Nehemiah: motivator for the people
There is nothing in life I would rather be doing. That might sound like a quarterback that is 3 and 0, or some famous person. Honestly, there is nothing greater in life than following and preaching God’s Holy Word! And I just want to say thank you Jesus and thank you church.
This past Monday night at our board meeting I said something that might have been interpreted wrongly; therefore, allow me to explain. I did say that I am bleeding leadership. For example: recently I finished reading Spiritual Leadership; furthermore, the master’s degree I am in pursuit of is called Global Leadership. And lastly at Arcadia Christian Church we have been looking into the lives of various leaders in a covenant community such as Joshua who was a leader for the people of Israel, Gideon a deliverer for the people, Ezra a priest for the people, and today, Nehemiah a motivator for the people. I hope and pray for just one more Nehemiah, one more David, one more woman that would be willing to step up to the plate for such a time as this! Is there someone out there willing to submit, willing to surrender, willing to serve, and if called upon willing to sacrifice for the Word?
Please go with me in your Bibles to Nehemiah. When our story begins Nehemiah is in Susa, Iran; the ancient capital of Persia. While there he receives news from his brother Hanani regarding Jerusalem’s condition. When Nehemiah hears the news his heart is broken and he goes into a four month long time of weeping, fasting, and praying for the situation in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4).
It is helpful to know that Nehemiah’s occupation was cupbearer to the king. This means that he would first taste any wine that was given to the king. Furthermore, it was very dangerous for the king’s cupbearer to show any form of sadness because the king might suspect some form of betrayal.
Nehemiah 2:1-5 (NLT)
Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan,* during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
Do the words “for such a time as this” mean anything to you? They certainly meant something to a certain young lady named Esther. You see Esther had just won a beauty contest and was made queen of that ancient capital of Persia. God had given Esther great beauty and now it was her turn to shine but not on the outside. Esther has the chance to shine on the inside “for such a time as this.” She will stand in the gap between her people’s fate and the king. She will eventually risk her life so that her people will live.
Esther 4:14 (NLT)
14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
Esther’s story is not much unlike Nehemiah’s for each risked their lives for their people.
Listed in Nehemiah 2:6-10 is the king’s careful questions. Furthermore, unlike Ezra who went back to Jerusalem by faith, Nehemiah has a plan. He asks for letters of authorization to guarantee his safe conduct. The king agreed and even sent army officers and cavalry with him.
Nehemiah 2:11-20 (NLT)
11 So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, 12 I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. 13 After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. 14 Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.
16 The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not yet said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the Jewish leaders—the priests, the nobles, the officials, or anyone else in the administration. 17 But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” 18 Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.
19 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. “What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” they asked.
20 I replied, “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no share, legal right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.”
PEOPLE who may have submitted for THE WORD—leadership may require sacrifice.
Can I ask you an integrative question?
What made Nehemiah such a great motivator for the people? His character, integrity, and ethical behavior set him apart to be a sacrificial leader for such a time as this. Remember, that before Nehemiah made his request to the king he had already been praying about the situation for months.
Nehemiah’s charge against the officials for charging excessive interest gives us incite into a man devout in prayer, and character.
Nehemiah 5:1-13 (NLT)
Nehemiah Defends the Oppressed
5 About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. 2 They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.”
3 Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.”
4 And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. 5 We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.”
6 When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 7 After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!” Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem.
8 At the meeting I said to them, “We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?” And they had nothing to say in their defense.
9 Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? 10 I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. 11 You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”
12 They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised.
13 I shook out the folds of my robe and said, “If you fail to keep your promise, may God shake you like this from your homes and from your property!”
The whole assembly responded, “Amen,” and they praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
In the last part of this chapter I see a man of courage, selflessness, and hard physical work.
Nehemiah 5:14-19 (NLT)
14 For the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah—from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes —neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance. 15 The former governors, in contrast, had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides forty pieces of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because I feared God, I did not act that way.
16 I also devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my servants to spend time working on the wall. 17 I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands! 18 The provisions I paid for each day included one ox, six choice sheep or goats, and a large number of poultry. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people already carried a heavy burden.
19 Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it.
Transition with me and see how Nehemiah’s reconnaissance mission into Jerusalem is similar to the first king Jerusalem had, king David. However, long before he became king he was a shepherd boy, youngest in the family, and having not really anything that would seem comely. One day while his brothers were at war David went to the battle line to give his brothers some food and while there he heard this giant of a man calling out derogatory remarks towards the people of Israel; furthermore, towards God himself! (1 Samuel 17). David like Nehemiah was a man of the Word. David was a sacrificial leader that stood up to Goliath with nothing but a slingshot, a few rocks, and a great faith in the One True God!
David was willing to serve the Word.
I want to share a story I recently read by president Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes about the book—Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (Oxford University Press, 1978).
The Christian slaves of the Old South typically had a deep reverence for the Bible, so much so that even when they could not read they found ways to make the Bible a central focus of their devotional lives.
A young illiterate slave woman, a nursemaid to her master’s family, enlisted the white children to teach her how to recognize the word “Jesus.” Having gained possession of a Bible, she would regularly find a quiet place where she would turn the pages of the Bible, running her fingers up and down the pages, until she found the name of Jesus.
Do think that young illiterate became a woman of deep character, integrity, and ethical behavior? Could it be that God would set her apart for such a time as this?
If she was not already I am sure she became a woman that submitted to the Word.
People who may have NOT SUBMITTED FOR THE WORD—leadership may require sacrifice
Of course there were those such as Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab that opposed Nehemiah. However, what about the very ones we read about earlier in Nehemiah 5 that were suppose to be protecting the people? How were these Israelite nobles and officials not submitting to the Word?
If I was to put this into modern terms it would go something like this. If our law makers are going to force a new health care bill on us then does it not seem reasonable for them to be willing to put themselves under the same health care plan?
God does not like people being taken advantage of. For example in the time of Christ hundreds if not thousands of pilgrims would come to Jerusalem on Passover. It was the custom of some to set up loan tables in the temple courts so that the pilgrims could exchange money or whatever they had for the common currency in Jerusalem. And in doing so these pilgrims could purchase their sacrificial animal. What the workers of these tables were doing was charging usury which is excessive interest to the poor travelers coming to worship the One True God. All the Gospel writers record this event for us (John 2:14–16—in the first cleansing and later Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, 17, and Luke 19:45 in the second cleansing) Jesus did not like this crime; therefore, when he entered the temple courts he over turned their tables and cleansed the temple of these worthless individuals!
Ananas and his wife Saphria may have not submitted for the Word. In Acts 5 we are told that instead of giving the full amount of the sale from a purchase of land they held back some. When they told the church they had turned it all in; they lied! When they get asked about this from the elders of the church they deny holding any money back. Consequently, Ananas gets struck down dead! When his wife comes in a little later she gets it too!
We have seen that there are some who are willing to submit to the Word and there are others who are unwilling to submit. What kind of people are we?
Have we submitted, surrendered, served, and if called upon be a willingly sacrifice? I believe Nehemiah being motivated by the Word was a true servant leader. Go back with me to that illiterate slave woman that would run her finger down the pages of the Bible until she found Jesus. I move that because Jesus was willing to be the ultimate sacrifice we submit, serve, surrender, and if called upon be willing to sacrifice our lives too.
Would you pray with me? Father, we are thankful for the ultimate sacrifice of your Son. Father, remember how we have submitted to your Word and bless us for it in Jesus Name. Amen.