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Conflict and Communication

by Norman Tew

Conflict and Communication - We need to talk and solve problems

There are two interesting stories in the Bible that illustrate how conflict can arise and how it can be solved.

They both involve two and a half of the tribes of Israel who decided that they liked the land on the east side of the river Jordan, and did not need to claim land between the Jordan and the sea.

To save space I will not quote the stories from the Bible but will just summarise them with the lessons that can be drawn.  If you wish to read the stories as you read this you can find the stories in Numbers 32 and Joshua 22.

The stories start when the tribes of Reuben and Gad came to Moses with a request.  They asked that they be allocated the land on the east of the river Jordan.  It was a simple request and they explained that they would like to do this because they had many cattle and this was good cattle country.  (Num.32:1-5)

Moses replied in an angry manner.  First he suggested that they were trying to avoid the fighting that the other tribes would have to do to claim the land west of the river.  He accused them of the same lack of faith that caused the people to accept the bad report from ten of the spies forty years earlier.  He called them a "brood of sinners", and said that they would call down the wrath of God on the people because of their evil. (Num.32:6-15)

Moses obviously spoke before he thought and spoke unreasonably and unwisely.  But that happens so often when we speak before thinking.

            The representatives of the two tribes had obviously thought things through though, and they explained to Moses that they were prepared to build towns for their wives and children and strong shelters for their flocks so that they would be safe and that they would then send the men across the Jordan with the rest of the tribes to clear the land.  They would return only when that was done.  (Num 32:16-19)

Moses realised that they had a sensible plan, and were not cowards but were willing to support the rest of the tribes. He agreed. (Num 32:20-24)

The un-necessary conflict was settled by a peaceable and reasoned answer.

Some years later however another conflict arose involving the same people.  This time the leader is Joshua as Moses was now dead.  The conflict on the western side of the Jordan was completed to the satisfaction of the people and Joshua discharged the men of Reuben and Gad.  By this time there was also half a tribe of Manasseh also with them, so it was two and a half tribes.

IN discharging them on the completion of their contract to help their fellow tribesmen Joshua sent them off with an admonition that they faithfully serve the Lord.  It is noted that the men were returning home with a lot of wealth that they had plundered in their campaigns on the west of the Jordan. (Josh 22:1-9)

After the returning soldiers had crossed the Jordan they came to a prominent hill and decided to build a large and prominent altar.   (Josh 22:10)

Moses had decreed that there was only one altar for the whole nation, and that was at the tabernacle.  Any sacrifices should be there.  In later years many people built their own altars on high places and this was a constant source of  idolatry for the nation.  Although the altar that had been built near Jordan was a very large one and as yet no sacrifices had been offered on it, there was immediate consternation.  In fact when the people of the other tribes heard about it they called an assembly and planned to go to war against those on the east of the river. (Josh 22:11-12)

Fortunately someone must have suggested that they should do some talking and checking before they started a war.  A priest was sent with a head man of a family from each of the tribes as a delegation.  They crossed over and accused the two and a half tribes of treachery; again making an accusation without asking for explanations. (Josh 22:13-18)

Though they made a harsh accusation without ascertaining the facts of the matter they did make a very generous offer.  They said that if the 2 tribes felt that their area was unclean then they would find space for them by giving up some of their own land to accommodate them nearer to the temple. (Josh 22:19-20)

The 2 tribes protested that they were faithful to the Lord.  They explained that they had no plans to offer sacrifices on the big altar, but that it was there to be a perpetual witness to their children that they worshiped the Lord, and so that the people on the west would never think to say "Those on the east are not part of our nation."  They had no plans to rebel against God (Josh 22:21-29)

Again a soft answer turned away wrath as in the other story. (Proverbs 15:1)

The priests and his delegation were satisfied with this answer. They admitted that the men of the 2 tribes had not committed treachery.  They returned to the assembly that had appointed them and their report pleased the people and they all recognised the altar as a witness that the Lord was the God of both groups.

As a summary let us go over the steps of these two problems and their resolution

Story one

Story two

Though these stories are from long ago, there are lessons for us today, for this sort of thing still happens.  Unexplained actions are misunderstood, righteous indignation rises and false accusations are made.  If people take time to talk and soft reasoned replies are given, discord can disappear and harmony can reign.

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