So I sent messengers to them saying, “I am engaged in an important work, and I am unable to come down. Why should the work come to a halt when I leave it to come down to you?”
I thought I was going to get stuck on Nehemiah for days, trying to say anything intelligent about this strange little book, and then in a wonderful display of serendipity, yesterday I opened up some marking, and one of the students had submitted a review of Chuck Swindoll’s Hand Me Another Brick. It’s a book about Nehemiah’s leadership, and how Nehemiah was an effective leader who motivated himself and others.
Well, that’s one perspective. And I have to concede, Nehemiah got the wall built, quickly. So from that perspective, yes, he was effective. (Although in 6:15-16, he hints that the effectiveness was from God’s supernatural grace, not his own leadership quality.)
From another perspective, he was an insecure, self-justifying (“Please remember me, O God! Please remember me, O God!”) micro-manager. Why should the work come to a halt when he leaves it? Why indeed? Why not, instead, empower others, like Jesus who trusted, trained and sent out 70 disciples while he remained where he was? The work should not have to come to a halt just because the leader’s out at a meeting! I know Nehemiah is using this as an excuse to avoid a trap, but it’s a bad excuse, and if you read through the book you see that he feels the need to involve himself in every situation. As Josephus puts it:
And thus did he attentively, and with great forecast, take care of his own safety; not that he feared death, but of this persuasion, that if he were dead, the walls, for his citizens, would never be raised.
In other words, he made himself indispensible to the project. Good leadership? I suppose that’s one perspective.