What kind of conflicts are you experiencing lately? Are there people whose opinions differ from yours? Do you avoid or do you get angry about political dialogue with people who don’t agree with you? If you’re a parent, there is daily conflict trying to steer kids on the right path—“but mom!?!?”
Conflict is everywhere, even among Christians.
Some of the ancient Jews who had been in exile returned to their home city of Jerusalem. Under Nehemiah’s leadership they rebuilt the walls and gates. Yet life wasn’t all easy.
Poor families needed to borrow money to buy grain at oppressive interest rates, or pay heavy taxes on their property. Others resorted to paying debt through slavery to the creditor, a common practice in the Ancient Near East.
These were destitute families, and their fellow Israelites were the ones oppressing them. That created a conflict.
How does Nehemiah respond? “When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, ‘You are charging your own people interest! … What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God’” (Nehemiah 5:6,7,9)? Take note of some important steps in conflict resolution.
- “I heard.” Listen first, talk later. Seek to understand every side of the conflict.
- “Their outcry.” With empathy feel the other person’s pain.
- “I was very angry.” Be aware of yourself and your feelings. Then manage both of them first before trying to manage others or the circumstances.
- “I pondered them in my mind.” Press the pause button. Think and pray. Back away from the scene. Give it a little time.
- “Then I accused.” Finally, after all this and only after all this, it’s time to confront.
- Why does Nehemiah confront the creditors who are exploiting the underprivileged? They do not “walk in the fear of our God.”
This is not about Nehemiah having a more researched opinion or more popular political position. This is about God being honored. The nobles and officials were mocking God’s Word, which demanded, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites … be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need” (Deuteronomy 15:7,8).
This conflict wasn’t just about fellow Israelites, but about God. He’d freely given to some. But they weren’t doing the same to others. The nobles and officials confess their sins, walk again in God’s ways, and find that by giving in, by giving up, by acting as generously and gratefully as possible toward others—they don’t lose a thing, but gain much from a merciful God.
In mercy God gave them a generous leader, Nehemiah, who invited them to the governor’s mansion to enjoy feasts, while at the same time freeing the city of taxation. Nehemiah took the burden on himself, but truly believed it wasn’t his to bear, but God’s. “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 5:19).
For Nehemiah, conflict resolution is all about God. Because God loves the people and has mercy on them, Nehemiah does, too.
Does God love the people you’re in conflict with these days? Say YES. And, my friend, God loves you, too. He invites you to his rich feast of grace. Now, do the same to others.
PRAYER: Dear God of peace, living in harmony with each other takes so much work! I can be so certain of my opinion, yet selfishness and prejudice can create conflict more about me than about you. In your mercy, teach me to be more certain of your truth, more interested in your peace, and more generous toward others whom you also love. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Read the whole story in Nehemiah 5. Where do you see Nehemiah making this conflict more about God than himself. What is the Sprit teaching you about your conflicts?