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 call 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!