“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Ex. 23:2).
It should be obvious to anyone that we are not to do wrong, but this verse singles out doing wrong by following a crowd. Why? Because it is often so much easier to do wrong when you are in a crowd than when you are alone. For in a crowd there is often a real pressure to do what they do or risk being subject to ridicule, or worse, actual physical attack in the case of political uprisings and mob mentality or riots. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear: Whatever the risks, we are not to go along with the crowd in doing wrong.
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to this because they may not yet be secure enough in their own person to stand alone for what is good and right and are often still seeking approval from their peers to avoid the pain of loneliness or other perceived social hurts. If you want to see a good example of how important this truth is–that being in a crowd is seldom where God wants a person to be when dealing with the inner man–look at the prophet Elisha’s instructions to his servant, when he sent that servant to anoint Jehu King of Israel. This is what he told that servant:
“Go to him, get him away from his companions, and take him into an inner room” (2 Kings 9:2).
It is in the inner room of the soul that God can speak to a person’s heart. There there is no interference from outside influences of the world and worldly people, and the still, small voice of the Spirit of the Lord can better be heard. But amongst a crowd, the voice of the world and those who belong to that world can all too easily drown out the quiet whispers of the Lord. Is it any wonder that in the Middle Ages so many clergy retreated to monasteries, away from the clamor of the world so that they could better hear the voice of the Lord?
Now, I do not mean to imply that this is the only way that God can speak to a person, nor that we should all drop our God-designed places in the world and remove ourselves from the world. If all did that, who would be left to spread the gospel in the marketplace and the world, the very place we are meant to go and spread the gospel and the very place that so desperately needs it? No, to withdraw entirely from the world is not our prerogative but God’s. Only at death or the rapture will we be entirely removed from this world. Until then, we must stay in the world and reach out to it with God’s Word.
But there still remains a place for temporarily removing ourselves from the world, whether in retreats or Sunday morning church services or daily quiet times with the Lord. Those are the times that we can reassess how the world has affected us during the day or week and be restored to intimacy with our God. Jesus himself knew this and did this:
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Mt. 14:13).
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16).
There is another example I wish to bring to your attention, about how it is unwise to follow a crowd in doing wrong. Numerous times, I have seen a documentaries on television about various journalists traveling to different parts of the world to report on and experience the various regional customs of the world. To these secular reporters, this is an exciting adventure that shows the diversity of the human race and they are enthralled with the strangeness of some of the customs of the peoples of this world.
Some tribes paint their faces and perform strange rituals for various reasons and at various seasons in life; others hold carnivals or parades when the participants dress up in costumes and make noise and have great revelry; yet others quietly light candles and set them afloat on sacred waterways, or move beads on prayer strings, and so forth; the list is seemingly endless. And it is customs such as these and many others that mesmerize many people in this world. But what does God think of all these things? He says plainly in his Word:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless‘” (Jer. 10:3).
These are all outward ceremonies or activities that can perhaps best be described in the famous words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
The world is full of such sound and fury, many cultural goings on that occupy the attention of the world. But God is not interested in all this noise. He seeks an intimate relationship in the quiet depths of the soul and spirit with every human being that he has created. When the Lord told Samuel to anoint a king, he said to him:
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Elsewhere, Scripture confirms this way of the Lord so different from the easily dazzled eyes of the world’s people:
“Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you” (1 Ptr. 3:3-6).
Let nothing terrify you . . . Sound familiar? This is the same thought quoted previously in Jeremiah 10:3: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless‘” (Jer. 10:3).
Whether it be signs in the skies or signs and customs of the peoples who live beneath those skies, we who belong to God are not to be affected as they are by those signs and customs, for as Scripture has revealed to us, those customs are false–and false customs and signs lead people into doing wrong. We are not to follow the crowd in doing wrong–and most of the time we are not to follow the crowd at all, even in seemingly harmless cultural activities or celebrations.