In April 2006, a man attempted to jump from the top of the Empire State Building.
At the last minute, security guards physically restrained him and New York City police charged him with first-degree reckless endangerment. A judge later dismissed the charges, noting that the man had taken steps to ensure the safety of others.
The man’s name is Jeb Corliss. His extreme sport of choice is jumping from the world’s tallest structures with a parachute strapped to his back. Prior to his Empire State attempt he had made 3,000 successful jumps, including leaps from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Eiffel Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
A More Dangerous Leap
As dangerous as Jeb’s extreme sport might sound, it’s not nearly as risky as something we all do when we jump to wrong conclusions about important issues.
The Bible gives us a classic example of such a leap. It happened in about 1400 BC and carries the importance of one of those “first events” that sets a precedent and tone of caution for the days that follow.
The 7-year conquest of Canaan was coming to an end. Soldiers of families that had settled on the east side of the Jordan River had gone home to be reunited with their families (Joshua 22).
Just as peace was coming to Israel, someone in the west heard that east-side families had built a huge altar. Because the law of Moses did not allow unauthorized places of sacrifice, word spread quickly that “the east side” was sliding back into idolatry. Rumors spread and tempers flared about a brash event that seemed to be risking the security of the whole family.
Just a few years earlier, when some of the people of Israel became entangled in the worship of foreign gods, God sent a plague that killed 24,000 (Numbers 25:9). And later, the unfaithful actions of a man by the name of Achan caused God’s anger to fall on the whole nation (Joshua 7).
With such national crises fresh in their minds, the families of the west moved quickly. The record of Joshua tells us, “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).
Shiloh means “place of rest.” But those gathered there were ready to wage a civil war to defend their national honor and security.
Words of Wisdom
Before the rush to judgment was complete, however, wisdom prevailed. At Sinai, their ancestors had agreed to a law that told them what to do in just such an occasion. If a community in Israel turned away to worship other gods, they were to “inquire, search out, and ask diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it, all that is in it and its livestock—with the edge of the sword” (Deuteronomy 13:14-15).
In keeping with these instructions, the people of the west formed a delegation of family leaders to do some fact finding. They asked a man who had earned their respect in an earlier crisis 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 whole nation.
Then came the surprise. After listening to the accusations, spokespersons for the east assured the delegation that they did not intend to sacrifice at this altar. Because the Jordan River divided them from the rest of the family, they built the altar as a national unity memorial (Joshua 22:24-27). They wanted future generations to remember their relationship to the whole nation and God of Israel.
When the investigative council returned home, all Israel celebrated the outcome. The altar was not what they thought it was. It was, in the words of their brothers, “a witness between us that the Lord is God” (v.34).
If the urge to jump to a wrong conclusion had been acted on, many would have died. A family would have gone to war with itself. The Lord’s name would have been dishonored in the region.
Jumping off the Empire State building might seem reckless and dangerous, even with a parachute. But nothing is more dangerous for ourselves and others than jumping too quickly to conclusions that can lead to lost reputations, family division, and even war.
What the children of Israel learned, we must now see for ourselves. There are so 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 harmful unconfirmed information as if it is fact (Joshua 22:11) are only a few of the leaps that harm ourselves and others.
Let’s remind one another that if a rumor is important enough to cause concern, it is important enough to confirm.
Father in heaven, we are so inclined to think the worst about others. We have a history of acting on impulse and partial stories. We want to change for Your sake and for one another. Please help us to learn the ways of wisdom and peace. Help us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. –Mart De Haan