“Stewardship of Opportunity” – Dr. Steve Clements

May 08, 2017

“I also said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah.  And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber.  I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.’ And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.” – Nehemiah 2:7-8

An extraordinary story in the Hebrew scriptures involves Nehemiah, an educated exile from Judea who has somehow managed to become “cupbearer” to King Artaxerxes, ruler of the Persian empire of the mid-5th century BCE.  We are given no backstory on Nehemiah or how he attained a position of utmost trustworthiness in the inner circle of the King’s Court.  He has clearly become a “bi-cultural” individual in the finest sense of the word, able to function at the highest level among the elite of the Persian bureaucracy, while also being steeped in the Hebrew traditions and in the worship of the God of Israel.

At the beginning of the book a delegation visits and informs him of the parlous state of Jerusalem’s walls, and hence defenses, news which sends Nehemiah into mourning and an intense state of prayer and brooding.  This eventuates with his bold articulation to Artaxerxes of a plan for rebuilding the walls, which the King grants, says Nehemiah, because God’s gracious hand was upon him.  For years I read this story periodically with a focus on the role of God’s blessing of his servant in Israel’s national rebuilding process.

But in more recent years I have seen an added dimension, as I’ve realized the extent to which God’s blessing rested not simply upon Nehemiah, but also upon an extensive management plan that Nehemiah had worked out before making the request.  Nehemiah does ask the King for permission to rebuild the wall of his ancestral capital, but the extent and specificity of his request implies that he had spent significant time—perhaps in collaboration with others seeking this same goal—determining the many steps that would need to be taken for the wall construction to succeed amidst Persian imperial politics and practices.

Nehemiah thus embodies stewardship of opportunity at the highest level.  He combines position, gained presumably through years of performance, with strategic planning, and with the knowledge that his position and planning can only succeed through the “gracious hand of God” on his person.

CORNERSTONE:   Stewardship

- Dr. Steve Clements, Dean of College of Arts & Sciences, Associate Professor of Political Science

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