“The Stone of Navigation (Nehemiah 5)”
The Stone of Navigation (Nehemiah 5)
Each chapter in the book of Nehemiah gives us a stone that we must revive to rebuild the Lord’s work. The stone in the fifth chapter is the stone of navigation. Although Nehemiah’s leadership is seen throughout the book in various ways, it comes to the forefront in the fifth chapter. Nehemiah leads the people through some very difficult circumstances. We see his leadership in his indignation, his contemplation, his motivation, and his demonstration.
The fifth chapter begins with a great outcry of the people and their wives. The people were facing harsh economic circumstances. Many of them had mortgaged their lands to buy food and to pay their taxes. Some of their children had even been forced into bondage. To make matters worse, they were being taken advantage of by their own brethren. Their brethren were charging them usury or interest. When Nehemiah heard of how brethren were taking advantage of brethren, he became very angry (Neh. 5:6). Good leaders are passionate. They feel things deeply, they care about those that they lead, and they hate injustice. Good leaders get angry; sometimes, as in Nehemiah’s case, very angry. In fact, they might even get angry every day. God does. The psalmist wrote, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). Nehemiah had many reasons to be angry. First, these men were violating the law of God by charging usury. Second, these men were giving the enemy a reason to reproach them. Third, these men were undoing the good that Nehemiah and others were doing.
Although Nehemiah was very angry, he didn’t speak or act hastily or foolishly. He gave serious thought before rebuking those in the wrong (Neh. 5:7). Good leaders think before they say or do something that they will later regret. David wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psa. 4:4). Good leaders are slow to wrath. James wrote, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20; cf. Prov. 14:17; 16:32).
Good leaders are great motivators. They know how to get people to do the right thing. To motivate those who were charging their brethren usury to stop this practice and to restore what had been taken, Nehemiah called a great assembly of people against them (Neh. 5:7). He wanted these men to see those that they were hurting. Furthermore, he called the priests to take a solemn oath to ensure that those who had taken advantage of their brethren didn’t go back on their word (Neh. 5:7-13).
Good leaders don’t just talk, they do. Nehemiah practiced what he preached. He declared, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions. But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work. And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us. Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people. Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5:14-19). Nehemiah’s life was the greatest asset that he had as a leader.
If we are going to be successful in rebuilding the work of the Lord where we are, we are going to have to revive the stone of navigation. We are going to have to find leaders who can and will lead us like Nehemiah did his people in the long ago.