Nehemiah’s Leadership Qualities

Nehemiah embodies what a leader is in God’s service. Nehemiah’s selfless sacrifice and the extraordinary measures he took to help the people of Jerusalem display his concern and love for God’s people. Even when opposition arose and threats were hurled, Nehemiah remained strong and finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

The story begins with Nehemiah hearing from his brother of the deplorable shape Jerusalem was in. The report follows: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (Neh. 1:3). Upon hearing the wretched state of the people and their city, Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed. Determined to do right, Nehemiah set off on a course to make a change in Jerusalem.

After pouring his heart out in prayer Nehemiah abruptly makes the following statement, “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (1:11). A cupbearer may appear to be a mundane position, somewhat like the job of a butler or maid. After all, his duties only required him to get the king’s wine and perhaps taste it from time to time. However, a cupbearer was a very important task which came with considerable rankin the Persian Empire. The cupbearer was well trusted by the king. If anyone had the power to bring harm on the king it was his cupbearer. It was the responsibility of the cupbearer to safeguard the king’s drink, possibly saving the king’s life!

On a particular day while serving the king, the king noticed something amiss. King Artaxerxes said, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart.” (2:2). Nehemiah responded, “Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” (2:3). After hearing of his loyal servant’s distress, Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah’s request to rebuild the city walls.

With an overwhelming task confronting them, Nehemiah rallied the people and rebuilt the walls surrounding Jerusalem. Although the physical construction of the walls was the occasion, something far more monumental transpired: the reconstruction of their spiritual lives. Let us take a closer look at some of the leadership traits possessed by Nehemiah.

Visionary

Nehemiah was a visionary. He could see what needed to be done and had the vision to see the task through. When the king asked what he wanted he said, “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it” (2:5). He understood the parallel between rebuilding the city walls and rebuilding the emotional, mental, social and religious lives of the people. His vision motivated the people, as well as himself, to overcome large hurdles. He understood well the proverb, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).

Selfless

Nehemiah was selfless. He cared more for his people in Jerusalem than he did himself. He was willing to leave the position of cupbearer, apparently a well-compensated one (5:14-15, 17), to help the people rebuild the city walls. His request was, “…that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it” (2:5). His selfless attitude is seen in his willingness to leave the comforts of the king’s court, travel to Jerusalem, and endure all the rigors of life in Jerusalem, a dilapidated and difficult place to live at this time.

After riding around the city inspecting the gates and wall he told the officials, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” (2:17). After being jeered by some of their enemies he said, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (2:20). Notice the language he used—the pronouns “we” and “us” show his ownership in the city and the project. Nehemiah selflessly made the problems of Jerusalem his problems. This is a critically important quality of leadership.

Dedication

Nehemiah was dedicated. When Sanballat and Geshem, the nemeses of Jerusalem, came calling Nehemiah realized they, “thought to do me mischief” (6:2). Nehemiah’s reaction shows his dedication to the job: “And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (6:3). He remained focused and did not let Sanballat and Geshem deter the work.
Man of Prayer

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. The world may never view a prayerful heart as a desirable leadership trait, but God does! After receiving word of the pathetic state into which Jerusalem had fallen, he started praying. “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven… Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (1:4, 11). Most of the first chapter is devoted to his prayer to God in which he confessed sin and asked for a measure of help.

Piety

Nehemiah was pious. To be pious is to be reverent and/or religious. Another characteristic the world may not view as important however it is critical in the grand scheme of eternity. Nehemiah’s piety is seen in his prayer in 1:5-9:

And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

It is also seen in his reaction to their profaning of the Sabbath in 13:15-19:

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day.

With a mind set on business and daily affairs they were neglecting worship to God. Upon realizing the tragic mistake of profaning the Sabbath Nehemiah sets out to prevent it from happening again.

Organized

Nehemiah was organized. He had to be in order to carry out the project in the timely manner he did. He rallied the troops, rebuilt with haste and stayed focused. Because of his ability to organize and stay focused they accomplished an amazing feat in a mere 52 days! The achievement was accomplished by God’s good hand of grace and practical use of wisdom by Nehemiah. In chapter 3:28 we find good judgment exercised: “each in front of his own house” (NKJV). The people had a general interest in the city wall; however they were particularly concerned about the wall by their house. They did not desire the weakest spot in the wall to be next to their home. It was their desire to make sure their home was very secure. Nehemiah set about the task by having each work on the wall close to their home. They became absorbed in their work, for it had personal purpose. Nehemiah knew when they realized the benefit they would receive it would be easier to keep them motivated.

Strength

Nehemiah was strong. Not Samson strong—physicality has nothing to do with it—he was mentally and emotionally strong. During the course of the undertaking they faced obstacles from their enemies. This could have diverted their attention or even led to abandoning the construction. When they felt the pressure of their enemies they kept going with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other! Notice 4:17:-18 “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.”

Conclusion

Nehemiah is a classic example of faithful leadership. No matter where one finds themselves, work, school, community or in the Lord’s house, they can treasure the solid counsel found in Nehemiah’s life. Nehemiah is the embodiment of a great leader.

Article by: Brad Shockley