Unrelenting Leadership

June 16, 2024 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: A Time to Rebuild

Topic: English Passage: Nehemiah 7

I have chosen a very special passage for us today as many of you celebrate Father’s Day. Today, we are going to be in Nehemiah chapters 7 and 8. If today is your first time visiting with us, you should know that Nehemiah 7 and 8 is the passage we would have been in even if it wasn’t Father’s Day.

We are continuing the story Nehemiah working to restore Jerusalem about 140 years after it was first destroyed by the Babylonians.

The altar and the Temple had been rebuilt before Nehemiah got there. And once Nehemiah arrived, it took less than two months for the wall surrounding the city to be rebuilt. But Nehemiah’s work isn’t done because his goal was more than just the completion of physical structures. Nehemiah’s goal was the glory and plan of God. As a leader among God’s people, Nehemiah knows that his work isn’t done.

To go home after building the wall would be like a church planter moving on once the church has a place to meet. Just because the people have a building doesn’t mean the work is finished.

To use a more fitting analogy for today, that would be like a father leaving his family once he’s purchased a home or secured a lease agreement for one. Having a home matters, but there’s a whole lot more to being a dad than just finding a place for the family to sleep.

In our study today, we’re going to see three additional concerns that Nehemiah had for the people. These concerns, however, were not like building a wall. They aren’t things you can just check off a list and mark as complete. For Nehemiah, these were regular or continual concerns, and they are to be the part of the regular concerns of leaders today. These concerns should regularly be on the hearts of leaders.

The first concern we see, even after the wall is built, is a concern for physical safety. Physical safety.

Look with me at Nehemiah chapter 7, verses 1-4. Nehemiah 7:1-4.

Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, [2] I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. [3] And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” [4] The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.

Typically, a city would open its gates at sunrise, and then close them at sunset. But the order is given that the gates not open until the sun is hot, which would be some hours later. This means that the gates will be open for less time.

There used to be a market on the corner of Passons and Washington, but it’s closed now. If you’ve driven by there, you know that it’s surrounded by fencing and there’s a guard in the parking lot. Why would anyone set a guard over an empty parking lot and unused building? Because empty space invites unwanted people.

People who work in commercial construction know this too. That’s why fences are put up and guards are put in place.

Nehemiah understood this principle as well. According to verse 4, Jerusalem is a large city with few people in it and few permanent structures. This brings an inherent risk. You don’t have a large, standing army ready to defend, so, the city would be an easy target for enemies. That's why the gates are to be kept open for a shorter time, and it’s why some men have been assigned as watchmen and guards.

As a people, the Israelites are still in a rebuilding phase, so they needed to take extra precautions for their physical safety.

Those of us in leadership today think about the same kinds of issues. On Sunday mornings, for example, we have a Security Team. Our Summer Kids Camp will have a Security Team as well.

What about we who are husbands and fathers? Physical safety is part of our job as the primary protectors. Some of you might know a dad who sleeps with a baseball bat nearby. Is that because Dad is paranoid? Could be. But it could also be Dad being ready to be dad. Part of a father’s role is protecting the home.

This past week some guy knocked on our door saying that the water was contaminated, so my family shouldn’t drink it or cook with it. And then he said he wanted to come into the house to test it. And he also said his company was offering some kind of treatment service to fix it.

He did not come into the house, and I didn’t sign up for the service. But I did go online to look up the company he said he worked for. And both Yelp and the Better Business Bureau had complaints about this being a scam. That made me mad because I thought about all the people who might go along with this not knowing any better, particularly elderly people with no other family in the home. There’s no one there to help protect them.

Well, dads, it’s our responsibility to help protect our households in a number of ways. Sometimes dads get a reputation for allowing risky behavior in the kids, and usually that’s because we want the kids to have fun, but there is a line somewhere, right?

Girls, when you’re turning 17 years old, and a group of friends wants to take you out on your birthday, Dad might say, “Nope.” Is that because he doesn’t want you to have any fun? No. It’s because he wants to protect you.

You young men who aren’t married yet need to start learning and applying this in your own life. As a man, you are there to help protect others. That’s part of leadership, and it’s part of what God made you to do.

Fifteen years ago, John Piper released a book on marriage. And in section, he writes about a husband’s role to lead in physical protection. Here’s what he wrote.

“This is too obvious to need illustration—I wish. If there is a sound downstairs during the night and it might be a burglar, you don’t say to her, ‘This is an egalitarian marriage, so it’s your turn to go check it out. I went last time.’ And I mean that—even if your wife has a black belt in karate. After you’ve tried to deter him, she may finish off the burglar with one good kick to the solar plexus. But you’d better be unconscious on the floor, or you’re no man. That’s written on your soul, brother, by God Almighty. Big or little, strong or weak, night or day, you go up against the enemy first. Woe to the husbands—and woe to the nation—that send their women to fight their battles.”

I recognize that’s a controversial statement today, and that’s a tragedy. It’s a result of erasing the distinction God created between men and women. I know that there are debates about how this principle gets worked out in everyday scenarios. But don’t miss the main point I’m making. My point is that leadership over a family or over a people will include concerns for their physical safety.

Now, can the concern for physical safety go overboard? Yes, it can. Where’s the line between taking care of people’s safety and allowing the family to keep doing what’s it’s supposed to be doing? That’s something moms and dads might disagree on. What level of risk is acceptable? You’re going to have to think about that for yourself and for the tasks God has given you.

On the one hand, we don’t want to be indifferent to physical safety, but, on the other hand, we don’t want to make an idol of safety, either. If you feel compelled to go out into the mission field, you will not be effective if physical safety is a primary concern. The Apostle Paul wouldn’t have been. But that doesn’t mean he just let them kill him at the first opportunity they had. There must be a place for a concern for physical safety. I’ll leave it at that, and we can move on to the second concern we see from Nehemiah's ministry.

The second ongoing concern for Nehemiah was concern for administrative clarity. Administrative clarity. What I mean by “administrative clarity” is that leadership has a responsibility to delegate and organize how work is going to get done.

We saw in verse 2 that Nehemiah assigned or delegated the task of protection to other faithful men. That’s part of organizational leadership, or administration. People have responsibilities assigned to them.

Another aspect of administration is record-keeping. For example, we elders have a list of our members. We update it when people join or leave. We keep records of our meetings and our decisions, or we assign that to someone else.

People who lead ministries have files, physical or digital, that they can refer to later. It keeps them organized, and it keeps them from having to do more work the second time.

Well, in Nehemiah’s case, his administrative leadership meant he was going to maintain a record of the people. Remember, about 140 years before this, almost everyone was killed or taken as a slave into Babylon, and only a fraction had returned.

So, Nehemiah records a list of the families that came. Genealogies mattered, first of all, because they were reminders of God’s faithfulness. But they also mattered because God had special blessings and tasks assigned to the tribes of Israel. They wanted to know where they came from.

Look at verse 5—Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

We are not going to read the genealogical list today, but it starts in verse 6 and goes all the way to verse 72. You can read it this week, if you’re so inclined. It names the leaders, the heads of households, the Levites, and the ones who were assigned to work in the Temple. It also mentions families that couldn’t prove which tribe they were associated with, so they had to wait until a priest could confirm it.

The list is very similar to what is recorded in Ezra 2, and some believe that the differences are because the group that left Persia initially was not exactly the same group that either arrived or survived up to the time of Nehemiah, for whatever reason.

The president of a company probably understands the value of good administration, but what about dads and husbands? Is there an application here for them? It may not be an implicit command, but Nehemiah’s example does give us something to consider. Administration might not be a strongpoint for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Administration in a household includes things like making sure you’ve got groceries, paying the bills, checking the bank accounts. It might not be Dad doing all of that himself, but to a certain degree, he should be aware that it’s happening and not take it for granted. Paper towels don’t just magically appear in the kitchen, not does toothpaste in the bathroom.

In Proverbs 27, the future king is told—Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?

A modern paraphrase might say, “Know how much money is in the bank. Know how much money comes in and goes out every month.” If you don’t know those numbers, find out, even if it’s in a general sense. That’s part of leadership.

Apart from finances, in my own experience and failures, I think one administrative area that we husbands need to make sure not to neglect is the calendar. What’s happening tomorrow? What’s happening next week? When are the birthdays and the family events? When is our anniversary?

I don’t want to press the application too hard because it’s not an explicit point here in the text. But it may not be a bad idea to ask your wife how well you’re doing here, and if she’s happy with it. If she and you are content to have you wake up every day and be told what’s happening, then so be it. God bless you. But if you can love your wife by paying a little more attention to the family calendar, then do it, for the glory of God and the expression of the love of Jesus.

Apparently, Nehemiah paid some attention to the calendar, because verse 73 says this—So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their towns. And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns.

At a minimum, Nehemiah knew what month it was. Maybe that’s a good starting point for some of us.

With that, we come to chapter 8, and that brings us to the third and final ongoing concern of godly leadership. There should be a concern for physical safety. There should be some concern for administrative clarity. And lastly, there should be an ongoing concern for biblical fidelity. Biblical fidelity.

Chapter 7 spoke of physical safety, but now chapter 8 brings us to the spiritual counterpart. This is spiritual protection. A leader in a marriage and in a family bears a responsibility to help the family focus on the truth—to stay committed to the word of God.

Joshua said to the people, “Me and my house will serve the Lord.” The New Testament says that a man ought to imitate Christ in the way that he loves and leads his wife. Christ washed us in the word. A father ought to raise his children in the ways of the Lord.

Any form of leadership that strays from biblical fidelity is not a genuine form of leadership. True leadership is what Paul modeled when he said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” True leadership is to help others know and serve God.

So, what does this look like for Nehemiah? The people had been scattered into Babylon and then Persia. They are back in the land with the walls rebuilt, but they are not dedicated to God’s word.

So, Nehemiah gathers them. And this time, he brings Ezra the scribe forward to read from the Law of Moses, the word of God. This is what the people needed.

Look at chapter 8, verse 2 with me—So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. [3] And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

Let’s assume “early morning” means 8:00am. That’s not too early, but let’s just say 8:00am. If Ezra read from the Law until midday, that’s four hours. People went to church for four hours to hear the word of God.

Let me give you some words to help unpack this idea of biblical fidelity. These are concepts that leaders ought to instill in others. The first word is attention. Attention. The people were attentive. They were listening.

Fathers, teach your children to listen to the word of God. More than you teach them to listen to the TV, teach them to listen to God’s word. Train them in that. Demonstrate for them, that this matters to you and it should matter to them.

The Israelites didn’t have Bibles on their shelves or on their phones. Most of them probably never read the Bible for themselves. They may not even have ever heard someone read it out loud. There were no copies for that. To many of them, it was just oral tradition, maybe memorized by some. But it wasn’t accessible.

But here comes Ezra, a man who has proven himself righteous and faithful. And he’s got the scroll with him. He is going to read the word of God. And the people are eager to listen. It’s a beautiful image.

Ezra comes forward onto a special wooden platform that they had made just for this occasion. And he’s got men standing on his right and on his left.

Verse 5—And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. [6] And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

A second word for you in regard to biblical fidelity is “reverence.” There is attention, and there is reverence. Fathers, teach this to your children. God’s word matters. God’s word is worthy of our attention and our reverence. This is the kind of ministry we want to have at our church. We want a ministry where God’s word is a priority.

Now, the Hebrew that Moses spoke was different than what these people spoke. Moses wrote the Law almost 1,000 years before this. And these Hebrews had been among Babylonians and Persians. Language changes; it shifts over time.

So, verse 7 tells us that there were men assigned to [help] the people to understand the Law. They explained it. Verse 8 says—They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

That gives us a third reminder here. And the word is “Explanation. Explanation.”

Father’s do not simply open your Bible and start reading the Proverbs to your 3-year-old and assume your job is done. Your job is not to hurl Scripture at the kids and then blame him for whatever he doesn’t understand. It is your job to help him understand it. Explain it to him.

This is the job of a Bible teacher and of a pastor or an elder. I’m not just reading. I’m trying to explain. I want you to understand what it means, and I want you to understand the implication for our life.

This is what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13—Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Read it. Teach it. Explain it. And exhort with it. Apply it to their lives.

This is what Ezra and Nehemiah were doing for the people. This wasn’t a pep rally to build group morale; this was a worship service. This was a time to give attention and reverence to the word of God, which is what the people needed even more than a new wall. This is what would guard their hearts.

A fourth word to add here is “holiness.” Attention, reverence, explanation, and holiness. This is supposed to be the result of studying God’s word. You are supposed to grow in personal holiness and moral growth.

If we are people who study the Bible, but our lives aren’t transformed, something is very wrong. That’s how the Pharisees lives in the time of Jesus, and He said they were leading people to hell.

Notice what Nehemiah says in verse 9—And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God.

But of all the practical expression of holiness, there is one particular aspect Nehemiah and Ezra want to lay on people’s hearts this day. And this will be our final word for today. The word is “joy.”

Yes, God wants an attentive people, and a reverent people, and an understanding people, and a holy people, but He also wants a joyful people.

Nehemiah says to the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” [Why?] For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

The people were mourning because they heard God’s word and they knew they couldn’t measure up. They felt burdened by their shortcomings. Do you ever feel that way? Do you think your kids ever feel like that?

These people were ready to leave and have a national day of fasting. But Nehemiah and Ezra want to say to the people, “Yes, we’ve messed up. We thought things were good, and now we’re finding out they weren’t. But today is a new start. We have God’s Law now. We’ve heard it, and he is going to work in us. So, today is not a day to mourn. Today is a day to rejoice.”

Look at verse 10—Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [11] So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” [12] And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

How many of you have ever heard that phrase “the joy of the Lord is your strength”? Keep you hands raised. It’s a famous line. This is where it comes from. You can put your hands down now. But not many people realize that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is related to hearing God’s word and is to be expressed by eating a wonderful meal.

Eat the fat. Drink sweet wine. And make sure everyone has got enough on their plate. Some of you are going to do something very similar today as you enjoy Father’s Day with a steak and your family surrounding you. That’s not a sin. It’s not something we should be doing every day, but there are days to celebrate, and God made it that way for the Israelites.

This is a day to rejoice because we have heard God’s word. And we will rejoice with a delicious meal. Those might be three of my favorite verses in the Bible—eat the fat.

Dads, as much as we might emphasize teaching your kids the Bible, they also need to see and know the joy of the Lord in you. They need to see that following the Lord is not intended to be a stifled, boring thing. They should see you celebrate and rejoice, and it should spill out in fun ways for the family. Do not be a boring dad in the name of Jesus.

You can be a strict dad, but do not be a boring dad. That isn’t going to honor the Lord. Feast on the word of God, and then let your family feast on some good food now and then, for the glory of God.

If you’re visiting with us today, and you don’t know this God who is holy and mighty, but also gives us delights in this world, talk to any of our members. We would love to tell you more about His Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, and will return one day to rescue His people from everlasting judgment so they can celebrate together forever. And it’s going to start with a feast—the wedding supper of the Lamb of God. You can be there too, if you trust in Jesus Christ and call out for mercy. We’d love to tell you more.

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