Standing for Truth
by Jack Wald | November 9th, 2015

Numbers 13:1 – 14:10

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted his first conformity laboratory experiments at Swarthmore College. He gathered groups of eight male college students and gave them a simple task. There was a card with a line on it followed by three lines labeled A, B, and C. One of these lines was the same as the one to the left but the other two lines were clearly longer or shorter. Seven of the eight students were in on the experiment and only the eighth person was being tested.

There were eighteen sets of cards and one-by-one the students would give their answer. On the first two trials the students who were part of the experiment all gave the correct answer. But on the third trial and for eleven of the remaining fifteen trials, the participating students gave the wrong answer. The test was to see if the eighth student would go along with the majority who gave the wrong answer or give the clearly obvious true answer.

Only 25% of the eighth students being tested consistently gave the obviously correct answer. The rest conformed with majority opinion on some or all of the twelve trials being studied.

It is not easy to stand up against the majority.

This morning we will look at three men who stood up against the majority opinion and see what we can learn from them.

The first man is Caleb.

Two years after Israel had left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they arrived at Canaan, the land God had promised to them through their ancestor, Abraham. They spent one of those years at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the law from God. But finally here they were and about to enter into the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. Moses sent in twelve men, one from each tribe, to explore this new land – one of these men, from the tribe of Judah, was Caleb.
When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
21 So they went up and explored the land

At the end of forty days the twelve men returned with their report and gave Moses this account:
“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

All twelve men saw the fruit of the land. Two of them cut down a single cluster of grapes and carried it, along with some pomegranates and figs, on a pole they put on their shoulders. This was an impressive display of the fruit of the land. There was no dispute about how good the land was.

And all twelve saw the obstacles to conquering the land. They all saw the fortified cities and the large number of people to defend them. They all saw the descendants of Anak, the Nephilim, who were exceptionally tall and strong. They all saw the difficulties of conquering this land.

Twelve men went into Canaan to explore the land and ten of them reported that although it was a good land, the men of that land were too powerful to be attacked.
“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

One by one the men made their report and only two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, encouraged Israel to press on and take the land that had been promised to them. They agreed that the men of the land were strong and the cities were well fortified but they believed what God had told them.

In Exodus 3 God told Moses:
16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

This promise was repeated over and over again and Joshua and Caleb believed the promise. That is the difference between Caleb and Joshua and the other ten men. Caleb and Joshua believed the promise of God and were willing to move out, confident God who had led them would help them overcome the obvious obstacles. The other ten could not take their eyes off the obstacles and put them on God who had called them to victory.

Caleb and Joshua were giants among spiritually weak people. They believed that what God had promised, he would do, and urged Israel to cross over the Jordan into the land God had promised would be theirs.

Unfortunately, the people were stubborn and it took forty years of wandering in the wilderness, with incessant complaining and struggling to survive, until finally the last of the adults of that generation had died and then Joshua led the new generation of Israel into Canaan where they conquered the land they could have conquered forty years earlier. Caleb entered into the land he had explored and received Hebron as his inheritance.

A second man who stood up against the majority is Michiah, a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel. (After Solomon died, Israel was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem was in Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel was also called Samaria.)

Ahab, husband of Jezebel and king of Israel, requested the help of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. (1 Kings 22:1–28 )
For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. 2 But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. 3 The king of Israel had said to his officials, “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?”
4 So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?”

Israel and Judah were in the midst of a three hundred year civil war but this was a time of peace between them and cooperation against a common enemy was a possibility.

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” 5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat was one of the good kings of Judah. 2 Chronicles 17:6 tells us:
6 His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.

He attacked pagan idolatry and he sent teachers to the people to teach them more about God. As king he also showed willingness to rely on the Lord. In a time of danger he prayed for God’s help. He showed a high regard for justice in his dealings. But he also made some serious mistakes. His son was married to Ahab’s daughter and this alliance led to his collaboration with Ahab.

Jehoshaphat came to Ahab and when Ahab asked for his help, Jehoshaphat asked him to seek the counsel of the Lord. Jehoshaphat was not a man to take action without seeking God’s guidance.
6 So the king of Israel (Ahab) brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

Four hundred prophets were asked a question by Ahab, husband of Jezebel, and they knew the right answer. “Go! For the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” The prophets put on a show, a pep rally to encourage the king and his officers as they went to battle.
11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what the Lord says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ ”
12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

But Jehoshaphat was a man of faith and could discern truth from falseness. These were professional prophets who knew how to flatter the king who paid them. They knew how to put on a show. They knew how to play the game.
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”

Jehoshaphat was a man of faith and he wanted God’s direction, not agreement with what he wanted.
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

Micaiah was a prophet who stood up for truth and in the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, standing up for truth meant standing up against these two wicked people.

The messenger who had gone to tell Micaiah the king wanted to see him told him
“Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.”
14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”
15 When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”
“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

Micaiah’s lips were dripping with sarcasm as he said this. He was mocking the other prophets and it was obvious even to Ahab that he was not telling the truth.
16 The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”

So now Micaiah told the truth.
17 Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ”

Ahab was the shepherd of Israel and he hears in what Michiah said that he would die.
18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

Michiah was not content with this but began an attack on the four hundred prophets standing against him.
19 Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’
22 “ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.
“ ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
“ ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’
23 “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

This did not go over well and with the power of three hundred ninety-nine prophets behind him, Zedekiah responded.
24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.
25 Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.”
26 The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son 27 and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’ ”
28 Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

Michiah stood up against four hundred prophets and King Ahab and spoke the true word God gave him. Michiah was put into prison and Ahab was killed in battle, just as Michiah had prophesied.

We move ahead by one hundred years and find a third man who stood up against the majority, the prophet Jeremiah. From the beginning, Jeremiah knew that God had chosen him to give an unpopular message. (Jeremiah 1:9–19)
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

In Jeremiah’s life, he was viewed as a traitor to Judah, telling people not to resist the Babylonians as they attacked. He was put under house arrest, put in prison, put at the bottom of a well.

Finally, after Babylon defeated Judah, Jeremiah chose to stay in Jerusalem with a group of his fellow citizens. When the Jews who remained in Jerusalem decided to rebel against the Babylonian appointed governor, Jeremiah prophesied.  (Jeremiah 42:10–43:7)
10 ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. 12 I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’
13 “However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the Lord your God, 14 and if you say, ‘No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,’ 15 then hear the word of the Lord, you remnant of Judah. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, 16 then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die.

The Jews in Jerusalem rejected the word God gave to Jeremiah and set out for Egypt. Jeremiah had been given the choice by Babylon, because of his prophecies over the years, to go to Babylon or to stay in Jerusalem. Now, once again he had a choice to make and despite God’s warning that they would suffer in Egypt, he chose to go with them.

What can we learn about standing up for truth against the majority from these three men?

#1 Truth is not determined democratically.

I first thought about this when I attended a Promise Keepers event in Dallas, Texas. Promise Keepers was an organization at its peak in the 1990s when they used football stadiums to gather large numbers of men for discipleship and evangelism. I had a friend in Dallas who said he would go if I went with him so I scheduled a business trip when there was a conference and we walked into the Dallas, Texas football stadium with 100,000 other men. There was incredible excitement and energy. We sang, prayed, listened to powerful speakers, and then I began to think about what I was experiencing.

I have a sister and her family who are devotees of Sai Baba, a guru from southern India. As I was sitting in Dallas with all the men around me singing and praying, I thought that if the stadium was full of devotees of Sai Baba, there would be just as much energy. I realized that the energy I was feeling was not proof that what I believed to be true was true.

This illustrates a sociological principle I call the reinforcement of mass behavior. Islam makes good use of this. Everyone prays at the same time, fasts at the same time, breaks the fast at the same time, kills their sheep at the same time. When anyone looks around, what they see is everyone doing the same thing and that makes what they believe seem to be more true. This is what I was feeling in the Dallas stadium.

I realized that if I were the only person in that stadium who believed Jesus was sent by God to rescue us and bring us into his eternal kingdom, that would be no less true than having 100,000 men believing the same thing.

Over the centuries of the Christian church, there have been times when enthusiasm for the church was high and churches were filled to capacity. There have been other times when the church has been filled with gray heads and it seemed the church would become extinct. Voltaire, the French philosopher, confidently predicted the church would be extinct in his generation. This was forty years after the First Great Awakening in 1740. Twenty-five years after his death the Second Great Awakening brought new life to the church.

Over the ages people believe and disbelieve but the truth of Jesus never changes. Cultural morals and values change with time but the kingdom truth of Jesus does not change. What is true in the heavens is true on earth, regardless of who believes it to be true.

#2 Standing against the majority has a cost.

Michiah was put in prison for the word he spoke to Ahab. Jeremiah was often attacked and imprisoned for the prophecies God gave him to pronounce. As our sophisticated culture moves away from Biblical truth, there will be a tendency to moderate what we know to be true so we fit more easily into the culture where we live. We don’t want to be viewed as bigots or fundamentalists. We don’t want to be viewed as ignorant, backward, antagonists of what the culture holds to be true.

The world’s view of sexuality has rarely conformed with the Bible’s view of sexuality but over the last fifty years the sexual values of the world have rapidly moved away from what the Bible teaches to be true. The basic rights of men and women used to be food, clothing, and shelter, but now the right to express sexual desire has been added to that list of basic rights. Sexual expression is not to be denied and if someone does stand up and say, “This is not right,” he or she is labeled as prudish, homophobic, and sexually uptight.

Like the psychology experiment I referenced at the beginning of the sermon, when seven people say that adultery, divorce, homosexuality, bisexuality, promiscuity, and transgender identity is all permissible and beneficial to society, the challenge will be for me to say that I follow the teaching of Jesus and believe God’s gift of sex is to be reserved for one man and one woman within a relationship of marriage.

The world is already actively judging those who hold to a Biblical view of sexuality and the penalty for not following along with the drift of culture will become more severe with time. Like Michiah and like Jeremiah, we need to stand for what is true regardless of the consequences.

#3 Truth is not a weapon.

Caleb gave his report along with Joshua, but their report was rejected. In fact, the people of Israel were so frightened they wanted to stone them. The ten men who gave a negative report died in a plague and then Israel spent forty years wandering in the desert until every adult except Moses, Joshua, and Caleb had died.

Do you think Caleb ever said to anyone in those forty years as they wandered here and there, “I told you so.”

Caleb was human like you and I are human and I am guessing he at least thought it and maybe said it on occasion, but he does not seem to have the character that would have used his report as a weapon over the years. That would have made him an incredibly annoying person.

There are people who stand up for what they believe to be true with arrogance and insensitivity. They are offensive even to those who might agree with them. This is not the way for us to stand up for truth. We are to stand up and proclaim what is true with grace and humility.

Truth is being served, not us. It is not about how right we are but what is true in the heavens and should be lived out here on earth. What we believe to be true may be offensive in itself but we do not need to add to the offense by the way we proclaim what we believe to be true.

#4 Those who reject the truth we represent still need to be loved.

When the world rejects what we believe to be true, we are still called to be with the people who reject what we believe. Caleb spent forty years with people who initially wanted to stone him because of his report. Jeremiah could have stayed in Jerusalem but went to Egypt with the people who rejected the word God gave him.

Remember that God does not reject us and cut us off when we sin. God is always present with us, working with us to bring us back to himself. We are called to do the same. We are to love the people God loves and encourage them to open themselves to the love of God.

It hurts to be rejected and our impulse can be to strike back, but we need to carry with us the example of Jesus who does not reject those who reject him. Jesus does not retaliate, he loves.

We need the courage to stand up for the truth of our faith. God gave us the Bible for a reason. Through the teaching of the Bible we find the answers to our deepest needs. Be courageous and loving as you carry the truths of the Bible into your world. If you are rejected, you are in good company with all the followers of Jesus through the centuries who have been rejected for carrying the truth of our Christian faith into the world.

Be careful not to accommodate to the world. Love those in the world but do not bend. Carry the truth of our faith with strength.

May God help us as we stand for his truth.