Explore The Bible

Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives


The Sword From Your Own House

2 Samuel 15

July 22

After David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Nathan the prophet declared to King David, “The sword will never leave your house” (2 Sam. 12.10). The “sword” of the father’s legacy of sins against the husband and wife nearly destroyed David’s family. Ammon raped his sister Tamar (2 Sam.???), Absalom killed his brother Ammon and rebelled against his father. Ironically, the name “Absalom” means “father of peace,” yet Absalom nearly destroyed David’s reign.

What lessons may twenty-first believers learn from Absalom’s rebellion?

First, the passage teaches us about the danger of refusing to reconcile (2 Sam. 14.12-15.6). After killing his brother Ammon, Absalom fled from the king’s court for three years. The interposition of David’s advisor Joab moved David to allow his exiled son to return to Jerusalem. When Absalom returned to Jerusalem, he lived in the capital city for two years and never saw his father’s face (2 Sam. 14.28). David’s trusted aide Joab helped Absalom come before the presence of King David. Absalom bowed in homage to his father. 2 Samuel 14 concludes with the words, “The King kissed Absalom” (2 Sam. 14.33). 2 Samuel 15.1 describes Absalom’s response, “After this, Absalom got himself a chariot, horses, and fifty men to run before him.” (Years later, Absalom’s younger brother Adonijah with support from David’s commander Joab and priest Abiathar followed the same public display of rebellion (1 Kings 1.5-8). After years of exile and not being allowed to see his father even though he lived in the capital city, Absalom launched his rebellious attempt to take the kingship from David. Ahitophel, probably Bathsheba’s grandfather, supported Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15.31).

Absalom undertook six actions to promote himself as king. First, he acted with royal pomp as he rode his chariot through the streets of Jerusalem with fifty-man entourage going before to attract an audience. Second, he stationed himself at the city gate, a phrase that resonated in an ancient culture like our phrase “the Halls of Justice.” Third, he listened to the complaints of people that felt they needed justice in personal legal matters. Fourth, he told every man seeking justice “your claims are good and right (v.3). Fifth, he publicly let it be known that David was responsible for the failure of justice (v. 3). Sixth, he declared that he would be a good judge (v. 4). As a result, Absalom “stole the hearts” of the people.

Second, the passage warns readers of the dangers of not “understanding the times (2 Sam. 15.7-16). At a particular moment in Israelite history, the Bible describes men from the tribe of Issachar as men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12.32). David neither understood the times nor his own family. Absalom approached his father with a request for permission to travel to Hebron to offer sacrifices. The city of Hebron has numerous historical connections to key events in Israelite history that should have warned David. Hebron was Abraham’s home and burial spot of Sarah, a city of refuge, the location at which Samson picked up the city gates and moved them, as well as Absalom’s birthplace (2 Sam. 3.2-3) and the location where David received anointing as king (2 Sam. 2.4). As one scholar commented, “Go in peace opened the way for Absalom to war!” Absalom’s plot included the recruitment of David’s trusted advisor Ahithophel, most likely Bathsheba’s grandfather. Thus, prominent members of Bathsheba’s family joined the revolt against David. The conspiracy grew, and an unnamed person informed David of Absalom’s success, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom” (2 Sam. 15.12). David and his supporters fled.

Third, the passage affirms the importance of trusting God (2 Sam. 15.24-30). David fled from Saul; now he flees from Absalom. As he fled, however, David sought God. During this flight from Absalom, David wrote Psalm 3. In the Psalm, David modeled a believer’s response when we are at our wit’s end. First, David focused on the truth of God (Ps. 3.3). God is s a shield of protection. Second, David cried out to God for help (Ps. 3.4). Third, David experienced the sustaining power of prayer (Ps. 3.5). Fourth, David celebrated God as the deliverer (Ps. 3.8).

Belial verses the Battering Ram

2 Samuel 20

August 5

I chose the title I have given this lesson based on the character of the two protagonists – Sheba and Joab. The CSB states that Sheba was a “wicked man.” The Hebrew terms translated “wicked man” is the term “Belial.” The Hebrew term occurs twenty-seven times to describe a wicked, corrupt individual that is a detriment to society. Paul used this term as a description of Satan. “What agreement does Christ have with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6.15). Satan stands behind every worthless, corrupt person that threatens the moral fabric of society. The name “Joab” means “God is my Father,” yet he acted in ways that destroyed other people. In 2 Samuel 20, Joab built battering weapons to destroy the wall of the city Abel of Beth-maacah. As the Bible describes the actions of Joab, he functioned like a battering ram destroying people opposed to him. Joab killed Abner (2 Sam. 2-3), Uriah (2 Sam. 11), David’s son Absalom (2 Sam. 18.14), and David’s relative Amasa (2 Sam. 20).  What lessons can believers learn from two bad examples from the Old Testament?

First, Satan, the “wicked one,” seeks to divide the people of God (2 Sam. 20.1-2). Saul, the first king of Israel, was from the tribe of Benjamin. Apparently, even after the death of Saul, the tribe of Benjamin did not favor David. Jacob described the descendants of Benjamin as “ravenous wolves,” perhaps because of the skills of the tribe in warfare (Gen. 49.27). The majority of the tribe supported Saul over David. Sheba announced an intention to separate from the kingship of David – We have no portion in David, no inheritance in Jesse’s son. Each man to his tent, Israel! (2 Sam. 20.2). When the northern kingdom of Israel officially separated from Judah, they used the same terminology (1 Kings 12.16). The term “son of Jesse” has a negative connotation (1 Sam. 20.27, 30, 31; 22.7, 8, 13). Sheba called for succession from David’s kingdom. Sheba, the wicked one followed Satan the original Belial, for the purpose of dividing the people of God. As a result, the tribe of Judah alone remained loyal to David.

Second, wisdom provided a means to avert war (2 Sam. 20.14-21). The battering ram Joab attacked Abel-Beth-Maacah. The Bible notes Joab’s success in conquering cities (2 Sam. 11.1;12.26). The name Abel-Beth-Maacah means “house of pressure.” Joab applied pressure as he besieged the city and planned to destroy the city wall. The situation for Sheba was desperate. “So all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the men of Judah . . . .  (2 Sam. 20.2). When Joab surrounded the city, Sheba’s followers were limited to his family clan. “All the Berites came together and followed him(2 Sam. 20.14). [Berites is an alternate form of Berichi in 2 Sam. 20.1.]  According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the residents of Abel of Beth-maacah were noted for their wisdom (2 Sam. 20.18). The unnamed woman based her appeal for the preservation of the city on three points. First, she noted the reputation of the town for wisdom (2 Sam. 20.18). Second, she claimed that the town was loyal to David. She speaks as a peaceful and faithful representative of the city. Third, the action of destroying the town was an unreasonable one since the town belonged to the Lord’s inheritance given to his people. Why would the general do such an action? To destroy God’s inheritance equaled fighting against God. One wise woman saved the city from destruction. While the Bible connects “wisdom” with ethical decision making, the wisdom of this woman appears to be worldly wisdom. She agreed to Joab’s demand for the death of Sheba to save the population of the city.


2 Samuel 21:1-14

August 12

Modern day readers of the Bible often fail to realize the significance of the covenant concept in Scripture. The Bible highlights key covenants that reveal principles of the relationship between God and humans as well as communicate key concepts in the redemption narrative. Key divine covenants include the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant. Covenants stipulated the nature, terms, and, in some cases, the stipulations for violations. For example, the Mosaic covenant outlined covenant blessings and curses in a special ceremony (Deut ???).

What does this passage teach about the nature and ways of God?

First, God is a God of accountability. The phrase “during the David’s reign” lacks chronological detail. Since members of Saul’s family remained, the time of the famine must have been early in David’s reign prior to the events of 2 Samuel 9 in which David search for descendants of Saul. As a result of a three-year famine, the king of Israel sought a personal audience with the King. God revealed that the famine was a judgment due to the actions of Saul. “It is due to Saul and to his bloody family, because he killed the Gibeonites.”

The Bible does not describe Saul’s atrocious actions against the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were descendants of a Canaanite people group that lived about eight miles from Jerusalem. During an encounter with deceptive Gibeonites Joshua failed to consult the Lord (Josh. 9.14) and entered into a covenant treaty with them (Josh. 9.15). Saul violated the terms of the treaty and attempted to destroy the Gibeonites. Saul’s violation of the sacred treaty brought guilt upon the entire nation.

Second, God is a God that provides a way of release from guilt. After God revealed to David the reason for the famine judgment, After God revealed the divine cause of the famine, David sought to correct matters in the relationship between Israel and the Gibeonites -“How can I make atonement?” Or how can I make things right?

From the brief description of the narrative, Saul inflicted great bloodshed on the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites requested the death of seven representative descendants of Saul to make things right. Seven probably serves as a symbolic number for completeness. The seven descendants of Saul represent the complete lineage of Saul.

Was David’s action of killing Saul’s descendants the right action? By acquiescing to the request of the Gibeonites, potential rivals to David’s throne were eliminated. Should David have consulted God regarding the means of setting matters right rather than asking the Gibeonites? The Bible does not provide any negative evaluation on David’s granting of the Gibeonites request.

The concept of “atonement” is one of the key theological concepts in the Bible. Atonement entails both satisfaction of a wrong committed as well as making matters right with an injured party. The cross of Christ serves as the greatest picture of the meaning of the biblical concept of atonement. Atonement involves a penal judgment; Christ suffered the judgment of God for our sins. Atonement involves substitution; Christ died as our substitute. The Gibeonites, therefore, requested that David provide substitution for a penal judgment for a grievous wrong committed against them.

Third, God is a God that affirms the honorable treatment of the dead. Based upon the demand of the Gibeonites, David killed the two sons of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine. For several months, the grieving mother watched over the bodies of the seven descendants of Saul to prevent their desecration by animals. Her response challenged (or perhaps shamed) David to provide a honorable burial for the seven as well as Saul and Jonathan. The Philistines had desecrated Saul’s body by cutting off his head and hanging his body on a city wall (1 Sam. 31.9-10). Men from Jabesh-Gilead traveled fifty miles to retrieve the body of Saul and provide a burial. David reinterned the bodies of Saul and his descendants.

2 Samuel 21 begins with a description of a severe famine. The famine was the judgment of God due to the sinful actions of Saul. David made amends to correct the issues caused by Saul’s actions. David’s final action of the honorable burial of Saul’s family brings resolution. “After this, God was receptive to prayer for the land (2 Sam. 21.14). The famine ended.

A Biblical Model of Thanksgiving

2 Samuel 22:26-36,50-51

August 19

For many people, thanksgiving comes hard. There may be two reasons for the problem of thanksgiving. First, some people have a problem with thanksgiving because disappointments in life. Life involves struggle, challenges, and difficulties. Second, other people have a problem with thanksgiving because they are self-made people.

In the biblical story of the epilogue or end of David’s life (2 Sam. 21-24), the author incorporates a psalm that David wrote when he experienced deliverance from Saul’s grasp (v 1). The Psalm, therefore, assists the readers to interpret the sad ending of David’s life in light of this earlier psalm of praise. (David’s song in 2 Samuel is reduplicated in Psalm 18).

How does David’s song provide a model for biblical thanksgiving?

First, David celebrated God as Holy and Just in the manner in which He responds to people (2 Sam. 22.26-29). In terms of our personal relations with others, we all have felt at times, “I did not deserve that.” No individual can say that God has treated him or her unfairly. David’s song lists three attitudes that pleases God: faithfulness, integrity or blamelessness, purity, and humility. Faithfulness is a term that describes commitment to a relationship- a loyalty to the covenant with God. The Hebrew term translated “blameless” described a hero – a moral hero or moral champion. An individual that remained faithful in the battle arena of personal choices and societal pressures. “Purity” does not refer to the ritual purity required of worship; rather “purity” described pure in lifestyle. God responds to the faithful, blameless, pure person with faithfulness, blamelessness, and purity. One Old Testament scholar described this as divine reciprocity. God rewards the faithful by letting them experience His faithfulness in a way that unfaithful people never will.

David also described two attitudes with which God is displeased, namely, crookedness and pride. “Crookedness” describes a person twisted or perverted by sin. Sin warps us! Sin corrupts us! Often a crooked person is shrewd (CSB). The Hebrew term describes someone acting foolish. God responds to the foolishness of sin by proclaiming a message of redemption that appears foolish to human wisdom. God responds to prideful people by humbling them.

Second, David celebrated God as a Shield, a Rock, and a Warrior (2 Sam. 22:30-36). God’s way is perfect (v. 31). As God guides David in His way, God makes David’s way perfect (v. 33). The basic concept of the Hebrew term translated “perfect” is “complete.” God has a “complete way” for David (v. 33). How may David know the way God has for him? God provides a lamp to make the path visible (v. 29). God provides the pure Word to guide David in the path (v. 31). God also provides protection for a believer walking in His way (shield – v. 31, rock – v. 32, and a refuge – v. 33). Not only does God provide a way and protection, God provides strength to the believer by making the believer’s “feet like a deer” – an imagery of stability. God will keep a believer from missteps. God enabled David to “burst forth beyond his own limitations” as one scholar expressed the meaning of this section.

Third, David proclaimed the greatness of God’s salvation (2 Sam. 22. 47-31). Believers express thanksgiving to God in two ways. First, like David, believers can verbally express thanksgiving to God. – “I thank you God.” Second, believers can proclaim to others the greatness of God and His salvation. David expressed thanksgiving to God among the nations (or Gentile unbelievers – v. 47).  While biblical thanksgiving is addressed to God, divine thanksgiving needs to be shared. Thank God by telling others about Him!

Notice the emphasis on God’s salvation throughout David’s song of praise. God is the horn of my salvation (v. 3), the shield of salvation (v. 36), the rock of salvation (v. 47), and the tower of salvation (v. 51). All the images – horn, shield, rock, and tower – depict security.

God provided His salvation through the “anointed” descendent of David – the Lord Jesus the King – as God fulfilled His promise of a King and a Kingdom through David’s lineage.

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives


Session 1

July 22, 2018


Nehemiah 1:1-11

The book of Nehemiah picks up where Ezra leaves off. Following seventy years of Babylonian captivity, the Jews were once again allowed to return to their beloved homeland and its capital city of Jerusalem. Ezra records the first two phases of this return, and Nehemiah tells of the third and final phase.

The account of Nehemiah has several distinct features that set the book apart. Although the book of Esther comes after it in the Bible, the events of Nehemiah make it the last historical book chronologically. And unlike Ezra (a scribe), or Malachi (a prophet), Nehemiah was a lay-person; a somewhat ordinary kind of guy who was moved to accomplish some very extraordinary things. The lesson for us is that one person—fully committed to God—can have a tremendous impact for His kingdom.

The condition of God’s city (vv. 1-3). Now that the exile was over, there was more freedom to move among the cities and provinces of the region. Nehemiah was in the service of the court, serving as the cup-bearer for the king (1:11). While he had personal security and status (as long as no one attempted to poison the king!), he was quite concerned about his countrymen and the land of his ancestry. Thus, when a member of his family arrived in his city, Nehemiah was quick to inquire about the news from back home. Of particular interest was the condition of the capital city and the wellbeing of those who had returned from foreign lands once permission had been granted for their return. Ezra describes the rebuilding of the temple (completed around 515 BC), and the return of displaced Jews that began some twenty years later and continued on and off for the next decades. The second major wave of returning countrymen wasn’t until about 458 BC. It was likely those pilgrims that Nehemiah was asking about.

The report from the visiting countrymen was not good. Regarding the people, the report said they were in great trouble and disgrace. Taken together, the phrase indicates they were the objects of scorn and ridicule by the neighboring nations. God’s people, once chosen for His blessing, now hung their heads in shame. The city walls were described as broken down, and its gates burned down. Every indication is that the once glorious city was in ruins; in much the same condition as it was left by the Babylonians a hundred years before. With the walls themselves fallen down, the condition of the gates was of little consequence. But the gates stand for access and security. The fact they had been—and remained—burned down was doubly painful.

The commitment of God’s intercessor (vv. 4-11). That Nehemiah’s response was heartbreak rather than anger shows what kind of man Nehemiah was. His prayer was marked by five key characteristics: Passion (v. 4), demonstrated by days of fasting and prayer; a plea (vv. 5-6, 11) for God to see God’s servant, hear his prayers, and grant grace to the king at the appropriate time; repentance (v. 6-7) toward his own personal sin and on behalf of the sins of his nation; a recounting of promises (vv. 8-9) that God had long ago made to His people; and a reminder that Israel was God’s holy possession (vv. 10-11), chosen by God and delivered by His might.

Overall, two characteristics of Nehemiah’s prayer life serve as valuable reminders for us. First, Nehemiah was already prepared to pray. His concern for his countrymen was not new. His willingness to intercede with prayer and fasting over a period of days didn’t happen suddenly. He already carried with him a heavy heart and strong devotion toward his people. Second, Nehemiah was prepared to act. Verse 11 indicates that Nehemiah had come to some personal conclusions through his praying. His prayer was one of intercession, but also of preparation. Nehemiah was going to see the king!

Session 3

August 5, 2018


Nehemiah 4:1-3, 6-9, 14-18

Anyone in a leadership position has encountered opposition. It seems no new idea can be voiced without being met by the “wet towel” brigade; those eager to downplay, criticize, ridicule, and squelch any idea or activity that might rock the boat called “status quo.” Nehemiah’s opposition came from those who hated the Jews and saw the ruins of Jerusalem as a symbol of Jewish demise and of their own superiority. The rebuilding of the temple was bad enough…but the rebuilding of the city was far too great a threat.

Opposition begins with ridicule (vv. 1-3). We are taught as children to ignore ridicule. The old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” adage is only partially true. Words do hurt us, by stirring up anger and introducing doubt. Sanballat was an official of Samaria, a powerful man among the people who settled in the Jewish province during the seventy years of exile. He was in a tenuous position, however; the rebuilding of the city and resettlement of the Jews meant that his influence would be challenged. But the letters sent by his king gave legitimate permissions and privileges to Nehemiah, the king’s personal cup bearer. Like children on the school playground under the distant but watchful eye of the teacher, the attack began as verbal taunts. The Jews are called pathetic and weak; unable to complete the task; dreamers who were incapable of making the dream come true. Like any schoolyard drama, Sanballat the bully was joined by his buddy Tobiah who poked fun at the work itself. While it all sounds harmless enough, this was only the beginning, and verse 5 admits that the words had their desired effect: the Jewish workers were “provoked.”

Opposition grows into threats (vv. 6-9). Fortunately, the people’s commitment to the task was stronger than the effects of the provocation, “for the people had the will to keep working.” Now that the walls were coming up and the accusations of shoddy work had been proven false, the threat of their success was a reality that the opposition could not face. So now the situation escalates from verbal taunting to the threat of real violence. As in all disputes, disparate factions who rarely get along will join forces against a common foe (see the NT example of Pilate and Herod becoming friends in Luke 23:13). In this case, the Samaritans, represented by Sanballat, and the Ammonites (which included Tobiah), linked up with the Arabs in general and the Ashdodites in particular and “plotted together.” The goal was to attack the workers at various times and places along the wall to throw the work “into confusion.” The Hebrew is “into wandering,” and implies the workers would be too dazed and distracted by the attacks to get any work done.

Opposition leads to doubt and fear (vv. 10-14). Verses 10-13 tell about the growing threat of violence and the people’s response. As the opposition grew, the workers, their families, and the community at large were fearful of being attacked on the one hand and wearied by the work on the other hand. Once the Jews began to doubt their ability to succeed, Nehemiah knew they could easily give up that “will to keep working,” and the opposition would win.

Opposition is countered by prayer and persistence (vv. 15-23). It is in the area of persistence that Nehemiah truly shined. Like Paul in the New Testament, Nehemiah was no doubt “troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears inside” (2 Cor. 7:5). Yet Nehemiah and his faithful countrymen were committed in equal parts to their God in prayer (vv. 4, 9), and to completing their task on the other (vv.6, 14-21). Since they were following God’s leadership and ultimately working for Him, how could they possibly give up?

Session 4

August 12, 2018


Nehemiah 5:1-13

As if Nehemiah didn’t have enough worries, the opposition he faced from without was complicated by conflict from within. Just as division threatened the congregation at Corinth in Paul’s day, conflict was threatening the unity of the Jewish countrymen, right when they needed it most. Apparently, the issue had been going on for some time, and Nehemiah’s strong leadership and rapport with the people provided the outlet they needed to voice their concerns and get some relief. Nehemiah’s challenge was to restore justice, unify the people, and move forward in the task at hand.

The sin is exposed (vv. 1-5). The problem consisted of wealthy Jews controlling the people’s wealth at the expense of the poor and needy. The charge was both “widespread” in its source and extensive in its influence. The construction of verse 2 can actually be taken as a threat. “Let us get grain” can mean “Let us take grain,” indicating the state of desperation the “numerous” of the needy felt in relation to the few who controlled the flow of food, especially in a season of famine (v. 3). The heart of the problem is uncovered in verse 4. The steep taxes and cost of living under oppression had sent the needy to Jewish countrymen who had a measure of wealth. Unable to pay the usury fees or interest, the families were forfeiting their land, and their children were being indentured as servants. Not only was such a practice immoral and unethical, it was against the Old Testament law! (see Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:19-20).

The solution is offered (vv. 6-11). Nehemiah’s response is logical and measured. Several key words characterize what happened. Anger: Nehemiah’s most immediate response was fierce anger. After all they had been through, to hear of the atrocities forced against the Jews by their own countrymen was more than he could bear. Consideration: verse 7 indicates that Nehemiah calmed down and thought logically how to best confront the guilty. Confrontation: his calm demeanor did not thwart the sharpness of his attack. They were guilty and needed to be confronted. Explanation: Nehemiah next used an irony to illustrate his position. “We worked to free our people from foreign oppression so that they can return home and suffer further oppression from their own countrymen?” is the meaning (v. 8). Appeal: the appeal to the guilty lenders had three distinct parts; it was an appeal to their religious heritage and testimony as God’s people (v. 9); an appeal based on Nehemiah’s example of the right thing to do (v. 10); and an appeal to pay restitution to those wronged (v. 11).

The crisis is averted (vv. 12-13). People who are confronted in wrongdoing can react in a number of ways. They can ignore it and continue in sin; they can lash out and blame everyone else; or they can admit their fault and make things right. Fortunately for Nehemiah and the needy he represented, the guilty moneylenders saw their sinfulness, and responded appropriately. Their silence in the midst of the charges (v. 8) signaled the conviction they felt, while their acceptance of Nehemiah’s instruction points to repentance and ultimate move toward restoration.    

Unity is restored (v. 13). In a surprising yet necessary move, Nehemiah seals the deal by having the repentant lenders vow an oath before the priests and the people. He then asks for God to judge those who might be tempted to renege on their commitment. With the crisis settled, the people display their unity in the best possible way: with a hearty “Amen” and a time of jubilant worship. In the end, they all came out winners.

Session 5

August 19, 2018


Nehemiah 6:1-3, 15-16; 8:1-3, 5-8

All good leaders know how to set priorities; that means learning when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” But priorities must never be set based on personal preference or selfish desires. The best leaders are servant leaders who know what’s best for everyone and how to bring out that best. In this week’s study, Nehemiah has clear priorities, illustrating just when to say “yes,” and when to say “no.”

Good leaders avoid distractions (6:1-14). Chapter 6 is filled with lies, deceit, and personal attacks against Nehemiah. Since threats of physical violence had not stopped the construction, the opposition now attempted to destroy Nehemiah’s influence by attacking his character and his motives. First, they appealed to his vanity. “Come, let’s meet together in the villages of the Ono Valley” (v. 2) could have been taken several ways. But most likely it was an attempt to lure Nehemiah with the promise of some type of agreement. The appeal would have looked like Nehemiah was the better man, had won the conflict, and the opposition was ready to admit their defeat and join him. But with the Ono Valley some twenty miles from Jerusalem, Nehemiah smelled a rat: “They were planning to harm me,” he said. Second, they appealed to his friendship (vv. 5-7). They planted a false rumor that he was preparing to lead a rebellion and crown himself as a king, then offered to help him out of the danger he was in! Their offer to “confer together” (v. 7) was just another trap. Third, they appealed to his insecurities. Their encouragement to hide Nehemiah away in the temple—ostensibly for his own good— (vv. 10-11) was not only deceitful, but unthinkable to Nehemiah, who, as a layman, had no authority to enter there. In every case, the attacks had become personal and each had the potential and purpose of distracting Nehemiah from his singular task. Good leaders see those traps and avoid them.

Good leaders avoid the spotlight (6:15-16). Nothing succeeds quite like success! These verses plainly state three facts: the wall was completed; the opposition folded; and the glory was given to God. But there is another fact that is insinuated: that “this task had been accomplished by our God,” shows that Nehemiah not only recognized God’s hand in all this, but celebrated God’s accomplishment rather than spotlighting his own. How easy it would have been to pat himself on the back and rename one of the city gates the “Nehemiah Gate!” While the Bible is clear to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7), Nehemiah knew the pitfalls of pride. Good leaders avoid the spotlight and give the glory to God.

Good leaders promote God’s word (8:1-8). Chapter 7 recalls the re-population of the city following its completion. To insure the prosperity of the people, the priority was now placed on the firm foundation of God’s expectations. Several characteristics of what took place are noteworthy. First, the people gathered and asked that God’s word be brought (v. 1). What a wonderful testimony of their desire! Second, the book of the law was directed to everybody. It was read to the men, the women, and all the children who were old enough to “listen with understanding” (vv. 2-3). Third, God’s word was respected. It was elevated above the people and the people stood (vv. 4-5). This was not in reverence to Ezra, who read the law, but rather to the word of God itself. Fourth, God’s word was presented from early morning to noon (v. 3). This was no mere “sermonette!” Fifth, the word of God was explained (v. 8). How important it is to give proper interpretation, explanation, and application. Finally, the opening of God’s book was central to the worship experience (v. 6). In a day when worship is too often associated with music, we must never forget that God’s word is the main priority. Good leaders keep God’s word in front of the people.

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