LIVING THE VISION
This is the fifth in a series of articles about the book of Nehemiah. Bishop King has invited all South Georgia United Methodists to join him in studying this book.
Nehemiah received a God-inspired vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The vision was cast and widely received by the people. An enthusiastic group was repairing the walls.
However, real life constantly made the rebuilding project a test for everyone. Nehemiah had to do more than one thing at a time. He had to manage the predictable and unpredictable circumstances that threatened the people with whom he was working while simultaneously stewarding the vision.
In the previous chapters we read about external opposition repeatedly threatening the welfare of everyone involved with the project. The opponents did not want the walls rebuilt. Their various acts of intimidation were intended to stop the project. Nehemiah was constantly trying to manage the threat and keep the vision of a restored Jerusalem moving forward.
Chapter five presents a new series of challenges brought on by a collision of famine, economic distress, and injustice. This time the locus of the threat is “inside” the Jewish family.
The chapter begins with a great protest arising from those who are bearing the brunt of the suffering during the famine. Some are from big families who need larger quantities of food to survive. Some are borrowing against their land to get enough grain to survive. Some are taking out loans to pay the royal tax, which was levied based on the anticipated crop yields regardless of the fact that there were no crops produced (verses 1-5).
The distress is palpable. People are suffering. Families are losing their property. Sons and daughters are being sold into slavery to their own kindred for food to eat.
Things would be bad enough if it were only the famine that contributed to the crisis. Nehemiah is confronted with the problems because the men who would normally be trying to get something from the harvest were busy rebuilding “Nehemiah’s” walls.
Nehemiah was exasperated at the injustice being perpetrated against the Jews by the Jews. Nehemiah “thinks it over,” and then takes action to confront the injustice (verse 6).
The next several verses report how Nehemiah challenged the responsible parties. He speaks to them alone and then calls a community-wide assembly. He reminds everyone how this injustice is similar to the suffering experienced in the very recent past at the hands of foreign oppressors (verses 7-9).
Nehemiah calls for restoration of the people: Give back the property. Stop lending money and grain. Make your brothers and sisters whole. Stop treating your own kindred unjustly (verses 10-11).
The nobles and officials repent. They promise to restore everything and to demand nothing more (verse 12). The priests are called in to seal this promise and Nehemiah adds a prophetic word of warning for good measure (verse 13).
Once again, Nehemiah models exemplary leadership by the way he deals with the real-life circumstances that impact the people with whom he is sharing life and leadership.
The most task-driven among us would call these external and internal threats “interruptions” because they take our focus off “our” project.
Singular focus on the task without sensitivity to the safety, pains, threats, loss, and suffering of those with whom you are working makes the leader more like the “villains” in Nehemiah’s story than a model leader.
Visionary leaders have the capacity to juggle many challenges while stewarding the vision. Providential wisdom is an added resource for leaders facing trials and tests along the way as they steward God-inspired visions.
Wave after wave of problems come Nehemiah’s way. Prayerfully, he untangles each complex challenge and he addresses each situation while always leaning forward into God’s preferred future.
Nehemiah is not in God’s preferred future, yet. More waves are to come. Irrepressible leadership is constantly needed, as we will see in the next chapter.
Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.