Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
The work that we do for God seldom goes smoothly. Unforeseen circumstances or opposition from adversaries can present formidable obstacles. Sometimes, problems may arise from within.
The rebuilding project has had a great start, with the Sheep Gate repaired, and work is now starting on the adjoining sections of the wall and gates. All is going well, with a section of the wall being repaired by the men from Tekoa. Then a problem emerges: the Tekoan nobles “would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors” (Nehemiah 3:5). These men stand out like a sore thumb among all the willing workers toiling together.
The Hebrew text in verse 5 is literally translated: “Their nobles put not their necks to the work of their LORD” (KJV). The basic problem is a refusal to submit, both to the Lord and to Nehemiah. Perhaps the nobles from Tekoa do not accept Nehemiah’s leadership and plans, seeing him as an upstart who has only recently arrived in Jerusalem, whereas they have been providing local leadership for a long time. Those who have become entrenched in positions of power, privilege, and authority sometimes refuse to welcome a new leader as they feel jealous or threatened, and will either not cooperate or even lead in opposition against such a leader. The lesson here is this: humility and the willingness to work together with new or emerging leaders is necessary for the healthy functioning of the Christian community.
It is also possible that the Tekoan nobles consider it beneath their dignity to soil their hands in manual labour. That is the work of ordinary people, not of nobles. Yet, in exhibiting such an attitude, they show that they are less than noble. Jesus would say a few hundred years later: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44).
Tekoa is a town in the northern part of Israel. It had produced a great prophet—Amos—some 300 years before Nehemiah’s time, but he was not from the ranks of the nobles. He was a simple shepherd whose heart was in tune with God (Amos 1:1). It appears that the nobles are made of different stuff. Thankfully, the bad attitude of the nobles of Tekoa does not dampen the work that is going on around the wall. Nor does it affect the attitude of the other workers, including the ordinary men from Tekoa, who, in addition to repairing their section of the wall, go on to repair another section (Nehemiah 3:27)!
Jesus declared that He came to serve rather than to be served (Matthew 20:28). He expects His followers to have the same attitude and to practise servant leadership (vv. 26-27), which He demonstrated by washing His disciples’ dusty feet (John 13:1-17). Jesus has set an example for us to follow, and the ordinary Tekoan men are far better examples of this spirit of servant leadership than their leaders are.
Contrast the different attitudes of the Tekoan nobles and the other men. How can we avoid developing negative attitudes that impede the work of God?
How should we handle bad attitudes in the teams or groups we are a part of? When can those who refuse to cooperate take away the attention and appreciation we should show to the others in the team?