But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. Nehemiah 4:7-15
Effective Leadership in Times of Crisis
When the enemies of the Jews realized their mocking and ridiculing did not discourage the Jews from continuing with the repair work, they became angry. Verse 7 says their attitude turned from mockery to anger when “Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed.” The wall was only half its original height at that point, but it was almost continuous now. The concern was that the walls were becoming impenetrable and the work was succeeding. Therefore, the enemies of the Jews plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (v. 8). The hatred of the enemies of Jerusalem had gone to a crescendo because of the success of the repair. Now, they didn’t just want to mock the repair, they wanted to go to war against the city (v. 9). In response, Nehemiah went to the Lord in prayer. Here again, we see the wisdom of Nehemiah by trusting God to fight his enemies. As an extra measure of precaution, Nehemiah posted a guard day and night to warn the city in case of an attack.
Evidently, the persistent threat of the enemies of Jerusalem was having an impact on the people living and working in the city. In verse 10, it was brought to Nehemiah’s attention that “the strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that they could not continue with repairing the wall. At this point, the laborers were at the half-way point in their repair work. Despite all their best effort, much repair remains to be done, but they are fatigued as they have had to work day and night. To make matters worse, the heap of rubble that had accumulated in the city was causing the laborers to feel overwhelmed. “The work of rebuilding the walls was not only construction, but cleaning and hauling away the rubbish. The ruins of the walls, lying in waste for 100 years had become a collecting point for all kinds of rubbish.” The rubbish had to be removed so they can strengthen the foundation of the walls. Though such work was tiresome, it was mandatory for the success of the repair.
While Nehemiah was dealing with this challenge, he also had to contend with challenges from the outside as the enemies of the Jews talked about a surprise attack against the laborers and the city to put an end to the work (v. 11). The fear became contagious as Jews who lived near the people who wanted the work to stop came and told Nehemiah and the rest of the laborers they were being told that “Wherever you turn, they will attack us” (v. 12). Nehemiah could not dismiss the threat. He “stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows” (v. 13). Having faith in God does not mean one should not take the necessary precautions and remain vigilant against aggression. Nehemiah was responsible for the well-being and safety of the laborers and the other people in Jerusalem. It was his idea to rebuild the wall. The people trusted his leadership to bring the repair to completion. But then again, he could not run back to the king of Babylon to ask for help. He needed to take a stand against his enemies with the resources God made available to him.
The idea of posting people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places with swords, spears, and bows was a great deterrence against enemy attack. Such a strategic move demonstrated resolve from Nehemiah and the people who were repairing. It sent the message that the people were not afraid, but that they were determined to complete the rebuilding of the walls. In verse 14, Nehemiah gave a pep talk to the nobles, the officials, and the people to be strong and courageous as God told Joshua and Moses. He admonished them not to be afraid of the enemies of the Jews, but to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” That talk did not only motivated and boosted the spirits of the people it also reached their enemies. Verse 15 says that the people returned to the wall, each to their own work and the threatened attack did not materialize.
The focus of this passage should be on the leadership skills of Nehemiah. The way he managed the crisis the people faced is impressive. When the enemies of the people threatened to attack Jerusalem and to stir up trouble against it, Nehemiah did three critical things. First, he prayed. Godly leaders do not respond to a crisis as others do. For, the weapons of our warfare are not weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. The enemies of the Jews wanted to erect the stronghold of fear in the mind of the laborers and the people of Jerusalem. The prayer of Nehemiah demolished that stronghold. In addition, Nehemiah’s prayer reminded the people that they are working for the Lord. That gave them a sense of divine legitimacy that gave them the courage to press on despite the threats of their enemies.
Secondly, Nehemiah posted a guard day and night to meet the threat. This sent a powerful message that he was determined to protect the hard work the people had already done. It also lets the enemies know that there wouldn’t be any surprise attack. Many people are overcome by the enemy because they do not protect their defenses. Instead, they allow the enemy to do sneak-attack on their relationships, marriages, finances, health, career, or spiritual life. The enemy has made it clear that he going to attack us until we transition to glory. Yet many people leave themselves wide open and vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. Believers should always pray that God would reveal their blind spots so they can be on guard against the enemy.
Thirdly, when the strength of the laborers was giving out, he dealt with that internal challenge head-on. He reassured the people, gave them a plan of action to continue rebuilding despite the rubble. Here again, we see that Nehemiah did not allow internal and external challenges to stop the rebuilding work. An effective leader knows how to navigate the team through tough challenges while keeping the focus on the ultimate goal. Such a leader does not react to challenges. Rather they continue to press forward decisively while doing everything within their power to protect the people they lead. Fourth, he stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears, and bows. That reassured the people that he was committed to their being and the completion of the repair. It also lets them know that he was so committed to the vision that he was willing to fight and die for it. The leadership lesson here is one of dedication, perseverance, and vigilance. Nehemiah did not allow the enemies of the people to scare him or to stop the repair from going forward.
Lastly, his leadership was reflective and not reactive. Like a chess master, Nehemiah planned far ahead of his enemies. He anticipated how his enemies would respond. He knew how to inspire and empower the people despite the challenges they faced. His inspiring message to the nobles, the officials, and the people was the same one God gave to Joshua when Joshua was consecrated as the leader of the people after the death of Moses. He reminded them that they were on the side of God. Therefore, they should not be afraid. Instead, they should put on the whole armor of God and fight for the families, their sons and their daughter, their wives, and their homes. Such an inspiring charge empowers the people to continue repairing the walls as we read in verse 15.
Blessed Lord, give us the wisdom and the courage to lead with wisdom as we seek to do your kingdom work.