Nehemiah - A Godly Leader
The Old Testament gives us many men and women of faith from whom we can learn valuable lessons from. One such man, Nehemiah, was a remarkable man who can teach us very important lessons we need to apply in our own lives.
Who is he and what can we learn from him?
There are no details about Nehemiah’s birth or childhood. He is the son of Hachaliah and had a brother named Hanani. Possibly his great-grandparents had been taken captive when Judah fell to the Babylonians. The Jews were dispersed, but some had returned to Jerusalem in 536 and 457 BC. Nehemiah was living in Persia (capital Shushan), and had attained an important and responsible position as cupbearer to the king (King Artaxerxes). This fact reveals much about his capabilities. Ezra is a contemporary figure of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah leads the third and last return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile in 444 BC.
Nehemiah was no preacher or pastor. In fact, he wasn't even in church. Nehemiah was a Jewish cupbearer to a king named Artaxerxes, who reigned from the city of Susa in what is today's Iran. We would naturally assume that because he held a high position as the king's own cupbearer, he would be comfortable where he is.
But he isn't.
The book of Nehemiah opens with the account of Nehemiah receiving a report about Jerusalem's distress: that its walls are broken and its gates are on fire. Instead of shrugging it off, Nehemiah weeps for his people and cries out to God for mercy.
Nehemiah acquires the king's favour, and goes to Jerusalem with the king's letters giving him safe passage and resources from the king's forest. (Nehemiah 2:1-10)
Despite coming home to Jerusalem as its provincial governor, Nehemiah chose to identify with his people who were suffering. Nehemiah was involved in the work of rebuilding Jerusalem's walls. He surveyed it himself and personally spoke to the people about the plan to rebuild it (Nehemiah 2:11-18). And when certain people came to oppose the work, he didn't abandon it; he remained focused on rebuilding the walls. (Nehemiah 4, 6)
Nehemiah also fought against the oppression happening among the Jews. He commanded other officials and nobles to forgive outstanding debts and return lands acquired through taxes to the people. (Nehemiah 5:1-13)
And despite being governor, Nehemiah didn't take advantage of the provisions allotted for him. Unlike previous governors who burdened the people, Nehemiah didn't in the feat of God (see Nehemiah 5:15). He did not place a heavy burden on the people.
After finishing the walls, Nehemiah continued to do what was right in the sight of God. He gathered the people and listed them according to genealogy (Nehemiah 7), and then later had God's word read to them by Ezra the priest (Nehemiah 8).
Nehemiah wasn't content to see the walls repaired. He wasn't contented to see the people of Israel come home to their own land. Along with Ezra the priest, Nehemiah worked to bring people back to the Lord:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep." For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law." (Nehemiah 8:9)
Hand Me Another Brick, written by Charles Swindoll, was one of the books about Nehemiah I read some years ago. Recently, I read Dave Kraft’s book Learning Leadership from Nehemiah, from which I learnt a lot about Leadership.
Throughout this story, we read of opposition to the rebuilding of the wall that Nehemiah had to deal with. We see that he effectively dealt with these roadblocks to achieve the success that he had asked God’s help with. He steadfastly trusted God for success in the rebuilding of the wall, and this led him to be able to resist the opposition he faced from his enemies. Leaders will almost always run into opposition as they are trying to achieve their goals, and will need God’s wisdom and strong character, something we don’t always see demonstrated from our leaders, to be able to navigate the opposition and achieve their goals.
Great leaders achieve results. The ability to deliver results is one of the primary things that organisations look for in leaders. Despite all of the obstacles that he had to deal with – from both his enemies and his own people – Nehemiah achieved incredible results, completing the work in only 52 days.
Nehemiah is an excellent example for us as a leader. Nehemiah asked God to remember him. His concern was for God’s people, but he knew they would forget him. People have short memories. How wonderful to know that while God does not remember our sin, He will always remember our good works.
Character traits would include courage, selflessness, godliness, dedication, and perseverance. He was willing to give up the luxury of the palace to toil among his people. He was strong in prayer. He was able to encourage or rebuke at the right times. He was a man of prayer and action. He seemed to strike a proper balance between prayer and action, or dependence and discipline.
He trusted God despite danger, deceit, slander, and treachery – external and internal opposition. Nehemiah can be seen as a picture of Christ in how he gives up a high position to identify with his people.
The book of Nehemiah provides a remarkable example of a servant leader motivated by, and acting for, God's ends: God's glory and the good of those served. It also provides an example of the use of godly means: the pursuit of excellence in leadership and management and a passionate focus upon achieving desirable results. These four objectives, both ends and means, offer us a sound approach for acting to glorify God in all leadership and management activities.
Nehemiah was always asking God to provide a vision for him. He understood that a true vision must come from God. It must be a God-inspired and God-revealed vision. Only such a vision is worthy of leadership.
Nehemiah was just a cupbearer but God used him to do great things because he was willing to lead with integrity and with a servant’s heart.
Nehemiah is one of my favourite characters. He was a man who had a passion, who worked hard, prayed, encountered criticism and made difficult leadership decisions.
Nehemiah was a regular guy who caught a divine glimpse of what could and should be. Then, he went after it with all his heart. His story is not much different than ours.