Day 8      Nehemiah 2 ... A Man for All Seasons

Sixty-five years passed. The Jews had a temple in Jerusalem, yes, but very little beyond that. The holy city was sparsely occupied; most Jews had settled in the outlying villages and towns rather than inside its crumbling walls. Indeed, with all the intermarriage and mixing with foreigners, the entire community seemed on the verge of losing its unique identity. The Jews' cultural and religious heritage was slipping away.

What could stop the downhill slide? One man, a Jewish exile who had stayed behind in Babylon, had an idea. Like Daniel before him, Nehemiah had risen in the ranks of a foreign government (Persia), and was prospering. Nevertheless, his heart was with his countrymen back in Jerusalem, and when he heard the dismaying reports from that city he felt compelled to act. He obtained the king's permission to lead an expedition to Jerusalem with the goal of rebuilding the city's wall.

You would have to live in the ancient world, or in medieval Europe, to fully appreciate the importance of a city wall. In an age when nomadic warriors posed a constant danger, a wall offered a city its only security. It was for lack of a wall that the Jews had scattered among their neighbors and were now facing permanent assimilation into other cultures. By constructing a wall, Nehemiah could help make Jerusalem into a sacred city again and protect its Jewish residents by controlling who else came and went.

Nehemiah stands in a long line of remarkable Israelite leaders such as Moses, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Strictly speaking, he was not a prophet, although he was surely a man of God. He did not act without prayer, and he did not pray without acting. Although he had enormous skills in management and leadership, he did not seek after earthly status - if he had, he never would have left Persia.

Nehemiah improvised as he went, meeting each new challenge with a combination of business savvy, courage, and dependence on God. He mobilized work crews, fought off opposition, reformed the court system, purified religious practice, and, when necessary, rallied the troops with stirring speeches. And he did all this while "on leave" from his responsibilities as statesman in the Persian court.

Point to Ponder: Do you see any secrets of success in this record of Nehemiah's actions?