Archives For Nehemiah

Nehemiah, a leader living in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., received a vision from God about rebuilding the walls and gates of the city of Jerusalem, but encountered opposition when attempting to implement that vision.

Nehemiah’s Example of Persistence in the Direction of God’s Goals

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In his time the walls and gates of Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt because the people of the city needed security against their enemies as well as a method to keep the Jews as a separate and holy people from foreigners. Both of these were critical problems to the Jewish population, 1 and Nehemiah needed to be persistent to overcome them.

Nehemiah’s Example of Persistence in
the Direction of God’s Goals

Continue Reading…

Notes:

  1. Gary Smith, “Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip Comfort, vol. 5b, (Carole Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010), 9

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

12 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah

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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. Continue Reading…

The book of Nehemiah is about the restoration of the physical and spiritual life of the nation of Judah in Jerusalem. In recent years many books have been written about leadership using the book of Nehemiah as a source to develop leadership principles. This post will explain the primary message of the book of Nehemiah and then use that primary message to evaluate leadership principles written by others.

5 Themes and 5 Leadership Principles from Nehemiah

Photo Credit: Marcus Hansson

The book of Nehemiah tells the story of restoration of the city of Jerusalem. When examining the book of Nehemiah as a single unit of material one will notice that it is a book which focuses on “lists.” Fifty-three percent (214 verses) of the material in Nehemiah are lists, 25 percent (146 verses) is historical narrative, and 11 percent (46 verses) are recorded prayers. 1 Continue Reading…

Notes:

  1. Stehpen Bramer, “Nehemiah, ” unpublished class notes for BE103 Old Testament History II and Poetry (Dallas Theological Seminary, Winter Term, 2013), 3. Quoted from Robert Bell, “The Theology of Nehemiah” in Biblical Viewpoint, 56.

I want to encourage you to create an inspiring mission for your city, nonprofit, church, or company. Why? Because in my experience I know that when you create an inspiring mission good things happen because people want to get involved and help.

My goal is for you to learn how to create an inspiring mission. As you may know I have experience running nonprofit programs, leading volunteers, and fundraising money to help make a difference in communities.

Nehemiah’s Model for Creating an Inspiring Mission

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In 2005 I started a nonprofit program that fed more than 5,000 people in five years. Additionally, I worked at the United Way of Stanislaus County for six years raising funds to support community and coordinating volunteer groups. Together I’ve spent eight years working to improve the communities I’ve worked in, mostly through the nonprofit industry.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing over the past two years is studying the biblical book of Nehemiah in light of the work being done to transform and improve communities. Through this study I have observed some things Nehemiah did that can be transferred to our current context and cities. I would like to share with you just one principle that you can do and when you do do it, it can transform your city.

Let’s look at the book of Nehemiah to read two verses and see what it can teach us about how to be leaders who transform the city we live in. But, before we look at those two verses, let me start with a story. Continue Reading…

Today’s blog post is based on a very important Bible verse in the book of Nehemiah which has great implications for leaders. It is also one of my favorite verses from one of my favorite books of the Bible.

Example of a Wall

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happended and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

The verse we are going to look at today is important for leaders because leaders need focus in order to work towards their goals. Without focus, they will allow themselves to get pushed and pulled to many different projects and initiatives within their organizations. When goals and objectives are clear for leaders, they are better able to focus their time and attention to get things done and make positive change.

You might already be familiar with the context of the book of Nehemiah, but if you are not, please allow me to give an overview of that context in order to best understand the meaning of this verse.

Nehemiah was a cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. While Nehemiah served King Artaxerxes he heard a report from another man about the Jews who had recently returned to Jerusalem. Prior to this, the Bablyonian Kind had allowed about 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem and Judah to live there and rebuild the temple. So Nehemiah asked about how his fellow Hebrew countrymen were doing and how the rebuilding of the temple was going.

The report which Nehemiah received was not good. Nehemiah learned that the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still torn down, that the gates of the city were burned down (as they had been for many years), and the people there were troubled and disgraced. This meant, in the eyes of Nehemiah, that God was not present. The people who lived in Nehemiah’s time (roughly 445 BC) believed that God needed a place to dwell and stay, and if there was no place for God to dwell because the city was destroyed, then God was not present.

This situation led Nehemiah to pray that God would show him favor and allow him to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem. Fortunately for Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes gave him permission and the resources needed to do just that. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, and with the help of the people of the city, began rebuilding the walls.

When the walls were about half completed, Nehemiah and his workers encountered opposition from three political leaders, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, each of whom had a large amount of influence in the city of Jerusalem. Despite threats to their safety, Nehemiah and the people kept building.

Nehemiah and his people finished rebuilding the walls and only had the gates left to complete when big opposition came from Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men sent a message to Nehemiah saying that they wanted to meet with him to “talk.” Nehemiah was smart enough to realize that these men did not just want to “talk,” but they wanted to kill him.

The setting of the following verse is that Nehemiah and his countrymen were extremely close to finishing the work of rebuilding the walls around the city of Jerusalem (only the gates and doors remained to be finished) and these political leaders wanted to take his time to “talk” about what he was doing. This is where we find Nehemiah’s pointed and quick reply.

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. – Nehemiah 6:3-4 (New Living Translation, emphasis mine)

These verses are one of my favorite parts of scripture because they show Nehemiah’s heart and dedication for what he was doing regardless of what opposition he faced from others. Nehemia said, “I’m doing a great work, so I can’t come.” In other words, he was busy and does not have time to play the political games others wanted to play. It was a swift and quick “no.”

I believe there are five basic lessons leaders can learn from this story of Nehemiah:

  1. Leaders need to stand up against opposition from others (even though it will be hard).
  2. Leaders must not crumble under pressure from other men who are more powerful and influential than the leader is.
  3. Leaders need to stay focused on doing God’s work, not on keeping evil people away.
  4. Leaders will have specific situations in which they must simply say “no.”
  5. If God has put a vision and calling on your heart, do not yield to anything else.

Question: What other lessons for leaders can be derived from this story?

This is the final post in a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry. Here are the first five blog posts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding Nehemiah’s Context
  3. A Vision is Born
  4. Research is Done on the Vision
  5. The Vision is Slowly Shared

REFLECTIONS FOR INNER CITY LEADERS

The stories of Nehemiah and Enclave Community Church are similar. For over six years we have worked to “rebuild the walls” in our city of Turlock. As a church that originally started as a vision of Pastor Brian Miller—our godly leader—we have made some progress towards community change. But we are still learning and developing our ministry. I hope that Enclave has a similar process of living out a vision to care for the poor just as Nehemiah did.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
(for entire blog series)

Bibbs Sr., Alvin C.. A Heart for the Community. Edited by John Fuder and Noel Castellanos. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Broadman & Holman Publishers. Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.

Comfort, Ph.D., Phillip W. and Walter A. Alwell, Ph.D. eds. Tyndale Bible Dictionary: A comprehensive guide to the people, places, and important words of the Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Fuder, John. A Heart for the Community. Edited by John Fuder and Noel Castellanos. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Gornik, Mark R.. To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.

Kraybill, Donald B. The Upside-Down Kingdom. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978.

Nicoll, W. Robertson, ed. The Expositor’s Bible. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing: 1956.

Smith, Gary V. New Living Translation Study Bible. “The Book of Nehemiah.” Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.

Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “History of Turlock.” Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau. visitturlock.org/pages?id=27&ss=3 (accessed March 10, 2012).

Yamauchi, Edwin M. “The Archaeological Background of Nehemiah.” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1980): 291-309.

This post is part five of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.

THE VISION IS SLOWLY SHARED

We now find ourselves in the story of Nehemiah as he announces his vision in a unique way.

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah

Before examining what he says to the people living within and near Jerusalem, we must correctly understand the hearts of the people listening to him. Nehemiah encounters Jews in Jerusalem who are ready for change. They know that 141 years have passed since the Babylonians originally conquered Jerusalem, burned the city and its temple, and took 60,000-80,000 Jews into exile.[1] Turlock, where Enclave Church is located, was actually founded in 1871.[2] If we can imagine Turlock being in ruins and need of restoration that entire time, we will see what these Jews faced. These people were ready for someone to help them change Jerusalem and improve it.

As Nehemiah begins to share his vision, he first sparks in them the desire they already have; he touches on their pain. Nehemiah says to the Jews living in and near Jerusalem, “You know very well the 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.”[3]

As current or future urban ministry leaders there are three key words in that verse worth taking time to examine in their original context.

  1. The first word is “trouble.” Nehemiah talks to them about what hurts. He does not condemn them for their failure or point to their past sins because that does not matter much at this time.[4]
  2. Another word worth examining is “we”. Nehemiah is careful to say, “we are in” not “you are in”. Nehemiah comes to the people living within and near the city of Jerusalem as “one of them” who shares a spiritual connection with this special city. In our ministry at Enclave Community Church, we too attempt to relate ourselves to the poor and needy by seeing ourselves also as sinners. This helps us relate to them, and it prevents us from putting blame on the people of the community.
  3. The final word worth examining is the last word in the verse, “disgrace”. When talking about disgrace, Nehemiah knew what we might call strategy in mobilizing volunteers. Like Nehemiah, at Enclave many people have a desire to see our city and the area we worship in transformed. We just need volunteers to help us do that. “The first thing that needs to happen before a church attempts to mobilize volunteers is to be clear on the mission. Tell the church why it is important.”[5] Nehemiah was crystal clear on that mission when talking about disgrace. The Jews hated that disgrace, so Nehemiah tells them the disgrace will end when the walls and gates are rebuilt.

Now that Nehemiah has sparked that interest and touched on the people’s shared pain and disgrace, he is ready to mobilize the people and cast his vision.

Now we arrive at the climax of all of Nehemiah’s work. Thus far he has heard the news that led him weep, mourn, fast, and pray; he has courageously asked the king and queen for permission to travel to Jerusalem; and he has made the journey of hundreds of miles[6] to Jerusalem. He has seen the torn down walls and burnt gates with his own eyes, and he has shared the vision God has placed in his heart. How are the people going to respond? Are they going to accept him and his bold and courageous vision to rebuild the walls and gates? The Jewish people respond to Nehemiah saying, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”[7]

But the story does not end there. If you have read Nehemiah you know that despite some internal and external opposition Nehemiah leads the people to complete the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days!

Mark R. Gornik who has extensive experience in changing inner cities comments on the remarkable story of the beginning of rebuilding Jerusalem this way, “Once this task of rebuilding the wall and the city had been clearly articulated, a challenging yet achievable project, it created its own energy, enabling people to do more than they thought they could. It would be the catalytic event of their new story.”[8] It was an amazing feat!

Question: How do you think vision should be slowly shared?


                [1] Comfort, Ph.D., Phillip W. and Walter A. Alwell, Ph.D., eds. Tyndale Bible Dictionary: A comprehensive guide to the people, places, and important words of the Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 943.

                [2] Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau, “History of Turlock,” Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau, visitturlock.org/pages?id=27&ss=3 (accessed March 10, 2012).

                [3] Nehemiah 2:17; emphasis added.

                [4] Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 35-64.

                [5] Alvin C. Bibbs, Sr., A Heart for the Community, ed. John Fuder and Noel Castellanos (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 328.

                [6] Broadman & Holman Publishers, Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 122.

                [7] Nehemiah 2:18

                [8] Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 137.

This post is part four of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.

RESEARCH IS DONE ON THE VISION

Three days after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah “slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem.”[1]

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah
There are three key things we can observe here as Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem that relate to the urban ministry context.

  1. Nehemiah waits before he works. The author and Nehemiah himself make it very clear that when Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem he waits three days before doing anything.
  2. Nehemiah does his research. Nehemiah takes time to go around to inspect the “broken walls and burned gates.”[2] John Fuder, who has 14 years of experience in urban ministries notices, “When Nehemiah gets the news about the state of despair of Jerusalem, he goes out and conducts research, thoroughly ‘inspecting the walls’.”[3] 
  3. Nehemiah intentionally does not tell others why he is there. We see this when Nehemiah writes, “The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the Jewish leaders-the priests, the nobles, the officials, or anyone else in the administration.”[4]

Nehemiah is there with the vision God has placed in his heart, and he has not told anyone about it.

We did something similar at our church as it was new to the downtown community of Turlock, California. Enclave Community Church was about two years old but had recently moved into a church building in downtown Turlock. I remember when Pastor Brian gathered the church together to do one thing: walk around the neighborhood to ask people what they thought the community needed and what the church could do about these needs. I did not realize it at the time, but similar to Nehemiah, we were “inspecting” our local community. God had put a vision in our pastor’s heart to reach the lost of the inner city of Turlock (people who were not being reached by other churches and were commonly left out of church). We were inspecting the community and listening to what we could do to help. This experience greatly helped me realize that we as a church are here to serve and care for our neighbors and that we serve those neighbors by first listening to their needs instead of defining their needs for them.

What is interesting to observe in Nehemiah’s story is not just that he listens, researches, and observes, but also how he carefully unveils his vision for the city of Jerusalem.

Question: How do you think research should be done on a vision?


                [1] Nehemiah 2:11-12

                [2] Nehemiah 2:13

                [3] John Fuder, A Heart for the Community, ed. John Fuder and Noel Castellanos (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 72.

                [4] Nehemiah 2:16

This post is part three of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.

A VISION IS BORN

Nehemiah offers a sincere and heartfelt prayer to God asking for God to show favor to him and to the Persian King who Nehemiah serves:

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. 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.[1]

Nehemiah knows things in Jerusalem are not the way they are supposed to be, and a vision is born in his heart to do something about it.

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah

One scholar describes Nehemiah as “a man of vision. He knew who God was and what He could do through His servants. Nehemiah was not, however, a visionary, but instead was a man who planned then acted.”[2] During this time period Jews such as Nehemiah knew the Scripture well. He references God’s promise that “if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them. . . . I will bring you back to the place I have chosen.”[3] That promise is important enough to Nehemiah and other Jews that it moves them to action.

Additionally, Nehemiah knew King Cyrus and King Artaxerxes had allowed some of the Jews to return back to their homeland. There was hope and a little bit of momentum for Nehemiah to maybe be able to do something about the situation his fellow Jewish countrymen were in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s position as a cup bearer to the king plays a role in allowing his vision to be realized.

The importance of being cup bearer becomes evident when we learn that Nehemiah, as a cup bearer, “would have been well trained in court etiquette . . . . was probably handsome . . . . would know how to select wines for the king to drink . . . . was probably a companion to the king who was willing to listen to the king at all times . . . . would be a man of great influence because he had closest access to the king and could determine who could see the king [and] . . . . was someone who the king trusted greatly.”[4] With this important historical information in mind about Nehemiah’s relationship to the king as his cup bearer, we can now understand what happens when Nehemiah has his opportunity to share his vision with the king and queen.

When Nehemiah is serving the king his wine the king notices Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah tells it this way, “Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, ‘Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.’ Then I was terrified.”[5] It is obvious that time has passed since Nehemiah’s prayer when he writes, “early in the following spring.”[6]

Also, Nehemiah regularly served the king his wine, but this time was different because Nehemiah appeared sad. Perhaps Nehemiah’s heart is worn down as more time passes with no progress on the repair to the walls torn down and the gates burnt. He feels God has put a vision on his heart to do something about those walls, but he is not able. Nehemiah replies to the king’s inquiry about the origin of this uncommon sadness by saying, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”[7]

Nehemiah has a chance to share his vision with the king when the king replies, “Well, how can I help you?”[8] Nehemiah reflects on the experience saying, “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.”[9] Then the king and queen both give Nehemiah permission, resources, and people to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.

Question: How do you think a vision is born in a leader's heart?


                [1] Nehemiah 1:5-11

                [2] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1980): 304.

                [3] Nehemiah 1:9

                [4] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1980): 296-297.

                [5] Nehemiah 2:1-2; emphasis added.

                [6] Nehemiah 2:1

                [7] Nehemiah 2:3

                [8] Nehemiah 2:4

                [9] Nehemiah 2:4-5

This post is part two of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.

UNDERSTANDING NEHEMIAH’S CONTEXT

By Nehemiah’s time, the Jews had spent several decades in exile. The Persian king, Cyrus, issued a decree in 538 B.C. that allowed over 50,000 Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Several “waves” of Jewish men and women returned to the city of Jerusalem to restore it to its former life before being conquered. One of those waves was led by Ezra, a Jewish priest who was skilled in teaching God’s law.

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah

However, “Ezra did not solve all the problems in Jerusalem. The people still did not have a secure city with rebuilt walls and gates. Numerous enemies still opposed their presence in Jerusalem. They needed a strong civic leader who could help them preserve their independence, economic vitality, security, and sanctity of Jerusalem. God sent a new leader, Nehemiah, to address these issues.”[1] Eventually, the Jews succeeded in rebuilding the temple, but there was still much work left to be done, and the people knew that. In this context, we get to see the circumstances and process for how Nehemiah’s vision is born in Nehemiah’s life. Continue Reading…