Have you noticed that, in human systems of all kinds, some people take out much more than others? In many countries around the world presidents, politicians and governors acquire large estates during their terms in office.
Move to businesses and you discover that executives, chief executives and board members will reap larger rewards than others.
Go to the banking sector and you will meet the most senior bankers earning multiples of their employees.
It is so common that it is considered normal. It is considered part of the real world. There is no question in some people’s minds that some should receive more than others.
Strange anomalies creep into our systems. A nurse working 12 hour shifts may earn 10 or 20% of the salary that a wealthy patient earns as she saves his life. A football player will receive a hundred times the income of a youth leader and everyone claps.
How can you possibly measure what you are worth? What do you deserve and how should you behave?
I cannot answer all the questions raised in the field of economics, politics, business and philosophy in such a piece but I can reintroduce you to the mind of a young governor seeking to build his city and build his career.
How much should he be paid? When we last looked into his mind he was hopping mad about injustice and inequality which left some people oppressing their fellow citizens to the point of slavery. He now opens his mind and shows you how he thinks he should be compensated.
First, in his mind he would not use what he was entitled to as his guideline. As Governor, he was entitled to an extremely generous allocation of food and wine along with money. He did not look on the table at his rights.
Second, he did not look at his peers. They too were entitled to local taxes, large allowances, plenty of food, wine and finance.
Third he did not look back at his predecessors and follow their behaviour.
Just pause for a moment and ask yourself how leadership would be different if the examples of peers, predecessors or rights were not the main deciding factor in determining pay.
Perhaps you may say that it should be performance or profit related, and there may be truth in that.
But how is Nehemiah’s mind working on this? He tells us that there were three guiding factors which drove his working practices. Top of his list was reverence or fear of God. He looked inside himself and looked up to his God and started to formulate a contract linked to his fear of God.
He also looked down. Two things troubled him. First, if he took what he was due, it would be a burden on his people – a heavy burden. He would not be doing anything illegal or outside of his rights but he would be placing a heavy burden on people. Nehemiah knew, in his mind, that this was not the way of his God. To do such would be irreverent, foolish and contradictory in his own relationship with his own God.
The second thing that troubled him was that to take all that he could claim would include forcing people to give to him against their will.
The words in English sound so similar. Leading and lording. They mean completely different things. A good leader inspires, strengthens, encourages, comforts and generates loyalty, affection and support in his or her people.
Lording it over people forces people to act against their desires, discourages them, and creates resentment and hostility.
Nehemiah had realised that if he looked around, back or at the table he would see peers lording it, predecessors placing heavy burdens or a list of enforceable rights. Nehemiah also realised that if he looked inwards he would find his conscience, if he looked up he would revere his God and if he looked down he would see his people as valuable, not to be oppressed but to be served. He was a cupbearer through and through.
So he waived his rights, shared his table and lightened the loads.
Did he want a reward? Of course he did; and he asked God to remember him with favour for all he has done for these people.
Taking this view will result in God then having the final say on your compensation which was – and is – always the best deal.
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
19 Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.
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