Why Should the Work Cease? - 1
The entire Bible story is set against the backdrop of conflict. Conflict between good and evil. Conflict between man and God. Conflict between husband and wife. Conflict between brothers. Conflict between sisters. Conflict between parents and children. Conflict between Satan and God. Conflict between Satan and man. Conflict within nations. Conflict among nations. Conflict between flesh and spirit. Conflict between Jew and Gentile. Conflict between the church and the world. Conflict among God’s people. Conflict, for followers of God, is impossible to escape. In fact, conflict in this world is impossible to escape.
The whys of conflict are manifold, but likely boil down to a few truths. We are moral beings, created with an understanding of right and wrong. We are free moral beings, created with the ability to do as we please. We almost innately think of self first, thus are prone to act accordingly. We are influenced by Satan in his effort to undermine God. Put these things together, and conflict is almost guaranteed.
Given the certainty and frequency of conflict, it is imperative that those who lead God’s people become adept at doing their job in the midst of such. There are ample warnings and instructions in the NT about difficulties among God’s people – Acts 6.1f; Acts 15.1f; Rom. 14-15; 1 Cor. 1.10f; 5.1f; Gal. 5-6; Phil. 4.1f; 1 Tim. 1.3f; 2 Pet. 3.1f; etc. Anyone who has accepted one of the roles of leadership in a local church should give due attention to these various instructions.
But there are also examples provided to us so that we might see how God’s men have led others in the midst of great difficulty. Some examples are not so glorious. Moses became angry when the Israelites rebelled in Num. 20, and in doing so, sacrificed his entry into the promised land. David mourned publicly over the death of his treasonous son, and almost sacrificed the loyalty of his most trusted soldiers (2 Sam. 18-19). Zedekiah cowered before the princes of Israel rather than heeding the words of Jeremiah, and his failure resulted in the razing and burning of Jerusalem and the temple (Jer.38-39). On the other hand, the apostles were wise in their handling of the conflict in Acts 6, and the sage counsel of women like Abigail (1 Sam. 26) or the woman of Abel Beth Maachah (2 Sam. 20) averted unjust bloodshed and preserved the dignity of David’s rule. One such powerful example of good leadership in the midst of great conflict is found in the account of Nehemiah 2-6.
In this passage, Nehemiah has left his position as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia and returned to Jerusalem for the express purpose of rebuilding the city and its walls. Upon arriving, he is confronted with two primary sources of conflict – one from outside the city and its people, and one internal in nature. The threat from without was the opposition of those regional Gentile rulers who had filled the void of power when the Jews were exiled. They were in the habit of intimidating and abusing those who had returned from captivity. Thus, they attempted to halt the construction of the wall both by threat of violence toward the people and by an assassination scheme against Nehemiah himself. The internal threat which con-fronted God’s leader was perhaps more dangerous. The nobles who were exerting political power over their Jewish brethren were unwilling to participate in the building of the wall (due to the intimidation of the Gentile rulers?). Moreover, they were enslaving their countrymen by economic chicanery. They secured family lands in exchange for grain and then charged exorbitant interest so that the lands and houses could not be repurchased. Furthermore, these leaders were excising the Persian taxes on the land at the hands of the poor people while not contributing themselves. Thus, Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem with serious difficulties before him.
Please note, first of all, the response of Nehemiah in the face of such threats:
1. He continued the planning and execution of the building of the wall (Neh. 2-3).
2. He was unafraid to confront the source of conflict (Neh. 2.19-20; 5.7f).
3. He maintained his confidence in God and His work (Neh. 2.17-20; 4.14; 5.14f; 6.3f).
4. He inspired the effort of others (Neh. 2.18; 3.1f; 5.10f).
5. He prayed (Neh. 4.4-5,9; 5.19).
6. He made needed provisions to insure success (Neh. 4.9-23; 5.10,14f).
7. He gave serious thought to his response and action (Neh. 5.7).
8. He brought to bear the influence of God, his brethren, history, and himself (Neh. 5.7-14).
9. He reminded others of God’s judgment (Neh. 4.14f; 5.12-13).
10. He remained personally focused upon his work (Neh. 6.3).
God has recorded for us these details for a reason. Nehemiah was effect-tive, though he faced threats both from without and from within. He arrived in Jerusalem at a critical time in Israel’s history, as evidenced in the books of both Ezra and Malachi. The Babylonian captivity was over, but the remnant who had returned to the land were discouraged and distraught (Neh. 1.3). They were failing of proper service to God and that failure was preventing God’s blessings upon them. They were being oppressed by surrounding power and by the godlessness of their own nobles. And Nehemiah led them through these serious threats. So, what can we learn about leadership in the midst of conflict from Nehemiah?
(to be continued).