In yesterday’s post we saw that Michael Horton said the Bible was not a catalog of moral advice. John Walton has been saying this for years. In his book The Bible Story Handbook he notes “The problem with teaching about the ‘heroes and heroines of the Bible’ is that the hero of the Bible is God. All people have flaws, even at their best. We dare not obscure the view of God to elevate human heroes.” (21) I’ve heard more than one sermon on “leadership lessons” from the book of Nehemiah. After hearing more than one sermon from more than one source (and reading about it in several books) you can begin to think it is a consensus of scholarship that leadership is the theme of the book. Nothing could be further from the truth. Walton corrects this notion.
“For example, we can learn much about leadership by studying Nehemiah. In the end, however, there is no indication that the author of Nehemiah was preserving and presenting his material so that readers could be instructed in leadership. Because of this, the authority of Scripture is not being tapped when leadership is taught from the book and life of Nehemiah.”
“Leadership is an important quality, one worth learning about, but one may just as well learn about it from the lives of Abraham Lincoln or John Calvin. There is no special merit in learning it from Nehemiah simply because his story is in the Bible whereas others are not. The Bible is unique because it teaches with the authority of God; in the case of Nehemiah, we learn, among other things, that God fulfills his promises of restoring the city of Jerusalem and that he sovereignly carries out his plan through Nehemiah’s submission. God used Nehemiah’s leadership, but that does not mean that Nehemiah’s was the best possible leadership, approved by God in every way. Nehemiah’s success does not authorize his example as a biblical model for leadership. The model itself has no authority. If, above anything else, we tell Bible stories to convey the Bible’s authoritative teaching to students, then our focus should not be on Nehemiah’s leadership.” (16)