8. The Priorities of Godly LeadersRelated Media
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.” Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there: These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah)…
What are the priorities of godly leaders?
If you go through the cities of Europe, you will find many great cathedrals; however, the problem with these cathedrals is that nobody worships there anymore—all the people are gone. Similarly, Nehemiah had rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem in fifty-two days, but only a few people were living in the city (v. 4). Therefore, he began to labor to rebuild and to restore the people. This labor is detailed here in chapter 7 and throughout the rest of the book.
If we are going to build up the people of God, what steps must we take? Many of our churches and Christian communities are just shells of what they used to be. They began with revival and were used to ignite the communities they were in, but now many of them are simply surviving. They are on life support. Many of our Christian schools started off with a mission to send out pastors and missionaries, but now they are secular. If many of us looked at our individual lives, we would see times where we loved God more and were more passionate for him.
How do we rebuild the community we serve and also our own spiritual lives? If we are going to rebuild, it must start out with a renewed focus. It must start out with a change in priorities. I think we see something of this in this chapter.
What are the first things that Nehemiah did in seeking to rebuild the nation of Israel after the completion of the wall? His first actions show us his priorities and, therefore, what our priorities should be in seeking to rebuild our communities, our churches, and our lives. When the first things are first everything else falls into place. Here in this text we will see six priorities of godly leadership in building up a people for God.
Big Question: What are Nehemiah’s priorities after the completion of the wall and how can we apply these truths to build up the body of Christ and our spiritual lives?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Worship
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed.
The first thing that Nehemiah did after the rebuilding of the wall is appoint gatekeepers, singers, and Levites. Why did he do this?
It seems very clear that Nehemiah does this in order to set up the worship of Israel. The Levites were called to maintain the temple, which probably had been neglected while the Israelites were just trying to survive without walls, and they were called to teach the people Scripture.
Nehemiah established the singers to lead Israel’s praise. Even the gatekeepers played a role in the worship of Israel. Now it is good to remember the walls that had been rebuilt weren’t around Israel, but only around Jerusalem, the capital city, where the worship was supposed to happen. Therefore, people from all over Israel and even other nations would go through the gates of Jerusalem to worship God. In fact, certain gates were particularly important for worship such as the Sheep Gate. This was not just for random sheep but for sheep that were to be sacrificed at the temple.
When Nehemiah appointed the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites, he was reestablishing the worship of Israel. That was his first priority. In fact, it should be noted that Israel had struggled with worship, especially while they were exiled in Babylon. Listen to what the Jews in Babylon wrote:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
It was hard for them to sing while they were outside the land and being harassed by foreigners, and no doubt, they still struggled while they were back in Jerusalem without walls, similarly being harassed and attacked by their neighbors. Therefore, Nehemiah reestablished the worship of Israel starting with the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers.
In addition, this was also a problem with the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. Jesus said to them:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
They were doing many good things but neglecting the main thing. They were doing good works, testing false apostles, persevering through hardship; they hated the practice of the Nicolaitans (v. 6) and yet had lost their first love. Consider what Christ said to them:
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and caring for our neighbor is second. To neglect loving and worshiping God breaks the greatest commandment and invites his judgment. He threatened to remove their lampstand, which meant their ability to be a witness in their community and maybe even destruction. Many churches are no longer effective for Christ because they put some issue, some good cause before him. Their worship is dead, and therefore, their ministry died as well. Worship must be first.
The church should be concerned about many good and worthy causes: feeding the poor, abortion, trafficking, evangelism, missions, etc. However, none of these should come before worship. Worshiping God and seeking his face must be the focus of the church (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). When anything else takes that place in the life of the church, we have lost our first love and are in danger of being disciplined by God.
If we lose our first love, if we neglect the worship of God as the priority of our lives and our communities, then God is just in disciplining us and removing our lampstand. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). We shouldn’t even neglect worship for the sake of ministry. Like Mary, we must daily rush to sit at the feet of Jesus, for it is the one thing needed that will not be taken from us (Luke 10:42).
How do we restore our first love, our worship? Christ said to the Ephesian church that they should remember the height from which they had fallen. Then repent and do the works they did at first (cf. Rev 2:5). We should remember when God was our first love, our delight, and then do what we did then. Were we faithfully reading the Bible, attending a small group, or serving? Then we should do that in order to put God first and restore our worship.
When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, the first thing he established was worship. As godly leaders, we must always point people back to the Word of God, to corporate worship with the saints, and to seeking the Lord for that must be the priority of every believer.
In what ways has worship ceased to be your priority? What is taking the place of your first love? Is it work, family, hobbies, or ministry? Let us repent and turn our focus back to Christ.
Nehemiah appointed the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers probably because worship had been neglected. The people put their circumstances, their survival, their careers, their families, etc., in front of God, and therefore, worship became a lesser priority.
Is worship your priority? Or are you neglecting God and putting something else first in your life?
Application Question: What are your major distractions from prioritizing the worship of God? How can we help ourselves or those whom we minister to, to re-prioritize worship?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Raising up Leaders
I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.
Observation Question: What were the characteristics of Hanani and Hananiah, the two men appointed to leadership by Nehemiah?
The next thing Nehemiah did, after reestablishing the worship of Israel, was choose leadership for Israel. Nehemiah realized he could not lead Israel alone—he needed help. Therefore, he set up two leaders in Jerusalem: Hanani, his brother, and Hananiah.
Obviously, Nehemiah knew Hanani to be a man of God. In chapter 1, Hanani alerted Nehemiah to the problems in Israel, prompting him to go back and initiate the rebuilding of the walls. Hanani was a man with the same heart as Nehemiah.
He also selected Hananiah. Hananiah was the “commander of the citadel.” This means he was a military leader who protected the Persian palace, but more than that, he was a man of “integrity” or it can be translated “faithful” as in the KJV. Nehemiah also said he feared God more than most men.
Here I think we learn something about the characteristics of those we should consider selecting for leadership positions, those we should mentor for future leadership, and also who we should be. It is good to remember that when Christ came to build up the nation of Israel, he also selected future leaders—the apostles. He trained them throughout his three years of ministry.
Similarly, we are called to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20) and to specifically train up others to serve in the church (cf. Heb 10:24-25, Eph 4:12-16).
The priority of every godly leader should be mentorship and training others for future leadership. But also this should challenge us to make sure we have the qualities of one whom God could raise up into leadership.
Application Question: What can we learn about potential leaders, those we should mentor and raise up, by the characteristics of the men Nehemiah chose?
1. Potential leaders must be faithful.
Hananiah was a man of integrity or faithfulness. Certainly, the same was true about Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani. He was the one who told Nehemiah about the problems in Israel after returning from a visit. Then he followed Nehemiah back to Israel and served with him. No doubt, he was a faithful man.
When Paul was concerned about raising future leaders for the church, he told Timothy to find “reliable men” or it can be translated “faithful men” to train so they could teach others. He said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
To have integrity means to be honest or to adhere “to moral and ethical principles.”1 Hananiah and Hanani were people Nehemiah could trust; they were people who followed through with their commitments. Similarly, when God is seeking for someone to use, he finds somebody who is faithful. Christ said this in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
The person who is faithful with the little God has given him, will be faithful over much. We see these faithful qualities in the requirements for pastors. They must run their household well and their children must be obedient (1 Tim 3:4-5, Titus 1:6). If a husband cannot faithfully oversee the people in his house (little), then he cannot faithfully oversee the people in a church (much). Paul said that they must be hospitable, which means a lover of strangers (1 Tim 3:2). If they care for those they do not know by taking them into their home and providing for them, then they will faithfully care for strangers in the house of God.
This is what Scripture says: if one is faithful with little, then he will be faithful over much. But if one is not faithful with little, then he will be unfaithful with much.
I think one of the faithful things we must look for in future leadership is a consistent and disciplined devotional life. This seems like something little, but it is immensely important. David said he learned that the person who “meditated day and night” on God’s law prospered in everything he did (Psalm 1:2-3). If we want to raise up successful leaders, they must be people who are faithful in their devotional lives.
This little thing called meditating on the Bible day and night will make an effective leader. Those who are not faithful in this will not be effective and probably shouldn’t be in spiritual leadership at all. If a person is unfaithful in little, they will be unfaithful in much.
I have no doubt when Nehemiah looked at Hananiah, he saw a man who loved the Word of God, faithfully shepherded a believing family, and attended temple. He worked with integrity and honored God in all he did. That’s probably why he called him faithful and selected him for leadership. And, no doubt, with Hanani it was the same.
Are you faithful with the little things such as: your devotional life, your care of family and friendships, your work, your studies, etc.? God looks at the little things when selecting leadership. He finds the one who faithfully shepherds his little flock of sheep and raises him up to lead Israel. Are you faithful with little?
2. Potential leaders must fear God.
It also says Hananiah feared God more than others. That’s pretty interesting because “the fear of God” is not something we typically think of as being quantified or added up. But the reality is that some fear God more than others.
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to fear God?
- To fear God means to revere him—to understand and stand in awe of his characteristics—his perfections.
To fear God essentially means to worship him. Hananiah was a man who loved to worship. That’s the same characteristic we saw in David, the one God exalted to be king of Israel. He was the primary writer of the book of Psalms, the worship hymnal of Israel. He loved to sing praises to the Lord and honor him. It was David who said, “one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). When God selects a leader, he finds somebody who loves to worship and adore him.
Do you love to worship God? When we look for leaders, we must find people who love to worship and dwell in God’s presence. People who are apathetic towards worship are not fit for leadership.
- To fear God means to fear his wrath and discipline.
Scripture says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). It can also be translated chastens and scourges as in the KJV. To chasten is to rebuke and to scourge is to whip. The people whom God selects for leadership are afraid of God’s discipline—his spankings.
Jonah told God, “No” and God sent a storm in his life. He would have drowned in the sea if it wasn’t for being swallowed by a big fish. God disciplines his children. He killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the church and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). Some of the members of the Corinthian church were sick, weak, and some had died because they dishonored the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:29-30). God is a God of wrath who is angry at sin all day (Psalm 7:11). When God selects a leader, he finds somebody who fears him.
Solomon said the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). Fearing the Lord is important because it enables people to make wise decisions. Because we want wise decision makers in leadership, we must find people who fear God.
A lot of people lack wisdom because they do not fear God. They look at God as their buddy who is simply there to forgive their sins and answer their prayers. There is no fear of a holy God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). And this is the very reason so many believers live such foolish and wasteful lives.
In fact, what makes this lack of fear so much worse is that it endangers other people. When Jonah was in sin, it almost killed a bunch of bystanders on a boat with him going to Tarshish (Jonah 2). When David, full of pride, counted the people of Israel, it led to the death of thousands in the nation (2 Sam 24). When Solomon stopped fearing God, it brought the judgment of God leading to a divided kingdom. A leader who does not fear God will lead his people into judgment.
When we look for a leader or someone to disciple, we must find a person who has a genuine fear of God, which makes him live a life of holiness.
Application Question: Why is a lack of the fear of God so common among Christians?
One of the reasons Christians lack fear is because we have so much anemic, feel good preaching in the church these days. There is no reason to fear God. A pastor at one of the biggest churches in the U.S. said on TV that he did not preach on sin anymore because his people were already discouraged, and preaching on sin would only make it worse—they needed encouragement.
Listen, if we do not preach on sin, then we are not teaching the Bible and, therefore, are raising up people who do not fear the Lord and consequently live unwise lives.
Godly leaders must be faithful, and they must fear God. They must be people of character. This is the type of person we must seek to place in leadership. This is the type of person we must mentor for leadership, and the type of person we must become.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to grow in integrity, faithfulness, and the fear of him? In what ways do you feel God is calling you to help raise up future leaders in the church?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Protecting the People of God
I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.
After establishing leadership, Nehemiah focused on the protection of the people by establishing rules for the gates and walls. In those days the gates were typically open at sunrise and closed at sunset2; however, Nehemiah established even stricter regulations. He said they should only be open when the sun was hot. Derek Kidner said this phrase referred “to the morning and evening routine, directing that the gates should be opened late and closed early.”3 Instead of opening at six am, maybe they were opened between ten to noon when the sun was hot. This made sure the people were not asleep when the gates opened. This also probably meant when the sun was going down, no longer hot, that the gates were closed and locked. This meant everybody was still awake when the gates were closed and, therefore, were less vulnerable to attack. Then, he appointed residents throughout Jerusalem to guard the walls at strategic posts and near their houses. Nehemiah’s priority was to protect the people of God, and he went to great extremes to do this.
When we look at Nehemiah’s priority of protecting the people of God, we, no doubt, see God’s priority. Jesus said he was the good shepherd and that when the wolf comes, good shepherds give their lives for the sheep (John 10:11). The good shepherd would always watch the sheep and protect them with his life. As godly leaders, we must aim to do the same.
Application Question: How can we practically apply watching and protecting the people of God to our lives? How can we protect God’s people?
1. We must watch and protect the people of God by prayer.
Listen to what God said through Isaiah:
I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
Here, God set watchman to pray over Jerusalem for the restoration of it and that it may be holy. A watchman typically sat at a strategic place on the wall of the city to alert everybody when an enemy approached. However, the watchmen God set up were primarily called to pray when they saw threats coming towards Jerusalem and ultimately for the nation’s prosperity. I believe God still has people praying for Israel until he restores the nation and fulfills his covenants with her.
Similarly, God has called us to be watchmen over his church by being alert and devoted to prayer. Listen to these texts:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
We are to be alert watchmen, as we care for the church of God. We should keep our eyes open for any potential threats. If there is division, sickness, weariness, false teaching, etc., we should pray. We should give thanks when there are blessings: open doors, unity, fruitfulness, etc. We should, with all kinds of prayers and requests, keep on praying for Christ’s church. These prayers are not only for our local congregation but for “all the saints.” We must be alert and intercede for the entire body of Christ.
God seeks to find men and women who will covenant with him in this type of ministry. Remember what he said to Ezekiel: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).
Often God can’t find people who are willing to guard and protect others from destruction. Are you willing to stand in the gap and pray for the people of God? This ministry of protecting God’s people through prayer is for everybody, but it is especially for leaders.
1. We watch and protect the people of God by being alert and sounding the alarm when we see the enemy.
Alertness was mentioned in the last point on prayer, but it will be given more attention here. First Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
Christians and Christian leaders, specifically, must be alert to the work of the devil amongst God’s people. No doubt, we saw a good picture of this with Christ and Peter right before Peter’s denial. The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail” (Luke 22:32, paraphrase). Christ was alert and sensitive to the plan of the evil one and warned his disciple.
Certainly, we should be alert to the plans and activities of the evil one in other people’s lives as well. We should be sensitive to any type of decay in their spiritual lives. Have they stopped attending small group or church? Have their conversations changed? Are they hanging around the wrong people, making wrong decisions? It is there we can trust that the evil one is at work. It is there we must aim not only our prayers but also our attention as we warn, rebuke, and encourage so they may be protected.
John the Baptist told the tax collectors to stop stealing and to make right whatever wrongs they committed. He told the wealthy to share their wealth, and he told the Pharisees to repent (Luke 3). He was a watchman over Israel, warning the people and calling them to repent.
Are you willing to be watchful over the church of God? In the same way Nehemiah set watchman over Israel and God set prayer warriors to watch over Israel, we must be willing to take part in this ministry for the church. The church has an enemy called the devil, and his only desire is to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10). It is for this reason we must be alert and warn those in danger.
2. We watch and protect people by being aware of the enemy’s tactics.
It must be remembered that if we are going to be watchful, we must be aware of the enemy’s tactics (2 Cor 2:11), as mentioned in the previous chapter. We can be sure that is why Nehemiah set specific regulations in Jerusalem. He knew the enemy would attack at certain times and in certain ways. We must, therefore, be aware of our enemy’s tactics as well.
Interpretation Question: What are some of the enemy’s tactics we can discern from Nehemiah’s regulations on the gates?
- The enemy likes to attack while people are resting.
Nehemiah told them they must not open the gate until the sun was hot. Again, this probably meant sometime around ten to noon. The people were more vulnerable early in the morning while they were asleep. Therefore, Nehemiah had the gates opened later in the day to decrease their vulnerability to a surprise attack.
Certainly, Satan also likes to attack when Christians are resting. We should be aware of our times of leisure. It is then the enemy likes to attack. He will attack with loneliness, depression, discouragement, lust, anger, etc. It is in our leisure time that addictions are often developed. We are vulnerable at our times of leisure, when we are resting. It is then we often let down our guard and are more susceptible to attack.
As mentioned in chapter 6, the enemy also likes to attack right after a victory. After a victory we typically let down our guard to rest. After finishing some great project, some great work, or after a time of spiritual renewal, those will be strategic times for the enemy to attack. We should be aware of this and, therefore, be especially alert. Satan is a cunning enemy. He has tempted man for thousands of years, and because of this, he understands human nature. He understands the vulnerability of man at times of rests—during our leisure or after a victory. We must watch ourselves and also our people at these times.
- The enemy likes to attack at night.
Enemies commonly attacked while it was dark, and therefore, Nehemiah closed the gates when the sun was no longer hot. Again, the night is often a time of relaxation when a person’s inhibitions naturally lower, making us more susceptible to temptation and sin. Certainly, Satan understands how strategic night time is as well. Listen to what Paul said:
You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-8
Paul described the world as those who belong to the night. They typically get drunk at night, are less self-controlled at night, and fall into various other temptations. But, Christians should not be characterized by the night but by the day. They should live self-controlled, godly lives. As Christians, we should always be on guard, but at certain times, we should be more alert and one of those is at night.
When do people typically fall to lust on the Internet? At night. When do conversations on the phone with one’s girlfriend or boyfriend go astray? At night. When do people have a tendency to get drunk or break the law? At night. Even when people accused Peter and the apostles of drunkenness on the day of Pentecost, he said, “It’s only nine in the morning!” meaning that nobody gets drunk this early (Acts 2:15). It was clearly understood those type of activities typically happened at night.
Let us be on guard during the day, but let us especially be on guard in the night hours. Being on guard includes getting a good night’s sleep. I would say Satan often wins the battle at night simply by people not getting proper rest. They stay up late, typically neglecting their times of prayer or devotion, and then start off the next day too tired to meet with God. Through a pattern of being undisciplined and frivolous at night, the enemy keeps the gates open to cause havoc in people’s lives. Yes, let us guard the night. Nehemiah’s strategy certainly applies to us as well.
- The enemy likes to attack the family.
Nehemiah tells them to post guards right by their homes to protect the wall by their houses. This way they would have guards to sound the alarm and alert the city in case of attack. Attacking enemies would often neglect the front gate and try to enter through the side. Listen to what Nehemiah says: “Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses” (Nehemiah 7:3).
This is significant because our enemy, Satan, also likes to attack our homes. The family is the basic unit of the church and society. When God wanted to start a kingdom, he started it with a husband and wife (a family) in the Garden of Eden. Because of this, Satan realizes if he can destroy the family, he can destroy the foundation of both the church and society. It is a very strategic target. When sin came into the world, one of the consequences was the battle of the sexes. The woman would try to control the husband and the husband would try to dominate her (cf. Gen 3:16).
From that faulty relationship, we later saw the first murder. Cain, the son of Adam, killed his brother, Abel. And this battle in the family continued throughout the rest of Scripture. In fact, the Scripture is a story of dysfunctional families.
Abraham broke the marriage order and married two wives who battled with one another. Isaac, the son of Abraham, favored the oldest son, Esau, and created jealousy with the younger son, Jacob. Jacob cheated the older brother, Esau, out of his inheritance. Jacob, the grandson of the polygamist Abraham, committed the same sin by marrying multiple wives and, similarly, had great marital strife.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, had ten older brothers who sold him into slavery. David, the king of Israel, had a son who raped his daughter Tamar. Absalom, the older brother of Tamar, killed the brother who raped his sister. Absalom, the son of David, eventually overthrew his father’s kingdom.
One of the major themes in the narrative of the Bible is how Satan continually attacked the family, and it is no different today. Not only does Satan commonly attack while people are resting and when it’s dark, he loves to attack the home—our families.
Therefore, we must guard and protect our families. We must especially protect our children from the godlessness taught through TV, music, and the Internet. Satan often destroys homes through the media. We must guard our homes by saturating them with prayer, the study of Scripture, and being involved in a Bible preaching church. We must not be unaware of Satan’s tactics.
When God sent John the Baptist to prepare Israel for Christ’s coming, one of his jobs was to restore the family. He was called to turn the fathers back to the sons and the sons back to the fathers (Mal 4:6). This must be one of our priorities as well, as we seek to build up the people of God. Godly leaders must protect the family, as that is one of the enemy’s primary targets.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen Satan use the tactic of attacking during times of rest (times of leisure and after victories) and at night in your spiritual life or others? In what ways do you feel God is calling you to better protect yourself and others from the works of the enemy?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Discerning God’s Voice
So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.
One of the common themes seen throughout Nehemiah’s memoirs is his discernment of the voice of God. He said in verse 5, “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.” He said something similar in Nehemiah 2:12 as he surveyed the broken down walls of Jerusalem. He said, “I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.” Nehemiah was a man who sought to discern the voice of God.
This is an essential priority for every godly leader. They must be committed to discerning God’s voice if they are going to effectively lead the people of God. This is important because God is the head of the church, and we are simply his under-shepherds. Some leaders abuse their leadership because they think they are the head. However, godly leaders prioritize discerning the voice of God so they can lead people according to God’s will. We see this in Nehemiah, as he discerned God’s voice and assembled the families for registration.
Application Question: How do we discern God’s voice?
1. We discern God’s voice by knowing the Word of God.
Throughout the book it is very clear that part of the way Nehemiah discerned God’s voice was by knowing Scripture. When he prayed in chapter 1, he talked about how God promised to scatter Israel for their disobedience and to restore them if they were obedient (v. 8, 9). In that prayer, he was praying the promises in Deuteronomy 30:1-5, which are reaffirmed in many other Old Testament passages. He knew it was God’s will to restore Israel’s fortunes if they repented.
When he rebuked the nobles in chapter 5, he rebuked them because they broke the law (5:9). The Jews were not allowed to charge one another interest on loans (cf. Exodus 22:25). Even in this text, as he felt led to create a census, it seems also prompted by his knowledge of Scripture.
The census was something very important. In the book of Joshua, the tribes of Israel were each given a part of the promised land (chapters 14-17). The census was necessary to establish the family rights. This was especially important for the Levites and priests who didn’t receive an allotment of the land but instead worked at the temple in Jerusalem and lived off the offerings of the people. The census or genealogy was needed to prove what tribe a person was from so they could receive their allotment and to determine the priests and Levites for service at the temple.
Again, Nehemiah’s actions show that he was a man who thoroughly knew the Scripture. In fact, at the end of the book, he rebuked Israel for intermarriage with the pagans and also for letting Tobiah, an Ammonite, live in the temple. This was another departure from God’s law. Nehemiah was clearly a man who knew God’s law and was zealous in keeping it.
In the same way, if we are going to know God’s voice, we must know Scripture. Many times the Scripture tells us exactly what to do, and at other times, it gives us principles to make wise decisions. When we live in the Word of God, we, like Nehemiah, often will discern exactly what God’s will is. David said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word gives us direction.
2. We discern God’s voice by putting him first.
Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
Nehemiah was a man who prioritized God and, therefore, heard his voice. When we make God our priority, when we acknowledge him in every way, he will also show us what paths to take.
When putting God first, you will not only find that God directs you, but he will also commonly use you to give direction to others. When they are seeking direction for their path, you will find that God gives you words of wisdom to help them discern which path to take.
As godly leaders we must know God’s voice in order to continually build others up and help them walk in God’s best for their lives.
3. We discern God’s voice by not being conformed to the world culture.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Many people can’t discern the will of God because the voice of the world is in their mind. They know what culture would tell them to do, what friends and family would tell them to do, but they can’t hear the voice of God. We must continually get rid of sin and the lies of the world culture to be able to test and approve what God’s will is. God’s will is often the opposite of culture, since Satan is the ruler of this world (cf. John 12:31, 2 Cor 4:4).
Application Question: What is God currently putting in your heart as you continually seek his face? In what ways does the culture of the world often hinder us from hearing the voice of God?
Godly Leaders Prioritize the Assurance of the People of God
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there
Interpretation Question: What was the significance of the genealogical records for Nehemiah and the Israelites?
Again, Israel rebuilt the walls, but the city itself needed to be rebuilt. It was large and spacious but had only a few people in it. God put into Nehemiah’s heart to have a registration by families of those living in Israel.
This was important to establish who was Jewish, as there were some privileges in worship that only Jews could enjoy. In fact, some priests could not minister because their records were lost. They had to wait until a priest could seek the Lord through the Urim Thummim (cf. Neh 7:63-65). It was also important to establish what tribes they were from because of certain land rights. God gave parts of the land to certain tribes as an enduring inheritance. We see that they had their own towns in Nehemiah 7:73:
The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns.
The registration was also important to establish the line of the messiah. We see genealogies used in Matthew and Luke to establish the lineage of Christ.
In fact, this list of names Nehemiah used is almost the exact list found in Ezra 2, which documented the initial people who came back to Israel from Babylon. There are slight differences, but this is probably because the list was updated, as the people were registered. Some have speculated that the “minor discrepancies are possibly due to Ezra listing those who intended to depart [from Babylon to Israel], while Nehemiah listed those who actually arrived.”4
The fact we see two lists repeated in Scripture shows how special these people and their names were. They were the faithful families who came back to Israel to worship. The list marks them as such. God did not need the list, for he knew who were his. However, the Jewish people needed to know. They needed the genealogies to prove they were part of God’s chosen people in order to enjoy the rights given them.
It is good to remember that being Jewish, especially in the Old Covenant, was special. Listen to what Paul said:
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
It was through this nation God was going to reach the world; they were to be lights to the Gentiles.
Application Question: How can we as Christians apply the need for the people to have an official census to prove they were Jewish and the tribe they were from?
Similar to Old Testament Israel, the church is now the people of God, and he has called us to be lights to the world (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10). We can be assured that God knows who are his and that he knows us by name. John 10:3 says, “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” However, like the Jews needing to take the census to prove their lineage in order to enjoy their privileges, we also need to know that we are God’s. We need to have assurance of salvation.
God knew who were his and this Jewish census wasn’t important for God. It was important for the people so they could have the rights to their land, to work in the temple as priests, or to enjoy certain elements of worship only allowed for the Jew.
Scripture teaches a similar principle about our salvation. God knows who are truly saved, but we must know as well. Therefore Scripture teaches the necessity of believers having assurance of salvation. Second Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.”
Though we don’t have a genealogical list, we still have the command to make our election sure and to test whether Christ is in us (cf. 2 Cor 13:5). This is the doctrine of assurance of salvation.
Are you sure you are saved? It is the most important thing you can be sure about in your life. How can we be sure?
Well, after accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the primary test for our salvation is growing in righteousness. Peter calls all believers to make their election sure in 2 Peter 1:10 but tells us how in the previous verses:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall
2 Peter 1:5 -10
Peter says make every effort to add to your faith goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. Peter essentially commands them to grow and says if you are not growing in these things you might not be saved. Make your election sure by growing. We are not saved by growing in righteousness but bearing these fruits proves our election. They prove we are in the Lamb’s Book of Life—registered citizens of heaven (cf. Rev 21:27).
John the Baptist and Paul taught similar things. Listen to what they said:
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
One of the things that was common in Peter’s teaching, John the Baptist’s teaching, and Paul’s was the necessity of proving one’s salvation by good deeds. Listen, nobody is saved by works, but works are necessary to prove one’s salvation. If we are without the necessary fruits, then we might not be saved. I think this is a fair application to the Jews needing to prove their Jewishness in order to enjoy the rights that came with it.
Many of the rights and blessings that come in Christ can only be taken by those who have assurance they are saved, and this assurance is more than just a confession. Listen to what Christ said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
These people had some type of faith because they called him Lord and served him on the earth. However, they never bore fruit; they continued to practice sin as a lifestyle and that is why Christ said, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!” They were never truly saved.
Christ knew them because he knows all things, but he didn’t know them personally. Are you making your election sure? I worry about Christians who stay in the church twenty years but never grow. They may simply be stagnant, but if so, they lose assurance of whether they are truly saved since they aren’t growing.
God wants his children to have assurance. They are his and that proof will be evident if they are truly saved. They will grow in love for God, love for his Word, love for others, peace, patience, faith, endurance, good works, etc. All these will prove the reality of their faith.
In Israel, a Jewish person without a genealogy would miss out on many of the privileges of his Jewishness, and I think Christians do as well. They miss the joy and the assurance that comes from knowing they are children of God and also significant protection from the evil one.
One of Satan’s primary attacks is on the Christian’s assurance of salvation. He works hard to cause those who are truly born again to doubt their salvation. That is why Paul commands believers to put on the “helmet of salvation” in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:17). The “helmet of salvation” is assurance. In spiritual warfare, Satan often aims for the head. If true Christians doubt their salvation, they will not be very productive for the kingdom. They probably won’t evangelize and serve others. They will be too worried about their own salvation to be concerned with others.
For people with false professions, Satan instead assures them that their faith is true. He promotes a false assurance. Therefore, we must make our election sure. We must test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5).
This was a priority of Nehemiah with Israel, and it should be with us as well. We must know we are his and we must help those we disciple know. Assurance is important in order to walk in the full blessings of God.
Are we on the list (cf. Rev 21:27)? Have we been born again into the family of God? Does our continual progress in the faith prove this to be true or are we stagnant and living in rebellion towards God?
Are you making your election sure? Do you have assurance of your salvation?
Application Question: Do you ever struggle with assurance of salvation? What are some other texts that teach us how we can have assurance of salvation (cf. 1 John 5:13, Matthew 5:3-10)?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Giving
It also seems that Nehemiah reestablished the worship, not only by setting up the gates, the Levites and the singers, but by working on the temple. It says the leaders gave to the temple work at the end of the chapter. Look at what it says:
Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests. Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests.
Some scholars estimated that the nobles gave over 5 million dollars in today’s currency.5 No doubt, this was partially at Nehemiah’s urging, as he reestablished the worship of Israel.
Certainly, Scripture teaches that one of the priorities of a godly leader should be giving—supporting the work of the Lord financially—and encouraging others to do so as well. Paul also urged the Corinthians to give in support of the church in Jerusalem. He encouraged them with the many promises of God to those who are faithful givers. Let us hear these promises:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
The promise to a giver is “all grace” in verse 8. This grace shows up in God providing for all our needs, but it also shows up in us abounding in every good work.
Giving is a priority for a leader because God promises to meet the needs of his people and also open the door for more righteousness in accordance to our giving. Some people may be anemic in their serving, evangelism, intercession, knowledge of Scripture, etc., and it could all be attributed to a lack of giving. God promises we will abound in righteousness if we are cheerful givers.
Consider what Paul said to the Philippians whom he was thanking for their financial support: “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account” (Phil 4:17). Paul says, “I want you to give because I want you to be credited.” No doubt, this meant receiving riches in heaven and also grace on earth.
Are you a giver? This is the priority of godly leadership. When rebuilding the lives of others, we must train them to give for this opens the door for “all grace” in their lives.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced “all grace” from God in response to faithful giving? In what ways has God been challenging you to grow in your giving (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:7)?
What are the priorities of a godly leader? How do we build up the people of God? As we look at the first things Nehemiah did after rebuilding the wall, we learn something about the godly leader’s priorities in building up the people of God and also his or her own life.
- Godly leaders prioritize worship.
- Godly leaders prioritize raising up leaders.
- Godly leaders prioritize protecting the people of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize discerning the voice of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize the assurance of the people of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize giving.
2 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 668). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
3 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 112). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 669). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
5 Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: an expositional commentary (p. 84). Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.
Related Topics: Leadership