Resolving Conflicts | Nehemiah 5

How to resolve our conflicts?

One of the most common and unfortunate things dealing with people in conflict. We have stories of conflicts at the workplace, conflicts at home, conflicts in the society, and sadly conflicts also at church.

Are you presently going through a conflict with someone? Do you know that conflicts tend to have negative consequences on either party dealing with it? Conflict with others can result in frustration, hopelessness, dissatisfaction in life, depression, and general unhappiness in people. Every one of us goes through conflict with others at different points of life.

Conflicts are inevitable in this fallen world but there is a scriptural way to deal with them.

Joke: An Englishman was seated on a train between two ladies arguing about the window. One claimed that she would die of heatstroke if the window stayed closed. The other said she would expire of pneumonia if it was opened. Later the ladies called the conductor, who didn’t know how to resolve the conflict. Finally, the gentleman spoke up, “First, open the window. That will kill the one. Then close it. That will kill the other. Then we will have peace.”

I am going to speak to you as to how to resolve conflicts the godly way from Nehemiah 5.

We are going to look at this chapter in three sections.

The Protest. Nehemiah 5:1-5

The Gathering. Nehemiah 5:6-13

The Perfect Model. Nehemiah 5:14-19

Brief Background:

In Nehemiah chapter 1, Nehemiah was in Persia and he gets word that his city wall back in Jerusalem is in ruins. He became very burdened with the news and starts to pray about it. He came to the king with a sad look on his face and that was very challenging for Nehemiah because he could not only have lost his job but also his life. However, the king was gracious to Nehemiah and God was dealing in this situation. The king allowed Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city.

When Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem, he inspects the walls and sees that the walls are in ruins. Then he motivates his people and starts the construction on the wall.

The last time we saw Nehemiah 4. Nehemiah faced attacks from 4 local and regional rulers around them who were enemies of Israel. They did not want the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt.

Nehemiah prayed to the God of Israel and organized people for construction, protection, and battle.

In the morning the workers were doing heavy labor. They removed thousands of tons of rubble, basket-by-basket and then brought stones and built the wall. They were exhausted. Now, Nehemiah ordered that all the workers spend their night in the city to watch against the enemies, and not go home even overnight. So they were working 24×7.

In this background comes Nehemiah 5. Nehemiah’s measures definitely helped against the enemies but in chapter 5, a new set of problems come to light.

Verse 1 of chapter 5 jumps right into the problem.

Nehemiah 5:1

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews.

It is very common that when someone deals with external stress or problem, you get so exhausted that internal stress begins to surface.

The men were actually working without salary on the wall. So they have lost out on their income and working voluntarily for 52 days. Can you imagine working without a salary for 2 months? While the men were working on the walls, it was the women who took care of the fields. So the women experienced the problem in real-time in the fields.

Nehemiah 5:2-5

2Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” 4Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our homes to get grain during the famine.” 4Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

The Problems Faced By The People

1. No food to eat

2. Properties and fields were mortgaged for grain

3. High taxation by the Persian government

4. Children became bonded labor

When we see the world today, we are still facing these problems. Scarcity of food and medical facilities in the world. Corona scare has pushed up the rate of sanitizers. Now is the time the companies should be giving discounted sanitizers. This is how the rich exploit the poor.

But the problem with the Jewish people was that their own people were doing this injustice to them. What we read here is a typical case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Now, originally these Jews had come back from the Babylonian captivity with many possessions. See how the Persian King Cyrus left the exiles back to Jerusalem:

Ezra 1:2-4

2“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 4And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

Ezra 1:11

In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver.

So they were coming from exile back to Jerusalem as wealthy people. We also learn in Haggai, that after coming back they started building the temple. Soon, they faced opposition, therefore, abandoned the temple and were building homes with that money.

Haggai 1:4

“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

The paneling of the homes was done by those who had a lot of money and could afford the luxury.

So the Jews coming back are wealthy in the time of Ezra. Nehemiah comes after about 12 years to Jerusalem and now there is a great disparity between the rich and the poor.

There is a socioeconomic crisis.

So how did some become wealthier and others become poor? What was the reason for this disparity in the society between the rich and the poor? The text gives us the answer:

There was a famine in the land, 5:3

There was high taxation, 5:4

These are the reasons why some people become very poor. So there was a protest against the rich.

The rich were exploiting the poor. It was even tolerable if it had come from outside sources but what was happening was that it was from their own people. Wealthy Jews exploiting their own people by loaning them money on interest and then taking their land and children as collateral.

They were like the tax collectors of Jesus’ day. The Roman government was in control of the Jews. Some Jews were given responsibility by Rome to collect the tax. So the Jewish tax collectors would exploit their own people by collecting more tax and in the process, they became more wealthy. Matthew was a tax collector. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were hated by the Jews because they were working for the Romans and exploiting their own people.

Now loaning money was not a problem. The problem was that those who loaned money charged interest from their own people. This was in direct violation of the Mosaic law.

Deuteronomy 23:19

Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.

Now keeping people’s fields, having children bonded as collateral, and charging interest was contrary to the law that God had given the Israelites. So basically, God loves the poor.

Proverbs 19:17

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

So these rich Jewish businessmen were selfish and greedy. The people are crying out to their leader Nehemiah. Nehemiah, we are building the walls around us but we were facing social injustice.

Now times have not changed much in our days. We are still seeing social injustice in our day. Apart from Jesus’ redemptive saving power in the life of a person, social injustice will continue to exist.

Therefore, it is our role and responsibility as Christians to combat social injustice with the gospel preached and lived out in our lives.

So what was Nehemiah’s response to this?

Nehemiah heard the great protest and now we see Nehemiah’s response:

The Gathering

Nehemiah 5:7

So I called together a large meeting to deal with them.

As Nehemiah now gathers this great gathering of the people together, see the first response of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 5:13

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.

Nehemiah was not just bothered, he was upset and very angry.

Indignation

This was a wave of righteous anger. This was indignation like Moses coming down the mountain of Sinai with the tablets of the law as the people are worshipping other gods. Moses comes down and finds the Israelites dancing before the golden calf which they had made. Moses gets so angry and throws down the tablets. He crushes the golden calf, puts it in water and makes the people drink. He is so angry.

We see Jesus’s righteous indignation when he comes to the temple. There he sees the merchants in the temple doing merchandise with their temple-approved animals. People could buy animals only from these merchants. It cost you more money. Jesus was angry and overthrows those merchant’s tables and he said:

Matthew 21:13

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

We see Jesus in Mark 3 when he came into the synagogue on a sabbath. He saw a man with a shriveled hand. The religious leaders did not like the fact that Jesus was breaking the sabbath and healing someone.

Mark 3:5

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

These are all examples of righteous anger, anger when things are against God’s laws and justice.

Nehemiah was very upset. He had already paid money to free the Jews from the gentile masters, now the rich Jews have kept the poor Jews as slaves. Now they are being sold again, and they need to be redeemed a second time from their own Jewish masters. Now Nehemiah was not bothered about the money. He was angry about the Jews being in bondage once again and at the hands of their own brothers and breaking the law of God.

Nehemiah’s Use Of Logic

Nehemiah 5:7

I pondered them in my mind…..

Nehemiah got angry but before he could react, he is using his head, his mind or logic. So whenever we come to a situation like this, we may become angry, but it is always good to take a step back and ponder in your mind the choices you have before you to make.

In this section, Nehemiah not only used his heart but he also used his head. Sometimes resolving a conflict, we can make rash decisions and act upon them before we think.

Nehemiah’s Confrontation

Nehemiah 5:8-11

8and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet because they could find nothing to say. 9So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”

Nehemiah says, “We are supposed to love each other. How is it that you are showing love to your brother when you are taking advantage of a dire situation? Instead of helping them out, you are charging interest on them.” He tells them what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong and what you are doing is wrong. There is no grey area in this matter.

Nehemiah brought God into the equation. He said what you are doing is not right.

Look at their response:

Nehemiah 5:12-12

12“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” At this, the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

The nobles and leaders here agreed with Nehemiah. Nehemiah succeeded in explaining the mistakes to the nobles. Earlier in Nehemiah 3:5; Nehemiah had talked with the nobles and they were in opposition to Nehemiah. Now he has won over them. They are saying, “We agree with what you are saying and we will do as you say.”

Now Nehemiah did not just stop when the people agreed with him to do what he says. He brought in the priests and wanted them to take an oath. He wanted to make sure it happened. It was equivalent to drafting a document and having it notarized.

The Perfect Model

Nehemiah was a great model for a man who glorified God and obeyed God’s word.

Nehemiah 5:14-19

14Moreover, 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. 15But 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. 16Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.

17Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18Each 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. 19Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.

What a model Nehemiah was. He could have said, “I am the governor.” I want luxury because I am entitled to it. But he said, “No I am going to burden my people.”

When I read or listen to the news regarding politicians or businessmen or sports stars or film stars and even in the Christian realm there is some kind of scandals always going on. I am sure there are also honest people out there in all fields. But look at Nehemiah. He was an exemplary leader. He was a man of integrity, a man of character. Before we resolve any conflict, look into your life, see whether you are a good role model.

Resolving conflicts starts with you first.

Are you facing a conflict today with someone, first check your life? How is your life? Is there anything you are to deal with? Start with your sins against God or your conflict with God first.

In verses 14-18, Nehemiah reveals what his example was.

  • He Did not take a position of authority.
  • Did not take the governor’s tax.
  • Did not live a luxurious life.
  • He put his hands to the work.
  • He was generous to the poor.

Nehemiah chose to live differently. Nehemiah was a model leader. He believed what he was doing was God’s work. He gave his time. Nehemiah gave his resources. He did it all because he feared the Lord.

Nehemiah 5:15

But out of reverence for God, I did not act like that.

That should be our pattern. That is the pattern that Jesus had:

Mark 10:45

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

See how Nehemiah ends this section:

Nehemiah 5:19

Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.

Nehemiah’s sole purpose was to please the Lord, to see God’s favor.

So we saw today: The protest, the gathering, and the perfect model.

Conclusion:

As we conclude today, what are the takeaways for us especially if you are in a place of leadership: Leadership at home, job, school, office, hospital, ministry, or in your apartment. How do you resolve conflict?

1. Remember Problems and Conflicts Are Normal

Expect problems and conflicts because we are dealing with real people. Someone said, “If it was not for people, this job would be easy.” People will be people.

We are never conflict-free in this world. There is no perfect family. There are no perfect churches. I have seen people who go out of a family because they have a conflict with someone. There are people who leave the church because they don’t like some things or people from the church. Remember, there are no perfect people. There are no perfect families nor are there any perfect churches.

Illustration: I heard a made-up story of a man who had an airplane wreck in a deserted island. Everyone died except him. Here lived there in the deserted island for many, many years. One day as he was near the beach he saw a ship in the distance. So he built himself a fire and all the smoke was coming out of the island. The captain of the ship saw it, lowered their anchor and came into the island to rescue this man.

The rescue people asked this man on the island many questions. How long he had been here? How did he survive? He told them, “I was able to provide for myself. I cultivated from the wild which could be eaten and I cooked food myself. I even build a house. In fact, there on that hill you see right there, there are three buildings. The first one is my house. See the second building, that is my church.” So the rescue team asked, “So what is the third building next to the church.” He said, “That is the church that I used to go to.”

Remember problems and conflicts are natural.

2. Address Your Conflict To The Right Authority

In order to resolve conflicts, we must air our complaints to the proper authority.

The first authority is God. Then we have people above us, go to them. These people brought their conflicts to Nehemiah. We do not know if the people first went to the people who were exploiting them. However, finally, they came to the right person.

Hebrews 13:17

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watching over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

I am amazed by how people take their problems all over the place except the person who has authority over them. Even in my pastoral experience, I have seen how people take their problems to everyone and spread gossip instead of the pastor.

3. Confront The Conflict Head-On

Not too many people like confrontation. Consider the problem and deal with it as soon as possible. I thank God that in Nehemiah’s case, the moment he confronted, they repented. In my 17 years of church ministry people readily responding to correction is very rare.

We see that in Acts 6. When the Greek widows felt that they were not treated as fairly as the Jewish widows. They brought this problem to the apostle’s attention. So Peter decided to find 7 men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom so they can wait on the tables and deal with the issues.

So they saw the problem, the came up with a solution and dealt with it immediately.

4. Set A Personal Example Of Integrity And Of Character

I know we are not perfect people, we are forgiven, people. However, we still make a lot of decisions. Let’s purpose in our hearts to make good decisions. You may say, “Pastor, I have done too many wrong decisions in the past. I am facing the consequences of those decisions. I don’t fall in the quality of integrity or good character.” Do you know what, “You can be a person of integrity and character from this day forward.” Just purpose in your heart not to do those things again, make good decisions. Confess your sins, move forward. Be a man or woman of integrity and character now. For being a person of integrity use both your heart and your mind.

5. See Every Conflict As An Opportunity For Growth

Every problem in your life, every conflict in your life is an opportunity for the Lord to His work.

Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

That is the promise of God’s word. He is working all things together for the good, for those who are called according to His purposes. In other words, all those who are believers in Christ.

Nehemiah had to stop the work of the wall. He had to deal with the problem, the outcry of the people and then he brought glory to God with everything that he did.

This should be our desire as well, to bring glory to God by pointing to another work of God, that is the work of Jesus on the cross. That is the message we need to bring to others with our lives and with our words.

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