Nehemiah 4-5: A Wise Leader Who Fears God
August 11, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The next two chapters provide a master lesson in leadership based on the fear of God that is pure but not naive, canny but also generous and openhanded.
We meet the enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, and hear their public gossip despising the works that were going on (4:1-3). Such sneering can have a seriously demotivating effect and must be dealt with. Is the work really as pointless and doomed to failure as they make out? Nehemiah takes the sneering to God in prayer (4:4-5) and carries on building (4:6).
The next step is to move from sneering to plotting (4:7-8). They plan to attack. Nehemiah gathers the builders, tells them not to be afraid of their enemies because of who God is, but also motivates them (4:14). They are fighting for their families and their homes. Few people lack bravery when they are fighting for their families.
So the work carries on, but Nehemiah also sets up a series of defensive precautions. They must build with one hand and carry a weapon with the other (4:16-17). He himself sleeps behind the wall indicating that he is putting his life on the line as well.
And so then, finally, with these enemies from without, there emerges a danger from within. It is an outcry (5:1) which was dangerous, not only because it could lead to rebellion, but also because it touched on a nerve—the building programs of Solomon that had disenfranchised so many and proved problematic to his offspring.
Nehemiah this time—at least we have no record of it—does not pray. Instead, he takes counsel with himself (5:7). With many counselors there is victory, but there is a time when you have to take your own advice. Nehemiah was being cut off from his people, and he needed to find a way to solve the growing dissent, and solve it quickly. He identified the real root cause of the problem: the leaders were selfishly accumulating wealth for themselves. He brings charges against them (5:7), and they are made to change their ways and act differently (5:8-11). He himself refuses to take advantage of his privileges as a governor to exact heavy tax, but instead pays for all his expenses out of his own pocket (5:15-18). This way the moral balance of leader to people is restored and emphasized. And the work continues (5:16).
The cause of all this wisdom? Nehemiah 5:19 tells us: Nehemiah is not looking for approval from noble or from people. He is looking for approval from God. In other words, he fears God (5:15).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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