My wife and I own a house near our university. Occasionally we repaint the walls. When we take down pictures and other ornaments, stand back and look at the wall, we are always amazed at how dirty the walls really are. We did not see this until we cleared away the wall hangings. 

Nehemiah, as one not living in the rubble, but in the courts of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was sensitive to the damage, the hopelessness, and the reproach these people had been to their neighbors and most importantly, to the Lord their God. A leader’s heart remembers what once was true, and what could be true again. He or she is sensitive to the broken spirit, the lamenting soul. Faithful ministers see the heartaches of their people, and they take to heart the neediness of those they are called to love in Christ Jesus.

As we read on in verse 17 and through verse 18, we see Nehemiah’s response to the brokenness of the city and its people, and discover another most precious feature of a leader’s heart:

He was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.

When Nehemiah first heard of the plight of his brethren in Jerusalem, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days... fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). In this, he reflected the heart of Jesus, who viewing the city centuries later would weep over it, desirous that his own people recognize the salvation that was at hand (Luke 19:41).

It is so important to notice that in responding to the mess in Jerusalem, Nehemiah does not berate the people for allowing this to continue, but instead includes himself in the pain when he says, “You see the bad situation we are in.” And again, “Come, let us rebuild the wall... that we may no longer be a reproach” (v. 17).

From the day he arrived on the scene, Nehemiah’s heart was bent on restoring the beauty of the eternal city. He did not come with an accusative heart. He came with a desire to redeem, restore, and bring grace to his people to the glory of God. Yes, the people are later called to repentance and restoration of their spiritual obligations as God’s chosen. But even in this, he and all the leaders include themselves in confession and renewal.

We, too, as shepherds of God’s people, must keep the eyes of our heart on redemption, restoration, helping our people know the freedom of forgiveness, the beauty of God’s grace, the hope of the gospel. We do not criticize, blame, or become bitter at the brokenness of lives and the struggles of the church. Instead, we call upon the Lord our God to deliver, to show mercy and grace to all as we worship and serve him.

Now, the project ahead was going to take everyone’s cooperation and effort. In light of this, we will see, in our next installment, the approach Nehemiah’s heart takes in meeting this great challenge.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.