Nehemiah: A pragmatist of prayer and hardwork – Part 13
Nehemiah was a pragmatist who effectively combined prayer, exemplary leadership, self-defense and the fight for social justice while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He stands out as one of the noblemen in the Old Testament whose life deserves to be studied by all Christians. He is the kind of Christian, we need in our society today.
The first picture we have of Nehemiah is one who is burdened for the plight of the Jews and for the deteriorating condition of the walls of Jerusalem. He prayed for his people with a lot of passion and for the opportunity to visit the wall at Jerusalem (Neh.1:3-11; 4:4-5,9). God answered his prayer and brought him into favour before the governor who gave him the approval to visit the broken wall of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah successfully combined work and prayer together, something many of us hardly do very well. More importantly, he got the Jews to work and defend themselves from the constant threats from the opposition groups. He encouraged the people to work and watch despite all odds. Their efforts notwithstanding, he believed God will defend them. “From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and body-armor; and the leaders posted themselves behind the whole house of Judah, who were building the wall. The burden-bearers carried their loads in such a way that each laboured on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (4:16-18).
He successfully mobilised the priests and families to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem within a recorded period (Neh. 2:17-3:32). He sensitised the leaders and nobles into believing that their destiny was worth fighting for. “So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (Neh. 4:13-14).
His opponents steadily increased, from Sanballat and Tobiah (Neh. 2:10) to the addition of Geshem (Neh. 2:19), the Samarians (Neh. 4:2), the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites (Neh. 4:7), and “the rest of our enemies” (Neh. 6:1), to an undetermined number “all our enemies” (Neh. 6:16). Despite the opposition, Nehemiah tirelessly worked at his appointed task, refusing to be distracted (Neh6:1-14), and finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a remarkable fifty-two days.
Nehemiah fought for justice. He fought for the voiceless and was concerned about the oppression of the people by the nobles and officials. His response to the outcry of the people against injustice, was swift and authoritative, “Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”
Sacrifice and integrity are hallmarks of leadership. Nehemiah demonstrated that he was an unpretentious leader. He did not live at the expense of the people; rather he gave to them generously. “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people, and took food and wine from them, besides forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (5:14-19).