There is an interesting story in the history of ancient Israel. It occurs near the end of the Book of Joshua as the fighting men of the two-and-a-half tribes that had been given land east of the Jordan River are released from their obligation to fight alongside their fellow Israelites that will settle west of the Jordan River. Before they cross over the river, these men build a replica of the official altar that is placed in the tabernacle of Yahweh (God). They did this as a memorial for future generations to remember that people living on both sides of the river were worshippers of Yahweh. The initial reports among the people living west of the Jordan River, though, was that this was done out rebellion against Yahweh. In response they prepare for civil war to remove the offense from the people of Israel.
A delegation is sent ahead of the army to find out what has happened. It is lead by Phinehas, the current priest and grandson of Aaron. Phinehas would not be considered a “bleeding heart liberal” by modern standards. When there was obvious offense against the Law of Yahweh, he was not afraid to take swift action in punishing the offense. In this case, though, he took the time to listen to the men from east of the Jordan River and find out their reason for building this replica. Upon hearing their answer he replied, “Today we know the LORD is among us because you have not committed this treachery against the LORD as we thought. Instead, you have rescued Israel from being destroyed by the hand of the LORD.” (Joshua 22:31) Civil war was averted.
Both positive and negative examples from several years of leading others and serving under other leaders has shown me how important this skill is in leading wisely. It’s easy to look at another person’s actions and assume an offensive intention. This can especially be true when we feel defensive. We can assume someone has our ill will in mind when there may be no malice intended.
It’s important to give people space to explain their intentions and not jump to conclusions. Even if we find out our original assumptions are correct, it’s worth taking the time to make sure this was the case. James, an early follow of Jesus, put it another way: “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19) That’s good advice.