What Leadership Looks Like, Part 1

Book_of_Nehemiah_Chapter_2-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)In his book Leading the Way, Paul Borthwick says, “The world needs leaders who cannot be bought; whose word is their promise; who put character above wealth; who possess opinions and a will; who are larger than their vocations;” (and I take that to mean that in addition to their work, they care about what is happening in their church, their community and nation) “who do not hesitate to take chances,” (and I take that to mean on behalf of what is right) “who will not lose their individuality in a crowd;” (and I take that to mean will not go along with the crowd) “who will be honest in small things as well as great things; and who will make no compromise with wrong.”  Such a man was Nehemiah.

In 446 B.C., Nehemiah was in Susa, the capital of Persia. He had one of the cushiest jobs around, for he was cupbearer to the king.  This meant he worked directly with the king.  People who have done research on the life at ancient Near Eastern courts report that the position of cupbearer was an important and influential position.  A comparable position today might be White House Chief of Staff.

As for the city of Susa, it was a grand city. When it was built, artisans were brought from all corners of the Persian empire to make it into a truly wonderful city.  No expense was spared for materials.  Precious stones, timber, ivory and other fine materials were used.  The king who did this made every effort to make the palace truly magnificent.

As for the great hall, which was the place Nehemiah worked, it had roof beams of cedar and pillars of fluted limestone.  The outside of the great hall had colonnades with enameled bricks with scenes depicting processions of lions and royal body guards. Architecturally, it was a truly magnificent city.

Think of living in such beautiful surroundings. Think of living in that high powered environment. Nehemiah was where the action was. This was the command center of the Persian empire. In mission, the great hall was probably a combination of our state department and our pentagon.

Therefore, Nehemiah certainly lived in a situation where the benefits he enjoyed could have easily made him forget about being a Jew, and not care about what some of his fellow Jews were trying to do in Jerusalem 800 miles away. Imagine living in Washington D.C. and working at the White house?  How many people in that situation would care about what was happening in North Dakota?  You would have to have some pretty close ties to North Dakota.  Right?

Woodrow Wilcox


This was Nehemiah with regard to Jerusalem.  What were his ties?  Why did he care about what was happening in Jerusalem?  He cared because he understood who he was. He understood what truly defined his identity.  It was not his position as cup bearer to the king. It was not his life in Susa at the Persian court.  For while cupbearer was what he did, and the Persian court in Susa was where he lived, those things did not define who he was.

He had a prior commitment to the Lord of all the earth, a commitment which continually reminded Nehemiah that there are more important things in this world than having a high position and living the lavish life. There is a God.  He does have a will.  He is the source of truth.  He does have a mission for His people, and that mission should take precedence over everything.

What was that mission for the people of Israel? To build a life and a society that honors God.  Nehemiah understood this. It comes across very clear in his prayer, where he identifies the Lord as a great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him and observe His commandments.”  Notice here this statement presents a picture of people who are living under the Lord’s rule. He is keeping covenant and mercy with them, and they are seeking to honor Him,  for they love Him and observe His commandments.

It is a picture of a society where people are living together a life that honors the Lord.  Imagine what that would be like if it was true in our nation.  Imagine what the United States would be like if we were living together a life that honored the Lord.  It would be quite different, wouldn’t it?  It would be much better. There would not be all the corruption, the immorality, the crime, the dishonesty, the false teaching, the profanity, the lack of commitment to the Lord.  It would be a great nation.

This was Nehemiah’s dream. It was Nehemiah’s expectation that the Jews in the land of Judah, the ones who were in distress were supposed to be building a society, a life together, which honored God.  Of course, this is what Ezra had been trying to do.  Ezra had gone to Jerusalem with that intention thirteen years before.  This is why when the men came from Judah, Nehemiah asked how things were going. He knew what the plan was.  He knew what Ezra’s intentions were.  He had the same desire Ezra had.

Secondly, Nehemiah’s desire to build that society comes through his actions after he arrives in Jerusalem.  In addition to rebuilding the wall and the gates he has Ezra read the word of God read to the people and explain what it meant, and then calls upon them to enter into covenant with the Lord.

The need to build a society, a life together which honored God was a big priority and concern to Nehemiah.  It should be a priority and concern to us today. Look at what is happening in our nation. It is falling apart.  For we have become simply a collection of factions that are growing more and more polarized.

There was also something else which made Nehemiah care about what was going on in Jerusalem. This was the fact that living in a world where unbelievers were in power and where the will of God was not in fashion (and we can relate to that), did not erase Nehemiah’s memory of who the Lord was, what the Lord had done in the past, and what He would do in the future.

Nehemiah knew who the Lord was.  We can see this in his prayer where he identifies the Lord not only as the God who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him and observe His commandments but as the God of heaven. When Nehemiah says the God of heaven, he has in mind the same thing King Jehoshaphat did three hundred years before when he said, “Are you not God in heaven, do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in your hand is there not  power and might so that no one is able to withstand You.”  Nehemiah knew who the Lord was.

In chapter nine, when the Levites praise the Lord in a celebration service after the wall is completed, Nehemiah was certainly in agreement with them when they declared to the Lord, “You alone are the Lord;  You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things on it, the seas and all that is in them and You preserve them all.

Notice here Nehemiah and the other Jews who participated in this revival identified the Lord as the only God, and that He not only made the world but preserves it.

Therefore The world did not Come about by accident.  It was planned and intentionally created by God, and He does rule over it.

This is something leaders need to be certain of.  And Nehemiah and the Levites were certain. It would be a great help if the leaders in every institution of our society were certain of it today.  If the leaders in our government, our court system, our education system, our military, our medical institutions, our entertainment industry, our business community, and our religious leaders were certain that the God of the Bible created the world and does rule over it, there would be a big difference in our society.

Now in chapter nine, what followed the Levites’ declaration that the Lord was the creator and preserver of creation, was a litany of what the Lord had done in the past; how He chose Abraham and brought Abraham out of Ur and gave him the land of Canaan, how He saw the affliction of His people in Egypt and led them out, taking them through the Red Sea on dry ground, and how He was involved in many other events on their behalf.

If leaders are going to honor God, they need to remember these great events in which God was involved in history.  Not only these great events of the old testament period, but the great events of the new testament period: the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, His ascension to heaven, and the day of Pentecost.

Not only should we remember the events, which we can read about in the Bible, but the times when the Lord worked in our life, the time when the Lord gave us the grace to believe in Jesus as our savior, and the times when the Lord heard our cry for help and answered our prayers in time of need.  Can you remember how the Lord worked in your life in the past? Have you heard testimonies from friends about when they trusted in Jesus as their savior,  and the answers that God gave to their prayers.

What about God-honoring history books, such as The Light and the Glory, which tells how God worked in the life of this nation?  We need to remember these things so that we can have some memory of how God has worked and be able to say with faith, “The Lord  has been among us.” And Nehemiah and the Levites had that kind of faith.

(Look for part two to follow)

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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
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