What does the Old Testament teach us about leadership?”
I mentioned last time about my management training course in which Nehemiah was the case-study. At the time I was thrilled by the use of the Bible in such a context, but I have to admit having forgotten most of what the teacher said – so I don’t know if I became a better manager as a result. But it did lead me to a deeper study of Nehemiah and his exploits.
We find him in Susa – one of the principal cities of the Babylonian and Persian empires and where we also find Daniel and Esther – as a “cupbearer to the king” (chapter 1:11). He was an exile from Jerusalem and having heard of the state of his home city, he determined to do something about it. We don’t have time to go into the whole story – but you can read it in Nehemiah. We focus on some of the lessons we can learn from him:
- Although he wanted to get on with things – he prayed and sought God first (1:4 – 11)
- He planned carefully and got as much help as he could (2: 6 – 9)
- He assessed the situation before he did anything or told anyone what was in his heart (2: 11 – 16)
- Then he told the leaders and the people what his plans were and sought their support (2: 17 – 20)
- He gave the glory to God for the success he expected (2: 20) and for the result (6:16)
- He mobilised the people at all levels (chapter 3) – and they “worked with all their heart” (4:6).
- He did not ignore opposition – but dealt with it prayerfully and practically (4: 4 & 5 and 13 – 21)
- Having done the practical job of rebuilding the wall, he turned, with Ezra, to the spiritual needs of the people (chapters 8 and 9)
- He dedicated what he had done to the Lord and gave Him the glory (12: 27 – 47)
- His last recorded words were: “Remember me with favour, O my God” (13:31).
Now let’s think about Joseph – his story fills most of the last part of Genesis. We don’t have time today to go into the details of his life and I assume most of you will know the major elements of his story. So, some summarised lessons from the one who began as an arrogant “Daddy’s boy”, became a slave, spent time in jail but eventually became Prime Minister of Egypt:
- Even as an arrogant teenager, God was speaking to Him through the dreams he was having. Sometimes if God plants a dream or vision in our spirits, it is better to keep it to ourselves until it begins to come to fruition.
- The brothers’ action was inexcusable – but it was all part of God’s plan. Sometimes things happen to us – or are done to us by others – that are part of God’s purposes for us, but we can’t recognise that until years later.
- The Lord was with Joseph – and his employer prospered (Genesis 39:5). Does our employer (or those we serve) prosper because of our faithfulness to God, our integrity etc?
- He resisted a very real temptation – he ran from it – a real lesson for us. Even when falsely accused – he refused to justify himself (but he was a slave and had no “voice” – remember we said in session 2 that we are Christ’s bond slaves).
- Twice we are told that the Lord was with Joseph in the prison (39: 21 & 23) – and even the prison “prospered” because Joseph was there. We don’t know how long he was in prison – but we must not let today’s circumstances rob us of what we know of God and His word – He will bring to pass His purposes even if we haven’t got a clue how or when.
- Even in the prison – falsely accused and reckoning he might never get out – he was concerned for others– “Why are your faces sad today?” We must not let our own difficulties stop us from caring for others and showing them the love of God.
- Joseph acknowledges that it is God who gives the answers (41:16). We are not here to make a name for ourselves – but to bring glory to God.
- Joseph didn’t just interpret the dream – he offered a solution to the problem.
- Pharaoh saw that the Spirit of God was in Joseph (41:37). Do those around us – those we work with, our employer, those we serve etc see God in us?
- God has his people in high office (41:41 – 44) – don’t be afraid of that if God calls you to it – do the job well and give God the glory
- The brothers bow before Joseph – and that dream is fulfilled – it took at least 20 years. God will do what He says He will do. Joseph puts his brothers to the test to see if they had learned anything over those years – sometimes we take a very long time to learn the ways of God.
Joseph got to his leadership position by a long and difficult route – but God was with him throughout and he acted with wisdom, justice and integrity. And even though others (in this case those very close to him) would seek to thwart God’s plans for him, Joseph was confident in his God and said to his brothers: “You meant to harm me – but God intended it for good” (50:20).
A prayer: “Thank You, Lord, that no matter our circumstances You have promised to be with us. And thank You that You do keep Your promises and are fulfilling Your purposes for us.”
Next time we will look at the characteristics of church leaders as set out in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.