The Next Mission

img_2264

 

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!

 

img_2267

 

Character Produces Caring

img_2261

I hope you have been enjoying this series on Nehemiah. There are so many applications that can be made from this Old Testament leader. If you have not been reading previous posts, go to my website and look for the first title (When Hearing Produced Action) posted on June 5, 2019.

 

Through the long 900-mile trek from Susa to Jerusalem and surveying of the broken down walls of the city, Nehemiah has been stalwart in his mission to restore the walls of the city to protect the few residents left there. Only his consistent prayers exceed his skill in assessing the task ahead and the strategy for dividing the people in teams to do the work. They remind us of what he sees as foundational to complete his mission. They are even more important when the workers are taunted and discouraged by the story’s two major antagonists, Tobiah and Sanballat, who seek to tear apart Nehemiah’s character and reputation when they fail to deter the workers.

 

So far we have seen three key things about Nehemiah’s leadership:

  •   A godly leader prays
  •   A godly leader acts
  •   A godly leader faces opposition             

 

Nehemiah sees there is more to be done than rebuild the walls. In the absence of godly leadership and the taunts of their enemies, the Jews who were there were not unified or for one another. The difficult conditions for the largely poor people who were trying to have hope for the land of their fathers was worsened by the lack of good harvests to provide food for themselves or revenue from selling their excess. And in addition to the lack of good resources of any kind, they were still expected to pay taxes to the Persian government. That challenge provided opportunity for those who were richer to see the possibility for gain for themselves.

 

To comply with the relentless demands of the taxes by the Persians, the poorest among them had no choice but to give up or give over whatever lands and homes they had to their richer Jewish brothers to get the needed money for their taxes. They were even forced to sell their children as slaves to those who should have been helping them—members of their own culture and faith.

 

It can be easy for us to be critical of how these people were responding to one another, but perhaps we should be cautious and consider how we as believers treat one another in the body of Christ today. We may not need to turn over lands and houses or sell our children as slaves, but do we show support and care for those among us who are struggling in any and all ways?  We are called to not only pray for such people, but also to act in kindness and show care for them.

 

Nehemiah had observed the wealthier citizens were abusing the poorest of those living in Jerusalem. As a result, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer.

 

Not only does Nehemiah notice this, once again he acts. He sees a wrong and sets about to service-roundup-cu040423-002-480call the people into account for their choices and behaviors. His challenge to them shows how effective accountability can be in pulling back those who are sinning from their decisions. He demonstrates godly leadership and how do those he challenges respond?

 

We will give it back…and we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Neh. 5:12

 

Having heard their pledge, Nehemiah does not stop there. He was probably aware they had been behaving this way for a long time so he adds an additional admonition. He shakes the folds of his own robe that would have had little pockets in it where personal things could be saved. He tells those who have pledged to stop their abusive behavior that God would shake them out of His pockets if they did not follow through on their pledge.

 

What we now add to the list of qualities evident in a godly leader is this: a godly leader cares.

 

And it is not merely a passive caring. He doesn’t simply hug them, pat them, and pray for these people, he confronts those who are harming them. He was in charge and he could have expected and received privileges of any number of kinds from these people and taken advantage of his position, but Nehemiah did the exact opposite. He was a humble servant-leader who took no honor or privilege for himself.

 

What a powerful picture of Christlikeness we see here in the midst of the Old Testament in the person of Nehemiah!

 

How easy it can be for power to seduce the best of leaders in our churches or government who started as servant-leaders, but then accepted accolades and privileges that set them above and apart from the people they are to serve.

 

To remain godly and humble as a leader requires those around the leader to love that leader enough to have the courage to confront him or her when evidences of abuse of power begin to appear. Accountability with love is how we all grow and mature in our character. It is also how we demonstrate we are Christ’s.

 

A godly leader cares and it shows!

 

quote-god-can-make-a-new-beginning-with-people-whenever-god-pleases-but-not-people-with-god-dietrich-bonhoeffer-50-11-83-1

Enemies Scoff and Hurl Insults

8ae946fef5895fe36332a87666bc876f

 

With a plan and a purpose, a vision and a hope, Nehemiah has challenged and exhorted the people living in Jerusalem to clear the rubble of their broken down city and begin to rebuild. The work area has been divided in sections and assignments given. The timber has been supplied by the favor of the king for whom Nehemiah had been a faithful cupbearer. It was not going to be easy, but now these people who had already lived within the shame and intimidation of their situation now face insults and shouts of contempt from two key individuals: Tobiah and Sanballat.

 

I can’t help but wonder if these two had not been bullies all along for the people living there. If that was true, the arrival of Nehemiah had been the first threat to the power structure that existed in that place after the majority of the Jews had been taken away into exile.

 

Bible scholars point to the likelihood that these were two men of the Samaritan community and Samaritans had always been at odds with the Jews. They would have come from what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were comprised of a mix of Jewish and pagan ancestry. Even though they worshipped Yahweh, their worship was not mainstream Judaism. Their temple was on Mt. Gerazim instead of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. Some authors suggest that Sanballat was a Moabite and Tobiah an Ammonite.

 

Whatever their origin, they had no desire to see Nehemiah’s plans prosper. Even though Nehemiah would certainly not have laid out his plans to them, they were aware of his purpose to rebuild. Tobiah’s wife had apparently been a Jewess and therefore he knew about the commitment of the Jews to their holy site and God’s covenant with them.

 

Imagine you are one of those tasked with and trying to rebuild the city walls. It’s hard work that will be done by hand. Then you hear the taunts, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” It wasn’t pretty!

 

Even so, they continued and each day the opposition to their efforts increased. So what does Nehemiah do in response? He prays. By now we have little doubt about the source of Nehemiah’s faith and confidence. In any and all situations, his first response is prayer. I wish I could say that is always my first response, my first step of an action plan.

 

It may not be unusual for a believer to decide to pray, but too often we can pray and then LORDS PRAYER 21 AMEN.jpgnever consider if we may be called to also act as well. Nehemiah knew that. He consistently shows he is a man of prayer AND action.

 

As he considers the situation and the discouragement of the citizens of Jerusalem rebuilding, he also posts guards. He strategically has half the men working while the other half are equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor.

 

Talk about brothers having your back in a bad situation—Nehemiah had the right combination as he exhorted the people not to be afraid. He gave them unseen and seen support.

 

How much stronger the body of Christ might be if we used the same principles and strategies Nehemiah used!

 

How do we support one another in challenging times? Do we say we will pray or even do so on the spot and then simply walk away or do we offer prayer and then some step of action as well? For the person in grief, do we pray and offer a meal or babysitting? For the person with a job loss, do we pray and also put gas in his or her car to be able to keep looking for work?

 

Nehemiah was an exemplary leader and when he stepped up his game, so did his opponents who had been insulting and discouraging the people of the city. This time the attacks were on him as they sought to slander and intimidate him.

 

The attacks of the enemy can and do hit at anyone and everyone, but the point of the spear will always be directed at the leader. If the leader can be discredited and manipulated, then the people will become disorganized, confused, and ineffective. When that happens, victory is assured for the enemy.

 

f19d67f40d9e79188d3713b57a10ffb5The apostle Paul understood that well as a leader. It is no wonder that in his second letter to Timothy, he offers this principle:

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 2 Timothy 2:1-2

 

A quick check of Bible verses on this topic will point to other verses that set out the same principle.

 

It can be so much easier to complain, condemn, and criticize a leader, whether he or she is a pastor or ministry leader, than it is to pray for him or her. And the passages on this topic don’t stop there. It includes those who govern us—mayors, governors, and the president. I don’t see that happening very often either.

 

Often it is only in the worst of times when tragedy has struck that we set aside our differences and come together to pray as we realize we are incapable of resolving the tragic. Should we not do so before a tragedy strikes?

 

Opposition should not surprise us. Jesus suffered opposition and we are called to follow Him, represent Him until He returns.

 

Be clear on this: a godly leader will face opposition.

 

billy-graham-9-11

 

The Mission: To Provide Safety

copy_of_excavations_stepped_stone_structure_10thc_bc_foundation_for_walls

 

As Nehemiah was making his 900-mile trek to Jerusalem, scripture says officers of the army and horsemen accompanied him. It sounds as if the king suspected there could be trouble for his servant. One thing I think we can safely assume is that he would have been praying along the way, even as he had when he first heard the news about some of the surviving exiles living in Jerusalem without walls or gates. He would likely pray for safety on the trip, but also for discernment and wisdom for the task ahead. It would not be easy under the best of circumstances.

 

During that period of history, city walls were of extreme importance. Without such walls, residents of the city were at the mercy of any and all marauders who might be in or come through the area. There would be no way for the city to be in control of their affairs. The people of Israel were still surrounded by ‘heathen’ cultures that did not believe in the God of Israel. Beyond gaining plunder, their belief system alone could trigger attacks against them.

 

At the outset of this series I noted that hearing of the news led to action. For Nehemiah the first action was prayer and fasting. Now as he finally arrived at his destination, he presents his letters of approval for the task to the governors of that province and the response he gets is not at all positive. So after three days, he chooses to get up during the night alone except for his mount and inspect the walls and gates to determine what would need to be done. He is so skilled that no one knows he has gone or what he is doing. As yet he had not even revealed who was going to do the work or the extent of his mission.

 

(Does the Lord call us to survey the condition we find ourselves in, what has broken down our relationship with Him or others?  Doing so is a process best done alone with Him, for He alone can give us the accurate assessment of our condition.)

 

Now that he has completed his reconnaissance he tells exiles, priests, and nobles what he has come to do. He also makes clear how God had given him favor with the king and then puts it out there for them: “Let us rise up and build.” Once again we see that this godly leader acts, but this time the action will be beyond prayer and fasting.

 

(How do we act on what the Lord shows us? Do we move or ignore His guidance?)

 

When the governors heard the news, they were none to happy and accused Nehemiah of rebelling against the king. Nehemiah, however, knows the mission God has sent him on and makes clear to them that the Lord is going to make this a successful mission and that they have no rightful portion or place in Jerusalem. That sounds pretty gutsy to me on a human level, but it also sounds like this is a man who is sure of God’s call and provision and so he stands.

 

As I read this, I am challenged to consider how much I pursue the Lord’s leading, how certain I am about His calling, and if I am willing to be so certain that I will and do stand in the midst of opposition to that call and leading. What about you?

 

Nehemiah has collected all the facts. The city is no longer as large as it was before the exile. Historians suggest the circumference of the city was possibly a mile and a half and encompassed 80 or 90 acres. That sounds pretty small, but please keep in mind there was rubble everywhere and no backhoes or other equipment we could commonly employ today to get this task done.

 

One other quality of Nehemiah becomes evident as they prepare to rebuild is how well thought out his plan is. He lets everyone know he has divided up the work between various groups with attention to where the groups lived so they could work nearest to where their own homes were located. That certainly was effective to get ‘buy-in’ for the task at hand and scripture catches us up with a picture of how zealously the people began to work. Clearly, he had communicated his mission and now had an organized team setting about the task.

 

Consider this. This was a small city and likely there were not a lot of people living there. Certainly it would have been to their benefit to start this project long before now to assure their security, but nothing happened until Nehemiah arrived on the scene.

 

What a perfect example of why we need a godly leader whose prayers and faith have equipped him or her for the up building of the Kingdom through whatever ministry or place each of us has been called. He or she is needed to protect God’s people.

 

Make no mistake about it. A godly leader acts.

 

Next time I want to look at what happens when a godly leader faces opposition. I hope you will join me as we spend a little more time in the book of Nehemiah.

f17c06a65ab6651a3b115bdcdf0465e8

The Long Road Home

napoleonhill1

 

When we stopped in the story in my last post, Nehemiah had just received permission and favor from the king whom he served as cupbearer while in exile to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and city. He was granted a letter of safe passage and timber from the king’s own forests to rebuild the gates.

 

As we read the text in the Bible, the next scene is his arrival in his home city of Jerusalem. The thing I pause to consider is what the text does not include. How far was the journey and how long would it have taken him? It can be so easy for us today to give little thought to the distances from one place to another in the Bible and how long it would likely have taken them.

 

We would not have been talking highways, speed trains, buses, or planes. Even a roadway would have been primitive by our standards. If a person had the means, he might be blessed to ride on a donkey or perhaps a camel. Most of the time, the travel would be on foot for many of the people of that day.

 

We know Nehemiah was traveling from Susa, which was in Persia (modern day Iran) to Jerusalem. Historians tell us that he would have most likely taken the long overland route on what was known as the Persian Royal Road into northern Mesopotamia. He would then have needed to head west into Syro-Palestine to Jerusalem. The distance was about 900 miles and would have taken about four months.

 

The distance and difficulty of such a lengthy trip increases our understanding of why Nehemiah would have needed letters of safe passage through so many regions. Not all of the areas may have been friendly or at peace.

 

And where was the king’s forest he was permitted to harvest timber from for the gates? Again we look to historians for their guess. It is suspected that the forest was likely in Lebanon, which had been overtaken by the Persians in the sixth century B.C. There were also some areas of the coastal plain of Palestine that may have provided some of the timber needed. During those times the walls would have been made primarily of stone and mud brick, but timber was needed to stabilize the walls and for the gateways into and out of the city.

 

When I consider the trip, its length, danger, and requirements, I am impacted by the courage, tenacity, passion, and faith of Nehemiah. Prior to his role as a cupbearer, servant/slave of the king, there is no indication of his background. Yet because of his concern for his homeland, his name goes down in history and we hear of him.

 

How like God to choose an ordinary man whose heart was His to fulfill His purposes!

 

Today we can be tempted to look for the high profile persons among us for important roles or tasks. Very often these same people seek them for the added prestige it brings them, but not so with God. Time and time again, He demonstrates throughout the Bible that He chooses the youngest, the smallest, the weakest, the most lowly in station.

 

Clearly God had chosen Nehemiah for the task and the journey. It reminds me of the humbling His choice of any one of us truly is. It also takes my mind to God’s choice of David that we read about in 1 Samuel. Samuel was certain he would find the next king among Jesse’s sons when he arrived at his home. God reminded him in 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV of a characteristic of His election we should all remember:

 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

 

You may doubt your value or usefulness to the Lord for any number of reasons, but look anywhere from Genesis to Revelation and you will discover the truth of God’s words to Samuel.

 

Join me again next time as we look at another characteristic of Nehemiah as he arrives in Jerusalem.

 

18738-thomas-fowell-buxton-quote-with-ordinary-talent-and-extraordinary