Do you fully understand the power and influence of the people you spend time with?
Do you grasp how easy it is to be led down the wrong path?
In Numbers 11-14, we are given several examples of the power of influence. These stores should cause us to evaluate who we spend time with and examine the impact they are having on our own hearts. I see three kinds of relationships that we should be careful about.
Numbers 11:4 – The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?”
Rabble or “mixed multitude” is the Hebrew word ăsap̄sup̄ and it’s only used this one time in scripture (Numbers 11:4). It describes a mixed crowd scraped together of men of all kinds who had attached themselves to the Hebrew migration. Scripture says they had greedy desires (KJV translates this as “fell a lusting,” which indicates they were ungodly men who simply followed wherever their natural, sinful desires led them). These people were traveling with the children of Israel, by all appearances desiring to enter the promised land as well, having rejected their previous lives. But their hearts were not bent toward worshipping the God of the people they were traveling with. Their complaining and greedy desires filtered over and fed the unhappiness of the Israelites who were tired of the manna God had provided.
This group represents the professing believers in our lives who do not honor God in opposition to what should be our desire as Christ-followers. Because we are called to share the gospel, we ought to have intentional relationships with those who need Jesus; Paul clarifies when he said the believers were not to associate with immoral people, he did not mean unbelievers, but those who were “so-called” brothers. People who say they are Christians but continue to engage in ungodly behavior can influence us negatively in our pursuit of holiness. We need to recognize the “rabble.” We can still have a relationship, but we need to speak the truth in love, and know when to disengage or step back if they are influencing us to dishonor God.
Numbers 13:30-31 – Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.”
Ten out of twelve spies spread a propaganda of fear among the people. Instead of pointing them to the goodness and greatness of God and all the miraculous things He had already done, proving His power and authority over nature and mankind, they pointed out the weaknesses and lack of strength in the people. Only two, Caleb and Joshua, had the discernment and faith to see from God’s perspective, but their passionate please weren’t enough to turn the crowd.
Challenging circumstances can affect our faith in two ways. Hardships can strengthen our faith, as we take God at His word, believe in His promises, and acknowledge His great power and authority. Or, when difficult times come, we can abandon our faith and retreat into our natural inclination of self-preservation and reliance on the wisdom of men. As the story of the spies illustrates, the majority isn’t always right. Those who stand firm in faith and trust in God will often find themselves outnumbered.
What happened as a result of refusing to enter the land? But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness (Numbers 14:32). Those who were influenced by the ten spies never saw the promised land. They spent forty years wandering – a picture of the sad lives many people lead because they never trust God with their fears, addictions, and choices. God desires to give us victory over all our enemies, but we can choose to stay in the wilderness. If you hang around with people living in the wilderness, you may miss out on the blessings God intended for you.
Numbers 12:1-2 – Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married … and they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the Lord heard it.
The last illustration reminds us that even those closest to us can influence us for evil if we don’t “nip it in the bud.” Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, upset that he had married a Cushite woman. We don’t know which one spoke first; my guess is Miriam since she suffered the greatest discipline, but we understand how conversations develop. Someone had to make the first statement, and the other joined in. By the time they were through gossiping about Moses, they had elevated themselves and disrespected God’s man.
Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and realized it was going in the wrong direction? Were you courageous and bold enough to change directions immediately, or were you influenced to go along? Sometimes we need to just say, “We don’t need to be talking about this, or in this way, because it doesn’t please God.” Sometimes we need to just walk away. Miriam and Aaron learned how seriously God takes gossip and disrespect for others. They stood before God in the cloud and were personally reprimanded! Were it not for Moses’ interceding, Miriam would have spent the rest of her life as a leper.
Sometimes the crowd will influence you – even the crowd that claims to be Christian.
Sometimes your fellow believers will influence you.
Sometimes your best friend and closest confidant will influence you.
These Old Testament stories remind us to guard our hearts and pay attention when we are being led astray by the opinions and influence of others. Paul affirmed this lesson in the New Testament when he warned the believers, Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Be careful who you listen to; the consequences can be severe.