Nehemiah - The Leadership Manual of the Bible
Have you ever wondered what you would do if God called on you to lead an impossible task? How would you do it? And what would it look like to have God’s hand guiding you each step of the way?
Nehemiah has long been considered “the” leadership manual of the Bible. It records the history of a man who saw a need, prayed to God for guidance, and wound up doing the “impossible”. The book records his leadership characteristics and behaviors that lead to his success. Many books have been written on the leadership skills of Nehemiah, including a module written by the military for its leadership training. Studied in this light, the book of Nehemiah is valuable and offers excellent strategies for success.
However, when one looks at this in a vertical plane, as opposed to horizontal, we see God working through man to accomplish His will. We see a gracious God who prepares the way for us, who looks after us as we do His work, and who makes us successful.
The combination of God given leadership skills used in concert with a God given mission, based on a foundation of a God centered life allowed Nehemiah to accomplish great things, yes impossible things in the name of the Lord. He is no different than you or I. To do the impossible, he overcame barriers that had suffocated all prior attempts to rebuild a wall around the temple in Jerusalem for many years. With God working through him, this task was completed in just 53 days.
Are we leaders? The answer is “yes”, every day. Whether we are leading our children, our younger siblings, a major corporation, or a combat squadron, we are all leaders, and God is working in all of us using skills we are all given at varying levels to accomplish His will. These are not always going to be spiritual in nature, as can be seen in Nehemiah’s assignment to build a wall. But they are all part of God’s plan, and that is why we need to be as in sync with God on an individual basis as Nehemiah. It is at that point we can serve effectively.
We know little about Nehemiah other than that found in his book, more than likely written by Ezra. There is no historical background found in previous books of the Old Testament. There is little extra Biblical history. He just appears in this book as a remarkable servant of God.
However, there is much we can find in his book to tell us who he is. First, he was obviously born in captivity, and born a slave. He had some God given quality that attracted him to the king above the rest of the slaves, becoming a cup-bearer. A cup-bearer was the slave most trusted by the king and queen. He would ensure the king’s food and drink was free of poison, directly serve and, most important, interact with the king and queen daily. To achieve this level of recognition and responsibility required a lifetime of integrity and dependability. The king and queen placed complete confidence in Nehemiah. In this position, God had a man ready to take on the challenge prepared for him.
Knowing God, History, and Himself
Nehemiah grew up in captivity, away from the temple, tabernacle, or any form of traditional form of religious training. It was an environment when many, if not most, Jews fell away from God’s commands and married outside the Jewish culture, and began picking up pagan traditions and beliefs. Despite all this, Nehemiah avoided the crowd, learned and understood the history of his country, his God, and why God had punished Israel. In his first prayer in Chapter 1, Nehemiah recounts all that God has done and why, demonstrating that God led someone, probably his parents, spend quality time teaching him correctly about Israel’s history. It is vital to understand the environment in which you are working, however it is even more important to fully understand who God is, and remember you are representing Him.
Nehemiah understood the importance of prayer. He called on God over 3 days to determine whether God wanted him to take this unprecedented step of a servant, a slave, asking a gentile king to be relieved of duty for an extended period of time to build defenses for Jerusalem. When he determined this was God’s will, he never looked back. He boldly asked God to help him become successful, and began planning and implementing the plans. He gets the award for the shortest prayer as well. When the king asked him to explain why he was looking sad, Nehemiah prayed "Lord Help Me" and explained his issue. In the end, God's answer to Nehemiah’s prayer outdid his wildest dreams. There are stories all the time about this happening, even today.
He knew his limitations. When the wall was built, he praised God, stepped aside and asked Ezra to come to teach and preach. He realized what God had called him to do. He knew his gifts. When the time came for teaching, he stood back and let Ezra do the teaching. A real team player. This ensured his focus was strictly on the task at hand and he was not swayed from it, nor did he look for glory or try to go beyond his calling. He loved his God and wanted to ensure he was in God’s will at all times.
So, it is with this background that we begin to get a picture of Nehemiah as a man who sought to please his God. To serve his God. He understood his God, his country’s history, and himself. Long beforehand, he established as strong relationship with God and depended solely on his God for success. It is this vertical relationship that was the foundation for the successes experienced by Nehemiah. Nothing has changed. As we look at challenges in our lives, we need to ensure the relationship with God is solid so God’s work can be accomplished, and accomplished successfully.