“Thou Shalt Not Follow a Multitude to Do Evil”

These words are found in Exodus 23:2 — instructions from God through Moses to the children of Israel. It prohibited Israel from doing what they so often did because “the majority was doing it”. The majority is not always right and the Lord warned that it is few who will ultimately enter into life (Matthew 7:14).

The Israelites certainly did not heed the words God spoke though Moses. Once they had crossed the Red Sea and were in the wilderness they soon came to a waterless place, and they were frustrated with their plight and blamed Moses for their adversity. Moses cried to the Lord for help in the desperate situation saying that the people “were almost ready to stone” him (Exodus 17:4). Other rebellions of good size, if not always a majority, arose because there were always those who were ready to follow a multitude to do evil.

Acts 14 gives a perfect example of the senseless mindset of men. When Paul and Barnabas left Antioch of Pisidia and traveled on westward on their first journey, they came to Lystra and saw there a man who had been born crippled. Paul, fastening his eyes upon him and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said, “Stand upright on thy feet” (Acts 14:10). The man did and the multitude who saw what Paul had done concluded that he and Barnabas were gods who had come down in the likeness of men (Acts 14:11). The temple of Jupiter was before the city and the priest of that temple prepared an oxen and offerings to worship the two preachers (Acts 14:13). With difficulty Paul and Barnabas restrained the multitudes from worshiping them and preached to them they should turn from their idolatry and worship the true God. He assured them that he and Barnabas were men, just as they.

However, a few days later Jews came from Antioch and Iconium persuading the people and turning them against Paul. They then stoned Paul and drug him out the city, supposing he was dead (Acts 14:19). The efforts to worship Paul, then to stone him were the results of “mob mentality” and illustrate the actions, in both cases, of hysteria promoted by hasty thinking.

Mob action is promoted by hateful and incendiary words against those who the promoters of such actions do not like. Some years later Paul was in Jerusalem in the temple where he had engaged in temple rites. He was standing in charge of four men who had a vow on them and who, following the law, when they had offered their gifts and completed the time of their vows, would shave their heads (Acts 21:23-24). There were also men there from Ephesus who were Jews who knew Paul but who were strongly opposed to him and his teaching. So, the men grabbed Paul and then shouted, “Men of Israel, help: this is the man that teacheth all men against the people, and the law, and this place: and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple and hath defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). These words inflamed the people and had it not for the intervention of a Roman centurion, Paul would likely have been killed.

Yet, there was no truth in any of the charges made against Paul; they were spoken to create prejudice against Paul — and they worked. For the balance of the book of Acts Paul would be an imprisoned man: an unjust confinement brought about by hateful men who aroused a mob by the angry, hateful words they spoke against Paul.

In most mob action the people who participate are like the mob in Ephesus who were provoked by the insincere words of Demetrius, a silversmith. The historian records of them: “For the assembly was in confusion and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together” (Acts 19:32).

We have witnessed mob action, a multitude “come together to do evil” in our nation and in our time. To promote their own agenda, leaders of such mobs stir people up to work all kinds of violence and wickedness: senselessly burning the property of innocent people, looting, stealing, and even killing. Remember, it is never right to do wrong!

Mob action was wrong in Moses’ day. It was wrong in Paul’s day. It is wrong in our day. We need to reflect on Moses’ instruction and realize he spoke an eternal truth when he said, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil”.

Jim McDonald

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