Chapter 21 Recap-

It’s no surprise that the Hebrew people were homesick after 70 years of foreign captivity. At this point, it had been 80 years since King Cyrus first gave the green light for the exiles to return to their beloved Jerusalem.  Zerubbabel was among the first to go.  Fifty thousand former slaves packed their bags and joined him on the trek back to the holy city in 537 B.C.  But many remained beyond the borders of God’s promise.

Ezra had earned the favor of Persia’s King Artaxerxes during his time in Babylon.  The king authorized Ezra to take a second contingent of Israelites back home.  Ezra was a faithful scribe and teacher, and he was given permission not only to teach God’s law but also a mandate to appoint judges and a bottomless expense account to finance his journey.

Nehemiah remained in the palace of Susa as the favored cupbearer of the Persian king. He was dismayed to hear that the walls of Jerusalem remained in disrepair, for without walls, no city would be secure. The king gave Nehemiah a leave-of-absence so he could lead 42,000 exiles back to Jerusalem.  His first order of business was to assess the condition of the walls and the people.  He quickly rallied the city leaders to rebuild.

Sanballat and Tobiah were none too pleased. As leaders of nearby nations, they were threatened by the prospect of Jerusalem’s comeback. They retaliated with intimidation and made repeated attempts to out-maneuver Nehemiah and his rebuilding project, but Nehemiah was undeterred.  He encouraged his leaders and armed his people.  Some worked while others stood guard.  Some carried supplies with one hand and a weapon in the other, but the threats continued.  Even when Israel’s enemies enlisted an Israelite as a false prophet to undermine the progress, Nehemiah was not shaken.  He refused to entertain empty lies, and the wall was rebuilt in record time—only 52 days!

As Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, Ezra set out to rebuild God’s people.  He began by teaching them the Scriptures for the next 13 years. The people gathered to hear Ezra read, and other priests joined in to teach as well.  At last, they got it! They grasped the reality of God’s great story and celebrated the Feasts of Booths as Moses had written of so long before.  The people and the priests hungered to worship God, and God’s people were restored in the Land of Promise.

Yet old habits die-hard, and the people’s fervor soon dwindled. The priests and the people became apathetic, so God commissioned the prophet, Malachi, to speak His words of divine warning.  The priests had begun to dishonor God with sacrifices that were less than the best.  They treated their wives poorly and wondered why God was not pleased with their worship. They withheld their offerings, and the whole community began to again turn away from God.

Malachi prophesied the return of the prophet Elijah as sign of things to come.  God had restored His people and protected His faithful remnant.  He had protected Judah’s royal line in keeping with his promise to David.  He spoke His final words of warning and promise through Malachi, and then God was silent. God’s people would not hear from Him again until the promised Elijah would step forth as God’s new messenger. God’s redemptive story, for now, was quietly marching toward history’s climactic event.

What’s the most extensive remodeling or construction project you have been involved in? How would it match up to the rebuilding of the city walls?

Leadership Discoveries from Nehemiah

I want to first challenge you to read through the book of Nehemiah and generate a list of leadership lessons you see from observing Nehemiah. Once compiled, what strengths are used and what can be learned for lessons today. Are there any weaknesses you see? What can be learned from that?

I will now outline a few of the lessons I learned to see if they match up.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

During the French Revolution, a man was seen running down the street chasing a mob, moving quickly toward the danger.  Somebody yelled at him, “Stop! Stop!  Don’t’ follow that mob!”  Without missing a step, he called back, “I have to follow them!  I’m their leader!”

Nehemiah was not afraid of danger, but he was a much wiser leader than this man.  The world, our country, and our local communities could use more leaders like Nehemiah.  Like the situation he faced, every place that is broken down, needs rebuilding and suffers from hopelessness or apathy is an opportunity for a Christian leader today.  God’s work has never been easy, and has met resistance from His enemies since the Garden.  But the same God who parted the Red Sea, who gave Solomon wisdom and who gave Nehemiah favor in the eyes of King Artaxerxes is the same God who will enable us to accomplish the work He calls us to do.

Nehemiah stands out as one of the best and most effective leaders in the Bible.  He should surely be grouped with Moses, Joshua and David.  But because his story is deep within the Old Testament historical books that are lesser known, the practical life lessons that he provides can go largely neglected.  Therefore, we will dig deeper into the life of Nehemiah to discover L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. principles that are just as relevant today as they were 1565 (or so) years ago.

I.    Leave:  Move!  Change!  Step out!  You cannot lead from a position of inertia.

A. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes.  This prestigious job reveals that Nehemiah was among the king’s most trusted servants.  He enjoyed an influential post and comfortable lifestyle.  Four months had passed since Nehemiah had received that bad news from his brother.  During that time, he spent a considerable amount of time in prayer, waiting patiently until the LORD presented him with a good opportunity to request permission from the king to leave his post to pursue the LORD’s work.  Nehemiah had every earthly excuse to stay right where he was—important job, good pay, too inconvenient to leave, too far to go, etc. Yet he could not accomplish the mission of rebuilding the walls from a distance city.  But instead, with permission from the king, he chose to leave Susa and journey to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and restore the people’s identity as God’s covenant remnant.

B. An inert situation requires a fresh leader to progress.  The walls needed rebuilt and God could have easily chosen a man already in Jerusalem to lead the charge.  But he instead called Nehemiah who brought with him fresh ideas for change.

C. A good leader has to leave his comfort zone, take a risk and get involved for a cause bigger than himself/herself.

II.     Evaluation:  Although he rightly believed that he was in the will of God to rebuild the walls, Nehemiah evaluated each situation carefully.

A. First, he knew he needed the king’s approval and documentation to verify his travel and mission (Neh. 2:5-8).  He did not rush to secure these things.  He patiently waited four months until he knew the timing was right.

B. Just three days after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah secretly surveyed the damage to the walls under the cloak of darkness (p. 243).  It was crucial that he have an accurate, firsthand assessment of the mission that lay ahead.  By concealing himself at night, Israel’s enemies could not stir up the people to revolt against his leadership.  By concealing his intentions, Nehemiah had adequate time to evaluate the task and formulate a plan before the Jews could garner arguments why they should or could not rebuild the walls. (After all, they had failed to rebuild the walls up until now, so their excuses were many.) Praying and trusting God does not mean that proper research and planning are unnecessary.

C. A good leader gets a realistic evaluation of the situation before acting.

III.    Action:  Nehemiah had to turn his vision for rebuilding the walls into a reality.

A. He challenged the local leaders to recognize the need to act.  “You see the trouble we are in:  Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire,” (p. 243).

B. He presented his well-researched vision and plan to the people.  “Come, let us rebuild together the walls of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” (p. 244).

C. He motivated the leaders by identifying himself with them.  He used “we” and “us.” Finally, he understood that it was God working through him that would give the Jews the ability to do what had to be done.  His personal testimony encouraged them to trust the LORD’s plan rather than their own weaknesses.

D. Almost immediately they began the work.  This leader did not waste precious time tying up people and resources in endless committee meetings.

E. When rumors of an impending attack circulated, Nehemiah took action.  He staged armed guards around the workers to who stood ready to defend their families and their city (p. 245).  He took action, and like him, good leaders do not stall because of “paralysis by analysis.”

F. Good leaders act.

IV.    Discernment:  Nehemiah faced both external and internal threats to the work of rebuilding.

A. His wisdom and discernment alerted him to the very real threat of an enemy attack.  He discerned that what had initially begun as mocking and ridicule had escalated into a unified plot to strike them.

B. External threats can create more problems from within, and Nehemiah knew it.  While their enemies seemingly gained strength, the workers seemed to lose it.  Nehemiah discerned that their physical exhaustion compounded their discouragement.  They said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall,” (p. 244).  So he prayed and prepared a defense against would-be attackers.

C. After the walls were finished, Nehemiah discerned the ill intentions of Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s scheming letters (p. 245-246).  Since their other attempts to halt the work had failed, they turned to more subtle methods to undermine the final phase of the gates.  By asking him to meet them “on the plain of Ono,” which was a day’s travel from Jerusalem, he discerned that they intended to do him personal harm (p. 245).  He tested his theory by sending a message that he was too busy to meet (p. 246).

D. Finally, Nehemiah’s keen discernment alerted him to the false “insider” Jewish prophet Shemaiah who suggested he hide inside the temple to protect himself from death threats.  He discerned two problems with Shemaiah’s so-called prophecy.  First, God would not ask him to run and hide when to do so would demonstrate a lack of trust in God and would undermine the confidence of the people in his leadership.  Second, no true prophet would deliberately influence someone to violate God’s Law that only allowed priests in the sanctuary (Num. 18:7).  If Nehemiah had complied, he would have disobeyed God, desecrated the temple, and discredited himself as God’s appointed leader.  Nehemiah discerned this prophet-for-hire was a fraud.

E. Good leaders develop discernment. 

V.    Encourager:  Nehemiah was an encourager.

A. Nehemiah used his personal testimony to encourage the local leaders to rebuilding the walls.  “I also told them about the gracious hand of God on me and what the king had said to me,” (p. 244).  By assuring these city leaders that both their heavenly King and their earthly king were supportive of the vision, they gained enough courage to buy into it.  Only the encouraged are able to “work with all their heart,” (p. 244).

B. Nehemiah encouraged the workers when they were physically exhausted and emotionally weary.  “When the strength of the laborers” was giving out, he discerned that the threat of attack had worn them too thin.  He was not a harsh taskmaster, and he knew full well that he alone could not accomplish the mission.  Instead, he encouraged them with a new plan to continue the process of rebuilding with some building and others standing guard (p. 245).  It is easier to be negative under difficult circumstances than to be both realistic and encouraging.  But Nehemiah’s encouragement was rooted in knowing his God.  “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!” (p. 245, Neh. 4:20)  That they did not give up and finished in a swift 52 days (p. 246) testifies to his fresh encouragement.

C. Good leaders encourage their team. 

VI.    Respect:  Nehemiah respected God, authorities and his subordinates.

A. Nehemiah never failed to give God full credit and glory in the process of rebuilding the walls.  From the very beginning, he prayed and acknowledged that the “hand of God” was upon him (Neh. 2:8, 18) and that it was “what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem,” (p. 243).  When they feared an attack, he reminded them of their God.  “Don’t be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes,” (p. 245, Neh. 4:14).  Nehemiah showed the ultimate respect for God when he defied the false prophet’s suggestion that he hide in the temple to protect himself (p. 246).  He refused to consider defiling the temple to save his skin!

B. Nehemiah respected the rightful king’s authority.  Although he always knew that the mission was from God, he respected the authority of the king by requesting a leave of absence and garnered the king’s documented support.   A godly leader will respect his or her earthly authorities (Rom. 13:1-2).  He also respected the authority of the local Jerusalem priests and nobles.  He presented his plan to rebuild to the local leaders who then enlisted the support of the people.  He called upon Ezra to lead the worship (p. 246-247) after the walls were rebuilt.

C. Nehemiah respected the needs of his subordinates.  When they were weary, he met their need for protection.  Moreover, he worked right alongside all the other laborers, perhaps working even longer hours toward the mission.  “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water,” (p. 245).  The king endowed him with the authority of a governor but he refused to use the governor’s food allowance because he did not want to burden the people with the taxes (Neh. 5:14-18).

D. Good leaders respect God, government and those they lead.

VII.    Selfless servant:  Nehemiah was a selfless servant who put the just needs of the people first.

A. Nehemiah was outraged by the immoral and unethical, not to mention unlawful, behavior of some of the wealthy Jews.  Evidently there was a food shortage and the people needed grain.  Some people had to mortgages their fields and homes to purchase food (Neh. 5:1-3).  Some people had to borrow money just to pay their taxes and their Jewish brethren were charging high interest rates.  This act was worsened when some people had to sell their children as slaves to their creditors (Neh. 5:5).  Nehemiah was rightfully outraged and rebuked the community nobles and rulers who were oppressing their poor brethren (Neh. 5:6-7).  This behavior was absolutely unacceptable by the community leaders because it gave God a bad name.  “And I said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!…The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?’” (Neh. 5:7b, 9)

B. In stark contrast to the other community leaders, Governor Nehemiah gave up his right to enjoy the governor’s benefits.  For twelve years he did not use the governor’s food allowance because of the tax burden it put upon the people (Neh. 5:14).  Former governors had not only taxed the people, but had also taken their food allowance of bread and wine from them.  The former governors’ servants had oppressed the people to demand the payments (Neh. 5:14-15).  Nehemiah still provided for 150 Jews and officials, as well as foreign dignitaries, on a regular basis, but he did it out of his own pocket because he was a selfless servant to the people he governed (Neh. 5:17-18).  His selflessness for the welfare of the community is a great example for any leader.  It demonstrates the heart of God for the welfare of His people.

C. Good leaders show compassion for those they lead by setting an example of selfless servant-hood.

VIII.    Hard-working:  Nehemiah was a hard-worker, and inspired others to work hard also.

A. When faced with opposition, Nehemiah and the builders worked from early morning till nighttime.  “So we continued the work with half of them holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out,” (p. 245, Neh. 4:21).  Those living outside of Jerusalem did not return to their homes at night, but some stood guard each night to protect their city and the people.  Nehemiah set the example for the whole community.  He stayed on the job and was on guard at all times (Neh. 4:23, p. 245).  He also made sure his own servants were doing the work of rebuilding rather than serving him personally (Neh. 5:16).

B. He did not permit himself to be distracted.  He stayed focused on his mission and fully devoted himself to the work.

C. Good leaders set the example of hard work.

IX.    Integrity:  Nehemiah was a trustworthy man who boldly confronted injustice.

A. His integrity is apparent from his position as cupbearer to the king.  The office of cupbearer in the Persian court was a position second only to the king.  He would have been the chief treasurer and the keeper of the king’s signet ring.  This gave him great authority and influence.  The king would have had great trust in this man who tasted the king’s food to ensure that it was not poisoned.  He had the complete confidence of the king.

B. As noted before, Nehemiah was careful not to personally profit from his leadership position.  He did not exercise the privilege of the food allowance, but used his own resources (Neh. 5:14, 18).  Good leaders go above and beyond those they lead.

C. A man of integrity, Nehemiah was not afraid to confront those who were wrong.  He confronted the leaders who were charging interest and oppressing their fellow Jews (Neh. 5:7-11).  He reprimanded those who had not handled the money for the temple correctly (Neh. 13:10-13).  He reprimanded those who profaned the Sabbath (Neh. 13:17) and who married foreigners because they violated the Law (Neh. 13:23-28).

D. With integrity comes a clear conscience.  Those who lack integrity lead a double life that gets them into trouble.  A man of integrity has nothing to hide because he only serves one Master.

E. Good leaders show personal integrity and refuse to tolerate the injustices of others.

X.    Prayer:  Nehemiah undergirded everything with prayer.

A. According to Robert D. Bell’s, “The Theology of Nehemiah,” in Biblical Viewpoint (Nov. 1986), of the 406 verses in the book, prayers fill 46 verses (or 11%).

B. He prayed at every crucial time and depended upon God’s help.  He prayed as a first response rather than a last resort.  He often sent up quick “flare prayers” and sandwiched them within the stories of his book.  A man of prayer humbly acknowledges his own insufficiency and trusts God to accomplish more than he ever could in his own strength.

C. Prayer was a way of life for Nehemiah.  He paired long periods of prayer with fasting.  “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven,” (Neh. 1:4, p. 242).  He had a disciplined prayer life that was borne out of deep reverence for the LORD.

D. Prayer is a way of life for a godly leader.

XI.    Applications and Implications

A. Nehemiah was one of the godliest leaders in the Bible.  He served the LORD with his willingness to be lead in a strategic government position, both in the Persian King’s court and as governor of Judah.  Most of us will never enter vocational ministry.  And that is good!  Christian leadership should be evident well beyond the walls of the church.  What better way to make an impact in the dark places of the world than by encouraging and supporting Christians toward key posts in the secular world.  Nehemiah gives us a blueprint for godly leadership beyond the priesthood.

B. All work can and should be for the glory of God.

C. I do not have to be in vocational ministry to still be doing Christian service.

D. God puts people in strategic places to represent Him.

E. Believers should strive to use that position of authority to make an impact.

F. Prayer and action should combine to accomplish goals, defend one’s self, and/or discern one’s enemies.

G. I can integrate any of these leadership traits to become more effective right now.

The Deserted Wife

We will take some time to talk about a Prophet that is not well represented in “The Story;” Malachi. The people have a hard time remaining faithful to God.

As we come to the close of the Old Testament story of God’s love, we see that “love” is still a problem for the Jews—a misplaced love.  They have seen God rescue them miraculously and restore them to their land.  With God’s help they rebuilt their temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Throughout the story, their unholy self-love brought about destruction in two areas:  in their own hearts, and in their families.  Once again God raised up a prophet, Malachi, to call them out, because after all this they continued to love themselves more than they loved God.

I.  The root of the problem: The Priests no longer taught God’s Will.  Malachi 2:1-9

1.  Why does God say he will send a curse instead of blessing upon the people? (v.2)

2.  What was it about Levi, the priests’ ancestor, that God said was lacking in the priests of Malachi’s time? (v. 5-6)

3. God told Malachi two important things honorable priests should do. Note them. (v. 7)

II.  God calls it Detestable: Breaking covenant breaks God’s followers.  Malachi 2:10-14

The headings and verse notations in some versions interrupt the flow of thought in this passage.  The logical transition in Malachi chapter two, when not interrupted, shows the reader that the problem of unfaithful priests has resulted in unfaithful people.  The first nine verses of Malachi seem to be leading up to what God really hates. God has some strong language for those who break covenant.

1.  What specifically profaned the covenant God had made with the Israelites? (v.10)

2.  What does God call detestable? (v. 11-12)

3.  God pointed out that he knew they were disillusioned with their worship and offerings.  Instead of blessing they mourned.  They felt the distance from God and they felt that He did not see them. However the astonishing fact is that they were so blind to their own wickedness.

Why had God rejected their worship? (v. 14)

III. The nature of the marriage covenant: two become one.  Malachi 2:15-16

This short passage is the clear and consistent demand from God for faithfulness to the marriage covenant because it is based on God’s nature, and upon their covenant with Him. While thousands of books have been written about the subject, the bottom line is found in these two verses.

1.  God had already alluded to His right to instruct man because He is the creator.  Re-read the creation of man and God’s instruction to Adam and Eve regarding their union in Genesis 2:23-24.

Then fill in the following blanks from Malachi chapter two:

“Have we not all _____________ Father?  Did not ___________ God create us?”  Malachi 2:10

“ Has not the Lord made them ______________.  In  _______________ and _____________ they are

his.  And why ______________?  Because he was seeking ________________  ______________.”

Malachi 2:15

Why does the marriage covenant reflect the nature of God?

2.  What was Malachi’s advice to the Jews on how to protect themselves in the spirit (the relationship with God)? (v. 15b)

3.  What does God hate? (v. 16)

4.  It seems that God is equating divorce with violence in verse 16.  How can divorce and violence be the same thing? (Consider the meaning of the word “one”.)

5.  Once again God gives a reminder about how to have spiritual health.  What is it? (v. 16b)

6.  What was God’s original complaint against Judah?  (v. 11)

Once again a break is made in the train of thought by the verse notations and headings in some versions.  Read Malachi 2:15-17 together.  God seems to be saying this discussion was tiring. Adultery was one of the abiding sins of his people.  The consequences of divorce cause a ‘domino effect’ of misery that simply could not be denied.  God simply says “Can there be any good in a sin?  No!  I am a just God.”  In God’s eyes the marriage union can’t be broken any more than He can be divided against Himself.

From Genesis to Malachi, we have seen a story of true love.  God remained faithful to His covenant with His people, in spite of their rebellion and rejection.  God loved them first, and he always loved them.

IV.  The Message for Today

  • The marriage covenant provides for and protects men and women.

1.  According to Malachi 2:14, what are the two benefits of marriage?  Are these benefits applicable to men and women?  (Remember to whom Malachi is speaking.)

2.  What things does Paul write in Ephesians 5: 25-33 that mirror Malachi’s message? (Compare Matthew 19;1-8; and Mark 10:1-12.)

  • Godly people, men and women, have the leadership responsibility in the home and in the church to teach God’s plan for marriage.

3.  From Malachi 2:1-9, what are the important principles about marriage that any leader should teach and live?

4.  We know that part of the reason God detested the unfaithfulness of the Israelite men toward the wives of their youth was because of his plan to send the Savior through the lineage of Judah.  But in Malachi 2:16 He simply states that He wanted them to raise godly children. What does faithfulness in marriage teach the children?

5.  Titus 2:1-5 gives a responsibility to women.  How does that responsibility compare to the ministry of the priests in the Old Testament?

6.  What does God hate and detest—sinful actions or sinful people?

Charles A. Kollar, in Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling, writes: “ What we believe we become.  (The Bible) is given to teach us to be tenacious about the things of God and to develop a mature hope in his intention (Romans 15:4).”  We simply cannot separate God from his word.

  • Godly men and women who experience desertion and divorce must trust in God’s faithfulness.

That some men haven’t changed since Malachi’s time is proven by the fact that the term “trophy wife” is common and well-understood in our society. In Formerly A Wife, Welby Obrien says this about divorce: “Each of us is hurting over…the death of a relationship.  We know first-hand why God hates divorce—not with a head knowledge of theological assent, but with the pain of personal experience.  God knows what divorce does to its victims” (8-9).

9.  Who testified on behalf of the deserted wife? Malachi 2:14

10.  David was God’s chosen king but he spent years running for his life alone, rejected, and sometimes bitter.  David’s Psalms are a message that God placed in his heart to share with His followers.  From Psalm 73:21-28, what comfort is available to the spouse who must endure desertion?

When we love God, life is doable.  When we love ourselves more than we love God, the first result is to turn away from The Word. However, when we love ourselves more than we love God, we destroy ourselves, and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the marriage relationship.

Key question:  How do you try to separate God from His Word?  What will you do to change that?