For most of us who've been in the church for awhile, the verse above is not unknown. We've heard it in sermons, lessons, and more than one stern lecture by a parent. The central message of the verse, we are reminded repeatedly, is that if we do one evil thing or another, our sins cannot ultimately be hidden. Our unholy actions are sins against the Lord, and He knows what we've done. AND --- everyone else will eventually find out what we've done. To put it mildly, YOU CAN'T FOOL GOD!
Of course, that IS true --- at least as far as it goes. Certainly no one could disagree with this basic understanding of sin and its inherent inability to remain "hidden in the shadows." Haven't we all learned that sooner or later, all those things we thought we had gotten away with seem to "come home to roost?!" Whether in this life or at the Great Judgment in the future, everything we've done and the intentions behind them will be laid bare before our Sovereign God. This ultimate disclosure SHOULD serve as a discouragement to living sinfully.
Now, far be it from me to say that this time-tested meaning attached to the verse above is not true. It certainly IS true. However, the verse above has an immediate and far-reaching meaning that is found, as most verses are, in its context. The passage from Numbers is a very interesting passage and one that is critical to understand properly what the author is saying.
Numbers 32 occurs as the Children of Israel have completed their "punishment tour" wandering in the desert for 40 years as a result of their lack of faith and refusal to boldly enter the Promised Land as they had been instructed by God. You remember the story --- the 12 spies were sent to explore the land promised the Israelites by God and returned with their detailed report. The all agreed on the wonderful blessings of the land and its ability to make the people flourish. They all agreed that there were challenges --- BIG challenges --- the "giants" who lived there and were militarily strong. Ten of the spies said these "giants" would eat the people up and defeat them ignominiously. Only two proved to be men of faith --- Joshua and Caleb. They told the people to move forward in faith and trust the Lord God to empower them to defeat these enemies. The people listened to the message of "peace at any cost" and the next 40 years were spent in aimless wandering --- geographically and spiritually. Their sin? Refusing to do what was right when the time was right --- moral cowardice!
If you think that these people of God learned their lesson traipsing around the desert those 40 years, you'd be terrible wrong! As they now stood ready to march across the Jordan River, two of the tribes of Israel approached Moses with a request. "We've found a good place for our families and our flocks," they explained. "Let us just stay here and make THIS our home." They'd rather make money than war! Moses, as you might imagine, was dumbfounded. "You mean," he said, "that you want to let your fellow tribes do all the fighting while you stay here and do nothing?!" "That's what your forefathers did at Kadesh Barnea when we sent spies!" I'm amazed, too! Some people just NEVER learn!
Several thousand years later, we're finding ourselves on the verge of armed conflict to oppose a great moral evil and protect the civilized world from a megalomaniac with VERY destructive weapons. Thumbing his nose at the world's citizens and ignoring the welfare of his own people, this leader and his tribal gang threaten the lives and livelihoods of all the nations of the world. Taking the international lead, the President has invoked the wisdom and assistance of Almighty God as he confronts this international evil. As he repeatedly reveals the evidence gained to show the magnitude of that leader's tyranny, he consistently speaks of his "moral duty to oppose evil."
AND --- that's the issue for all of us this coming week. When we speak of some "great evil" or we find ourselves face-to-face with something that is morally repugnant, the natural tendency is to run away. Few of us really enjoy confrontations, and most of us prefer peace to conflict. So, in times like these a very appropriate question is: "What is our responsibility with regards to evil?" To be sure, the question has occupied the great philosophers for years. However, we as Christians are NOT merely left to our own devices to answer the question. Whether national, local, or personal in scope, the question is addressed by God's Word and speaks clearly to us ---
1) We must clearly identify evil --- we must know it when we see it! One of the master strokes of the Evil One is to portray his lewd and morally debased intentions as something brighter and more desirable. When the Apostle Paul warned the Christians in Corinth to distinguish between true and false workers, he told them, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (II Corinthians 11:13-14)
Do you know how the Treasury Department in Washington trains its workers to recognize counterfeit money? I always thought they would show them examples of false money so the workers would recognize it when they saw it. WRONG! What the Treasury Department does is make the trainees repeatedly handle TRUE bills in various denominations. They practice getting the sight and feel of the good bills so much that it becomes second nature to them. THEN the instructors introduce some examples of "funny money." Much of it has been counterfeited extremely well; however, the workers are not fooled. When you know the sight and feel of the good stuff, the false stuff is largely no problem. The lesson is obvious --- stick to the "good stuff" and learn it well. Make it become second nature to you; THEN you'll know what doesn't feel, smell, sound, or taste right when it is presented to you.
2) Be committed to eternal principles more than temporary people! We live in a world that is dedicated to politics and getting ahead. Positions and possessions occupy the bulk of our creative energies and efforts far too often. We've been taught that cooperation is the highest value and being a "team player" is the highest compliment. Of course, these DO have their places in living in society, but if they become the primary motivating forces we will tend to lose our moral compass. Many people believe we've done that already. If you look at the history of western civilization alone, you can see consistent examples of "peace at any cost" resulting in concentration camps, the deaths of millions, and the slavery --- literally and figuratively --- of whole populations. How do we avoid that? Focus on enduring values and principles that transcend the compromises of daily life. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable --- if anything is excellent or praise-worthy --- think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
3) In your personal life, ruthlessly confront what is evil and ungodly, and in your public life boldly confront what is evil! History is filled with examples of people who notice moral wrong yet do nothing more than express to themselves that it is regrettable! Why don't people do more? For some, the problem is fear --- fear of damaging personal relationships; fear of losing position, reputation or material wealth; fear that they may not be right. For others, the problem is cowardice --- this is an informed fear that results in a calculated, deliberate refusal to do what is right. At the personal level, it's more than passively failing to commit some types of sins. Our obligation is to actively turn ourselves to God and consciously resist Satan and his wiles. "Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7) Our obligations don't end there. Publicly and interpersonally, we are to confront people and institutions whose actions clearly violate God's moral law. We are indebted today to those in America from its very beginning who opposed the moral evil of slavery. The foundation of their opposition was religious and spiritual in nature --- based upon the Word of God. Virtually all of the great moral crusades from the past in this country began with Biblical injunction and moral outrage.
SO --- what's all this mean to us this week? It means that we MUST personally and corporately resist and confront evil --- and be willing to pray the price for doing so! The enjoyment of true faith is not a part-time proposition nor is it for the half-hearted and cowardly. True faith and the service of the Kingdom is for those who clearly see what is right, who energetically seek what is right, and who boldly confront what is wrong! Do that this week in your own life and you'll find God's strength as you do so.