In writing about missions, John Piper tells the story of Peter Cameron Scott. “He was born in Glasgow in 1867 and became the founder of the Africa Inland Mission. But his beginnings in Africa were anything but auspicious. His first trip to Africa ended in a severe attack of malaria that sent him home. He resolved to return after recuperation.
“The return was especially gratifying to Scott, because this time his brother John joined him. But before long John was struck down by fever. All alone, Peter buried his brother, and in the agony of those days recommitted himself to preach the gospel in Africa. Yet again his health gave way and he had to return to England.
“How would he ever pull out of the desolation and depression of those days? He had pledged himself to God. But where could he find the strength to go back again to Africa? With man it was impossible!
“He found the strength in Westminster Abbey. David Livingstone’s tomb is there. Scott entered quietly, found the tomb, and knelt in front of it to pray. The inscription reads, OTHER SHEEP I HAVE WHICH ARE NOT OF THIS FOLD; THEM ALSO I MUST BRING.
“He rose from his knees with a new hope. He returned to Africa. And the mission he founded is a vibrant, growing force for the gospel today in Africa.”1
The common denominator between Scott and Nehemiah is perseverance. Perseverance is one of the most salient qualities of Nehemiah’s leadership. Although Nehemiah did not have the same set of difficulties as Scott, both men exemplify the mark of a true leader in that they refused to give up in the face of disappointment and discouragements. They continued to fight their battles to the very end. John White says, “…to the end of his days Nehemiah retained the same zeal that mobilized the Jews to rebuild the walls and that made him intervene earlier to abolish exploitation of the poor. Nehemiah was not a flash-in-the-pan leader but one who remained, as long as he lived, consistent to his original vision.”2
As we conclude our study of Nehemiah, we find him faced with four great problems. But they are not new problems; rather they are the same ones he dealt with earlier. How discouraging that can be to a leader but this is where the testing of perseverance comes in. And once again, we can learn much from the example Nehemiah sets for us.
DAY ONES and TWO: The Problem of Compromise with Evil (13:4-9)
A. The joyful celebration at the dedication of the wall could be likened to one of those rare times in the spiritual life of a believer referred to as ‘“a mountain top experience’. As with all spiritual ‘mountain-top experiences’, it’s not the experience itself that is important, but what comes from it. On the day of dedications, the result of the joyous ‘mountain-top experience’ of the Jerusalem Jews was a desire to conform every part of their personal and community life to the Word of God. This had been Nehemiah’s ultimate goal from the beginning.
1. The time reference in 12:44 indicates that the celebration resulted in a
renewed desire to provide for the temple and its services. Summarize what provisions were made for the temple at that time (12:44-47).
2. Chapter 13 begins with another time reference, “On that same day…”
What additional action was taken at that time to bring their lives into line with the Law (13:1-3)?
3. Note the time reference in 13:6 and link it with 5:14. How many
years was Nehemiah in Jerusalem during his first term (5:14)? How long do you think he might have been absent from Jerusalem? What evidence supports your opinion? How old do you think he might have been when he returned?
B. From our previous study in Chapters 8-10, the people had experienced a revival under the leadership of Ezra as he read the Law. As they confessed their sins, they promised to aithfully obey God’s commands (10:29). Review Chapter 10 and note the following six promises made by the leaders and people and signed in the covenant:
(1.) They would not intermarry with pagan nations.
(2.) They would observe Sabbath regulations.
(3.) They promised to pay the temple tax.
(4.) They promised to provide all things necessary for temple worship.
(5.) They promised to dedicate their firstborn sons along with all other first fruits of harvests and cattle to the Lord.
(6.) They promised to faithfully pay the tithe to the house of God and not neglect it.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, all but one of these issues had to be readdressed. It was not that the people had simply forgotten their promises, but that they had drifted from God. They had backslidden – a condition that can happen to any of God’s children if they do not remain constantly vigilant against the enemy’s schemes.
C. During Nehemiah absence, God had sent the prophet Malachi to warn the people of the dangerous condition of their spiritual life. (How gracious God is to continually provide for the needs of His children.) Read the following passages in Malachi and briefly summarize the problems he addressed: Malachi 1:6-14; 2:1-9; 2:10-16; 3:6-12.
D. The first problem Nehemiah encountered upon his return to Jerusalem was directly related to the temple services. The very heart of what Nehemiah had tried to accomplish was now being compromised by the presence of the enemy.
1. Briefly describe the situation as found in verses 1-7.
2. What action did Nehemiah take?
E. Principle: A person in a position of Christian leadership and/or influence must continually guard against compromise.
1. One area in which we must constantly be vigilant is the area of our homes. How easy it is to allow the enemy to take up residence in the middle of our families almost without noticing that anything is amiss. For those of you with teens this can seem almost overwhelming because of the level of access through the Internet to all manner of listening and viewing material. But as a parent, it is vitally important to remain aware of what’s going on. It takes courage to set rules and limits. And it takes even more stamina to continually reinforce them. In a word, it requires the same kind of perseverance Nehemiah displayed upon his return to Jerusalem.
2. Another area in which many Christians and teens are tempted to compromise is that of friendships. Character is greatly influenced by the people with whom one chooses to associate. How careful we need to be in choosing friends who have the potential to influence us. What warning does Paul give in I Corinthians 15:33?
3. At this point, it is good to ask ourselves this question: In what way have I allowed evil to reside in the midst of my life or my family’s life? And secondly, what steps do I need to take to toss it out? What additional steps of cleansing might I need to take? (I John.1:9) Whenever we choose to throw out some sin, it’s equally important to put the opposite positive in its place. The apostle Paul makes this point clear in Ephesians 4:22-32 where he speaks of “putting off” and “putting on”. Read through the Ephesians passage and note some of those areas where you need to follow Nehemiah’s example.
DAY THREE: The Problem of Tithing and Support for the Temple (13:10-14)
A. The second problem Nehemiah dealt with was the failure of the people to
maintain the support of those who worked at the temple.
1. What had the people promised in Nehemiah 10:39?
2. Summarize the situation as described in verses 10-11.
3. Do you think that there was any connection between this problem and the previous problem? With Tobiah residing in the temple precinct, how confident would the people be that their donations were being used properly?
4. What did Nehemiah do to correct the problem? What is said about the character of the new leadership he installed? What do you learn about stewardship from I Corinthians 4:2 and I Peter 4:10?
B. The most obvious and important application of this passage is that we all need to reevaluate from time to time how we handle the finances that God has entrusted to us. Jesus spoke more about the money than any other subject. He did so quite possibly because money affects every area of our lives and competes with God for mastery (Matthew 6:24). Just as with the Jerusalem Jews, money has a direct impact on our relationship with God.
1. Are we bringing the full tithe into God’s storehouse as Malachi says (3:10)?
2. Do we give first and of our very best to God?
DAY FOUR: The Problem of Desecrating the Sabbath (vs.15-22)
A. The Sabbath was intended by God to be a day of rest for the Jewish nation. At creation, the principle of one day in seven in which to rest and worship was established by God. Later, at Mt. Sinai, it was given to Israel as a sign of the covenant (See Exodus 20:8-11 and 31:12-17). The day set aside was Saturday, which actually began at 6 p.m. on Friday evening and concluded at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening.
1. What had the people promised in Nehemiah 10:31?
2. Briefly describe the situation that Nehemiah observed in verses 15-16.
3. What steps did Nehemiah take to correct the problem?
B. Sunday, the first day of the week, which Christian’s celebrate as a day of rest is not to be considered a “Christian Sabbath”. The Sabbath was celebrated on the seventh day and uniquely given to the Jews. The Old Testament regulations governing the Sabbath don’t apply to the Lord’s Day. However, the principle of one day in seven in which to rest was established at creation long before the Law was given at Mt. Sinai (Genesis 2:1-3). The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ happened on Sunday, the first day of the week (John. 20:1-18). Sunday has therefore become that special day in the week that commemorates His resurrection and allows for a time of rest and reflection. Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of human beings. John White has written, “As for the commercial activity Nehemiah squelched, we see in it an example of human greed robbing people of proper rest and true recreation. One day is set aside to enable us to renew our strength and to refresh our spirits. The moment we turn that day into a legalistic test of orthodoxy, we have misunderstood its real purpose. And the moment we neglect it to make money, we damage ourselves and others and laugh at the grace of God.”3
1. In what way do you seek to put the Lord first in your week by making the Lord’s day special?
2. In what way does the culture in which you live and work make it difficult to set Sunday aside as a day of rest and worship?
DAY FIVE: The Problem of Separation (vs.23-31)
A. The final problem Nehemiah dealt with was a long-standing problem going back to the days when Israel first entered the land – intermarriage with pagan people. Intermarriage with the Canaanites and others who lived in the land promised by God to Israel was the principal issue that led to Israel’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon. After the exile, Ezra had dealt with the problem of mixed marriages (Scan Ezra 9-10). During the revival and after hearing the Law read, the Jews at Jerusalem chose to separate from all foreigners Nehemiah 9:2). Again, at the signing of the covenant, the people willingly separated themselves from the peoples of the land (Nehemiah 10:28-29). At the dedication of the wall and before Nehemiah left to return to Persia, the mixed multitude was again separated from Israel (Nehemiah 13:1-3). Thus, the problem of mixed marriages was a constant threat to the purity of the Jewish people.
1. What was a tragic consequence of the mixed marriages at this time?
2. How might this condition impact the spiritual well-being of future generations?
3. What verbs describe Nehemiah’s reaction to the transgression? How did he treat one of the most outstanding of the offenders, the grandson of the high priest?
4. Do you think he was right to be so angry or just displaying the short temper of a cranky old man?
5. The parallel New Testament concept of separation is found in II Corinthians 6:14. In what way could you use this passage to help a Christian understand the importance of not entering into a legally binding agreement with a non-Christian?
B. Throughout this chapter we read of Nehemiah’s thrice-repeated prayer to be remembered for what he has done for the people of Jerusalem (vs.14,22, 31). His great desire was to receive God’s reward for what he had been able to accomplish by God’s grace. Likewise, for any of us who seek to serve God’s cause in our generation, anything that we are able to accomplish is strictly by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think we will be quite surprised at what God remembers of our effort, toil and tears; He remembers and will reward all those things that we’ve long forgotten (Hebrews 6:10). I believe that we will all feel utterly unworthy of such a prize, being well beyond anything we could have possibly imagined (Ephesians.3:20-21). To Him be the glory!
We have gained much from the study of Nehemiah’s life and his leadership abilities. As we conclude our study, I would like to highlight six qualities of leadership that I have found to be most valuable.
1. Nehemiah’s servant heart: Nehemiah was willing to be used wherever, whenever, and however God desired. He embraced God’s will and God’s goals completely and made adjustments in his own life accordingly. He could have well said along with Mary the mother of our Lord, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
2. Nehemiah’s perception: Nehemiah had developed the ability to see what was truly important and established goals based on that insight.
3. Nehemiah’s perseverance: Once Nehemiah had a goal in mind he was totally focused and dedicated to the accomplishment of that goal. No person or circumstance could weaken his resolve or deter him from doing all that God had put into his heart to do for His glory.
4. Nehemiah’s wisdom: Although the problems were varied and difficult, Nehemiah handled each one with God-given wisdom.
5. Nehemiah’s courage: Like Joshua before him, Nehemiah bravely faced the opposition because he knew that God was with him (Joshua 1:9). He was doing God’s work in God’s way. There was no doubt in his mind that at the end of the day the victory would be his and God would be glorified.
6. Nehemiah’s reliance upon prayer: From the beginning of the book to the end we see a man who chose to humble himself before the throne of God. This posture of humility is what made Nehemiah the outstanding leader he became. All of the aforementioned qualities of leadership found their source in the vibrant prayer life of this great man of God.
1. John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1986), pp.200-201.
2. John White, Excellence in Leadership (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1986), p.127.
3. John White, Excellence in Leadership (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p.127.
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