Moses, Joshua, David —these are men who come to mind as great leaders in the Old Testament. From the Judges we would add Gideon and Samuel; considering the prophets, we would look to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and perhaps Amos. But at the heart of Hebrew History is a man who must stand as one of the great leaders of his age —Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s leadership was neither military nor political. He was no prophet or lawgiver. As a leader he encouraged, strengthened, and motivated the people to work. Through the leadership of Nehemiah, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and Israel began to reemerge as a nation.
The leadership qualities of Nehemiah are abundant. In fact, we could list no less than 22 characteristics of leadership from the first two chapters alone! Let’s note only a few of the most prominent.
Nehemiah was a leader who prayed (1:5-11). The prayer of Nehemiah provides evidence of his leadership. First, his appeal to, and reverence for God (1:5, 6) stands as a quality every leader of God’s people should demonstrate. Second, the persistent nature of his prayer (6), a proof of deep faith (Lk. 18:8), is a highly cherished leadership trait. Third, Nehemiah’s willingness to confess both his and the nation’s sins (6, 7) reveals the honest and sincere heart of a godly lead-er. Finally, his appeal to God’s righteous and faithful nature (8-11) establishes the depth of his faith and confidence in success at God’s hand.
Nehemiah was a leader who planned for the future (2:6-8). A forward-looking leader-ship is an absolute necessity for growth and success. Nehemiah’s “planning ahead” manifested such leadership. It is worthy to note that such planning gave both legitimacy and authority to Nehemiah’s work (7). Letters from the king would confirm he was not a rogue, seeking a place in the land. Addition-ally, the king’s letters would guarantee protection from his enemies; none would dare violate the authority of the royal ambassador. Furthermore, Nehemiah planned for needed provisions (8). The fundamental leadership quality of “counting the cost” is demonstrated by Nehemiah’s wise planning.
Nehemiah was a leader who was aware of the situations and circumstances (2:13-15). A leader without knowledge, who does not know the circumstances, will never successfully lead. Nehemiah was not only aware of his circumstances, he knew them in minute detail (15). He personally gained the knowledge by surveying for himself, the state of the city walls. He was aware of what need-ed to be done and what it would take to accomplish the work. This is not leadership in theory but leadership in action!
What was the result of Nehemiah’s leader-ship? “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.” (Neh. 4:6)
Before Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem, the people were “in great affliction and reproach” (Neh. 1:3). The wall of Jerusalem was “broken down” and the gates were “burned with fire.” The leadership of Nehemiah motivated the people to rebuild the wall, and in time would help bring about moral reform, victory over the opposing enemies, and restore religious practices in Jerusalem.
The church today needs men like Nehemiah. Let us pray God will direct and raise them up.