We can learn much about leadership by studying the lives of Bible characters. Previously in our series we have learned from Jesus and Joseph. Today, we’ll look at leadership lessons from Nehemiah.
Hand Me Another Brick, written by Charles Swindoll, was one of the books about Nehemiah I read as an early believer. Recently, I re-read Dave Kraft’s book Learning Leadership from Nehemiah, from which much of this article is indebted.
In chapter 1 of the book of Nehemiah, we are introduced to Nehemiah who was taken captive and was serving the king of Persia as his cupbearer. After hearing that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down, and its gates had been destroyed by fire, we find him weeping, mourning, fasting and praying to the God of heaven for many days. He confessed the sin of his people and himself and asked God to bring him success in rebuilding the wall.
In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah asks the king to be sent to Judah to rebuild the wall. The king seeing the sadness of Nehemiah’s heart, granted him what he asked, with Nehemiah indicating that the good hand of his God was upon him. In Nehemiah 2:18, Nehemiah tells the people – the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work – of the hand of God that had been upon him for good, and the words that the king had spoken to him. They replied “Let us rise up and build”. Here, Nehemiah is casting a powerful and compelling vision for the people. He is able to influence and motivate them by recalling his answer to prayer and the support of the king.
Nehemiah would soon run into opposition however. Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite servant, and Geshem the Arab jeered at the people and despised them, asking Nehemiah if he was rebelling against the king. But Nehemiah confidently replied to them in Nehemiah 2:20 “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” John MacArthur tells us that not only did Nehemiah have the king’s permission, and was not rebelling, but he also had God’s protection. His enemies had neither.
Chapter 3 tells us about the repair work that was done under Nehemiah’s leadership. In the fourth chapter we find Nehemiah continuing to deal with opposition that began in chapter two. In verses 7-8 we read that when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. What was Nehemiah’s response? In verse 9 we read that they prayed to God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. He dealt with this problem with a combination of both spiritual (prayer) and the human (guard) solutions.
In the fifth chapter we see a major conflict developing. Nehemiah hears that some of his own leaders are charging interest to their fellow Jews, confiscating property when it can’t be paid, thereby resulting in some to be enslaved. Nehemiah was angry and confronted the nobles and officials. He called a large meeting and told them what they were doing was not right. They responded in verse 12 by indicating “We will give it back. And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” This showed leadership courage from Nehemiah.
In chapter 6, Nehemiah receives more opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of their enemies. After refusing to meet with them, Nehemiah receives a letter in which he is accused of intending to lead a rebellion and that he was planning to be king, all lies. This was an attempt to intimidate Nehemiah into meeting with his enemies, which would have most likely resulted in his death. He is later told by a false prophet that his enemies were coming to kill him. Despite the efforts of their enemies to distract them from the building of the wall, under Nehemiah’s leadership, the work was completed in only 52 days.
Later, in Nehemiah 12, we read about the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, a celebration of gladness and thanksgiving for what God had done. They rejoiced with great joy, and we are told in verse 43 that the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
We can see that Nehemiah was an excellent leader. Here are 7 leadership lessons that we can learn from Nehemiah:
He was a man of prayer. Throughout this story, beginning in chapter 1, when he heard that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down, and its gates had been destroyed by fire, we see that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. We read about him weeping, mourning, fasting and praying to the God of heaven for many days. Christian leaders need to be people of prayer.
He had vision from God and depended on Him. Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He asked God to bring him success in the carrying out of this vision and in gaining the support of the king. We read throughout his story that he believed that the work would be accomplished because of God. And in Nehemiah 6:16, when the wall was completed, we read that their enemies and all of the nations around them were afraid for they perceived that the work had been accomplished with the help of God. Christian leaders need to depend on God for vision and the ability to carry it out.
He motivated the people. Nehemiah told the people that were to do the work of the hand of God that had was upon him for good and the words that the king had spoken to him. They responded “Let us rise up and build”. A leader has to be able to influence people to believe in the vision that they have cast, and believe that the leader can lead them to a better future. John Maxwell has said that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
He demonstrated leadership courage. In chapter 5, Nehemiah dealt with problems among his own leaders. He was angry, and in confronting them told them that what they were doing was not right. Too often, leaders want to be liked by their team more than leading them. But you can’t have it both ways. Either everyone likes you, or you lead them. Nehemiah demonstrated leadership courage in confronting his leaders.
He effectively dealt with opposition. Throughout this story, we read of opposition to the rebuilding of the wall that Nehemiah had to deal with. We see that he effectively dealt with these roadblocks to achieve the success that he had asked God’s help with. He steadfastly trusted God for success in the rebuilding of the wall, and this led him to be able to resist the opposition he faced from his enemies. Leaders will almost always run into opposition as they are trying to achieve their goals, and will need God’s wisdom and strong character, something we don’t always see demonstrated from our leaders, to be able to navigate the opposition and achieve their goals.
He delivered results. Great leaders achieve results. The ability to deliver results is one of the primary things that organizations look for in leaders. Despite all of the obstacles that he had to deal with – from both his enemies and his own people – Nehemiah achieved incredible results, completing the work in only 52 days.
He celebrated achievement. In Nehemiah 12, we read of the celebration as the wall was dedicated. Celebrating successes is too rarely done by leaders. Once a goal is achieved, leaders often just go on to the next objective. Leaders should stop and thank our teams for their hard work. Just a simple pizza lunch with some of the leaders thanking the team for their efforts would let them know that they are appreciated.
Nehemiah is an excellent example for us as a leader. I’ve listed 7 leadership lessons that we can learn from him. What would you add to this list?
July 19, 2019 at 11:48 am
Nehemiah seems “popular” – at least my blog gets steady, ongoing traffic to my post on Nehemiah from 2017. I’ll attach mine with the lessons I pulled out. Mine was actually a small project for a seminary class. We had this helpful guide from the prof that he used to do his own character studies of people in the Scripture – simply by digging into the Bible. https://lightenough.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/practical-lessons-from-the-life-of-nehemiah/
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