While the majority of the Jews had returned to their homeland, Nehemiah remained in the courts of Medo-Persia. Being content in his position and place in life, he could have ignored the men of Judah. Instead, with personal investment, he asks his brethren about two things: (1) the status of his people: “the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity” and (2) the condition of Jerusalem: the capital of his people as well as the city where God had chosen to place His presence in the past.
The report is negative: (1) the status of the people:“in great affliction and reproach” and (2) the condition of Jerusalem:“wall…is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.”
Biblical leadership is not only concerned with achieving an objective, goal, or project, but also considers the state of the people. When it comes to people, we have issues that are internal (“great affliction,” or troubles) and/or external (“reproach,” or shame). Nehemiah adeptly ministers by using the task at hand (the broken infrastructure and protective barrier of the wall) to minister to deeper social and spiritual problems associated with it (the burned visage of their entrance, embarrassment, dishonor, humiliation, indignity, God’s seeming silence).
Leaders today have much to glean from this passage. Problems range not only in political, intellectual, philosophical, economic, and/or structural spheres, but it could be argued that the most important area is spiritual. This is where the most amount of light, compassion, and grace are needed. This is where Christians are called, ultimately, to impact.
As soon as Nehemiah heard the report, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. More than an impersonal project, Nehemiah had emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual energy invested. A biblical leader is not one who starts their task with glory in mind, but rather with a burden placed upon the heart.
The work of Jerusalem’s reconstruction started before, but was not completed due to political maneuvers (Ezra 4:4–24). Upon hearing the discouraging report, Nehemiah saw the larger picture. Not only was the reputation of God’s people at stake, but God’s reputation was at stake. The walls provided a defensive barrier against enemies. If these walls were inferior, not only did it reflect upon the engineering capabilities of the Jews, but also the protective ability of their God.
We must ask questions about the spiritual condition of individuals around us as well as larger organizations like the church. Sloppy results and the lack of excellence reflect our ideas about, as well as relationship, with God. When His reputation and people are at stake, we may very well be called to repair these “walls” for His glory.