“The Peaceful Life through Reconciliation: Five Stories from the Old Testament,” Ensign, July 1986, 19
As we seek to develop a Godlike quality in our lives, we daily come into contact with conflict—conflict within ourselves and conflict with our fellowmen. Our independence and pride can cause conflict between our desires and the will of the Lord or the authority of his agents.
This is not a situation unique to our generation; it has always been thus. The Old Testament offers some examples of great people who were able to overcome conflict by reconciling themselves to others, to authority, and to God.
For instance, from the book of Micah, we learn that during the eighth century B.C. there was a lying spirit abroad in the land that gripped the hearts of all people—prophet, priest, judge, merchant, and housewife. Values were materialistic, covetousness was rampant, streets were unsafe, and violence was commonplace. No mere caveat emptor here, but trust ye not in a friend was the all-too-common counsel. A man was well advised not to trust even his own wife in a world where a man’s enemies might often be his own flesh and blood. The courts, the clergy, and civil officials were all priced to fit the market in a broken-down society.
Who could stand up to the corrupting forces of such a society and remain pure?
Micah, the prophet, had worked long hours and many years in order to effect a change of heart in this spiritually calloused society. At times, when his efforts seemed ineffective, he longed for another ministry in a world far removed—one wherein men could be easily entreated, where righteousness was approved, and where men were peacemakers.
“Woe is me!” declared Micah, “for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit.” (Micah 7:1.)
For Micah, however, there was to be no such harvest.
But the Lord knew the faith of Micah. This was no chance meeting of man and circumstances. In a day when values had toppled and vision had perished, when the meaning of life had been lost and men stumbled at noonday, when the diviners, prophets, and seers had all become confounded and had received no answer from God, here was one who could say: “Truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.” (Micah 3:8.)
Micah’s inspired counsel and testimony helped many to recognize who they were and to understand why they were on the earth, and many of them learned to live life anew. They learned through his testimony that in an untrustworthy world, one could still trust the Lord.
“I will look unto the Lord,” Micah had said, “I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.
“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. …
“He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” (Micah 7:7–9.)
Although his calling was lonely and unpleasant, Micah’s ability to reconcile his will with the will of the Lord made him an effective servant of God, and a pillar of light to his fellowmen. Another figure of the Old Testament might well have rationalized himself out of a great and wonderful calling had he not placed himself in the hands of the Lord. His test came when he was climbing a hillside that was shimmering in the brilliance and heat of the sun. But he knew that what he saw was no heat-induced mirage—the bush was aflame, but it was not burned.
Moving closer, he was startled by the command: “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
Complying and attentive, he hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God, who was present. Then the Lord continued: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt. … And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them [into the land which I have promised them]. …
“Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”
An amazed Moses replied, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?”—as if he expected that he would have to perform the task alone.
But the Lord offered the reassuring words, “Certainly I will be with thee.”
Perhaps the 80-year-old Moses did not fully comprehend this statement by the Lord, for he raised other questions as to his ability to fulfill the mission.
“But,” he said, realizing that he had not been among his people for forty years, “they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.”
Again the Lord demonstrated his support, and again Moses raised a point of human concern. “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”
It would be difficult, he seemed to suggest, for a man who could but poorly communicate to take on the role of leadership. But again the Lord put forth his hand and challenged Moses’ faith when he said, “Go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”
Still uncertain, Moses tried the Lord’s patience when he asked for a companion to help him, to be his voice. But the Lord, adapting his desires to Moses’ need, told him that he could use Aaron, his brother, as his mouthpiece.
Moses eventually was to learn that his performance as a leader of men was to be empowered by and, therefore, acceptable to the Lord. Any human frailties would become as naught as he placed his faith in the Lord and did his bidding. (See Ex. 3, 4.)
To do the direct bidding of the Lord is one thing; to do the bidding of a complete stranger is another. But that is what a certain widow did in the century before Micah served as a prophet. The widow lived at a time when a divinely decreed famine was having its effect upon the land.
Under a rainless sky the sun had drawn the moisture out of thirsty soil that had hardened to become like the heart of Ahab—the ruler of this devastated land. The draining of the life power out of this land haunted all the survivors with the constancy of death’s close vigil.
The stranger had come into town directly to the widow’s home as if he were on a mission. She, knowing neither him nor whence he came, ignored his presence while continuing to gather the few sticks with which to bake her last meal. Beyond that, she could see only the extended hand of death that both she and her son would soon grasp.
“Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink,” the stranger said. And then, even before this was done, he gave further instructions: “Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.”
Spelling out her personal predicament to him—enough meal only to make one cake for herself and her son and then nothing but death—apparently had no effect. His next request seemed to be selfish, requiting her to transfer even this meager meal from their mouths to his: “Do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make [one] for thee and for thy son.”
An astounding request! But there was a promise attached: “Fear not. … For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”
To give her life’s substance to him in exchange for a mere promise was a request that beggared all reason! And that promise was made in a barren, desolate land where such promises seemingly could no longer be kept. This request severely tried her faith, but “she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.” (See 1 Kgs. 17:10–16.)
This blessing was a result of her willingness to follow the word of a prophet of the Lord. Like Moses, the widow had been able to reconcile her rational mind with her desire to do the will of the Lord.
Of course, it can be difficult to become reconciled to the Lord’s will if we are not reconciled to our fellowmen. One man had cause to look back over the twenty years since his brother, Jacob, had left home—twenty years since Jacob had gained their father’s blessing, a blessing Esau felt was rightfully his. His thoughts then had been of terrible revenge, but with the passing of time Esau’s anger and burning resentment had subsided. These feelings had been replaced by a deep awareness that God had not forgotten him and that he, in turn, could not forget the love he had held for his brother.
Now Jacob was returning to Canaan from Haran, and Esau set out to find his brother anew. Upon seeing Jacob, Esau “ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” (Gen. 33:4.)
This manifest capacity for forgiveness evoked a powerful response in Jacob, who freely told Esau that to see his face and be accepted by him was “as though [he] had seen the face of God.” (Gen. 33:10.)
Likewise, as these brothers were reconciled, so must we be reconciled with our brethren before we can hope to approach the Lord in sincerity.
Esau overcame his resentment, but one man allowed his resentment to eventually destroy him. He was a king who lived to see a thrilling day in Israel’s history. A national champion had overcome the boasts, taunts, and threats of the hulking, brute power that was Goliath. The nation’s king, Saul, exulted along with everyone else, little realizing that within this experience the seeds of his own destruction had been planted. Already, as the king led his army home from battle, the seeds began to sprout. The women attributed to Saul thousands of the fallen enemy, but to David, an unknown shepherd boy, tens of thousands. (See 1 Sam. 18:7.)
Over the years these seeds ripened into full bloom as jealousy began to eat away at Saul’s rational powers and move him to seek David’s death.
On one occasion, Saul sent David on a seemingly impossible mission against the Philistines, hoping that the enemy would accomplish what he himself had been unable to do. But the mission was successful, bringing more honor to the young man who little needed it and a lessening of honor to the king.
Saul subordinated everything else to his all-consuming desire to kill David: when his son, Jonathan, identified himself with David, an angry Saul almost killed him; eighty-five priesthood leaders, mistakenly accused of aiding David, were butchered in a pitiless massacre; whenever David’s whereabouts was ascertained, Saul led a personal campaign against him.
David had succeeded in staying alive, despite Saul’s best efforts to the contrary. Never did he make any effort to avenge the accumulating wrongs committed against him by Saul. The king’s actions were left entirely to the Lord to judge and to reward in his own due time.
On at least two occasions, in the cave and on the field, David could have killed Saul. Each time the young man’s followers urged him to kill the king, believing that Saul had been delivered into David’s hands. But David knew that all men are in the hands of God, and he refused to draw his sword against the Lord’s anointed. The impeccable faith of the boy who went forth to meet Goliath was still burning deep in the young man, who knew that his time would come to be king.
Although David undoubtedly had a strong desire to defend himself and take revenge on Saul, he was able to reconcile these desires with his absolute respect for authority in the form of the king, and with his love for the Lord. (See 1 Sam. 18–24.)
Like David, Moses, Micah, Esau, and the widow, we must be reconciled one with another, and with our God. Then, if we remain faithful, we can achieve the greatest goal—eternal life.