Nehemiah: Leadership in Action
We left Nehemiah conversing with the king. We learned on the importance of prayer and planning (see my blog The Importance of Prayer and Planning for further discussion). Now, we will see him in action. Turn your Bible to Nehemiah 2:10-20. We shall learn three leadership lessons from Nehemiah.
Lesson #1: Nehemiah Performed a Needs Assessment and Convinced Himself
11I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he did not immediately immerse himself into action. Instead, he spent three days (v.1). Three days doing what? As we have learned from the previous blogs, Nehemiah was a man of prayer. And those three days weren’t period of inactivity, but rather of spiritual productivity. He spent those days in prayer and meditation. (See my blog Period of Inactivity? for further discussion).
12I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
Then he went out with his team but “had not told anyone what [his] God had put in [his] heart to do for Jerusalem” (v.2). He did not speak a word on his vision for reconstructing the walls of Jerusalem. This is because he didn’t want to alert his enemies, as well as create unnecessary tension among the Jews on which way the project should begin. Nehemiah was a man of wisdom.
13By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Now, Nehemiah began the inspection by night (v.13). He did this so he wouldn’t get attention from his enemies. Inspecting, he went through the Valley Gate, then southward toward the Dung Gate. As he examined the walls and gates, he noted that they were “broken down” and “destroyed by fire” (v.13). It only means that Jerusalem were really in ruins, even highlighted by the fact that “there was not enough room for [Nehemiah’s] mount to get through” when he got to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool (v.14). This implies that the walls were so torn down that even his mount couldn’t get in. Then he went to the valley and went back to Valley Gate. (See the map below to further appreciate Nehemiah’s inspection).
So what happened to the other gates? This is an interesting question. A pastor suggested that we are not told of the other gates simply because there was nothing more to inspect (Remember, Jerusalem’s walls were in ruins). And I agree with his view. So whether Nehemiah had nothing else to inspect or we are not told of his further inspection, the point is he performed a needs assessment. He did this to convince himself that the project was worth undertaking. Personally convinced, he could now convince others to join him in this massive construction project. Furthermore, this assessment of needs allowed him to determine the people he’ll be asking for a hand (v.16). (Notice, Nehemiah approached leaders—people of influence. He did the right thing because these leaders was in a better position to influence more people).
Are you truly convinced that your vision is worth the time, effort, resources, and risk? If you’re not sure, then do a needs assessment. You must convince yourself first before you can convince others to buy into your vision.
Lesson #2: Nehemiah Motivated the People
17Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Now, he stated their situation. Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates were burned. They were simply in trouble. So he invited the people to join in this building endeavor.
But take note of his words. He uses words such as us and we. He was not calling the people to work for him. He was communicating that they should claim ownership of the vision. They were all on this.
18I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
He also told the people how God had blessed him and how the king granted his requests. The project will be successful because both heaven and earth were in agreement of it. And he was able to motivate them.
As leaders, we must motivate the people around us. So ask yourself, Have I been motivating the people around me?
Lesson #3: Nehemiah Faced Opposition and Handled it Well
19But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
Nehemiah faced opposition. We first read about Sanballat and Tobiah on verse 10:
10When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
Sanballat and Tobiah were governors in their respective areas. They knew Nehemiah could rebuild Jerusalem. Rebuilding the city was a threat to their authority. But in verse 19, they were joined by Geshem. Now, we can call them the three stooges.
But why was rebuilding Jerusalem called a rebellion? This is because the city was branded as a rebellious and wicked city (see Ezra 4:12). Rebuilding it would also affect the royal revenues (Ezra 4:13). (Notice that in Nehemiah 2:3,5, Nehemiah did not mention Jerusalem. This is to avoid tension with the king. He was indeed a man of prudence).
20I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
But Nehemiah did not let his enemies discourage him. He knew that God will give them success.
Remember that in leadership, we will face opposition. But we must always remember that God will give us success in our endeavors.