Broken Walls 5 - Internal Conflict
Nehemiah was achieving great things with and for God. In spite of vicious and concerted opposition, he continued to focus on the work he was doing, giving to God all the frustration and anxiety that he must have felt. His faith in God’s promises was unshakeable. The weary workers had been inspired by his vision and infected by his determination. A disparate group of people had found a common purpose and were working together under his leadership. The wall was more than half built as the people slogged from dawn to dusk, with danger constantly lurking.
Nehemiah might well have been starting to feel that there was an end in sight, when the biggest threat of all reared its head – internal conflict. After years of famine, the people had mortgaged themselves to the hilt, in order to buy food and to pay heavy taxes. Some of their daughters had even been sold back into slavery. Sadly, the creators of this heavy financial burden weren’t their enemies; they were wealthy Jews willing to exploit their own countrymen by lending them money at exorbitant rates of interest (Nehemiah 5:6). Eventually, the burden became so heavy that the people cried out to Nehemiah.
It was now that Nehemiah showed the mark of really great leadership. He writes, ‘When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry’ (5:6). But he didn’t act in anger. Instead, he tells us, ‘I pondered them in my mind’ (5:7) – pondering which would doubtless have included much prayer. Nehemiah had a range of options here. He could have acted in anger – his anger was quite justified and few would have criticised him for it. He could have decided to pray until the wrongdoers saw the error of their ways. He could have come alongside them and modelled godly behaviour, trying gently to turn them around. But no – after pondering, Nehemiah dealt with it head on. ‘You’re wrong,’ he told the nobles and officials at a big meeting (5:7), ‘and you’re wrong because God says...’. Anger would have got people’s backs up and made them defensive, possibly deepening the conflict. Prayer alone might have changed nothing. Modelling correct behaviour would have been a slow route to change while people continued to suffer. Instead, by direct but calm confrontation, Nehemiah left them with nowhere to go but to hang their heads in shame and agree to restoration. It took boldness and courage. How do we deal with internal conflict in our Christian groups? What do we do about the person who regularly criticises every point of doctrine? How do we handle the person who constantly wants just his or her ideas adopted? Do we have the courage to meet it head on?
But there’s another important point here about Nehemiah. Previous governors had been corrupt and had played a significant part in burdening the people (5:15). But, Nehemiah says, ‘Out of reverence for God I did not act like that’ (5:15). Not only did he personally refuse to take the food that he was allotted as a governor, but he shared what was available with at least 150 people on a daily basis (5:17—18). Yet again, Nehemiah’s integrity sets an example. He doesn’t expect anything different from the nobles and officials than he himself is prepared to do. Do our lives always match what we ask of our fellow workers?
And so, after just 52 days, the wall was finished. Nehemiah had dealt with opposition, bullying, sneers, threats, intimidation, internal conflict and exhausted workers and yet he had completed the task God had given him to do. And the outcome, in addition to a completed city wall? ‘When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God’ (6:16). The news wasn’t confined to Jerusalem - there was a ripple effect to surrounding nations and a widespread understanding that this had been achieved with the help of God. The establishment of a Christian Workplace Group and the work that it does has a similar ripple effect. Although people may not want to engage, they will know that Christians achieve things and they do it with the help of God.
For Nehemiah, however, repairing the walls was only part of the task. The city and its people had been saved, but what of their future? Where should he go next?
Next: building strong Christians for eternal work
Other blogs by Gill Robins