We have been traveling through Nehemiah and observed his leadership as he has guided clearing the rubble, rebuilding the wall, and hanging the gates of the city. His strategic planning in building and executing the warfare necessary to defeat the taunts of the enemy results in the mission being accomplished in just fifty-two days. Despite the relatively small size of the city, that is a remarkable achievement with the level of demoralization the inhabitants of the city were experiencing as well as the lack of any modern equipment to eliminate the rubble, rebuild the walls and hang the timbers hewn to make the new city gates.
Nehemiah turns over the management of the city to, Hanani, a relative, and Hananiah, the marshal of the viceregal court that Nehemiah had maintained in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was aware of the character of these men, their high religious principles, and their patriotic spirit so he had confidence these men could be trusted to watch over the city.
This gives us another picture of Nehemiah’s godly leadership. He discerned those who were equipped to lead in his stead as he likely was preparing to return to Susa. He recognized the work of God’s Kingdom was great and his plans needed to include those who would follow after him to carry on. His wisdom here is quite evident. It also shows as he makes recommendations about when the gates should be opened. He sees the importance of appointing sentinels that would also guard each of their houses as the gates would be barred at sunset as a point of safely securing the city from any enemies that would seek to harm them.
Additionally, he also seeks to get an accurate registry of the exiles who had returned. This was key if they were to identify those who were called from the tribe of Levi to be priests and lead the people in their covenant relationship with Him. He worked with Ezra to ascertain the conflicting records.
What was the count of people in the city? 42,360 were counted and beyond that, 7,337 male and female servants.
If we were to stop here, we would miss how godly this leader we find in the Old Testament really was. His greater mission was now ahead of him and that would be to rebuild the people of the city and the faith that had been also broken down.
Now all the people gather in the rebuilt square in front of the Water Gate for the celebration for the feast of the seventh month. This was the gate where everyone in the city would exit to get the closest source of water. Pause for a moment to consider the place they have assembled. There were other gates in the city that had been repaired and hung, but they came to the Water Gate.
Throughout the Bible water has symbolized God’s Word.
They come to this location for Ezra to read the Law. Nehemiah recognized the walls and gates of the city would not be enough to sustain these exiles unless they knew the foundation of the beliefs their faith was built upon. This foundation needed to be built and secured now that they had physical foundations in place. Some of these exiles had long since lost the truth of God.
Ezra gets up on a platform so all can see and hear as he opens the book to read the Law. This reading had been a requirement that had been neglected during their captivity. The Bible tells us that he read from daybreak until noon. (For many of us today, it can seem that to be in church for an hour or so on a Sunday is a lot.) What would it be like for us today to have our pastor read from the Bible from sunrise until lunchtime?
Ezra needed the help of the Levites so they could understand what he was reading. The people responded by lifting their hands and bowing down and weeping. Now they saw their sin clearly and were convicted.
I am guessing this could have turned into a long period of sorrow and lament, but Nehemiah as governor steps in and forbids them from responding with weeping and tells them not to weep and mourn. He then gives them the following direction:
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
That might seem a paradox, but Nehemiah wanted them to celebrate the words of the Law they had just heard and to enter into the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. What we see is the next day the heads of families, the Levites, and priests all come to Ezra to hear and study the words of the Law. It is through this study they come to know how the Feast of Tabernacles is to be celebrated and so they go about gathering branches and boughs to make booths for themselves as the Law has said and Ezra reads from the book of the Law for seven straight days.
Nehemiah understood the significance and crucial place the Word had in the lives of God’s people. Through Nehemiah we have observed that a godly leader prays, acts, faces opposition, and cares. Today we add one more characteristic of a godly leader.
What we see challenges us to consider if these qualities characterize us. It can be easy to look at something and say it is not our area or gifting, but these qualities are the evidence of godly character, not about gifting.
A godly leader turns people to God’s Word! That Word is what brings life!