Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Drawing by Tobias Mayer, March 2022
And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.
— Nehemiah 2:1
The quality of leadership can arise in the most unexpected people. Nehemiah, a captive Jew who had stayed in Babylon after the first remnant had departed with Zerubbabel, was the wine bearer to the king, an important job requiring a great deal of trust, but a servant nonetheless. The wine bearer's job was to taste the wine before serving to ensure it was not poisoned. There was a risk of death every day for the wine bearer, but the close proximity to the king, and the trusted position meant a relationship could develop between unequals. It is this relationship that Nehemiah draws on when requesting leave of the king to return to Jerusalem in order to support the building project. Exactly how a wine bearer would contribute to this building project was not clear to Nehemiah, he only knew that God was calling him to go.
On arrival in Jerusalem he finds great despondency. Israels enemies were doing all they could to block the rebuilding project, from mockery to outright attack. The Israelites had all but given up. It is not clear why this despondent group should rally around a wine bearer, but rally they do, inspired by Nehemiah's story of being sent by God. Why else would he have made such a journey, with no authority and no building skills? Nehemiah helps organise the builders into groups, recruiting every man for the work, including the priests, strategises to keep the enemy at bay and generally keeping spirits high.
Sometimes it just takes one person to have faith and hope for others to be lifted. But Nehemiah's faith and hope alone were not enough. He had to get into action. First, showing the courage to negotiate with the king, then making the journey, and finally getting his hands dirty alongside his fellow builders. This was leadership from the bottom up, grassroots leadership of a kind we rarely see today—except among the very young, in the world of climate change.1 Such people prove that positional power is not the only valid place from which to take action, from which to inspire change.
1 Meet the activists, National Geographic, 25/3/2021