The example of Nehemiah
The book of Nehemiah could very well be the Leadership 101 of the Word. It is rich in imagery regarding the leadership walk and offers magnificent views of all the actors in a leader’s story – vision, followers, superiors, opposition, strategy, implementation and impact, among others.
The blessings that follow give a snapshot of the treasures buried in the book of Nehemiah. There are many more to be mined, and I would encourage you to study this book and identify those jewels you can appropriate for yourself. Look specifically at every situation, the opposition’s response, and Nehemiah’s response to either the situation or the opposition. The thread of God-focused leadership is pure gold.
(Leader), listen with your spirit to what the Spirit of God wants to teach you and how He wants to bless you with the account of Nehemiah.
While in exile, Nehemiah served the Persian king in the castle of Shushan. He heard from a relative that it was not going well with those who had escaped exile and were still living in the destroyed Jerusalem. His reaction to this news was to mourn and fast. He wept for days and prayed constantly to God.
(Leader), I bless you with a close relationship with God: one where you are completely honest before Him, in brokenness and in praise; a relationship characterised by a deep reverence for Him and the confidence to approach Him on behalf of others.
I said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, (Nehemiah 1:5 – NASB)
(Leader), I bless you with a humble heart before God: a heart of compassion and intercession to stand in the gap for your people before God. I bless you with a revelation of the power of identificational repentance, where you willingly identify with the sin of your people and ask for forgiveness, so that God can heal and restore. I bless you with the honesty to list the sins by name and allow God’s light to shine on them.
I bless you with remembering the promises in God’s Word and those He made to you personally. God did not forget those promises, but it stirs our faith and increases our strength to repeat them.
Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. (Nehemiah 1:6-10 – NASB)
Nehemiah was a cup bearer. While a privileged position in the king’s court, this was not exactly a picture of leadership. Until … Nehemiah’s position changed drastically when he heard the news about his people, allowed compassion to settle in his heart, and rent his heart before God in repentance and supplication. He went from butler to visionary. An enormous vision which would catapult him into a position of leadership in one prayer.
I bless you, (Leader), to increase in favour with God and man. I bless you with a vision that is a carbon copy of the vision that God has for your particular situation (Psalm 37:4). Then He will hear and grant your request, and will cause your superiors to bestow favour on you. I bless you with the favour to be able to delegate upwards, like Nehemiah did when he asked the king for administrative assistance! I bless you with being established in your position of leadership because it is from God. I bless you with the good hand of God on you.
Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” …So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors… …And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me. (Nehemiah 2:4, 5, 6b, 7a and 8b – NASB)
And so, Nehemiah set off for Jerusalem. His first piece of intelligence about the job at hand was the response of the enemies of Israel, who were distressed because someone had the audacity to want to do something good for the Israelites. His second intelligence came when he rode out at night to gauge for himself the extent of the damage to the city wall.
(Leader), I bless you with being vigilant, wise and proactive. As unbelievable as it may seem, there will be those who are not satisfied with your vision of development, restoration and growth. I bless you with ears to hear these rumblings and take note, and with peace to store the information without being gripped by fear.
I bless you with wisdom when to share your vision and with whom. I bless you with demonstrating your passion for and commitment to the vision by not relying on second-hand information only, but putting your feelers out and ensuring you have first-hand knowledge of the task ahead.
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work. (Nehemiah 2:10-13 and 16)
Nehemiah shares his vision with the relevant people. He describes a vision, without sugar-coating it, and appeals to their sense of honour. He encourages them, not with quotes or someone else’s good stories, but with his own testimony. Nehemiah is completely authentic in sharing the vision God gave him. The people are enthused. Then the enemies of the nation, Sanballat and his cronies, change tact. They move from being distressed to mocking – it is such a predictable strategy from the enemy to distract us and make us doubt ourselves. Nehemiah will have none of it. He makes a faith declaration about his God, reaffirms the vision and outlines the rights of the enemy – none. (Nehemiah 2:17-20)
(Leader), I bless you with sharing your vision with your sphere of influence in a way suited to your target audience, without compromising the truth. I bless you with clearly communicating the ‘what’, as well as the ‘how’, so that everyone will understand their role in attaining the vision. I bless you with being wise as you hear from, or are confronted by your enemies – spiritual, as well as natural. I bless you with discernment to see beyond the mocking, the real motivation, and to not give room for doubt and intimidation.
I bless you with remembering where your vision comes from and that He who promised is faithful. I bless you with repeating the vision as clearly and as often as necessary to encourage your staff or constituents. I bless you with the presence of mind to immediately and visibly refute and reject the enemy’s claims.
Chapter three of Nehemiah lists the people who rebuilt the wall and which sections of the wall they worked on. Instead of 32 verses, the whole chapter could have been summarised with, “The Israelites started to rebuild the wall, everyone pitched in except for the nobles of the Tekoites”. But, instead, those who laboured are mentioned by name, as well as on which section they worked, in chronological order: an account was kept of who built next to whom and, in some instances, in great detail, for example “… from the angular turning of the wall to the door of the house of … the high priest”. In many instances, it is said that the builders built the section of wall in front of their houses. On two occasions, the list mentions the actual occupation of the builders – one, a goldsmith, and another, a perfumer (Nehemiah 3).
(Leader), I bless you with sufficient resources to get the job done. I bless you with conceiving a realistic and practical plan that will attain the vision in the shortest possible time and the most efficient manner. I bless you with knowing who is contributing to the vision (as well as who is slacking) and with acknowledging hard work. The awareness of working towards something great together, is a powerful motivator for you and your people.
While your day might be taken up by many responsibilities that seem far removed from the actual vision, I bless you with knowing in greater detail what is being accomplished, as well as where the bottlenecks are, so that you can celebrate the former and address the latter.
I bless you with a team where everyone contributes – whether by doing what they are supposed to do, or by going the extra mile. By working together, they will all attain the vision. However, team members who do not contribute at all, or less than what they should, drain the energy of the whole team. I bless you with committed, hard-working people. I bless you with stars in your team who have been equipped with many skills, and who are willing and capable to bring their whole set of talents to bear in getting the work done, and not just those particular skills for which they have been appointed.
Sanballat is in a rage. He turns up the heat in his seemingly endless repertoire of derision against the people of Israel. He is joined by Tobiah, who openly questions and insults the builders’ abilities and quality of work. Nehemiah reports them to God with some suggestions of what God should do to them. He states the effect of the enemies’ taunting on the workers and defends God’s honour. The work on the wall continues (Nehemiah 4:1-6).
(Leader), you might never face such extreme intimidation as what Nehemiah faced, but, somewhere along the line, someone will question your abilities and those of your people. I bless you with recognising the motivation behind the criticism and with the resolve to acknowledge, or dismiss its accuracy. I bless you with the freedom to present it before the Lord – it makes you a wise leader, not a weak one. I bless you with being in tune with the mood of the people, so that you can bring alignment or correction, if necessary.
I bless you with the fervour to defend your God and the vision He has given you, not because God needs defending, but because it is one way of honouring His name. I bless you with progress and with a people who will pursue the vision, no matter what. I bless you with a people who have “a heart and mind to work”.
Sanballat & co. are very angry. Again. And they have been joined by more enemies of Israel. They planned to attack Jerusalem with the intent to “injure and cause confusion and failure in it”. The reaction? It is not only Nehemiah who prays, but also those with him. Secondly, they set a watch against the enemy. But, the strength of the builders is failing, they are surrounded by rubble, and fear the enemy closing in on them. Nehemiah encourages the people, the enemy sees that its plans are known and the work continues (Nehemiah 4:7-15).
(Leader), I bless you with perseverance in times where it seems that all the odds are against you. I bless you with discernment to identify the strategy of the enemy – it does not only come in the form of verbal or physical abuse, but also in the form of dishonourable behaviour, corruption, lies, intimidation and disunity. I bless you with open communication channels between you and God so that you can hear His warnings; and with the right intelligence at the right time, so that you will be one step ahead of the enemy all the time.
I bless you with people around you who serve the God you serve, the Lord God who is One. I bless you with the right response to the enemy’s threats. I bless you with the right words of encouragement for your people – remind them of Him who fights for them, remind them of what is at stake. I bless you with seeing the enemy turning back from you; and with joy at God’s salvation.
If ever there was extraordinary commitment to a vision, this was it. One half of the people built, while the other carried the weapons and armour. The leaders were at their posts. Those who built also had their swords at the ready. Nehemiah did the rounds with the trumpeter next to him. He encouraged the people as they worked and ensured that everyone understood the emergency plan. He also went one step further and, leveraging strength in numbers, instructed that everyone should sleep within Jerusalem without common comforts. (Nehemiah 4:6-23).
(Leader), I bless you with being surrounded by people who understand the urgency of the situation you are in. I bless you and your people with the resourcefulness necessary to accomplish the task at hand. I bless you with unity of purpose and focus. I bless you with being a visible leader who takes up their sword alongside the people – showing an interest not only in the people’s work, but also in their wellbeing. Like Nehemiah did, I bless you with honouring God for His protection by unashamedly acknowledging it.
I bless you with the wisdom to share the right kind of information with your people at the right time. I bless you with being willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of the vision and your people’s safety – when they are required to camp in the city, swords drawn, so should you.
Up until now, Nehemiah’s greatest worry had been the enemy nations seeking to destroy the people and Jerusalem. In chapter five, however, Nehemiah also had to contend with unrighteousness in his own nation. As if the rampant poverty was not enough, people were also borrowing money they could not repay, from their Jewish brethren. Interest (which was forbidden by God – see Exodus 22:25) was high and children were being sold into slavery. Nehemiah was very angry about this, but for the first time, he did not act immediately. He thought about the matter first. And then he rebuked those responsible: the nobles and officials (his management team). He did not only tell them that they were doing wrong, but he also connected the dots between their disobedience (not looking after the poor and exacting interest), not fearing (i.e. having reverence for) God and, ultimately, being mocked and criticised by their enemies. He gave a revolutionary instruction that they had to give back what they had taken. Even more revolutionary was the fact that they did! (Nehemiah 5:1-13)
(Leader), I bless you with weathering the storms brought about by enemy agents outside the camp, as well as inside. I bless you with looking after those in your care, and with guarding against, exposing and reproving exploitation.
I bless you with being wise in differentiating between external danger and internal danger. Nehemiah did not have to think how to deal with the external enemies – they were acting in opposition to his God’s vision, threatened his people and were, therefore, immediately reported to the Lord. When the internal danger was exposed, however, he thought about it first – literally, he took counsel with his heart. His people were still acting in opposition to God and he rebuked them for that. He also had to consider corrective measures and bring the nobles and officials to a place of repentance. For that, he needed to consult his heart.
I bless you, (Leader), with using your head and your heart when danger in the camp threatens the vision: Correct that which needs correction and restore what needs restoration.
I bless you with the ability to not only deal with the crude results of disobedience, but to also explain them to your people in the macro context of your environment, so that they will learn wisdom regarding the influence of their actions on the whole company or nation.
Nehemiah had been governor for 12 years. In those 12 years, neither he nor his family had made use of the allowance given to governors by the king. Nehemiah’s predecessors “…lived at the expense of the people”, and even their servants lorded it over the people. However, Nehemiah’s reverent fear of God prevented him from doing the same. Nehemiah still worked on the wall with his servants and he fed 150 people every day at his table, at his own expense. He explained that he did not insist on his rights as governor because the people were already burdened by the tribute due to the king (Nehemiah 5:14-19).
(Leader), I bless you with the courage and determination to swim against the current. I bless you with caring enough about your people and the vision, to be able to reject what the world and society dictate should be yours because of your position, when such entitlements harm your people.
I bless you with a deep understanding in your spirit that your value does not lie in what material wealth your position grants you – you can be stripped of all of this without changing one iota of your value. Also, your authority is not determined by the privileges afforded to those in your position. Your authority is vested in God’s establishment of your position.
I bless you with a clear understanding of these truths because when the shaking comes, you will stand on a sure footing, not encumbered and deceived by the temporal security of worldly wealth and status. I bless you with generosity and a willingness to try and lighten the people’s burden by doing what is in your power to do.
(Leader), I bless you with receiving from God who sees your acts of kindness, your breaking out of the mould of self-seeking leadership. He will repay you in due time.
Nehemiah’s pressure was about to escalate. He had faced enemies to the vision from outside the camp and inside the camp. Now he was facing opposition from his close circle – his executive team. At the beginning of chapter six, the external enemies changed their strategy. No longer reviling the people, they requested a meeting – possibly for what we would call a round of negotiations. Nehemiah was not fooled. He refused the meeting and stated his commitment to attaining the vision. The enemy then wrote a letter questioning Nehemiah’s integrity and loyalty towards the king. Nehemiah called them on their lies and exposed their motives. He asked God to strengthen his hands. Shemaiah, possibly a prophet and someone close to Nehemiah, urged Nehemiah to seek refuge in the temple. Nehemiah recognised the hand of the enemy in this advice, again saw the motive, and brought his enemies to God by name (Nehemiah 6:1-14).
(Leader), I bless you with keeping your eyes on the task at hand and not being distracted by the shenanigans of the enemy. I bless you with wisdom and a healthy dose of realism – if your enemies have harassed you for months and years, the chances of a sudden change of heart are very slim: be on your guard.
I bless you with staying true to the vision, even if years have passed and the initial sense of excitement has made way for the humdrum of getting the job done.
I bless you with keeping a level head when your opposition formalises its complaint against you, i.e. when it moves from hearsay to angry words to official communication. I bless you with stating the facts clearly and succinctly – leave no room for confusion and counterattack.
I bless you, (Leader), with strength to persevere, even when those closest to you have sold you out. I bless you with keeping your ears close to the beating of God’s heart and the sound of His counsel to remember His precepts, and not allowing even seemingly good friends to talk you into disobeying His precepts. He is your first responsibility.
I bless you with banishing any trace of fear from your mind or heart – call it by name when it rears its ugly head and reject it. I bless you with sharing your frustrations with God: if you have made Him your number one priority, He will deal with your enemies and will accomplish that which He has ordained for you, no matter what.
The wall is finished. The enemy nations are filled with fear and “…fell far in their esteem”, for they saw the work of God (Nehemiah 6:15 and 16).
(Leader), I bless you with that lightheaded, awestruck realisation that your God did it. Through all the effort and danger, He was rooting for you and guarding the vision He had planted in your heart.
I bless you with experiencing His pleasure over you – not because you have accomplished a task, but because you rose up to your God-given potential, standing firm in your faith and on His Word, partnering with the King of kings. I bless you to savour that feeling: let it sink into your heart and build your faith even more, before you move on to the next thing.
Of course, the fact that the wall was finished did not mean that all the work was done. Nehemiah continued to fortify the city and to appoint the right people to guide, teach and minister to the small nation. By God’s instruction, he counted the people and then gathered them all together, so that Ezra could read the Torah – the Fatherly instructions for drawing close to God as captured by Moses. The nation wept as they listened to God’s Word, which they had not heard, nor obeyed for such a long time. Ezra told them that it was a time for rejoicing, for eating and drinking, and sharing with those who did not have. He confirmed what they had witnessed during the building of the wall – the joy of the Lord was their strength and fortress (Nehemiah 7; 8:1-12).
(Leader), I bless you with gaining new strength to start on the next phase of securing and expanding the vision. I bless you with wisdom to appoint the right people in the right positions – those who can take the vision forward, who will supply the new energy and fresh perspective needed by the ‘old guard’. I bless you with knowing the demographics and nuances of your sphere of influence. A company/city/nation with more young people than old, for example; with more parents than single people; with more older men than women, will change the dynamics of operation. It sets the tone of the way you lead.
I bless you with revisiting what God told you, the counsel He has given you, and to share that with your people. I bless you with joy and with celebrating what He has done for you. I bless you with experiencing the joy of the Lord as your strength and stronghold.
The people continued to learn about God’s Word – “… to study and understand … divine instruction”. They read about the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) ordained by God to be celebrated in the seventh month and, since it just happened to be the seventh month, they obeyed and celebrated the feast for the first time since Joshua’s reign. The Day of Atonement, another of God’s set-apart times, followed and the Israelites separated themselves from the foreigners to confess their sins and those of their forefathers, and worship God. Ezra gave a beautiful summary about their God’s faithfulness. He reminded them of the God who had brought them out of Egypt, had done great miracles on their behalf, had led them to the country He had bequeathed to them and whom they, the nation, had rejected time and again, while He had remained faithful and ever ready to deliver them when they called to Him (Nehemiah 8-9:38).
(Leader), I bless you with a revelation of God’s perfect timing. What you might see as coincidence is, in actual fact, just one of the many fine threads He has been weaving, and is weaving into His universe-sized tapestry.
I bless you with catching a glimpse of His mercy in His timing – bringing you along paths, connecting you with people and opportunities, and showing Himself strong on your behalf. I bless you with an understanding of His Word – may it come alive to you as something that is more relevant today than the local newspaper. In His Word, you will receive all the guidance you require; in His presence, at His feet, you will have the revelation of what you have read and heard. I bless you with being obedient to the times He has set apart for you to meet with Him. I bless you with making the time in your busy schedule to meet with Him during these appointed times, as well as those special ‘Him-and-you’ times that He will ask you for. You will soon find out that these times are invaluable if you want to rule the way you are supposed to, and that they are not burdensome, but life-giving and refreshing.
I bless you with taking stock of your life – how you reign, lead, work, speak, do, live and love. I bless you with a humble heart that is quick to ask forgiveness, if there is any hindrance between you and God. He delights in humility and is eager to bring restoration.
After reading the Word, repenting of their sins and glorifying God, the people recommitted themselves to God and promised to obey His Word according to what Moses had written. The ordinances covered a number of aspects – who they would join; keeping the appointed time of the Sabbath; how to rule over the land; when and how much to give; and how to care for the house of God (Nehemiah 10).
(Leader), I bless you with a heart eager to please God. It is His desire that you do well. Your prosperity in spirit, soul and body brings Him great glory. I bless you with being attentive to His guidance, in terms of who you surround yourself with – both in the course of your tenure and in your personal life. I bless you with honouring Him with your time: this might seem daunting, but you will soon find these times indispensable. I bless you with the heart of a steward, looking after everything over which He has appointed you and causing it to thrive.
I bless you with the pleasure of giving and of doing so in abundance, expecting nothing in return. God loves a cheerful giver and will recompense you in unexpected ways. I bless you with finding a spiritual home or community where you will be blessed and will be a blessing.
Nehemiah 11 and 12 give an account of how the people moved into the city and where they stayed. These chapters mention that the Persian king determined that the singers receive daily provision, and continue in much detail about the Levites and their families. Then the wall was dedicated with great fanfare and jubilation. All the people, the gates and the wall were purified, and at each gate, a procession stopped to give thanks to the Lord: “…the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off”. More people were appointed over different areas – notably those areas concerning God’s instructions to Moses, which had been neglected for so long.
(Leader), I bless you with being surrounded by worshippers, people with a heart after God’s presence, and that His presence will fill your constituency, your boardroom, your diary, your home. I bless you with tasting His sweet presence in your own times of worship. As a leader – and, therefore, bound by society’s code of conduct for people of stature – this might be new to you: laying your crown aside, and honouring and loving the Creator of the universe(s) and lover of your soul.
I bless you with taking to worshipping your King like a duck to water – may it be said of you that your joy was even heard afar off.
I bless you with seeing how your sphere of influence expands as you realign your life and work with God’s requirements. If the example of Nehemiah is anything to go by, being obedient to God leads to job creation! I bless you with celebrating the attainment of the vision and with making celebrations a part of your way of life.
Nehemiah took leave from Jerusalem to return to the king in Persia. He returned to find that the people still had a long way to go in walking in complete obedience; they soon backslid. The priest had prepared a room for a family member – the same Tobiah that had opposed Nehemiah – in the courts of the house of God where the offerings, wine, oil, vessels and tithes for the temple were kept. Nehemiah lost no time in throwing everything out, cleansing the room and restoring it to its proper use. The Levites were not receiving their dues and the Sabbaths were not being kept. In addition, when reading Moses’ book, the people found that certain groups were forbidden to come into the assembly of God because they had hired a prophet to curse them years previously. Nehemiah reminded them of how being disobedient to God’s Word by marrying heathen women had influenced Solomon and how he had missed the mark because of that (Nehemiah 13).
(Leader), I bless you with leaders serving under you who have a close relationship with God, and in whose care you can entrust the people and the vision when you are not there.
I bless you with a spirit of excellence to ensure that everything concerning your stewardship is done in the proper manner, aligned to God’s will. I bless you with never tiring of bringing correction where needed. Compromising on high standards should not even cross your mind.
I bless you with ensuring that everyone in your care receives fair treatment and the remuneration due to them. I bless you with such a walk with God that He will automatically turn every curse spoken against you into a blessing. I bless you with hitting the bull’s-eye of leadership because you are faithful to God’s ordinances for holy living.
So much more could be said about and learnt from Nehemiah. We end this chapter by looking at his own prayers for himself to God (Nehemiah 4:4, 5; 5:19; 13:14, 22, 31).
(Leader), I bless you with God hearing your prayers regarding your enemies. I bless you with God earnestly remembering all the good you have done for your people. I bless you with God remembering your good deeds for His house and His service. I bless you with experiencing God’s mercy and loving-kindness. I bless you, (Leader), with God imprinting you on His heart.