I do not agree with the statement, “The church is only as strong as its weakest member.” Too many churches have grown despite a few weak members. However, I do believe that the church is only as strong as its leadership.
It is not a new trend in our society or in the church—it has always been difficult to convince people to be leaders. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Saul, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Peter are just a few men in the days of the Bible who hesitated, even resisted, when called by God to lead. Leadership has many built-in frustrations—one’s own limitations, the limitations of others, the limits of time, criticism, under-appreciation, feelings of isolation, miscommunication, and added responsibility. It is a popular pastime of many to criticize the leadership, but if the job were so easy why is there a shortage of leaders?!
Nehemiah stresses the importance of strong leadership throughout the book. Notice what the Holy Spirit, through this noble and competent leader, reveals about good leadership:
Good leaders have a heart of compassion (1:1-4)
Good leaders have a strong prayer life (1:5-11)–see 1:5; 2:4; 4:4-9;5:19; 9:17; ch. 13
Good leaders have a proven record of leadership (1:11)
Good leaders are courageous (2:2-3)
Good leaders plan the work well (2:7-9)
Good leaders communicate (2:17-18)
Good leaders are positive (2:20)
Good leaders successfully handle complaints and criticisms (4:7-8; 5:1-6)
Good leaders are watchful (4:21-23)
Good leaders know there is a place for rebuke (5:7-13)
Good leaders are no strangers to sacrifice (5:14-18)
Good leaders fear God (5:15)
Good leaders are hospitable (5:17)
Good leaders encourage the hurting (5:15; 8:9-12)
Good leaders avoid distraction (6:2)
Good leaders correct misinformation (6:8)
Good leaders follow through and aim for completion (6:16)
We can measure Nehemiah’s good leadership through the speed and success of his initial task or the sustained leadership he provided for the next twelve years as governor of Judah. We can measure it by the gentleness he showed the hurting and needy, or by the conviction he showed in correcting the immoral and unethical. There was even his ability to work through problems with his brethren and with the enemy. Nehemiah provided balanced leadership, guided by God and submissive to His plans. That’s what is required of great leadership today!
It began with just a few men. They didn’t know exactly what kind of damage they were about to inflict on their own reputation, for all of eternity. The account is found in Acts 15 with “some men” going down from Judea and teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas debated them fearlessly, but the damage had been done. The argument had so successfully confused and stirred up the assembled group that it was decided to take matters up the command chain. They were off to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas hadn’t lost faith and in fact, they proclaimed what God had done for the Gentiles to all who would listen on their trip. The news of God’s grace to all races and nations brought the listeners a great joy. In Jerusalem, the apostles and elders had already gathered to deal with the fierce conflict. It didn’t take long for the group to separate into two teams each holding two different beliefs about God’s will for all. It was at this moment where Peter stands up and begins to speak. He explains that God knows the heart of all of us and He’s always known.
The spirit had descended on the apostles to prove that there is no discrimination between Jews and Gentiles. The demand for proof is always in our hearts, and so the Spirit demonstrated miraculous powers to give credence. Peter would explain that under the Jewish law, even Moses and the greats couldn’t bear the load. It wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t meant to last.
It’s verse twelve that gives one some additional insight. It says, “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done though them among the Gentiles.” How do we solve our conflicting views that spring up in our midst? There’s only one effective way to do so and that’s to take our matters of division to the top. Not preachers, teachers, deacons, or elders, but to the very top.
If God is going to speak, we’ve got to be quiet. The assembly went silent. Everyone there, no matter what their belief was—decided to listen. Speaking over each other never solved a problem and this is true on a congregational level, as well as a personal one. How many times do we fall victim to the assembly of the thoughts and bias in our own minds when reading God’s word? It can be difficult to hush those voices, but it’s when we do that real change has a chance to take root.
Recently, I heard Dr. Ted Burleson point out that the book of Acts reveals three men named Ananias. The first one is in Acts five, the second one is in Acts nine, and the last one is in Acts 23. Those three men are very much unalike from one another in some basic, important ways.
The Ananias in Acts 5 was a Christian known for lying to Peter and to God about his offering. On the heels of Barnabas’ publicized and praised generosity, this man conspired with his wife to deceive the church about how much they were giving. While we do not read his words or even read that he spoke, it is implied that he did talk this over with Sapphira. His entire legacy is of a liar! Isn’t it tragic that the rest of his life, including his conversion, are completely omitted. This is all we know about him. What a sobering object lesson that I can undo a great deal of other good in my life if I let sin reign in my heart!
The Ananias in Acts 23 was the Jewish High Priest Paul stood before after he was arrested in Jerusalem. “Ananias was High Priest from A.D. 47 to 66, when he was assassinated by the Jews because of his support of the Romans during the Jewish uprising” (Newman and Nida, 432). We also learn that he was “famous for bribery and plunder of temple offerings” (Gangal, 386). Then we see, “His action (having Paul struck on the mouth, NP) was completely in character. Josephus depicted him as one of the very worst of the high priests, known for his pro-Roman sentiments, his extreme cruelty, and his greed” (Polhill, 468). He is known both in Scripture and out of Scripture for being unscrupulous. He will lead the attack against Paul before Felix (Acts 24:1-9). Not only does he refuse to accept Christ, he persecutes and attacks Christ’s messengers. He went out into eternity a sworn enemy of Jesus. At the Judgment, he will stand before Him! He reminds me that life is about preparing for eternity, and it is tragic to live for self in this life and reject the One who died for me.
The Ananias in the middle, in Acts 9, is completely unlike the other two who shared his name. He is introduced to us as a “disciple” (10). The Lord chose him for a choice mission, to go preach to Saul of Tarsus (10). As fearful as that task understandably was, he obeyed the Lord and went (11-17). Acts 22 adds that he was devout (God-fearing)(12), well-spoken of by other Jews in Damascus (12), and a faithful preacher (14) who was bold in message (16). Jesus did not convert Saul on the road; He chose a human messenger on earth to preach to him. Of all the disciples he could have chosen, this Ananias was given the opportunity. This man seized the opportunity and helped give the world the greatest preacher, save Jesus, the world has ever known! Nothing is said about this man after he preached to Saul. Whatever else happened in his life, Ananias is praised for his courage and faithfulness. He is forever linked to this eventual apostle, the man who baptized the ultimate world evangelist whose name we all know 2,000 years later.
There are other “Neals” in the world today. None of us have our names in the Bible, but which of us will have our names in the “book of life” (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5)? Of course, the same is true of you whatever your name is. How we respond to the Lord’s grace as well as His will matters. Ask Sapphira’s husband. Ask Paul’s antagonizer. Ask Paul’s preacher. We have one life to prepare for the next life. May we so live that our name will be associated with the Name above all names (Phil. 2:9-10)!
Studying a map, Peter travels the road from Jerusalem northwest through Emmaus until he reaches the village of Lydda. This is the Lod of the Old Testament, part of the southern kingdom mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:12, Ezra 2:33, and a few times in Nehemiah. The only time it occurs in the New Testament is in this paragraph. We can assume that the church was established by those present to hear Peter and the apostles preach on Pentecost. Or, perhaps, it was the efforts of those who were scattered from Jerusalem who went everywhere preaching the word (8:4). The route Peter takes to Joppa crisscrosses the road Philip took from Gaza to Caesarea Maritime (Azotus is a couple of towns south of Lydda). Whichever the case, there were already saints when Peter reaches Lydda. This includes a paralytic man named Aeneas, who Peter heals. This causes all who lived at Lydda and Sharon (Song of Sol. 2:1) to turn to the Lord (35). Faith is flourishing and the church is growing.
Peter continues his travels northwest until he reaches the seacoast city of Joppa (today, it is one of the most important cities in Israel, known today as Haifa). When Peter arrives, he’s also there to visit the church (36ff). About the time of his visit, one of the Christian women “fell sick and died” (37). We learn several things about her:
She was a disciple (36). This means she is a learner associated with Jesus’ views (BDAG 609).
She “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (36). This should not surprise us, as it seems to further define and defend the fact that she is a disciple. Jesus went “about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (10:38). She was simply doing as He had done.
She was loved and missed by the local church (38-39). Her death was an urgent matter. They plead with Peter to come quickly. When he arrives at the upper room where she’s laid, the Christian widows are “weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them” (39).
She was raised (40-42). Peter brings her back and presents her alive to the church. We can only imagine what joy this brought the church, but we know that this act caused many to believe in the Lord (42).
The miracles and signs performed in the early church all served the same purpose. They were to create faith in Jesus, the Man, His message, and His mission. Peter remains in Joppa many days, staying with a tanner named Simon (43). It is here that he will be a part of a dramatic turn of events that takes him north along the seacoast (Acts 10).
When Peter was invited to follow Jesus, he was told, “…I will make you fishers of men” (Mat. 4:19). Did he take any opportunities to go down to the seacoast and fish the Mediterranean while at Simon’s house? I don’t know. I do know that his primary focus now was on fishing for men. God used him mightily in that effort, both to encourage the saints and reach the lost. Likewise, whatever we were and whatever we did before becoming a disciple of Jesus, He can use us in those ways (as He did Dorcas) and leverage our experience to bring about great results to His glory!
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was featured in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland was the original performer. I will provide the song’s setting without spoiling the film since it is pertinent to our topic.
Circumstances cause the family patriarch depicted within the film to declare that the family is moving to New York. He is alone in wanting to make such a move. Everyone else is content to stay in their current hometown, especially with the upcoming World’s Fair that St. Louis will be hosting in 1904.
The youngest daughter, Tootie, took the news especially hard. Judy Garland’s character, Esther, tries to console Tootie by singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The original lyrics, which you’ve likely not heard unless you’ve watched the movie or listened to an older cover of the song, were “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Garland also sang, “Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.”1
We can credit Frank Sinatra for changing a melancholy Christmas song into a happier one. He told the song’s writer, Hugh Martin, in 1957 that his album was called “A Jolly Christmas.” So, he asked the songwriter if he could “jolly up” that line for him. The songwriter obliged, changing the lyric to “Hang a shining star atop the highest bough.” “Next year…” likewise became “From now on all our troubles will be out of sight.”2
We cannot say that every Christmas season is as great as those experienced in our youth. As we get older, economics impact our celebrations. We take note of those missing. Perhaps, we no longer have good health. Or an every-hundred-year-pandemic might decide to come along and interfere with our plans. For those Christmases, we must “muddle through somehow.”
At least one time in David’s life found him “unmerry” from life’s circumstances. And David likewise had to muddle through until things could get better. This occasion was when David was fleeing for his life because of his son Absalom’s political coup. David and his retainers found themselves in a position where they were “hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” (2 Samuel 17.29 NASB1995) What David did during this muddling remains an example for those finding it difficult to be joyous today.
First, David did not isolate himself, having the company of his retinue (2 Samuel 17.22). People tend to isolate themselves when depressed. But it is not the isolation causing difficulties. It is the resulting loneliness often found in isolation. People may think they are all alone in the world or that the world is against them. God said it is not good to be thus isolated (Genesis 2.18; Ecclesiastes 4.9-12). So, reach out to others, if necessary, since the assistance others give enables them to fulfill Christ’s law (Galatians 6.2).
Second, David accepted the kindness of others (2 Samuel 17.27-29). I do not think it an exaggeration to say David could not have defeated Absalom without the aid of such people. Christians must be kind and tender-hearted to one another (Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 3.12-15; 1 Peter 3.8). And since we must extend such love and kindness to others, we must learn to receive these same overtures in return. That seems to be tricky for some people to realize. Muddling through is easier with brethren!
Third, David wisely used his time of muddling (2 Samuel 18.1ff). David counts the number of able-bodied men with him who could fight. Then, he divides them into companies and appoints men over thousands and hundreds. The result, of course, was an army capable of battling Absalom. Despite resulting in the death of Absalom, the battle ensured that David could return to Jerusalem. His muddling days were over. In like manner, perhaps now is not an excellent time for us; we are muddling through life. But do what you can, with what you have, where you are. During these difficult times, the plans you make may result in a later victory.
So, as others seem to be having “…the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” you may find yourself unable to experience that coveted merry time. Emulate David’s example. If you see a family member or friend muddling through, ensure they are not lonely, providing them whatever aid is needed. In so doing, may we all note, Lord willing, that “Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.”
Jesus has come to Jerusalem and taken the gloves off. By His unparalleled authority, He is directly challenging the religious establishment whose shallow righteousness has been rejected by His Father. He has come to take the Old Law out of the way and establish His church. It’s teaching like this parable in Luke 20:9-18 that will provoke those leaders to the point that they will trump up charges and bribe false witnesses to arrest, try, and have Him crucified. This parable is stark and shocking, and the moral as heavy as an anvil. Notice.
THESE LEADERS WERE GUILTY OF IMPROPER STEWARDSHIP (9). The “man” in the parable represents God, the Father. He made Israel a nation and gave the Jews a Law to follow and keep. The Jews, particularly the religious leadership, were entrusted with faithfully carrying it out, but they did not.
THEY WERE GUILTY OF TAKING WHAT DIDN’T BELONG TO THEM (10). In fact, these leaders–dubbed “the vine-growers” by Jesus in this parable–thought that they were in charge. They sought to make people subject to them, to follow their rules (cf. Rom. 10:3-4). The end result was vain religion (Mat. 15:8-9).
THEY WERE GUILTY OF ABUSING THOSE SENT TO THEM (11-15). The “slaves” sent to them were presumably prophets and teachers, no doubt inclusive of John the Baptist. These were the Father’s spokesmen, come to teach and correct them. Each one sent was treated the same, sad way: they “beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” Last of all, the son was sent (13-14). The “owner” (the Father) sent Him, saying, “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him” (13). Instead, seeing Him as the heir, they plotted to kill Him (14). Obviously, Jesus is referring to Himself and the very thoughts these religious leaders were thinking as He told the parable!
THEY WERE GUILTY OF LOSING WHAT WAS ENTRUSTED TO THEM (16-18). Instead of being convicted by this parable, these religious leaders recoil at the moral of the parable: “What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others” (15-16). Their emotion boils over and they audibly reply to Jesus’ parable, “May it never be!” They missed the travesty of the behavior they and their forefathers had shown to God’s messengers and the sin they were about to perpetrate on His Son. They didn’t want to lose their grip on the power and influence they had taken. But Jesus doubles down, changing the imagery from a vineyard to building construction. They were going to reject Jesus, the stone, but He would be made the chief corner stone. He would judge and destroy them, if they did not abandon their rebellion.
Jesus is full of love, kindness, and peace. But, that’s an incomplete picture of Him. He came to establish His rule and reign. He must be King and Lord of our lives. We must submit to His way and truth to enjoy His life.
Hugh Glass decided to live the difficult and adventurous life of a fur trapper and pioneer. He embarked on an expedition to North Dakota in early August, 1823. The vast wilderness of the Badlands set the stage for the events that transformed him from a man to a legend. North Dakota, also known as the “Rough Rider State,” would not reach it’s statehood for another sixty five years. In these wild days thousands of buffalo still roamed the endless plains and were hunted by the Native American tribes, of which were the Mandan tribe. Hugh Glass and his men would encounter the Mandan early on in their expedition and a skirmish would ensue. Hugh would emerge alive, but not unscathed. Before his wound had time to heal, the largest predator on earth, the Grizzley Bear— nearly takes his life. The nature of his gruesome injuries were such that two men were ordered to remain with Glass until he met a seemingly inevitable end. Due to either their impatience or threatening weather, the two men hurriedly dig a shallow grave, lower Hugh inside— and leave. But Hugh wasn’t dead. He claws out of his grave and over the next two months he would make a grueling three hundred mile trek to Fort Kiowa near modern day Chamberlain. His will to live was matched by his determination to wreak revenge on the two who had prematurely laid him to rest. For the time being, however, Hugh found himself on his hands and knees making agonizingly slow progress but— he inches forward.
In the months to follow Hugh Glass would make a full recovery and in that time, he also forgives the wrongs that were done to him. He had buried his grudge and unlike him— it would remain buried (source).
While the long journey of Hugh Glass took a great deal of grit and resolve, the journey Jesus made from Jericho to Jerusalem is far more inspiring.
When we get to Matthew 20 the cross is already on our Savior’s mind. The following chapters will focus on the teachings of Jesus and the moments leading up to the His ultimate sacrifice. We won’t read about miraculous healings after this point, but the final healing that Jesus makes on that walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, is a special one.
Ahead of Jesus and one excited crowd, are two men intently listening on the side of the road. They’re blind. They survive off of the charity that’s shown to them by a minority. As Jesus draws ever closer they begin to yell in desperation for His attention. There are some in the crowd, perhaps those closest to them on their side of the road, who scold them.
Can’t these sad beggars see that Jesus has more pressing matters on His mind?
The rebukes don’t quiet the men from calling out; in fact, they raise their voices above the crowd. Christ wasn’t lost in any thoughts about a military takeover, but we can assume that Calvary was on His mind. Now Calvary— that was a pressing matter.
Nobody would blame Him for ignoring two blind men. After all, the crowd didn’t need to witness some miracle to solidify their belief in His power (John 6.30), and beggars on the side of the road were a common sight.
Even so, Jesus stops.
He calls out to them and then asks, “What would you like me to do for you?”
The blind men respond with, “Lord, we want our sight.”
These men should have been paying attention when the Rabbi’s read from the scrolls of Daniel or Isaiah. The Jewish people had hundreds of years to piece together the true nature of the Messiah’s mission.
Yet, the response of Jesus is compassion and it’s followed by His touch.
That masterful plan was set in place the foundations of the earth were waiting to be laid. A plan that involved Jesus trading heaven for earth in order to answer the call of two blind men. He created time for them and He proved it by making time for them a second time— so that they could see it.
With the death of Nero, a path to the imperial throne was opened to Vespasian by those soldiers serving under the former’s command. Vespasian had made a reputation for himself in the conquest of Britain and the subjugation of Jewish revolts beginning in AD 66. Thus, given the opportunity by his men, Vespasian founded the Flavian Dynasty, which his son, Titus, would succeed. As emperor, Vespasian left the task of quelling the Jewish rebellion to his son, Titus. Thus, Titus remained in the theater of conflict while his father returned to Rome.
In AD 70, Titus crushes the Jewish rebellion by destroying Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Vespasian dies from an illness within a decade, opening the throne to his son, Titus. As emperor, Titus completed the Roman Colosseum and dealt with the crisis of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Upon his death, Titus’ younger brother, Domitian, became emperor and built the Arch of Titus in AD 81 to commemorate Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem. Titus serves only about three years as emperor.
It is of note that the triumphant arch Domitian dedicates is to Titus, who only completes his father’s work in Judea and Jerusalem. No doubt, Vespasian would have approved seeing as he desired to lay the foundation for his family’s rule. In life, Vespasian had likewise sought to emphasize his son’s actions. In other words, though ambitious, Vespasian was generous enough to share the spotlight with his son to further his machinations. As homecomings go, Titus was a son well-received by his father. One can question if the son was as accomplished as his father, given the brevity of his reign. If for no other reason than establishing the desired optics, though, Vespasian knew to give Titus a grand reception upon the completion of his task on the battlefield, since it glorified himself as well.
I recently completed a study on the Harmony of the Gospels; that is, the complete narrative one finds when fleshing out the revealed narrative of Christ by coalescing all four gospel accounts into a single account. I noted that despite being the shortest gospel, only Mark ends in a manner consistent with the once-coveted literary “happily-ever-after.” Indeed, Mark 16.19-20 has Jesus returning to the Father and the disciples carrying out their Master’s work. Matthew ends his gospel with our Lord’s promise to remain with us. Luke ends his thoroughly-researched gospel by showing the rejoicing disciples continuing in their praises to God. John ends the last written gospel by telling us that despite not having a complete record of Christ’s life, we have enough information to develop a saving faith.
As a Christian, I appreciate the perspective of each inspired gospel author. I have always been partial to John’s gospel with its unique approach, but now find myself most enamored by Mark’s inspired conclusion. In stark contrast to the prodigal son, in which a rebellious son squanders his father’s inheritance in the far country, but finds a gracious, welcoming father upon his repentance, we have in Mark’s closing an obedient Son returning triumphantly to the deserved adulation of His Father. The text is simple enough. The New American Standard Version states, “…He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16.19).
That was what Jesus eagerly anticipated. The Hebrews writer said it was this impending joy enabling Him to endure the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12.2). If Titus deserved a triumphant arch for doing his father’s bidding, shouldn’t a much more deserving Son receive from His Father the name above all names? (Philippians 2.9-11) No Christian doubts Jesus was worthy of this honor, but is there not something uplifting about reading the confirmation Mark provides? Given what Jesus accomplished, we relish this affirmation since we know His vicarious sacrifice enables us likewise to join Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5,8-9). We can see by faith Stephen’s vision granted him before his martyrdom of the Christ standing at God’s right hand, looking at human events intently (Acts 7.56). Truly, He is our great High Priest (Hebrews 4.14-16), interceding for us (Romans 8.34).
Wasson, Donald L. “Vespasian.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 11 Aug. 2020,www.ancient.eu/Vespasian/.
The old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” seems applicable to time, place, and action. Though the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day stretches back 2500 years and occurred in a totally different culture about 7000 miles from here, it is amazing how what they faced and how they faced it is similar to our world and work right now. What can we learn from the physical building of Nehemiah to help in our spiritual building in the church today? Let’s look at Nehemiah four for the answers.
There will be opposition. Then, the opposition was from unbelievers who are introduced to us as those who “mocked and despised” (2:19). They will be driven by emotion (4:1,7). They will actively work to undermine and upset the work (4:8). They will actively work through verbal assault (4:2-3). They will succeed in striking fear in the hearts of some of God’s workers (4:11ff). If we can settle it in our hearts that the devil will never be satisfied until he defeats every faithful work for God, we will expect opposition to exist. The key is not to put the focus on the opposition.
There must be devotion. Nehemiah, who narrates much of this Bible book, shows us how you defeat opposition. You depend on God through prayer (4:4-5,8). You trust that God is at work in answer to prayer (4:15,20). You keep the focus on His power (4:14). If we can remind ourselves that “our [great and awesome] God will fight for us,” we can keep going through the most frustrating failures along the way.
There must be direction. Someone has to lead people to focus on God rather than His enemies. Nehemiah exemplifies godly leadership. As noted, he led the people to rely on God when doing His work. Notice that he also communicated to the leaders and workers (4:14). He reminded them of their motivation (4:14) and gave them a tangible plan (4:19-20). He also led by example (4:21-23), rolling up his sleeves along with the rest of the people. Such servant-leaders inspire and encourage success.
There must be action. Though their success ultimately came about because of God’s power, this did not nullify their need to work. They built because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6). The late Wendell Winkler was known to say, “Programs don’t work. People do!” Walk through Nehemiah four and observe the action verbs. You see them “each one to his work” (15), “carrying on the work” (16, 21), and “doing the work” (17). So it is today.
These were ordinary folks. They faced fear, doubt, and discouragement. They had limitations. But they “built the wall” (4:6). In other words, they succeeded in the task God gave them to do. We are not inferior to them in any way unless it is in execution. We have opposition. We can defeat it with proper devotion, direction, and action. The work God has given us in His church today must be done, but it can be done! Let’s do more than believe that. Let’s embody it!
When you come across Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the unnamed others of Nehemiah six, you can’t help but be struck by how timeless some things are. The book of Nehemiah recounts the great construction project led one of the Bible’s great leaders, Nehemiah. In fact, this Bible book is a great instruction manual on great traits of leadership. Despite his skill, though, Nehemiah faced several obstacles. He had overcome poverty, internal strife, and discouragement, only to encounter the opposition of troublemakers at this stage of the work. Notice what they did and how great leaders respond to such tactics.
He faced insincerity (1-3,10-12). The aforementioned men tried to pull Nehemiah away from wall-building under the guise of a “meeting.” Yet, the text says they sought him harm. Later, we see that these troublemakers have hired an associate of Nehemiah’s, who fabricates a story meant to frighten him. Both times, Nehemiah saw through the deception. His answer was to focus on the work, refusing to leave it to become trapped in their snare. When we are engaged in great works for Christ, there will be those, either out of jealousy or their own heart problems, who don’t want it to succeed. Perhaps even despite an air of piety or “righteous concern,” they are willing to twist the truth to undermine our work. Like Nehemiah, we must refuse to leave the work to be dragged into unproductive distractions.
He faced insistence (4). They sent this same message at least five times! Imagine Nehemiah and the others, up on the wall, finishing the job as the troublemakers keep pestering them with the same mantra. Look at what Nehemiah does. He sticks to his guns. What grit and determination! We should know that troublemakers often have nothing better to do. They aren’t working on their own “walls,” so they choose to do nothing better than try to tear down the walls of others. We must be prepared to keep working, however much they pester.
He faced insinuation and invention (5-7). This is a favorite weapon in the troublemaker’s arsenal. They used talebearing, slander, gossip, and the like to try and undermine the work. You can imagine the sneaky, slithery way in which they did it, can’t you? “It is reported.” “Gesham says.” “We’re going to report you to the king.” What Nehemiah did in response is such a lesson for us. He didn’t wring his hands or spend a lot of time with counterarguments. He had truth on his side and did not feel compelled to wallow in the mud with the mudslingers. He knew he was doing right, and he simply told them so.
He faced intimidation(9). God gives us insight into the motivation of the troublemakers. Nehemiah says, “They all were trying to make us afraid.” Why these mean-minded men were so obsessed with halting the work is not exactly clear, but pride and self-importance seem to play a part. Nehemiah counteracts their bullying by going way over their head! He took it to God, praying for strength to overcome their pressures and threats. Obviously, as we read, God answered Nehemiah’s noble prayer. When we face such intimidation, we have access to the same power! That’s the first place we should turn when bullied by troublemakers.
How incredible that something which happened 2500 years ago can be so relevant to us today. The old adage attributed to Aristotle is true: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Well, for Christians trying to do God’s work today, “nothing” is not an option. We must be ever at work building His kingdom. Thus, expect trouble and troublemakers. Then, look to Nehemiah for the strategy to overcome them! It still works.