Summary: Nehemiah's life is a lesson in leadership. Nehemiah did more than rebuild a wall; he helped restore a people from ruin and despair to new hope and a renewed walk with God.
Nehemiah is an appropriate book to study as we get into a new year. It is the story of a new beginning. Nehemiah saw the heart-breaking plight of Jerusalem and determined to be part of the solution. His life is a lesson in leadership. Nehemiah did more than rebuild a wall; he helped restore a people from ruin and despair to new hope and a renewed walk with God.
Nehemiah was a Hebrew, taken captive by the Babylonian Exile. In spite of his bondage, he held an important position in the Persian court. While being a “cupbearer” sounds rather menial, it carried influence. If you’ve been following Downton Abbey, you might compare Nehemiah to Mr. Carson, the butler, who serves the Earl of Grantham, and who is much more than a servant; he is a trusted advisor and his concerns are of great concern to the Lord of the manor.
Nehemiah had the ear of the king. As cupbearer, he was the wine-taster; not just to determine if the wine was a quality vintage, but to insure the king wasn’t poisoned! His responsibilities included guarding the entrance to the king’s royal chambers. Nehemiah’s name means “the Lord comforts”, and he found first-hand that this was so. The story begins in 446 B.C. in the citadel of Susa, the winter resort of the Persian kings. Nehemiah set in motion a plan that would take him from the comfort of the seat of power to a desperate, powerless land struggling for survival.
Nehemiah was concerned about the condition of fellow Jews who’d been released from captivity. The people didn’t all return at once, but in stages; some went with Ezra, more would return with Nehemiah. But things weren’t going well back home for the returned exiles. Nehemiah’s kinsmen painted a bleak picture of the unprotected condition of Jerusalem--verse 3. They described a fallen land in ruin. The destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar had not been repaired. The Temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra, along with the homes of the returning exiles. But the walls remained in shambles; thus the city was defenseless and vulnerable to attack. The Holy City which represented Israel’s spiritual and national identity was in a shameful state.
We all of know people whose “walls” are crumbling. Sometimes it’s us. Proverbs 25: 28 observes, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a person who lacks self-control.” When our lives are falling apart, where do we turn?
Nehemiah felt solidarity with his people and resolved to do something to fix their dire situation. He prayed. Prayer is taking on the pain of others. A man with access to the halls of power, he surprisingly did not first run to the king for help. His was a unique position of access and influence, yet he began by appealing to Heaven with prayer and fasting, God’s primary means of resolving dire situations--verses 5-11. Nehemiah faced the facts, wept over them, and spoke to God about them. Leaders are people of vision: “Saints see farther on their knees than politicians on their tiptoes” (Anon). Prayer gives us courage to make decisions in critical times, and the confidence to leave the results to God. We turn to God before we face the world.