Tough Guys of the Bible: Nehemiah — Leading by Example

Paul HorrocksBy Paul Horrocks10 Minutes

Excerpt from Tough Guys of the Bible: Learn the Traits of Courageous Men Who Truly Follow God by Paul Horrocks & Reverend David Horrocks


Chapter 14
Nehemiah: Leading by Example

  • 444 BC Nehemiah Went to Jerusalem to Rebuild the Wall

Background on Nehemiah

About sixty-seven years after Nebuchadnezzar first took Daniel and others from Judah into captivity, the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland.37 Some Israelites returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel (try saving that quickly three times in a row) and rebuilt the temple,38 but other Israelites remained in Babylon or other parts of the Persian Empire.

More than ninety years after Zerubbabel (Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel, Zerubbb …) returned, the walls of Jerusalem still had not been rebuilt, and the surrounding people were threatening the Israelites. Nehemiah was a Jew serving in a prominent position as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. When Nehemiah heard about the state of Jerusalem, he was so upset that he asked the king if he could go to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.

When Nehemiah arrived, he organized the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. The surrounding people did not want the Israelites to gain the security of a walled city, so they opposed the efforts. At first they mocked them but then tried to fight them to prevent reconstruction. To protect against attack, Nehemiah set up guards for the city day and night. He also had the workers keep their weapons with them. In addition, Nehemiah instructed the leaders in each part of the city to blow a trumpet if they were attacked, and then the Israelites from the other parts of the city would come to their aid to fight off the invaders. Throughout this time, Nehemiah encouraged the people, who were scared, by reminding them that God was with them.

Nehemiah was able to rebuild the walls and the gates of Jerusalem in only fifty-two days. (Imagine if our government could work that efficiently.) Israel’s enemies lost confidence and gave up the fight against them. Then Nehemiah reorganized the city and rebuilt the houses inside the walls. He had Ezra read the law to the people and call them to repentance. He challenged his fellow Israelites who were extracting usury (fancy word for high interest rates—loan shark high) from their brothers and selling them into slavery during a famine. He also challenged them for marrying foreign wives against God’s command. Nehemiah was successful in challenging Judah. The leaders agreed to reform their culture and signed a covenant to keep God’s laws.

Nehemiah governed Judah for twelve years and then returned briefly to work for King Artaxerxes. During that time, the people of Israel sinned against God … again. (Seriously, people? I’m gone for like a minute …) When Nehemiah returned, he had to challenge them … again … to repent and follow God.

How Nehemiah Excelled at What He Did

Nehemiah had a prominent position as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. While that may sound like an insignificant role for a servant, it was actually a critical position in a king’s administration. A cupbearer had to guard against a plot to kill the king by making sure none of the food or drinks were poisoned. As a result, the king had to have great trust and confidence in the cupbearer. Artaxerxes was king of the Persian Empire, which was one of the most powerful empires in history. Nehemiah must have been incredibly effective and trustworthy for such a powerful ruler to choose him for that role.

Nehemiah was clearly an effective planner. He didn’t just show up and try to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem without a strategy. He put a plan in place to make it happen. He obtained critical resources from the king: letters for safe passage, a military escort, and wood to rebuild the city. Then, when he came to Jerusalem, he secretly inspected the walls of the city at night so he could create a plan before anyone knew he intended to rebuild the walls.lxxiv

Nehemiah was organized. He assigned specific groups to rebuild different parts of the walls and gates. He also organized a specific plan for security when they were threatened. He stationed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall and split the workers so that some worked while others held weapons. He had the men of Judah sleep inside the walls with their weapons by their sides in case they were attacked at night.lxxv

Nehemiah also excelled at challenging men. When some of the Jewish nobles were oppressing the poor, he challenged them to stop charging interest and return their land. When the nobles promised to return their land and stop oppressing them, Nehemiah didn’t simply accept their promises. He called the priests and made the nobles swear they would keep their promises, which they did.lxxvi Later, Nehemiah had Ezra read the law to the people and celebrate the Feast of Booths as the law commanded. He also had the people confess their sins and the leaders make a written covenant to keep the law.lxxvii He even challenged the people who married foreign wives in disobedience of the Mosaic Law.lxxiii (Who knew foreign women were irresistible back then too? At least men are consistent.)

In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.” (Nehemiah 13:23-25)

I imagine that getting your hair pulled out by Nehemiah was not fun. This would be extreme by today’s standards, but Nehemiah was so concerned that the people keep the law that he was willing to physically challenge men to keep God’s commands.

Nehemiah was also a shrewd leader. The surrounding people tried repeatedly to set up a meeting with him so that they could kill him, but Nehemiah did not fall for their tricks. He sent messengers back and simply refused to meet.lxxix

Nehemiah succeeded repeatedly where other men had failed. His life is a testament to what you can accomplish when you trust God.

37. In Jeremiah 25:8-14, he prophesied that Judah and other nations would serve Babylon for seventy years. While the captivity of Judah appears to be only sixty-seven years, the period of time from when Babylon first defeats the Assyrians (609 BC) to when they are defeated by the Persians (539 BC) fulfills the seventy-year prophesy.
38. The book of Ezra covers this period.

lxxiv. Nehemiah 2
lxxv. Nehemiah 3-4
lxxvi. Nehemiah 5
lxxvii. Nehemiah 9-10
lxxviii. Nehemiah 13
lxxix. Nehemiah 6

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