So that statement that Nehemiah made earlier in the book asking God to remember how he did such a good thing is starting to make more sense. He makes a similar statement again, and it doesn’t read so much like boasting when it is once again surrounded by people making a mess of things and behaving badly.
He isn’t boasting, saying “look at me, I’m so good.” He defending himself. “Yeah, I know, everyone is misbehaving again, they’re all disobeying, but I’m not! Please please please remember that I am doing what I’m supposed to!”
Can hardly blame him, really. A whole nation goes into exile, into slavery, because of disobedience. They get redeemed, brought back, allowed to rebuild. They celebrate! They promise to do better! They don’t just reenter the covenant, they explicitly, as they’re making the oath, recognize that it implicitly contains a curse!
And still, they pretty much immediately go right back to doing everything wrong. They don’t play the priests. They misuse the temple materials. They work on the Sabbath. The intermarry with the nations around them. They just can’t be bothered.
Poor Nehemiah. He has to bodily threaten them himself to get them to straighten up.
Humanity, though. Doing the right thing is hard. It takes discipline.
My son hates doing chores. It’s boring. It isn’t fun. He’s seven. He thinks everything should be fun and anything that isn’t fun is awful and I’m mean for making him do it. And, yeah, he’s seven, but it’s not that far off from how adults act, is it?
We’ll gripe and grumble about work, but we’ll do it, because we get paid. But the moment that the not-fun thing fails to present intrinsic value to us personally? We start looking for justifications for not doing it. Or we don’t bother and just don’t do it because we don’t want to. And everyone is different in what they consider intrinsically valuable enough to motivate us. And most of us realize that we should try to do the right thing even when we don’t really want to. But it’s hard.
My point is: Poor Nehemiah. Leadership is hard.