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man laying brick September 19 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Nehemiah 1-4

Leadership in Tough Times

It is tough to complete a building project with construction delays. These can be caused by owners, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, people in the community, or even by nature (so called, “Acts of God”). It is difficult to reduce these challenges. It is easy to be a leader when things are going well. A person doesn’t even have to be a good leader; everyone is enjoying the ride and few people are complaining. How does a person lead in tough times?

In today's Bible reading, the prophet Nehemiah leads in tough times. Although, by the grace of God, many Jews returned to their land and rebuilt Solomon's temple, still Jerusalem is a city without walls, without any natural protection. Her walls were broken down and charred when the Babylonian army destroyed the city and burned it almost 150 years prior. During the early reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, the Jews had tried to rebuild the city, but her neighbors, the people of the Trans-Euphrates area, sent a letter to the king to get it stopped (Ezra 4:7-23). For twenty years they were successful.

In God’s providence, Nehemiah serves as cupbearer to the king. His job is to taste the food and drink before it is served to the king to make sure it's not poisoned. As one might imagine, his cupbearer is one of the king’s most trusted friends, although he is a Jew.

In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign, Nehemiah receives a bad report about his beloved people living in Jerusalem. The problem is vexing; the Jews still live in a city with no walls and with no visible means of protection. Nehemiah believes this is because the people have again forsaken God. He weeps, prays and fasts over Jerusalem. He confesses his sins, the sins of his father’s house, and the whole nation of Israel. Then he asks for God’s mercy. Nehemiah has a plan, but he needs the LORD’s blessing. Do we earnestly seek God when we need His help? Do we seek to be right before we seek to do right? In humility, Nehemiah seeks the LORD and God hears his prayer.

When Nehemiah next serves the king, he is sad in his presence. This is dangerous because the king is supposed to be kept happy; it is good for everyone. But the cupbearer is the king’s friend, and so the king wants to know why Nehemiah's face is downcast. He shares his concerns with the king. Seeing that King Artaxerxes is anxious to help Nehemiah, he says a quick prayer in his mind (probably something like, “LORD, help me!”) and then shares his plan. It should be noted that Nehemiah is clear about what he wants to do and what preparations are necessary to accomplish the plan. He does not waste the king’s time. Principle: If we are eliciting support, we are more likely to get it if you have worthy goals and a good detailed plan to accomplish them.

Nehemiah obtains official letters from the king to rebuild the walls and an armed guard to give him safe passage to Jerusalem. This is in 444 B.C. and is in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies, given ninety-five years earlier (Daniel 9:25)*. After Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and before talking to anyone about his mission, he makes a quick but thorough assessment of the situation, personally surveying the damage. This is another good principle of leadership: we should be thoroughly acquainted with the problem before we share our plan to fix it. People will respect us for it.

The next day, Nehemiah shares his mission with the people and how the king has given permission for them to rebuild the walls. This is a complete reversal of a decision the king made previously. The Jews are excited and eager to rebuild, but their enemies are not happy. Nevertheless, the Jews begin to rebuild.

They do not go about rebuilding the wall in a half-hazard manner. Nehemiah organizes the workers so that each will build his part of the wall in front of the place in which he has the greatest interest. After inspiring workers with the importance of their tasks, he places them according to their interests and abilities, where they will be of the best use to themselves and to the completion of the project. Do we have a project we need to start or finish? We can follow Nehemiah's example.

When Israel’s neighbors discover the walls are being rebuilt, they are angry. They constantly mock and threaten the Jews, trying to stop them. Will their enemies attack and destroy the walls before they are finished? How can the Jews stop them?

What does the prophet do? He prays for God’s protection. He prays and his people continue to repair the walls. Realizing the threat of an attack is real, however, Nehemiah prepares for it. Half of the people work and half serve as armed guards. Is this faith? Yes. They realize God might require them to defend themselves. With this plan, they are able to continue the work. Do we have a plan if we expect adversity? Will we allow the work to stop, or will we find ways to encourage workers to continue? Inaction during tough times causes discouragement and abandonment of the tasks. Pray and then act.

Lessons to Live By

  • If God has placed any of us in leadership, let's use that position for His glory.
  • Let's pray and plan before beginning a project.
  • We should inspire people with what God is doing and challenge them to do the work.
  • We should place people according to their interests and where they will do the greatest good for themselves and their organization.
  • We must pray and act courageously.
  • Let's trust God to help us. Do we know Him? He can give us forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life. He can protect and bless us (more...)

*insight from The Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by Walvoord and Zuck, ©1985, p. 676

Focus Verses

Psalm 31:3 (NIV) “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.”

Psalm 144:2 (NIV) “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”

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A Look Ahead: When Ezra the priest arrives, he faces Leadership Challenges. What we can learn from him will help us. Join us!

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