In the previous chapter, we saw how Nehemiah and God’s work was challenged by outside forces. What happens, however, when the work of God is restrained by problems inside the organization? Chapter five gives us a glimpse of this issue from the viewpoint of interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts. What are those? These words describe the relationships between other people and with our self. As James wrote, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members” (James 4:1)? If external challenges aren’t hard enough, we still have to deal with our own internal issues.
Nehemiah 5:1-13 details a particular problem that took place between people. Nehemiah boiled the issue down to usury, which is charging prices or interest at incredibly high rates. When someone needed money, they would borrow a loan from some of the wealthier Jews or in a way, mortgage their house. The lender would then charge the borrower through corrupt payments. The borrower was being oppressed, and Nehemiah knew this was wrong when it was told to him.
A conflict between people can happen in some ways. I always remind myself and others that any interactions have the potential for conflict. And, some people just like to instigate trouble. Scripture warns us about busybodies and troublemakers. Romans 16:17 sums up the thought succinctly, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
One thing that we learn from Nehemiah and the James 4:1 passage, is that conflict between individuals occurs between of the personal conflict in people’s heart and mind. Nehemiah 5:8-19, highlights these personal issues in the people. They were greedy enough to sell out their friends and family (vs. 8 and 15) and had no fear of God (vs. 9). This caused strife among the Jews and a laughing stock to outsiders.
Greed is certainly a vice in the heart of many people today. But, it is one among many. I think the biggest problem among the people is found in verse nine, they were not walking in the fear of the Lord. Scripture reminds us time and time again that we are to have a healthy fear of the Lord. We should show respect to God through our thoughts, speech, and behavior. If we lived as Christ lived and treated others as He would have us to, there would be a lot less strife between the people of God.
Thankfully, the people were quick to rectify their conflicts in Nehemiah’s situation (vs. 11-13). If you’re more introverted like me, however, you really have to concentrate on developing your people skills. Even more outgoing individuals have to shape the way they interact with others unless they become overbearing. I would suggest the following three areas to become people smart.
- Understanding: realize that not everyone is the same. There are many similarities and basic needs we all have, but there are different personalities. It’s a good idea to learn how to relate to someone with a different worldview or personality.
- Communication: learn to express yourself in a clear and succinct manner.
- Flexible: situations and people’s moods can change quickly. Learning to keep a level head and an open mind can keep you out of tough spots.
The last area I want to focus and certainly, in my opinion, the most important, is we need to be spiritually grounded. If that’s not clear enough in the context of these previous writings, we need to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Part of the problem Nehemiah faced was people who had lost their fear of God. They treated him as a lucky charm if even that. Ezra the priest even had his issues with the people just a few years before Nehemiah came to work. All of chapter five brings us to remember how important our walk is before the Lord (vs. 9, 12, 13, 15, & 19).
Spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, are among the most notable practices. Still, observance of these disciplines does not mean anything if they do not result in the transformation of the soul. There is no doubt these recently exiled Jews were still practicing their spiritual disciplines. Yet, they were distant from God in their heart and their treatment of others showed this lack of spiritual depth. It seems that Nehemiah is taking the time and space to show his future readers the importance of our relationship with God. We are those readers and need this reminder every day.