determined to see the physical and spiritual health of Jerusalem restored. All the while he lived a godly life and sought to bring glory to God alone.