Nehemiah is my new hero. I’m impressed with this man who possessed such leadership qualities that he was successful in putting together a team of builders willing to commit to a task that was not politically correct in the climate of his day. Further, the task he accomplished in 52 days was massive, just in physical proportions (and he didn’t have power tools). I’m inspired by his speech that, today, would surely be termed “intolerant. He just spoke the truth to Sanballot and Tobiah: “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem” (2:19). I love the way he nailed that down for them. He minced no words. He answered anger with prayer and responded to threats with watchfulness and work. He was about getting his project done, but not while ignoring the needs of his workers and their families. He was a man of deep insights—able to smell a lie just about before it left the lips of the liar. (Wouldn’t it be ideal to find a Nehemiah to live in the White House?)
As often happens to successful leaders, jealous people made false accusations. “You just want to be a king,” said those who really were power hungry enemies of the people of God (6:1-7). Nehemiah simply denied the charges, prayed and carried on.
If I were supposing, though, I’d suppose the biggest challenge of leadership faced by Nehemiah was the way his own brethren and fellow-builders disappointed him. After all the opposition they faced getting the wall built and restoring the covenant, Nehemiah, after only a short time away, returned to Jerusalem to find that the son-in-law of Sanballot, arch enemy of the wall-builders, was a priest in the house of God! Not only that, but Eliashib, the priest of God, had allied himself with Tobiah and actually allowed Tobiah, the persecutor, to move into the court of the temple! He had his own chamber there! To say that Nehemiah was disappointed as he considered the persecution, the cruel mocking, the threats and the lies they had all endured at the hands of Sanballot and Tobiah, is a description with marked reserve. And now, here they were, enjoying the up-close favor and hospitality of God’s people in the temple—the House of God— itself! Adding insult to injury they had taken to themselves foreign wives and, under the influence of godless partners and priests who could care less about sanctification, were profaning the sabbath and robbing God of tithes and offerings.
In the face of this spiritual treason, Nehemiah cried out to God repeatedly. Even though the people he had valiantly led in rebuilding the walls had given their honor to enemies and opened their gates to sin, he humbly asked God to give him grace and remember him, personally, for good. He asked God not to wipe out his personal good as He looked on Judah. I think the thing that impresses me most about Nehemiah happened when he looked at the unsanctified alliances among the people of God. The scripture says he threw the furniture of Tobiah out of the court and then removed Tobiah from the premises. He confronted those who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. (Imagine that…confronting sin!) Upon confrontation, he tried to be tolerant of the lifestyles they had chosen?…Hardly. The scripture says he cursed them, smote some of them and he pulled out their hair (13:25). Nehemiah was not soft on sin. He understood the reality that, left unchecked, this sin would destroy the remnant of God’s people.
Nehemiah was bold. He was willing to work. He was about the Word of God and living sanctified lives as the people of God. But notice before all of the travel back to Jerusalem, the purchasing of supplies, the division of labor, the assembling and fighting…before any progress toward restoration was made, Nehemiah mourned over sin, fasted and prayed (1:4-11). Nehemiah confessed sin, asked for forgiveness and asked for success as he determined to work to restore the walls of Jerusalem. A mourning over sin and prayer. That’s where restoration started.
That’s where it starts today. America will not be restored to any place of honor until there is a mourning over sin. His people should be on their knees for our country. But that is not the true parallel for our day. The church of Jesus is today’s spiritual Israel and our restoration begins with sorrow over sin. May we, as His Israel, begin with the realization that sin will take down the walls that fortify us and may we be in daily prayer for the church in a world where enemies are vocal and ruthless. Then, may we be be organized, efficient and determined as we build for the futures of our sanctified families. May we never be guilty of spiritual treason.
I love the one line prayer that closes Nehemiah’s story: “Remember me, oh my God, for good” (13:31). Surely that plea found grace in the ears of the One who, as Nehemiah reminded Him, had promised… “but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your dispersed be under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there” (1:9)
I’m thankful today that He has gathered us to the chosen place where His name dwells.