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Working Lessons From Nehemiah

The decree of king Cyrus of Persia in 538 B.C. allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and began the end of the Jewish captivity in Babylon.  After two groups of Jews had returned to the city of Jerusalem, led by Zerubbabel and Ezra respectively, the third and final return was led by Nehemiah.


Nehemiah was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes in the royal palace of Persia.  He became deeply concerned about Jerusalem and the people who had returned there when he heard the reports of the city's ruined condition and the people's distress and reproach (Neh. 1:1-3).  His concern prompted him to take action to restore both the city and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  He obtained permission to return to Jerusalem, and there he led the Jews in the reconstruction of the walls of the city in only fifty-two days.  More importantly, he undertook the task of restoring God's people to spiritual service.


Nehemiah's approach to doing the work of God stands as an excellent example to us today.  Let us consider what he did and how he accomplished his objectives:


Nehemiah began with prayer. When Nehemiah heard of the condition of Jerusalem and the Jews, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for days (Neh. 1:4-11).  In his prayer to God, he praised God and confessed the sins of the people.  He remembered and believed the word of God which said that God's people were scattered for their unfaithfulness but would be gathered if they returned to God.  He asked for God's blessing that he might be successful because he knew that only by the hand of God could he do this great work.  The practice of prayer was continued by Nehemiah throughout his work in Jerusalem.  Thus, prayer is the first step in the leadership of God's people.


Nehemiah had a specific plan which he implemented for doing the work.  When Nehemiah determined that he would do the work, he made a plan to get to Jerusalem (Neh. 2:5-10).  When he got there, he evaluated the condition of Jerusalem to determine what work needed to be done (Neh. 2:12-16).  Then, he exhorted the people to do the work (Neh. 2:17-18).  Nehemiah shows the necessity of evaluating a situation correctly and planning in order to be successful in doing the work of God.


Nehemiah demonstrates the need for God's people to work together to accomplish the work of God.  Under Nehemiah's leadership, all of the Jews worked together (Neh. 3).  By cooperating, they were able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in only fifty-two days despite obstacles, opposition, and criticism.  This was a feat that impressed even the enemies of the Jews.  Thus, we see that every one of God's people must be dedicated and active for the cause of God in order to be successful.  When God's people work together for the same purpose, great things can be achieved.


Nehemiah did not allow unjustified criticism and opposition discourage the Jews from the work.  Consider the ridicule and mockery that Nehemiah and the Jews endured as they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  They were accused of rebelling against the king (Neh. 2:19-20), ridiculed for attempting to undertake such a lofty goal (Neh. 4:1-3), and threatened to be killed by their enemies (Neh. 4:10-12).  Despite all of this criticism, Nehemiah did not allow the Jews to become discouraged, but rather he exhorted them to continue in the work, prayed to God for His help, and led the Jews to the completion of the rebuilt city walls.  When serving God faithfully, God's people have always suffered unjustified criticism by those who do not serve God.  When God's people endure the criticism and continue to work, they succeed, as did Nehemiah.  When they give in to the criticism, they fail and God is displeased.


Nehemiah knew that God would fight for His faithful.  The Jews heard the threats of their enemies against them as they were rebuilding the walls of the city.  Nehemiah then prepared them to defend themselves with swords and weapons, and he encouraged them by saying, "Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses" (Neh. 4:14).  When the most serious threat had passed, the Jews continued the work with half of them rebuilding the walls and half of them standing armed to defend.  Nehemiah again instructed the people by saying, "At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us" (Neh. 4:20).  God's people must realize that when God has sent them to do a work, no one can stand in the way of that work.  The best attitude for God's people in the face of threats is stated in Psalm 118:6, "The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?"


Nehemiah was a leader who could not be shaken or distracted from his goal.  The enemies of the Jews recognized the valuable leadership of Nehemiah among the Jews, so they sought to kill him.  They called him away, but he refused to leave the work, answering them, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" (Neh. 6:3).  They tried to slander Nehemiah to the king, but he answered them, "Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind" (Neh. 6:8).  They even hired one of the Jews to frighten him away with concerns about his own safety, but he said, "Should a man like me flee?" (Neh. 6:11).  Through all of these personal threats and distractions, Nehemiah remained focused on the goal of completing the walls of Jerusalem.  These kinds of tactics have always been common against the leaders of God's people, but those who are strong will not be shaken by fear or self-concern.  Nehemiah's example still stands as a model of leadership for God's people.


Stacey E. Durham



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