After the success of rebuilding, cleaning, cleansing the temple and promising, things slide back into old habits quickly.
Nehemiah went back to Susa after a job well done, and was extremely disappointed when he came back to check in.
If you’ve ever been in leadership, you know this feeling. While you’re looking, the people are nodding and getting excited and making promises (maybe even earnestly), but the minute you look away, they’re back to doing whatever they want.
After all this work, it’s hard to fathom that this Eliashib guy could just set up a room for his own personal god in the temple. He’s supposed the be the High Priest!
Israel’s history is a string of rebellions, interrupted by moments of repentance and reformation. With this, along with Ezra and Chronicles being the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, it begs for some hope. It’s exhausting trying to shepherd these sheep! There’s too many of them! There’s too much time for things to go wrong.
Evangelism efforts can look like this too. High moments of conferences, crusades, revivals and movements bring exciting reforms and fresh hope. But then after the conversions slow down, there’s a moment of panic when your good sheep start falling away. As a Christian leader, this is going to be so stressful and discouraging, right? It’s like we need to save everyone at the same time, then have Jesus come back before anyone has a chance to get distracted.
Missions has seen waves of this as well. It’s like only a few countries can be doing well at a time before they start slipping in to secularism.
I remember youth ministry in the nineties being so fun and flourishing, but there was this looming dread that in 20-30 years America would start being post-Christian like Europe. We scrambled to keep the momentum from the Jesus movement going, but alas, conference attendance did go down and secularism did rise.
So don’t we all feel for Nehemiah? What are we going to do with these people?! I don’t know. But I think a good hint is not putting my hope in a “we have a great leader so everything will now be perfect forever”!
As shepherds, we need to know this prayer of Nehemiah:
“Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.” (13:14)
The old, “please notice that I did my best” prayer.
As sheep, we need to keep our eyes on the Shepherd of chapter 9 who had been with His sheep the whole time. We can’t depend on the leadership around us to always be stellar or even present. Our hope can’t rest on the shoulders of another human. We all suck in our own ways and have a proclivity for letting people down. Expectations for ourselves and others should not be perfection.
However, before Our Almighty God, we must humbly seek to know Him, remember Him, serve and obey Him as He asks.
Where do you find yourself in this story today?
As we leave Nehemiah, let’s head over to Susa and check in on Esther.