Last week we look at some of the leadership principles we can glean from the life of Nehemiah. He was an ordinary man in a strategic position with the King whom God used to restore a fallen and broken nation. He was a man who proved himself faithful in his service to the King and was burdened by the report he received regarding the condition of Jerusalem. He was a man of prayer throughout his life, a man with initiative and a planner/organizer. He knew how to face opposition and took steps to overcome the threats he received. He was a motivator and was able accomplish a great project in a short period of time.
Nehemiah had opposition from outsiders but he also had issues that he had to deal with regarding the people who were returning to Judah to resettle and reestablish the nation under the rule of God.
The construction of the physical wall was important for the safety and security of Jerusalem. But more importantly was addressing the spiritual condition of the people. The people had fallen away from the Lord and they needed to make a commitment and covenant with God to return to him and walk in obedience to his Word.
One of the priorities of Nehemiah was to reestablish the Law and bring instruction and correction. The moral character of the people had been compromised during their years of captivity but also in the years before they were taken captive by the Babylonians.
Nehemiah 8 details how the people were gathered for the purpose of hearing the Law read and having it explained to them (8:8) Nehemiah emphasized the importance of hearing and obeying the Word of God. The people had wandered away from the Law through their years of rebellion and lack of education in the Word. Nehemiah called a gathering of the people to hear the Word read publicly with explanation of its meaning so the people understood what was required of them. Many were ignorant of the Law while others may have been resistant to following the Law.
As the Law was read the people fell under conviction for their rebellion and cried out to the Lord. It was a solemn moment and a tearful moment when they realized how far they had strayed from the Lord. Nehemiah encouraged the people by stating “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” What they were doing with a truly repentant and sorrow filled heart brought joy to God because their relationship with him was being renewed. They were being reconciled to God through their repentance and commitment to follow his Laws. God loves to have his people reconciled to him. No matter how far one may have fallen away there is always joy in the heart of God when the prodigal returns. His mercies are new every morning and he is compassionate and forgiving when we truly repent.
The reading of the law revealed the moral failures of the people. God’s Word is our mirror, it shows us who we truly are in light of the standards God has set. Leaders must know the Word of God, practice it in their lives so they can teach it with authority and impact. When the Word is neglected or not correctly taught, the people will be led astray and away from the blessings God has for them. The study of the Word of God is critical to the success of a leader. Moses encouraged fathers to teach the word to their children constantly. It had to become part of their being. Muslims who are devout memorize the Koran because they are convinced of its importance in their lives. Joshua was admonished to know the word and obey it if he wanted to be successful as a leader. Today there is great ignorance of the Word, it has not been taught to many and has been discredited as being the Word of God. Some reject it completely, some reject parts of it (it contains the Word of God) and others misinterpret it. Nehemiah stood for the truth of God’s word and was uncompromising in his obedience to it and his expectation of the people to also be obedient.
After the Law was read the people were called to make a covenant with God to obey the Law. A covenant is a serious agreement and cannot be taken lightly. A covenant binds the people to God and God to the people as long as conditions of the covenant are met. A contract is for a set period of time and when it is completed or if it is not fulfilled according to the terms of the contract can be broken. A covenant is a lifetime agreement between parties and is not to be entered into lightly. Nehemiah urged the people to swear an oath to God in which they accepted both the blessings and curses that were part of the covenant. (10:29)
The people agreed at the moment but later we will find that they turned away from following the Law and began to do their own thing again.
Nehemiah was the first one to sign the covenant. He again set the example of a leader who leads by example. If the leaders is not out in front the people have no one to follow or will be following the wrong person. Nehemiah demonstrated that you cannot expect people to do something you are not willing to do yourself. As a leader people will be looking to you as an example. Your level of commitment and willingness to identify with the demands placed upon the people will speak volumes to them and help them make the same covenant agreement that you have made. When Nehemiah stepped forward to sign the covenant he paved the way for revival and renewal to begin among the people.
Nehemiah had to return to the service of the King Artaxerxes but found it necessary to return to check up on how the people were doing. What he found was very disturbing. He identified four areas of failure among the people that he had to address.
1. Compromising Companionship. Neh. 13:1-9
The Ammonites and Moabites were forbidden from entering the temple because of their past rejection of Israel. They did not offer help but tried to get a curse placed on them to keep them from entering the Promised Land. The priest Eliashib had permitted Tobiah who had previously caused problems when the walls were being built, to have a room in the temple. Nehemiah was very upset and threw all his belongings out of the room and told him to leave. It reminds me of a wife throwing out her husbands clothes after discovering he has been unfaithful. Tobiah was not a man who would have a positive influence on the priests. Nehemiah did not want him there and took action to remove him.
In our lives we too must be careful of the company and companionship we have. We are lights in the darkness but we must be aware of the ungodly influences that surround us each day that will try to make us compromise our faith and accept things that are not godly into our lives. Compromising God’s standards to be accepted by others is not wise and will lead to problems. It takes effort to make a stand against ungodly people and practices that do not honor God. We cannot be tolerant of evil but that is the message we hear today when people who are opposing God’s standards want to be accepted as normal. We are judged as being intolerant when we make a stand for God's truth and righteousness. The moral boundaries are being moved and the goal is to erase them so people can do whatever they want to do and not feel rejected.
2. Financial issues 13:10-14
The Levites and singers had to leave their work to support themselves. They lived off the tithe of the people and when the people stopped giving their support ceased and they were forced to provide for themselves. Managing money and giving to support God’s work is a challenge to many believers. If all believers gave a tithe of their income there would be more than enough money available to spread the gospel and support missionaries among the unreached people groups.
Giving to God of the first fruits was the law and the people were not fulfilling it. When the tithe is held back and used for selfish purpose God's work and God's people will suffer and so will the person withholding the tithe. I was reading a devotional series by one of the members of the family that started Hobby Lobby. He emphasized how important it is for believers to learn to be generous. Their business gives away 50% of its profits each year. He has seen how God has blessed their business because they have been generous in giving to help others in need.
Nehemiah re-established the tithe among the people and set reliable people to distribute the tithe among the people who were assigned to work in the temple. Accountability was needed to ensure the tithes were used properly and distributed fairly.
Unfortunately today there is still a problem with people in ministry not being honest about the money they are given to manage. One well known Pastor in Korea was convicted of using 15 million dollars of church funds to help his son with his business. He was over 80 years old when this happened and could have been sentenced to several years in prison but the judge had leniency because of the good things he had accomplished through his church which had over 700,000 members.
God wants us to be wise stewards of our money, be faithful in giving our tithe and be generous to help others in need.
3. Not honoring the Sabbath. It was forbidden to work on the Sabbath. It was to be a day of rest and a day to worship God with your family. But in Nehemiah’s absence the people returned to their old ways of working, buying and selling. The day set apart was just like any other day. Earning money was more important to them than obeying God’s commands. It was for their benefit that they were to rest on the Sabbath but when one is motivated by the desire to gain wealth, God’s laws become secondary. Hobby Lobby closes all of its stores on Sunday and they close each night at 8 p.m. to allow their employees time to be with their families in the evening.
Nehemiah addressed the issue by reminding them of the problems the people had experienced because they did not honor the Sabbath nor did they give the land the rest that was required. He took action to close the gates to prevent merchants from entering.
1Ti_6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain,
Honoring God through our obedience produces great gain in our lives. Overworking can often be a sign of lack of faith for God to provide. Godliness not greediness is what we must prioritize in our lives of faith and trust.
A day of rest is needed by everyone to focus on meeting with God, relaxing from a hectic pace and reconnecting with your family.
4. Problems in the home 13:23-31
Many had intermarried with the nations that they were forbidden to marry. God had a special plan for Israel and he understood how marriage to foreign cultures and false religious beliefs would not keep the people faithful to him. God had established Israel to be a Counterculture. His laws were superior to the heathen nations and through obedience to his Laws the other nations would see how much better it was to live according to his Laws. Intermarriage led many astray and when the decision had to be made to separate husbands from wives because of the unholy union, it was a very difficult time. Nehemiah became pretty violent toward the offenders by pulling out their hair and beating them. He knew that intermarriage was harmful to the nation. Solomon set a horrible example and the people were following his example instead of following God’s standards. Communication among the people was adversely affected because they did not speak the same language. Language is a critical component to a culture maintaining its identity.
Today in the USA immigrants who have illegally crossed the border are being deported and many have children who were born in the USA and have legal status as a citizen to live there are suffering because their parents are being sent back. It is a heart wrenching situation to see families separated and this is the very thing that was happening in Israel. Leaders often have to make difficult decisions but when the Word of God is the deciding factor, it must be carried out.
Marriage between people of different beliefs or nonbelief is prone with problems. Being unequally yoked is not God’s desire for his people. Marriage is not be mission field for a believer to unite with a nonbeliever. Nor is a believer to enter into a relationship with another person when they have committed themselves to their spouse. Recently a missionary related to me that a woman he knows who is a believer has entered into a relationship with a married man. When confronted about this ungodly alliance she said she would rather disobey God than give up the relationship. She is headed for disaster a does not seem to care.
It was a challenging time for Nehemiah to confront the problems that developed in his absence. Evidently the leadership that was left behind was not capable of leading the people and enforcing God’s laws among them. A leader must always train others who are capable of continuing the work and not allow the people to stray away from the laws and desires of God. Left on their own many will get sidetracked with compromising companionship, refuse to honor God and support his work through giving of the tithe and being generous to meet needs, neglect of honoring God and choosing to pursue wealth by working instead of honoring God through observing a day of rest; and enter into ungodly relationships with the unbelievers that will destroy their identity and calling.
Nehemiah addressed these issues because of his love for God and his love for his people. The nation had suffered greatly because if its disobedience and he did not want his people to repeat the same errors that brought on their calamity. He was willing to make a stand for God’s standards and made the corrections that were necessary. We must be willing to do the same in the church today, if we are to be a godly influence in an ungodly world.