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.
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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,[ref]Gary Smith, “Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip Comfort, vol. 5b, (Carole Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010), 9[/ref] and Nehemiah needed to be persistent to overcome them.
Nehemiah’s Example of Persistence in
the Direction of God’s Goals
1. Nehemiah’s Preparation as a Sign of His Persistence
The first sign of Nehemiah’s persistence was that he was prepared.
When the king asked Nehemiah why he looked sad and what was wrong with him, Nehemiah was prepared for the opportunity to do something. He replied,
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 (Neh 2:3, New Living Translation).
When the king offered to help, Nehemiah was prepared with his proposition about what he could do to help his ancestors saying,
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 (Neh 2:5).
Based on Nehemiah’s responses to the king it is clear that Nehemiah had prepared himself well. He asked for a specific amount of time to complete the project (Neh 2:7), authorization for passage to Judah (Neh 2:7), and for the materials he needed (Neh 2:8).[ref]Howard, Intro to Historical Books, 340.[/ref]
2. Nehemiah’s Prayer as a Sign of His Persistence
After Nehemiah had completed half of the walls’ height all the way around the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah 4:7-8 tells of how Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdoites all made plans to fight Nehemiah and his people.
Nehemiah showed persistence toward the vision God gave him by praying:
But we prayed to our God and he guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves (Neh 4:9).
As if this was not enough trouble for Nehemiah, opposition to God’s work arose from within the people Nehemiah was working with (Neh 4:10), his enemies continued to plot against him (Neh 4:11), and as a result the Jews working on the wall became greatly afraid (Neh 4:12).
However, Nehemiah responded in a way that showed how persistent he was in attempting to complete the work God led him to do. He acted by placing guards to protect the people (Neh 4:13), and he spoke with conviction about continuing the work (Neh 4:14). In light of these events in Nehemiah’s story it is clear that he squarely faced opposition regardless of it was from the people working with him or from an outside enemy.[ref]Bill Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 722.[/ref]
3. Nehemiah’s Stance Against Lenders as a Sign of His Persistence
Yet again, opposition occurred from the local people who were loaning money to the Jews working with Nehemiah (Neh 5:1-5).
What was being done to people rebuilding the walls was a violation of the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 15:1-18; 24:10-13 (the same law Joshua worked so hard to implement and regularly encouraged the Israelites to obey). Nehemiah stood strong against the people taking advantage of his workers. He stated that what they were doing was not right and that they should stop (Neh 5:7-11).
In this circumstance Nehemiah displayed courage which is a requirement for a leader who has persistence. Courage is defined by J. Oswald Sanders in his book, Spiritual Leadership, as “that quality of mind that enables people to encounter danger or difficulty firmly, without fear of discouragement” (p. 60).
Tremendous courage was required by Nehemiah to stand in opposition to his enemies in order to persist toward God’s goal. When persisting towards a goal a courageous leader must face unpleasant and difficult situations with composure. Then, he must act decisively even if the action is unpopular.
A leader must rest assured that his work is to and for God, for he is working toward the goal God has given him.
4. Nehemiah’s Opposition from His Enemies as a Sign of His Persistence
The strongest opposition against Nehemiah and his work involved threats to his life.
Nehemiah’s enemies, Sanballat and Geshem, found out Nehemiah’s work was almost complete, so they sent threatening letters to him. Nehemiah resolutely replied,
I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you? (Neh 6:3).
There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing (Neh 6:8).
Nehemiah finally concluded that, “I continued to work with even greater determination” (Neh 6:9). Nothing could stop him from doing the work God had directed him to do.
5. Nehemiah’s Sight Through Others’ Lies as a Sign of His Persistence
Only a short time later Nehemiah encountered opposition that would test his persistence in reaching the goal God had given him.
Someone falsely claimed to have received a word from God and told Nehemiah he should hide in the temple. Nehemiah’s response shows his persistence toward the goal when he said,
Should someone in my position run from dangers? Should someone in my position enter the temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it! (Neh 6:11).
Nehemiah knew that hiding in the temple would greatly discredit him (Neh 6:13), so he stayed outside knowing the he must ensure that the work continued.
6. Nehemiah’s Work Toward a Long-term Goal as a Sign of His Persistence
With the walls and gates of the city of Jerusalem finished, Nehemiah again encountered opposition to his overall mission of keeping the people of Jerusalem as a holy and separate people.
Because Nehemiah was focused on restoring religious practices and a holy community of people, he continued to persist towards God’s goal, even after the walls and gates were rebuilt. However, Nehemiah learned about four evils (Neh 13:4-5, 10-11, 15, 23-24) that were preventing the Jews from remaining a separate and holy people.
These evils led Nehemiah to purify and reform what the people were doing. More than 12 years had passed since Nehemiah’s work to rebuild the walls and gates (Neh 2:1 and 13:6), yet he was still persisting toward God’s goal of having the people be a holy community distinct from foreigners and devoted to God (Neh 13:30-31). This segment of Nehemiah’s leadership shows the patience he had.
How does a leader display patience with the people he leads?
He does this by not getting too far ahead of the people he leads because it discourages them. He must stay close enough to them that they can see him and hear his call forward.[ref]Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 69.[/ref] In their book, The Truth About Leadership, James Kouzes and Barry Posner state that leadership requires patient persistence because it is the process of guiding people through challenges, transition, recovery, and new beginnings (p. 93).
The Requirement for Leaders to Be Persistent
Nehemiah has shown the requirement that a biblical leader be persistent. Similarly, Howard Hendricks described leaders as being focused like a laser beam, obsessed in their work, and having meaning with mission.[ref]Howard Hendricks, “Ten Common Factors in Leadership,” unpublished class notes for SL305 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2014).[/ref] This was Nehemiah. He was focused like a laser beam, obsessed with getting the walls and gates rebuilt, and had meaning in his mission which God had led him to do.
Question: Why do you believe persistence is a requirement for a leader?