12 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah

April 14, 2014 — 6 Comments

In today’s blog post I share twelve leadership principles from the book of Nehemiah.

12 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah

Photo Credit: Lodo

Nehemiah is viewed as one of the great leaders and managers of the Old Testament. He led a group of Jews living in Judah to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem in only 52 days! Here are twelve brief leadership principles from the book of Nehemiah.

1) Nehemiah 1:5–11

Then I [Nehemiah said, “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands,  listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned!  We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants.  O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me.* Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.

Observation:

Nehemiah knew the Torah and he quoted a part of it back to God. He knew that God had said if the people were obedient God would bring his people back to the place he had chosen for his name to be honored.

Principle:

A leader must know God’s Word and the promises in it. Those promises are what guide a leader and help him follow God. Therefore, a leader must know God’s Word.

2) Nehemiah 1:5-11

Then I [Nehemiah said, “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands,  listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned!  We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants.  O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me.* Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.

Observation:

Nehemiah’s heart for the city led him to pray to God in praise, confession of sin, and prayer for kindness from the king.

Principle:

A leader is action oriented. He attempts new things, takes initiative, and works toward something. For example, Nehemiah not only had a heart for the city of Jerusalem, but he also acted.

3) Nehemiah 1:4

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.

Observation:

Nehemiah had a heart and concern for his city. This is shown in the way he wept when he heard about the state of Jerusalem.

Principle:

A leader has to have a caring heart for God and obedience to him. The broken walls and the gates destroyed by fire reminded Nehemiah about Israel’s past disobedience which led to his mournful response.

4) Nehemiah 2:4–8

The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven, 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.” The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request. I also said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River,* instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.

Observation:

Nehemiah was prepared for the opportunity presented to him in 2:4-8. When the opportunity came to tell the king about why he was sad and what he hoped to do, Nehemiah was ready.

Principle:

A leader must be prepared and ready when his opportunity comes. When an opportunity arises a leader is only able to take advantage of it if he has adequately prepared for it.

5) Nehemiah 2:17–18

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!” 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.

Observation:

Nehemiah showed the need for the work he planned to do by reminding the people that they were vulnerable without a city wall and were in a position of disgrace.

Principle:

A leader must show the need (or problem) which he plans to solve. If he is going to have a vision for something that needs to change, he also must show the problem which that vision will solve. Otherwise, he will not get support or buy-in for his vision.

6) Nehemiah 2:17-18

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!” 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

Observation:

Nehemiah said, “let us” rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He included himself and the people he was talking to in the work to be done.

Principle:

A leader realizes that work is a team effort. No leader can accomplish great things alone. Similarly, a leader also does not say, “you do it” because he knows that he also should be involved in the work.

7) Nehemiah 1:4; 2:4; 4:4, 9

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 1:4

The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”With a prayer to the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 2:4

Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! – Nehemiah 4:4

But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. Nehemiah 4:9

Observation:

When Nehemiah heard news about Jerusalem (1:4), replied to the king’s question (2:4), and struggled with opposition (4:4, 9), he responded to each situation with prayer.

Principle:

A godly leader looks to and relies on God for strength and direction. Prayer is one of the ways that a godly leader allows God to strengthen him and guide his steps.

8) Nehemiah 4:14

Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Observation:

When Nehemiah encountered opposition he called together the people and told them not to be afraid and to keep persisting toward the goal.

Principle:

A godly leader doing God’s work will not be stopped by earthly opposition. He may be delayed or slowed down but not stopped. Furthermore, a godly leader takes initiative to prevent the people he leads from being discouraged.

9) Nehemiah 5:6–11 (NLT)

When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 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. 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. 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? 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. 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.”

Observation:

Nehemiah saw something going on and confronted it directly. He spoke with the nobles and officials about the injustices occurring and corrected them.

Principle:

A leader is not scared to confront someone when he sees injustices occurring. In fact, he uses his position and moral authority to influence others to correct the wrongs they are doing.

10) Nehemiah 6:2–4

So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages* in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.

Observation:

Nehemiah was focused on the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and as a result did not allow himself to be distracted by Sanballat and Geshem.

Principle:

A leader who knows God’s plan must stay focused on God’s work and not get distracted.

11) Nehemiah 13:6–9

I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign,* though I later asked his permission to return. When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.

Observation:

Sadly, after Nehemiah’s absence in Jerusalem religious order did not continue as he hoped. As a result, Nehemiah had to continue to make political and religious reforms when he returned to Jerusalem.

Principle:

A godly leader has a long-term and continual job. Rarely can he “compartmentalize” his leadership to a small window of time. Instituting change as a leader is hard work and occurs during long periods of time.

12) Nehemiah 13:26–27

 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives.  How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”

Observation:

Both in this verse and throughout the book of Nehemiah it is clear that Nehemiah knew the Scriptures. He knew God’s Word and how Solomon was an example of what not to do.

Principle:

A leader must know God’s Word. This is because God’s Word provides doctrinal direction for a leader as far as general qualities of leadership that are required as well as positive and negative examples that a leader should heed.

Leadership Principles Summary

Nehemiah is the epitome of Godly leadership.

When studying Nehemiah’s character and how he led it is clear that he was leading in a way God desired. This started with the fact that Nehemiah knew God’s Scripture. Throughout the book of Nehemiah (in addition to my citations) Nehemiah displayed a knowledge of God’s Word and how it applied to the situations he found himself in. When struggling with his emotions about what to do in the city of Jerusalem Nehemiah responded with prayer and God’s Word. When dealing with money lenders who were taking advantage of the people working in Jerusalem he responded with direct confrontation and God’s Word. Finally, at the end of the book, Nehemiah showed his knowledge of Scripture in his desire to have the people strictly adhere to the Torah about how to maintain proper religious services.

This knowledge of God’s Word allowed Nehemiah to be formed and molded into a Godly leader. That Godly leader led the people of Judah to rebuild the walls and gates of the city of Jerusalem so that they could maintain their religious practices, remain distinct and separate from their neighbors, and end the disgrace they had as a nation with no walls or gates.

Personal Application

Like Nehemiah I hope to know God’s Word, pray to God, and allow God to shape me into a godly leader. This desire is what led me to want to attend seminary and is why I work hard to study God’s Word, learn about God, and become clearer about my calling and gifts. I need to continue studying God’s Word, learning about who God is, and keep asking God to show me what he wants me to do and how he wants me to serve.

Seeing Nehemiah’s example of bold and persistent leadership has helped me to see that I need to develop these two qualities in myself as a leader. Time after time in the book of Nehemiah he is bold to state his purpose and keep fighting for the work God led him to do. Nehemiah confronted both foreigners and fellow countrymen when he saw things not going the way they should. He also never allowed his workers to be discouraged or prevented from continuing their work. This same type of tireless dedication to God’s work in spite of criticism and opposition from others is something I need to develop in my own life as a leader.

Question: What other leadership principles do you see in the book of Nehemiah? 

Christopher L. Scott

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  • Ted

    Excellent observations. Good read. Many thanks for the encouragement.

  • EVANG. EZEKIEL O. EMMANUEL

    ANOTHER LEADERSHIP QUALITY I SEE IN NEHEMIAH LIFE IS THAT HE HAS ZEAL FOR HIS GOD

    • I agree, Ezekiel. I think we see Nehemiah’s zeal for God in his prayers throughout the book. Thanks for sharing.

  • chicorico70

    Nice! I like the passage –> principle –> application layout of your write-up here. And the brevity of it is nice for a quick sum-up of what we should learn from Nehemiah. I think that a manual like this of most books of the Bible would be super-useful and sought out by Christians!