February 18, 2019 4 min to read
Learning from Nehemiah
Category : Stories
Dr. Victor Chen, Global Coordinator
The book of Nehemiah is often read as a wonderful example of leadership. A catalyst can mobilize a struggling community when he pursues the vision placed in his heart by the Lord, humbles himself before God, and employs the skills and wisdom God has equipped him with through years of molding and experience. The nation of Israel had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire, and the Jews were scattered and taken into captivity. Eventually, Babylon fell to the new world power, Persia. Under the Persian King Cyrus, the first group of Jewish exiles was granted permission to return to Jerusalem. Ninety years later, Nehemiah, then serving as King Artaxerxes’ royal cupbearer, was moved to tears after hearing reports that the walls of Jerusalem still lay in ruins, even after two groups of Jews had returned to Jerusalem and the passing of decades. After a period of fasting and prayer to God, Nehemiah received favor and support from King Artaxerxes to journey to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls of the city. The completion of the walls represented not only security and protection for the Jews from their surrounding enemies but the fulfilling of God’s promise to return and restore His people to Israel after a painful period of exile.
… moved to action to help their own communities, guided by a dream greater and more hopeful than the present reality
We go on to read about Nehemiah’s strong capabilities as a learner, researcher, and collaborator and how he dealt with skepticism, conflict, and the threat of enemies. In Medical Ambassadors’ work with communities, we often see that the first steps begin with one or a few key individuals who are moved to action to help their own communities, guided by a dream greater and more hopeful than the present reality. In the example of Nehemiah, it is instructive to see how God used him to help the Jews of Jerusalem take ownership of a common vision.
As the people of Jerusalem also caught the vision to rebuild the walls, several key things happened. Nobles, priests and workers, along with their families, were tasked together with rebuilding specific sections of the gates and walls. The most prominent people were right in the middle of the work, leading by example. In many places, families were tasked with rebuilding sections of the wall right in front of their own houses. Nehemiah understood human nature well – if a family’s security was directly at stake, they would spare nothing to have the strongest and best-designed wall so no invaders would breach their section. Where there were other vulnerable spots, Nehemiah stationed people in family clans to both repair and defend the wall. Who would fight harder against the threat of enemies than members of the same family fighting to defend their own loved ones next to them? The importance and urgency to defend the city moved from being an abstract idea to one directly tied to the wellbeing of one’s own family and neighbors and the grace of God’s hand and promises.
As the people of Jerusalem worked together, they rebuilt the walls in 52 days, a feat so amazing that their enemies could only conclude in fear that God was on the side of the Jews. Everyone knew something special had happened that involved more than construction. For the Jews, it also meant a turning back to God and a redeeming of their society. Nehemiah helped the community recognize the societal practices that caused the poor to become more indebted and enslaved and facilitated an agreement to have debts forgiven and unfair practices stopped. Nehemiah and Ezra led the people in celebration of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, a re-discovery of God’s word through the scriptures, and a re-dedication to His ways and laws.
… they are ignited by the spark of our Divine Creator
and moved to action for the sake of their families and neighborhoods
What a powerful thing it is when a community captures a vision of abundance and flourishing, takes ownership for their actions and responsibilities, and looks to the Lord for direction and strength. The community experiences God’s work of healing and redemption as He enables them to employ the creativity, strength, and resources He has given them. We are privileged to see many communities around the world re-energized when they are ignited by the spark of our Divine Creator and moved to action for the sake of their families and neighborhoods. As people get reoriented to right relationship with God and embrace their identity and dignity as people created in the image of God, amazing things happen. Transformation begins, communities experience reconciliation and healing, neighbors take witness, and God is honored.
The photo above was not the wall built by Nehemiah and the Israelites, but is a wall of ruins in Jerusalem.