A fabulous example of holy leadership as Nehemiah goes from cupbearer to the King to governor of Jerusalem in charge of rebuilding the wall. A golden time of community achievement and celebration.
He is idealistic, he is practical, he mucks in, he is fair. Great role model for leadership.
But at the end of it all, the people have not changed, and the sealed off racially separate ideal does not match the prophets’ promise of a new Jerusalem where all nations gather, where the lamb/servant king takes away the sins of the world. The people don’t return on a highway with crocuses blooming in the desert, its anti-climactic.
I learn much about the focus and practicality of good leadership, but there is something off, out of kilter. We know now of course that the last stories of the old testament are not the end of the biblical story… but so did they, prophetically, when they wrote them. You could not imagine a better leader than Nehemiah, or a people with more good will. Yet they could not create the kingdom of God for more than a year or so. There has to be a better way…
Man with a mission
1 Nehemiah is cupbearer to the King, but hearing of the return of some Jews to a broken Jerusalem, he knows it is his fate to do something, and he fasts and prays
2 Stepping into a politically charged climate, quietly inspecting the state of the walls, he is a model leader, driven by idealism and mission, yet canny as a fox.
Building the wall, great leader, great task
3 Recording who built what of the wall, a great communal task, a shared labour of love of God
4 Under threat of attack from those who oppose the wall, Nehemiah is a model of encouragement and good sense. Doesn’t so much as change clothes til its done.
5 Made Governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah is an admirable example, sharing the benefits of his position generously, and shaming the greedy.
6 Nehemiah has various untrustworthy voices, but gets focus by listening to God first.
Celebration time, rediscovering identity
7 Wall finished, people rejoice. A simple, unesoteric concrete task well done. The poetry and the prophets follow this section, confusing everything with messianic talk…
8 Reading of the law leads to a spontaneous festival, and a rediscovery of identity. My identity is in the word of God.
9 Celebrations continue with confession and remembering history
10 Promise to follow the law, incl. racial purity, year of Jubilee and tithing. The chosen people thing is undercut by the prophets who spoke of all nations and a new Jerusalem.
11 List of residents of Jerusalem 2.0
12 Arrangements for supporting holy workers, including villiages of musicians. The dedication ceremony for the wall involved 2 choirs at opposite ends marching to meet in the middle – pure theatre!
It doesn’t last…
13 Negative note to end, when life settles down, all the corrupt practices return, the law is not followed. Distraught, Nehemiah can only say to God “I did my best”. Begging the rest of the biblical story…