Chapter 4

The Wisdom of Caution

In April 2006, Jeb Corliss attempted to parachute from the top of the Empire State Building. At the last minute, security guards restrained him and New York City police charged him with reckless endangerment.

There is another jump we make that is even more dangerous—wrong conclusions about important issues. The Bible gives us a classic example of such a leap. It happened over 3400 years ago but sets a precedent for us today. The conquest of the “Promised Land” was ending and soldiers that had settled on the east side of the Jordan River were going home to reunite with their families (joshua 22).

As peace settled, someone heard that east-side families had built an altar. Word spread that “the east side” was sliding back into idolatry. Tempers flared.

Only a few years earlier, God had sent a plague that killed 24,000 (numbers 25:9) for worshiping idols.

National disaster fresh in their minds, the west moved quickly. “When the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them” (joshua 22:12).

Before rash action was taken, wisdom prevailed. If a community in Israel turned away to worship other gods, the law said they were to “inquire, search out, and ask diligently” prior to taking up the sword against their countrymen (deuteronomy 13:14-15). So the west formed a delegation to do some fact-finding and asked a man who had earned their respect to lead the group (numbers 25:1-9; joshua 22:13-14). When the delegation reached their brothers in the east, they were ready for the worst. They accused the eastern tribes of ignoring the past and endangering the future of the nation.

After listening to the accusations, spokespersons for the east assured them that the altar was not for sacrifice. It was a memorial so that future generations would remember their relationship to the whole nation and the God of Israel (joshua 22:24-27). All Israel celebrated the news: The altar was “a witness between us that the Lord is God” (v. 34).

If the initial conclusion had been acted on, many would have died. A family would have gone to war with itself.

We need to learn what the children of Israel learned. There are many ways to jump to false conclusions. Hearing only one side of a conflict (proverbs 18:17), assuming guilt by association (luke 7:34), and repeating unconfirmed information as fact (joshua 22:11) are only a few of the leaps that harm. We all need to hear the wisdom of James: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (james 1:19 niv).