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The Tree of Life
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The Gates of Nehemiah. Part 5.
On Wednesday evening we noted that Nehemiah revealed that unless a leader’s relationship to God is right at the time he is called by God then that individual will never be God’s choice for any situation. That any effective leader must not only be able to communicate with God, but they also must be able to communicate with people. In NEH 2:1, Nehemiah was attending on the king and had high ranking power as cupbearer, but always remember, that there was nothing Nehemiah could do—he could not even leave the city—without the king’s permission. We see a trace of this in Nehemiah 2:2, when the king notices that Nehemiah is sad and asks about it: “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
This is a great manifestation of the humility of Nehemiah and his humility toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And by that I mean that Nehemiah was not overcome with the temptation and the arrogance that would have arisen from a person whom as important and busy as King Artaxerxes would have take notice of and be concerned of for him. Rather, as he tells us, “He was very much afraid,” and he should have had every right to be. For when we read in NEH 2:10, And when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel…
This is true in this passage and it is also true for us living in the devil’s world. The clear implication of verse 10 is that the opposition to Nehemiah and the Jews in Jerusalem from these powerful leaders is spiritual opposition, Spiritual Warfare.
NEH 2:10, And when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.
If you are trying to serve God faithfully, then you are also going to be engaged in spiritual warfare (EPH 6:10-18). If you can see that, it will make a great difference in how you fight the battle. Remember that Nehemiah has been pouring out his heart to God for four months. Yet up to this point, Nehemiah has been able to keep his burden a private matter while he waited for an answer from God. This is an excellent principle concerning people who love to tell everyone their problems.
No one else other than the king seemed to have been able to observe the agony that Nehemiah had been feeling. There was nothing Nehemiah could do. He could not even leave the city—without the king’s permission.
Principle: A true leader is not always the person who is self-assured, always together, never afraid but it is the person who is caught off guard, unsure of himself, and as we will see, totally dependent upon the strength of God.
There are at least six principles we can take out of Chapter 2 that led to Nehemiah’s triumph.
1. Loyalty. The story does not make a great point of Nehemiah’s loyalty to King Artaxerxes, but Nehemiah’s whole demeanor as well as his success suggest of it. When the king asked why Nehemiah’s face looked sad and he replied with the expected court greeting, “May the king live forever!” it was not hypocrisy or even mere formality. Nehemiah genuinely seems to have had the king’s interests at heart. To be loyal does not mean that we are to appear loyal when we are actually opposed to what is happening, or that we are loyally to support wrong actions because we love the individual.
PRO 27:6, Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
It is a tremendous wake up call concerning the nature of humanity when you realize that there were people in your life who you truly loved and who you would lay down your life for, who turn against you for the right price! A position of authority! A better job! A house! An automobile! Prestige! It is a very shocking experience and something that I do not believe you can ever get use to. To have someone that you trust turn on you for personal gain, and this is very difficult at times because sometimes the unkindness of our friends is a greater trial to us then the hatred of our enemies.
PRO 19:22, What is desirable in a man is his kindness, And {it is} better to be a poor man than a liar.
What a man desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar. If we cannot be loyal, we should seek employment elsewhere.
2. Tact. We speak about tact often, yet more often we fail to exercise it. We think it is more needful to “speak our minds,” “express our frustrations,” or “let it all hang out.” Notice how tactful Nehemiah was with Artaxerxes. First, when the king asked why he was sad, Nehemiah answered with a disarming question.
NEH 2:2-3, So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. And I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”
Many of us would have said, “Why am I sad? I’ll tell you why I’m sad…” blah blah blah” Many of us would have replied with some long boring, meaningless form of rhetoric trying to gain sympathy for some lame excuse. But although our reply might have made us feel better, we would have experienced the failure such an arrogant attitude deserves. The king would have become defensive, and our cause would have been lost. Instead of this, Nehemiah asked, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?.”
NEH 1:3, And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”
This question, instead of making Artaxerxes defensive, actually won him to Nehemiah’s side. The king understood that Nehemiah had cause to be sad and wanted to help him. Second, Nehemiah presented his desire as a personal matter and not as a political one. He knew that what he wanted would require the reversal of Artaxerxes’ former public policy, (Ezra 4:7-23), and he understood that any request to fortify a city was suspicious. So he did not treat this as a political issue at all. He treated it as a matter of personal grief, which the king, who was proud of his own city and who also had his own ancestors, would understand.
3. Honesty. Nehemiah exhibited honesty in his encounter with the king in two ways. First, when the king asks why Nehemiah is sad, he replies with two absolutely accurate statements: One statement directed to the reader and the other directed to the king.
To the reader he admits, “I was very much afraid” (v. 2). To the king he replies that he is sad because the city of his fathers is in ruins (v. 3). We know this is what was really bothering Nehemiah in the chapter before this. When he was first told about the city’s condition, Nehemiah “sat down and wept ¼ mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (NEH 1:4).
It is a wonder that he was able to keep his sadness hidden for so long. (There was a passing of four or five months between the time he heard the news and the time the king addressed him.) Nevertheless, when he was asked the reason for his sadness, he was honest. He did not try to invent a more acceptable reason for it. Second, when the king asked what Nehemiah wanted, Nehemiah told him. He did not pretend that he wanted to take a vacation to Jerusalem or merely look the city over. This is very important.
A good leader is willing to have those who work under him develop their own programs but does not want to be surprised by the plans of those working under him. Subordinates want their own plans to succeed but the boss is responsible for the subordinate’s plan of the entire operation. He needs to know what is going on and to be able to approve, disapprove, or redirect those plans according to the larger picture. Here is a secret: If you want to succeed with your boss, don’t surprise him. Be creative, but be sure he is with you as you plow along.
4. Prayer. Nehemiah’s prayer gives insight into Nehemiah’s habits of personal devotion. The spiritual application in Chapter 2 is revealed by Nehemiah talking to the king. The king asks what Nehemiah wants. He realizes that after months of prayer the decisive moment has arrived. He is ready to speak. But before he speaks, he utters a quick additional prayer to “the God of heaven” (v. 4).
NEH 2:4, Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. Nehemiah uses the power of prayer.
5. Planning. Another important secret of Nehemiah’s success in his encounter with King Artaxerxes is Nehemiah’s careful planning. To put it in simple language:
1) Nehemiah had a direct fixed goal (he wanted to rebuild Jerusalem and its wall)
2) He had worked out how he would achieve it.
First, Nehemiah had a goal. Nehemiah knew he needed to put first things first here. Careful planning begins with goal setting.
A good principle to remember about goal setting is this: “People who aim at nothing are sure to hit it.”
There is a story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves.
The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter, intended to pep up his teammates on the one hand and distract the Milwaukee batters on the other.
As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, “Henry, you’re holding the bat wrong.
You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Aaron didn’t say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.” He knew his goal, and he did not allow Berra to distract him.
It had been four or five months since Nehemiah had begun to pray about how he might rebuild Jerusalem, but he had not been inactive during those months. First, he gathered information and as his requests to Artaxerxes unfold, we are impressed by his knowledge of the area to which he is going, even to knowing the name of Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest.
Second, he had worked out what he would need to get the walls built and Nehemiah was specific:
1) He knew how long it would take (twelve years, cf. NEH 5:14; 13:6)
2) He needed letters of safe-conduct for the governors of the Trans-Euphrates region.
3) He asked for requisitions of the supplies that would be needed.
When his opportunity came, Nehemiah was ready.
He said, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?
NEH 2:7-8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?”
Careful planning!
If he had not thought the matter through carefully, his conversation with the king might have ended with permission for him to go to Jerusalem, but he would have been stopped by the governors of Trans-Euphrates. If he had asked for letters of passage and had therefore been able to get to his destination but had neglected to secure the requisitions, he would have arrived without being able to obtain the necessary materials. It is surprising how often careful planning is overlooked by persons in leadership, whether in the church or outside it in business or government.
In Christian circles, the problem may be traceable to a false spirituality that goes like this: “God has told me to do so and so,” the dreamer says. “Yes? And how are you going to do it?” “I don’t know. I guess I’m just going to start out and see what “My God” does for me.”
These are people who live in the world of Spiritual make believe. Exactly the people our Lord talked about in Luke 14:28-33, because counting the cost is crucial before we commit ourselves to any task.
Jesus said in Luke 14:28-33, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
6. Dependence on God. Dependence on God does not eliminate planning any more than it eliminates hard work. But while Nehemiah was planning, he was also praying. After the king had granted his request to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and had agreed to supply him with the necessary letters of requisition, Nehemiah acknowledged that in the final analysis his success was not due to his own careful planning but to God as he said in NEH 2:8: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”
Nehemiah had done everything he possibly could, but when he achieved success he acknowledged that it had come about not because of his wisdom but because God had been with him. Nehemiah did not thank man for the favorable outcome to his request. Man had acted, but it was God who had directed events and steered the heart of Artaxerxes. (PRO 21:1; Ezra 6:22;PRO 16:1; PRO 19:21; PRO 20:24; PSA 37:23)
The climax of this encounter came in Artaxerxes’ granting his cupbearer’s requests. Not only did he grant them, but also he seems to have exceeded what Nehemiah asked for since he also sent army officers and cavalry along with him. These must have impressed the governors of Trans-Euphrates greatly, not to mention the Jews of Jerusalem.
ISA 14:27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?
As Paul also says in EPH 3:20, God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.
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