Do we see any parallels?
Biblical stories and accounts can often depict the lives of ordinary men who God uses in mighty ways. These lives and stories, although lived and written centuries ago, give insight into characteristics that are timeless. Case in point: Nehemiah. Just who was this man and what can we learn from him?
Nehemiah was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, the King of Persia around the mid fifth century BC. Nehemiah was a key figure in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian conquest. Nehemiah’s skills and characteristics tell of a man who led the rebuilding and restoration of a city, a people, a culture, a society, after the utter devastation caused by the Babylonians. Just what did Nehemiah do, how did he act, and what were his accomplishments that we can glean from today?
1. Jeremiah inquired – he asked about the Jews, the remnant that was left in Jerusalem after Babylon – how are they doing? Once he found out about the condition of city and its people, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. His concern for Jerusalem and the Israelites was more than just superficial; he cried and mourned for them. But his concern didn’t stop there. Nehemiah took his issue to the Lord through prayer and fasting. He reminded God of His promise to gather those who keep His commandments. He petitioned the Lord on behalf of his people. He asked for mercy and divine guidance from the Lord. While most people would think that quick action would be most productive, Nehemiah didn’t immediately dive in to work. His priority was to petition God and to get guidance from Him first.
2. Nehemiah was bold and brave in approaching his superior, the King, about the devastation in Jerusalem. This was no easy task. Not just everyone had the King’s ear – not just anyone could approach the King; it could have been grounds for death in some circumstances. The fact that Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer was definitely a plus (a sign that God puts people in certain places for certain reasons), but even at that, Nehemiah was afraid. The King pointedly asked Nehemiah what he could do – what kind of request Nehemiah had for him. The scripture points out that Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven; then Nehemiah told the King of the devastation in Jerusalem and boldly asked for time off to lead the rebuilding and for the supplies to aid the rebuilding effort. The King graciously accommodated “according to the good hand of my God upon me”, as Nehemiah correctly pointed out.
3. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and quietly assessed the damage without fanfare. He saw the destruction for himself – not by light of day, but by the quietness of the night he viewed the broken walls and damaged gates. Nehemiah then spoke to the rulers, the priests, the nobles, and the workers. Nehemiah told them what they already knew, that the city of Jerusalem laid in waste. He then encouraged those around him, from the everyday worker to the priests and nobles; he recalled to them God’s blessing and promise; he told them of God’s goodness and the King’s provisions. “Come,” Nehemiah implored. “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem that we be no more a reproach.” They responded by saying “let us rise up and build”, so “they strengthened their hands for this good work.” Nehemiah showed a quiet, humble strength while he rallied the Israelites to begin this arduous task. He encouraged the people by reminding them of God’s mercy, grace, and goodness. He told them of the King’s kindness. The people responded by coming together to rebuild. Nehemiah, in all of this, did not take any of the credit. He reminded them that the God of Heaven would be the one to prosper the people, and therefore, “we His servants will arise and build.”
4. The rebuilding effort was not a one man show. Many, many people were involved in the rebuilding effort, and the rebuilding was done in chunks or stages. Certain groups rebuilt certain sections of the walls and gates. Additionally, the rebuilding effort didn’t come easily either. Nehemiah and the people encountered men who rose up to conspire against them and their work. This, again, drove Nehemiah to his knees in earnest prayer to the Lord for protection and direction. And once again, Nehemiah became the encourager by reminding the Jewish people of the Lord their God and encouraging them to not fear. He then set in place a plan for protection by rotating people between working and providing security for the worksite. Later, financial issues arose from inside the community that threatened to stall the rebuilding efforts; this angered Nehemiah. Then he rebuked the nobles and rulers; he set them straight. He did what it took to get the internal house in order and back in line. Nehemiah knew that he couldn’t rebuild by himself; he knew the skills of the people and aided in directing the right workers to the right job. He also had the ability to encourage and build up the people when they were discouraged, to rebuke the people when they needed correcting, and he clearly had God-given problem solving skills. Nehemiah was intent on seeing Jerusalem rebuilt and had the skills to keep people encouraged and on task in order to get the job done.
5. Once Jerusalem was rebuilt, Nehemiah led the efforts to repopulate the city; God, Nehemiah said, had put in his heart to gather together the nobles, rulers, and people to bring every one back to newly rebuilt city. Once gathered, Nehemiah led the efforts to restore the people with and to their God; Nehemiah assembled the population and guided them through a time of fasting, of remembrance, of forgiveness, of repentance, and of separation, all of which ultimately led to a renewed covenant with their Lord and God. Simply rebuilding the physical city of Jerusalem wasn’t enough for Nehemiah. Nehemiah had vision and purpose enough to bring the people, God’s chosen people, back to inhabit the land that they were driven out of. As part of the reintroduction of the people back to Jerusalem was a reintroduction of the people to their God. Nehemiah reminded the Israelites of what the Lord had done for them in the past and of how powerful their God was. He led them to seek forgiveness and to repent of the sins and ways that initially led them into captivity to begin with. Once reunited with their Lord, Nehemiah led them to make a covenant with the Lord to walk in His ways.
Rebuilding is not an easy task, especially during and after a time of devastation, whether from a significant weather event, a natural disaster, or the collapse of the economy, society, and normal life as we know it. The question is, how will YOU respond to it and what efforts will YOU put forth in the recovery and rebuilding stage. Nehemiah gave us a working example of the characteristics needed to lead and participate in the rebuilding. He was a Godly, prayerful man with deep concerns about his people. He was bold and outspoken when he needed to be, yet spoke and acted without fanfare. He knew how to fit the right people into the right places, and became their cheerleader at every turn. He sacrificed the comforts of working in a King’s palace to toil in the rubble surrounding the physical rebuilding.
While the future is uncertain, one thing is for sure – devastation is looming, and a recovery effort is not a lone ranger event. As Nehemiah knew, it takes a team of individuals with many different skills to rebuild after a devastating occurrence. So where are you? Do you have the Nehemiah-like characteristics to help in the rebuilding? Are you willing to step up to the plate and participate in the rebuilding effort? The challenge is on!!