There are two styles of leadership. One is project-focused while the other is people-focused. The former is into plans, deadlines, tasks, and objectives, while the latter is into relationships, teams, and spirit. Up to this point, Nehemiah has shown his competence in the former. This week’s passage looks at his pivot towards the latter.
Instead of using the words “I”, “my”, and “you,” Nehemiah uses the words “we” and “us” in 2:17, 18. He identifies with the people, expressing sympathies and eliciting their shame for the deplorable condition of the walls. He does not complain and accuse them of indolence and indifference, but suggests, rather, an initiative to rebuild. People are easily discouraged, but Nehemiah provides encouraging words of consideration, news of the king’s support, and the promise of God’s blessings. Inspiring people is as hard a task for a leader, as visioning and planning for a project. However, working with people has its own set of challenges.
Leadership is not relegated to the theoretical or abstract, but there are real lives which are affected. Some of these lives can react adversely to the vision. Immediately after inspiring the people with his testimony, Nehemiah faces opposition. Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and Tobiah, the governor of Ammon team up with Geshem, the confederate leader of the Arabian tribes. Their response was first laughter, mocking the divine initiative. Their second response was scorn, insinuating ulterior motives in Nehemiah’s leadership.
Two antagonists are identified in 2:10, Sanballat and Tobiah. But in 2:19, a third party has joined them. Sanballat hails from the north; Tobiah the Ammonite is rooted in the east; and Geshem, of the Arab tribes, is from the south of Jerusalem. The oppositional trio were essentially saying their reigns from the north, south, and east of Jerusalem should have an influence over the future of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah did not defend himself or respond to their accusations. He simply claimed God as his benefactor and discredited their claims upon the region of Judah (2:20). Those opposing our visions may very well have logical and rational reasons, but a godly leader perseveres with their vision without getting distracted by pointless argumentation.
Nehemiah shows courage in counteracting the accusations of the three states around him. His courage stems from his assurance of God’s ownership and stake in the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not become a people-pleaser, but in the integrity of his character, stayed his course. Biblical leadership is never afraid of failure, never anxious of losing position, but always fixed on the reputation of God, the promises of God, and the power of God.