Background Scripture: Joshua 22
Quotes of the Week:
"An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Finally! We come across a lesson that none of us can relate to. We can sit back and casually read what this lesson says about conflict, because that is only a problem that others have, right? We may wish this to be true, but this lesson is undoubtedly one of the more applicable lessons that we will have. Conflict is all around us.
There is conflict at the high political level, among political parties and candidates. This conflict filters down to allegiances that some people hold towards one party or the other, without even giving a hint of a thought that the 'other side' may have a point. It is as if people think one party or candidate can do no wrong and that the other(s) are incapable of doing anything right! Even when wrong is acknowledged by 'your' candidate, you find it easy to offer excuses and let them off the hook, but no such mercy is shown to the other side.
There is conflict in our communities. The St Louis area has made world headlines on many occasions in the past year. I wish I could say it was all about the St Louis Cardinals or other teams winning world championships. But, sadly, it is about conflict drawn largely around racial lines, with folks that are unwilling to listen to the other side.
There is conflict in our churches. There is conflict in our workplaces. There is conflict in many families and undoubtedly, if you were honest, you would have to say that there remains unresolved conflict in each of our lives. Truthfully, the problem is not that there is conflict, but the problem is often in the way that we handle it, or for some, avoid it. As believers, we are called to be a new creation and as we mature, we should learn to deal with difficult situations in the way that God has defined.
Joshua commended these Eastern tribes by saying that they had done all that they had been commanded by both Moses and himself. In effect, since they had been given their land on the other side of the Jordan, instead of seeking to lay claim to that land, they carried out the mission that the Lord had given the Israelites and battled alongside all of the other tribes for seven years. Their obedience and work were appreciated by Joshua.
At this point in time, the Israelites had fully conquered their enemies, so these tribes were now able to return to the land that Moses had given them on the eastern side of the Jordan. However, Joshua told them that they were to be careful to keep the commandment of the law; to love the Lord their God, to walk in obedience to Him, to keep His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is important to realize that there is an order that is implied. First, they were to hear the word of the Lord, in His commandments. Then, they were to love and then they were to obey. When this order gets out of sorts, problems occur. For example, loving without hearing the word of the Lord can result in heresy, while obeying without loving can result in legalistic behavior. Both of these are prevalent in many churches and among Christians today.
As the tribes neared the Jordan in the land of Canaan (the western side), they built an imposing altar by the River (across from their own land). This altar was impressive in size, and could easily be seen as problematic by the other Israelites, as an altar was where offerings and sacrifices were given to the Lord. When the other Israelites heard about the altar, they were not all pleased. In verse 12, we read that the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. It is also noteworthy to indicate that this was somewhat of a rash response. Although they had the best of intentions to confront the tribes on behalf of the holiness of God's word, we don't see the Israelites consulting with Joshua in their reaction, nor do we see them seeking the Lord. They were upset, and they were going to let the others know!
Some commentaries that I studied seemed to indicate that their response was warranted and from one point, I suppose that could be true. If they thought the others were disgracing their God, perhaps it would be best to handle the problem as quick as possible. However, the fact that there is an implication that they were ready to go to war seems to show more of a desire to 'attack'. I've often heard that if there is someone that needs to be corrected and you are looking forward to doing it (or you want to inflict damage or you are unwilling to listen to their side), you likely aren't the best person to handle it. If you've already made your own conclusion about the situation before even addressing another party, you aren't likely to resolve any conflict.
The contingent continued by saying, "Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD! And are you now turning away from the LORD?" In Numbers 25, many of the Israelites began to bow to the foreign gods, joining themselves to Baal of Peor. The Lord was angry with Israel and a plague came upon the Israelites, resulting in 24,000 deaths. Phinehas was the leader who had executed both a man of Israel, along with the Midianite woman he had brought into the assembly, effectively ending the plague. Perhaps that is why Phinehas was the leader of this group to 'correct' this grievous mistake that had been made.
This contingent implied that others were rebelling against the Lord which would result with the Lord being angry with all of Israel. Rather than continuing as they were, as a concession, Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh could share the land on the west side of the Jordan, along with the other tribes, and be part of the true altar of the Lord. They also spoke of the sin of Achan, as one whose unfaithfulness in regard to holy things brought wrath on the whole community. The contingent did not want to end up seen as rebelling against God and dying for this grievous sin that was being committed. Certainly, there were cases where the nation had suffered for the actions of one or more of their own citizens.
Their response indicated that this altar was not in any way a sign of rebellion or disobedience. They knew better than to build their own altar or to bring offerings in any manner other than what God had commanded. They had the same experiences with both the Peor and Achan incidents. Rather, this altar was to be a sign to future generations that may otherwise say that the Jordan River was a boundary between those in the Lord and those apart from the Lord. It was as if they foresaw a day where one group might try and claim that God's presence is only with them and not with anyone else. We would never see this today, would we? Many groups tend to think that they have a lock on the gospel and that you must be one of 'them' in order to be saved. Others who are across the River, or in any other church other than their own were out. These Eastern Tribes did not want this type of behavior to cause their own descendants to feel as if God was not with them.
They continued to say that if their descendants were ever told that they had no share in the Lord, they could point to the replica of the Lord's altar that would serve as a witness between the different tribes of Israel. In no way were they rebelling against the Lord and turning from Him by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle."
Phinehas and the others returned to Canaan from their meeting and reported what they had heard to the Israelites. The people listened, heard and understood. They were glad to hear the report and praised God. There was no more talk about going to war and devastating the land on the other side of the Jordan. The altar was given the name "A Witness Between US - that the Lord is God".
It can be beneficial to look at the track record of a person and to realize that their primary intent may never have been to inflict hurt. In the lesson, Reuben and the others had battled alongside the other Israelites for the previous seven years and had been obedient to the commands that they had been given. Often, when seeds of conflict begin, some will want to paint one party as all bad, as if evil intentions were their norm. If we are truthful, we know that we all can (and will) make mistakes, but there are very few people whose intention is to do evil all the time. If you see someone painting themselves as consistently above reproach, never willing to accept their own problems, and painting someone else as bad at all times, you can be sure that you should get another painter.
One of the worst things that you can do in the area of conflict is to bring a contingent of people to accuse others of wrongdoing. In this passage, we saw Phinehas and the other tribe leaders that came, believing that they knew what was happening and resolving to not allow it. Often, conflict escalates when accusations get thrown at people (by a group of others), as if they are the truth. In Matthew, chapter 8, we are given the model for dealing with wrongs, and that is to begin by approaching the person individually. When you begin the process with multiples of people ganged up on one, the process is harmed and rather having resolution, the conflict is likely to escalate.
This could have ended much worse, if Phinehas and the others had made their accusations and walked away or had not given any alternative for rebuttal. Sadly, this happens way too often today. Some are eager to voice their accusation, but unwilling to give any opportunity for explanation. Thankfully, Reuben and the others were able to share their side of the story, which was totally different from what they had been accused of. A wise step in resolving conflict is the ability for both parties to be able to talk and for both to be able to explain themselves.
Phinehas and the others listened and were able to understand that they had misunderstood what was going on, so they were able to resolve the conflict. If they had not given Reuben and Gad the opportunity to speak or if they had refused to listen, they would never have heard. How many arguments have you been in where you state your own position and then begin thinking about what you will say next while the other person is talking? Are you really resolving conflict or are you simply trying to win an argument?
In this story, we see many things that are crucial to conflict resolution, but this specific conflict in the passages is largely a misunderstanding between two parties. What happens if the conflict you are involved in does not clean up so nicely? What happens if somebody has done wrong or if there is simply a difference of opinion where you must learn to agree to disagree? It boils down to how important a relationship may be to you. Even in the best of relationships, there are problems. Even Berkley and I have had differences of opinions at times. If we were not able to deal with working through conflict, it would eventually harm our relationship.
When we take a step back and when we are honest with ourselves, we will see that there are times where we are indeed the one in the wrong. While we may not have intended to treat someone else with contempt, our words or actions may have accomplished that. We need to realize that the only person over whom we have direct control is our own selves. When you are in the wrong, are you willing to admit that you have made a mistake, own up to the hurt that you may have caused and truly seek forgiveness? Often, this is the key thing that will do the best to resolve most conflicts. Unfortunately, many of us are re proud people and we'd like to think we never do anything wrong. In truth, we all know this not to be the case, as we all have wronged others at some point.
Here are five key things to do, in the hope of resolving conflict.
Is there conflict that you need to resolve today? If you need to pick up the phone, or write a letter, would a note saying that you are (truly) sorry help? If you are in the wrong, perhaps that should be your immediate course of action. In some cases, the way that people have let conflict reign has only ramped it up, they may find it necessary to apologize to those who have been harmed by collateral damage. Although they were never the intended target of a missile of misinformation or lies that were launched towards an 'adversary', through words and actions, others have likely been damaged. If you know who they are, let them know you were wrong and apologize. Often this extends to other friends and family members who have been hurt by actions.
Perhaps you may be associated with someone who has treated others badly, but refuses to own up to what they've done. Often, if you will acknowledge that you are sorry for what someone close to you has done and you truly understand the hurt that they have caused, it can be helpful in mending problem areas. While this is not quite the same as the person who did the damage apologizing, it will at least let others who have been hurt know that you understand their hurt and are sorry for what had occurred.
There are other times where you may not be in the wrong and you have tried everything you can think of, but the conflict still exists. While you may pine for those words saying "I am sorry" and a deep contrition of heart, it may or may not happen. In the case where it doesn't happen, we have to ask for God's peace to get past the hurt and even if the conflict is never resolved, the peace to let it go.