Political Hero from The Bible: Nehemiah

In this series we take a look at ‘political heroes’ from the Bible and see what lessons we can take from them into today’s political arena. This week it's Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the true antidote to the ‘duck house’ politician. He demonstrated humility, sacrifice and perseverance from a position of leadership and service. He was a man that was deeply compassionate about the plight of the Jewish people and took it upon himself to not sit on his hands but to do something about their troubles. There’s a lot to learn from Nehemiah and here are a few of my highlights.

Nehemiah prayed…a lot

One thing you quickly notice reading through Nehemiah is that the man prayed a lot. Everything he did and every decision he made was framed by continual prayer. At the very start of the story we see Nehemiah confronted by the news that the Jews were suffering as a result of Jerusalem's city walls laying in ruins. This led him to weep, fast and pray for a period of many days.

Having spent this extended period of time praying and fasting, Nehemiah was compelled to act, showing that praying often leads to action. As Mother Theresa once said, “The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life”.

After telling the king of what lay heavy on his heart the king asked Nehemiah what he wanted him to do. Nehemiah once again prayed before responding showing again the importance of prayer to everything he did and every decision he made.

Later in the story, when Nehemiah faced serious hardships, discouragement and threats to his life, we continually find Nehemiah going to the ultimate source of strength through prayer to God.

Nehemiah was a servant leader

It had been ninety years since the first group of Jews had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian invasion, yet the city still lay in ruins and bore the same scars of that earlier ransacking. The need had been there for many years, but no-one before Nehemiah  had taken on the responsibility of leadership in the community, willing to sacrifice and serve.

It clearly wasn’t an easy decision for Nehemiah to step up and be a leader. We see that when the time came for him to speak to the king he was overcome by fear (Nehemiah 2:2).

However, as the king’s cupbearer Nehemiah had a close relationship with the king and would likely have been in the inner circle of the political elite with unrivalled influence. Consequently, he demonstrated compassion for his Jewish people and a willingness to face his fears by asking the king to send him to Jerusalem.

When he got to Jerusalem, Nehemiah embodied servant leadership. He led by example when it came to lending money, doing so without charging interest. He didn’t consider himself above others, getting his hands dirty with the building work as well as administration. And he didn’t take a wage for his position as governor of Judea, but instead used what money he’d already saved to provide for others, feeding and housing them.  

Nehemiah understood that political structures mattered

Another lesson we can learn from Nehemiah is through the way he interacted with earthly authorities and institutions. While throughout acknowleding that they come under the sovereignty of God, Nehemiah continually used political structures to get things done. We see this early on when he asks the king to write letters for him to various governors in order to grant him safe passage to Jerusalem and to gain access to the equipment he needed.

Later, when Nehemiah is confronted by the unjust money lending practices of the ruling elite, he organises an assemby of all the rulers and nobles - a kind of early Judean parliament. From the despatch box, Nehemiah presents the evidence against the harmful money lending policies and compels those present to change their practices.

Likewise we as Christians cannot ignore earthly authority. While we understand that it comes under God's authority, we must recognise that God can use political structures to bring about significant change.

When this understanding is framed by continual prayer and a willingness to step up and be a leader that serves others, Christians can bring about significant changes, overcoming opposition to rebuild cities and advance God's kingdom.

Political Hero - John the Baptist