“14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year – twelve years – neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land.17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.19 Remember me with favour, my God, for all I have done for these people.” NIV
A famous contemporary book on leadership, written by Simon Sinek, carries the wonderful title, ‘Leaders eat last.’ I haven’t read the book, but I think the title tells us what it’s essentially about – servant leadership. Thankfully, many people in the world today seem to be cottoning on to the idea that leadership is primarily about servanthood. But the Bible got there long before the rest of the planet started to catch up.
Initially, I thought about entitling this piece ‘generosity’, and that would have been relevant. But in the end I decided ‘integrity’ would be a more appropriate word. All the other good things exhibited in Nehemiah’s life, including his generous spirit, were manifestations of that integrity. He didn’t say one thing and then do another.
Earlier on in the chapter, Nehemiah had ‘preached’ to others about walking in the ‘’fear’’ of God (9). Here, in this section, as he sums up his first 12 years as governor, he says that his own life and leadership came ‘’out of reverence for God’’ (15b). He didn’t stand on his rights. His leadership was not infested with the dangerous pest of egotism. Rather, his tenure was marked by sacrifice and service; by giving rather than getting.
We can now look beyond Nehemiah to Jesus who came not ‘’to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’’ (Mark 10:45). Jesus is our supreme example. He humbled Himself ‘’to serve’’ and ‘’to give’’ (see also Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is so much more than our example, but He is our example. He calls us to ‘’follow’’ Him. If He indwells us, such discipleship becomes gloriously possible.