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The Long Game

 

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Today I come to the end of this series on Nehemiah. I hope those of you who have taken this journey with me have been encouraged and blessed by not only a review of the stories, but hopefully a new insight here or there. I confess this has always been one of my favorite Old Testament books. As I finished reading it recently, I couldn’t resist this journey I have written about. One of the study resources I used made specific note about Nehemiah’s godly leadership, evidences of that and how it was broadened by experience. As I was reading and studying, those points were ones I especially wanted to share.

 

I think that in an era where it can be hard to identify faithful godly leadership in so many arenas, Nehemiah has much to teach us. Today I want to look at one final characteristic:

 

A godly leader keeps leading

 

To gain a sense of that point, let me turn us to look at the story as we near the end of it.

 

The book of Nehemiah actually is at the end of Old Testament history even though Esther appears last canonically. So, in truth, Nehemiah is actually the last piece of Old Testament history we have. That gets my attention.

 

Throughout the story we have watched Nehemiah’s heart and actions respond to God in obedience. His leadership has been steady throughout. When we reach chapter 13, we see the Law is still being read, that same truth the exiles had committed to follow after hearing it read the first time and repenting. They were hearing clearly the people of God were to be separate from the people of other nations. Specifically, they were reminded the Ammonites and the Moabites were never to be living in their midst.

 

Once again, however, they were failing to be faithful. Tobiah was mixed up with the chief priest and had even allowed Tobiah to lodge in the temple. The chief priest’s grandson had also married Sanballat’s daughter. He had entered into a variety of alliances and ideas with the enemies of the people of God and instead of modeling what the Law taught, he was doing the exact opposite.

 

How did this happen? Read the text to see what you may discover, but one thing will be 2123034889-clead1clear: Nehemiah was out of town when all this was taking place and now has returned. As governor of the city, he once again demonstrates his courage by throwing out the chief priest who had not followed the Law and defiled the temple. He also threw out everyone who belonged to him or was connected to him in any way.

 

Nehemiah was acutely aware that God’s house was never to be profaned so he was clear he had to go about doing a thorough house cleaning. He discovers a lot. He learns the Levites had not been receiving their portions as the chief priest was caught up with the enemies of the people of God. As a result they had fled into the area surrounding the city because the people were not providing for them as outlined by the Law. Nehemiah called the magistrates of the city to account for not administering the city as had been directed and outlined. He took note of how the Sabbath had been profaned as well and grieved and acted to restore that day as God had outlined to Moses.

 

It was clear in the absence of Nehemiah’s godly leadership, everyone else went astray from his or her commitment. He needed to constantly remind the people of their promises. The people were caught up in the same kinds of sins evident throughout all their history prior to the story of Nehemiah. His work of leading never ended. He was a shepherd to the people and they sorely needed one.

 

We have been blessed to have had the Living Word, Jesus, show us the way and shepherd us. He came to provide the ultimate sacrifice because He loved us and knew that we too would be unable to keep our promises and walk in pure obedience. His death and resurrection would give us the path to relationship with Him forever. He wanted His to be assured of His everlasting love through His grace and mercy.

 

Even so, Nehemiah demonstrated godly leadership before the Word came in the flesh and in this series we saw the evidence of it in Nehemiah’s life.

 

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s word
  • A godly leader confesses sin
  • A godly leader leads people in specific commitments
  • A godly leader keeps leading

 

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Modeling Produces What Is Modeled

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A long time ago I learned that I might try to teach my children and others a great many things. If I was fortunate they might actually learn some of the things I taught, but I could guarantee they would nearly always learn things they “caught” from me. It was what I was doing, saying, and modeling that really had the greatest impact and that was especially true when my words and behaviors did not match. They would be more likely to “catch”my behaviors even if I would have wished otherwise.

 

As I have been walking through Nehemiah with you the past several weeks, it has been clear that Nehemiah was demonstrating excellent evidences of leadership, godly leadership. Up until now, we have identified six qualities:

 

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s Word
  • A godly leader confesses sins

 

It has also been clear that time and again Nehemiah’s choices and behaviors, his attitude and his strategies were consistent as evident of his godly character.

 

As we observe those in leadership over us in any and all arenas, we will discover if they live out what they would ask us to be and do. Their words and rhetoric may woo us and persuade us to follow them; but if we do that the inspiration they elicit will begin to fade when we do not detect those same principles lived out.

 

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Throughout the book of Nehemiah we have noted how well he has modeled the life of not only a godly leader, but first of all a godly person. By the time we near the end of the story and the people have confessed their sins, we see another aspect of godly leadership.

 

At the start of the story Nehemiah demonstrated a commitment to follow what he knew was significant as a godly man. He knew Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt so the exiles living there could be protected and be reminded of who they were and whose they were. From the time he arrived in Jerusalem, his commitment was on display for all to see. It was there when he assessed the condition of the walls and gates. It was there when he came up with a strategy to rebuild those walls and gates and to handle the opposition to those very plans. It was there when the physical rebuilding was done and he recognized the need to hear the book of the Law opened so the exiles would be reminded of how they were to observe all God had laid out for them. It was there when he joined the community in the confession of sins and a heart of repentance.

 

Such godly leadership evoked a godly response from the people. After the confession they made, now they made an oath to keep God’s law. They not only said it, but they put it in writing and the leaders, Levites, and priests affixed their seals to it as well. They had heard the truth and they responded. After all, they had watched Nehemiah modeling this type of commitment from the beginning.

 

Their oath showed their seriousness as well because it included a curse if they would not follow their commitment to their pledges. Throughout the ninth chapter of Nehemiah their specific promises are outlined. These acted much like a covenant for the people.

 

Pledges and covenant are words not so common in our vernacular and neither is the word oath. When we do see those words or hear them, it is most often when someone is appearing in court or being sworn into office or being married.

 

Perhaps we no longer value such commitments.

 

Could it also be that too often we have observed that leaders we are submitting to do not make them or keep them so we feel excused from doing so?

 

Modeling matters.

 

A godly leader leads people in specific commitments.

 

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After They Heard the Truth

 

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A few weeks ago I started a series on Nehemiah. It is a favorite Old Testament book, but what stood out to me were the evidences of what a godly leader is and does as evidenced in the text.  I will add three more posts and finish the series.

 

If you have been following along in this series about Nehemiah, you will likely recall that when we left the story Ezra had read from the book of the Law to remind the exiles of who they were and how they were to be living. When they heard about the level of their sin, the people became sorrowful. Nehemiah, however, reminded them of the need to be joyful and celebrate the truth they had learned and they set about celebrating the Feast of Booths. (Ezra also continued to read for seven more days!)

 

After the feasting and celebration, the leaders now focus on the sins that had come to light as a result of hearing the Law. What did they do? They led them in a confession of those sins before God. The lengthy prayer began with them praising God and then specific confession of their sins and the sins of their fathers. They made no effort to blame or shift the responsibility for what they had done and failed to do on God or anyone else. How hard that can be for us so many times.

 

It seems quite evident that hearing the truth of God and seeing His character evident in His mercy and loving-kindness brought them into a much keener awareness of their sin.

 

God’s Word has a way of adjusting us to the right standard of His truth when we take time to read it. We should never look at the Word as a buffet we can pick and choose from to adjust it to our preference.

 

When the exiles heard God’s words to them, they saw His everlasting love and were reminded of His promises of love.

 

When we first come to know the Lord personally, we are acutely aware of our sinfulness and find it relatively easy to confess those sins to Him. What may not happen as often is how we attend to daily time in God’s Word and how that should not only lead us to worship Him, but also cause us to confess our sins that we can ignore or slough off without thought.

 

What we read informs our conscience of His love, mercy, and grace, but also His justice. What we read reminds us that our lives are meant to increasingly look more like Him and that can only happen when we are keeping short accounts with Him.

 

In this series, we have identified 5 characteristics of a godly leader so far. Here they are again:

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s Word

 

The part of the story we have looked at today gives us a sixth characteristic to add to the list:

 

A godly leader confesses his sins and leads his people to confess their sins.

 

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The Next Mission

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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!

 

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Character Produces Caring

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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!

 

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