Read: Nehemiah 2-3
I’m in no hurry to run through this fabulous story. In my imagination, Nehemiah had lots of discretionary time on his hands. After all, how much time could it really take to be a cupbearer? I can see Nehemiah in his office writing out details on his dry-erase board, sketching plans from memory, having his brothers and fellow Jews take a look and make sure he’s remembering correctly. All the while, his waiting the that moment.
In the few months since Nehemiah heard the sad news about Jerusalem, he prayed and fasted and asked God for insight as he confessed for sins he probably never considered. Then the day came when the king noticed.
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Nehemiah 2:4
King Artaxerxes asked two questions, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” and Nehemiah responded with his plan Nehemiah 2:7-9:
- may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates for safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?
- may I have a letter to Asaph, 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?”
- The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
Sanballat, governor over Samaria*, and Tobiah, governor over Transjordan under the Persians*, were not pleased. Tobiah, in particular, was connected to Eliashib the priest. Watch these characters as the play unfolds.
Inspection of the Walls
Even if the king sent only a few officers with Nehemiah, his arrival in Jerusalem could not have been missed. He waited three days to begin his inspection, but this was still a secret mission at this point. Nehemiah went out at night to inspect the walls.
The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Nehemiah 2:16
Nehemiah gathered the intelligence he needed and was ready to talk to his brothers, those in charge of Jerusalem. It’s no surprise to me that they were motivated to agree with Nehemiah’s plan. We don’t see all the details in the text, but we know the project was completed in record time which leaves me with the belief that his plan was incredibly detailed: quantity of timbers, where they should go and when each needed to show up on the job site. Any construction manager would read the story of Nehemiah and gasp at the incredible results and agree he was a master planner.
Nehemiah Named the Key Workers
Chapter 3 is all about giving credit to the people who did the work. In 32 verses, Nehemiah captures the names and positions of 40+ men who participated in the reconstruction of about 45 sections. His list includes goldsmiths, priests, perfume-makers, daughters; some lazy and others who worked zealously, some in positions of authority and even the sixth son of Zalaph joined in the work.
A couple of thoughts come to mind here: 1) Nehemiah knew the people and 2) he took time to document the names and heritage of the people that helped. My supposition is that Nehemiah’s full-time job was one that required knowledge of a lot of moving parts and people. He kept track of who did what and when and where pieces moved–that’s how he ensured the king was safe as a cupbearer. Those skills are put to use in rebuilding the walls, but even more, Nehemiah is rebuilding the people by writing down their names and giving them recognition. So many leadership lessons to learn here!
Don’t miss this: Nehemiah knew that people ultimately mattered while at the same time he attended to the business of rebuilding the wall. He balanced both–an incredible CEO.
I believe Nehemiah devoted himself to learning who was in Jerusalem, who could be counted on to do great work, those who were going to need extra supervision and those who needed to be under careful watch. Kinda sounds like a typical group of people, whether in a church as staff and volunteers or in a business with hourly and salaried professionals. People matter to God, so they should matter to us. No doubt Nehemiah’s ability to keep track of all these people was based on his gifts and talents, his personal wiring and incredible tenacity, but we can do the same if we recognize the importance of those we interact with every day. His success was a result of taking time to pray and ask God for very specific help. Prayer and people, the DNA of Nehemiah.
Lord, thank you for the details in these chapters that honor Nehemiah’s commitment to doing your work. May we learn from his example and do the work of your kingdom on earth here in our own towns and villages.
*NIV Study Bible notes–likely position of Sanballat and Tobiah based on context and historical documents.