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The Leadership of Nehemiah

If we’re asked to name, off the top of our heads, the greatest leaders of the Old Testament, I suspect that the following names would appear on all our lists: Abraham, Moses, David, Joshua, Samuel–maybe Joseph, Isaiah, Elijah,–and we might quibble over the names of a few others.

What about Nehemiah? Hmmm. Nehemiah. Without doing a little research, I’m not sure Nehemiah would make anyone’s list. Yet, he may very well have been one of the greatest leaders of the Old Testament.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to Artaxerxes, King of Persia. When he learned that his people, the Israelites, had returned to Jerusalem from exile and had found the wall surrounding this holy city to be broken down and its gates burned, God placed in his heart the desire to rebuild the wall. He approached Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem, and Artaxerxes consented.

Nehemiah was repeatedly opposed by Jerusalem’s neighbors. They mocked Nehemiah for thinking he could lead the lowly Israelites in this building project, but Nehemiah motivated the dispirited Israelites to join with him in rebuilding the wall. Nehemiah not only led the people to perform this project, he worked as one of them. As a result of his dedication, he assembled a team of equal dedication, proved to be a keen planner and delegator with a servant’s heart, and persevered with prayer and hard work.

Nehemiah was not only a visionary but an organizer as well. His mission was greatly enhanced by being visible and approachable. He spoke in terms of “we” and “us.” He cared for the people, and they knew it. He exuded a spirit of wisdom and humility.

The wall was built in 52 days and not a gap left in it. According to Nehemiah, when the wall was complete, “all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:16, NIV) The rebuilt wall was dedicated by the Levites who directed a joyful celebration “with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” (Nehemiah 12:27) Israelites returned to Jerusalem from surrounding areas and were purified by the Levites, as were the gates and the wall.

The next time someone asks you to name a good book on leadership, refer them to the book of Nehemiah.

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