When the Mob Comes

Don't join mobsWhat Is a Mob?

What is a mob? How would you define it?

My Mac’s dictionary describes it as…

a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence: a mob of protesters.

You can see that it technically can just be “a large crowd of people”…but I think we’ve all been within large crowds that we wouldn’t call a mob. For instance, when I saw The Police at Fenway Park, it was a large crowd, but it wasn’t a mob. Ditto for all the Red Sox games I saw there. 🙂

“Mob” generally has a negative connotation, doesn’t it? Even if we drop “especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence,” “mob” denotes a group of people intent on a purpose.

Beyond watching a concert or baseball game. 🙂

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

“Mob” in the Bible

Using the English Standard Version, the word “mob” only shows up twice, both in the book of Acts. The first is Acts 17:5, but let’s look at verses 1-5:

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd (Acts 17:1-5, emphasis mine).

Now, let’s review the other case of the word “mob” in the ESV, Acts 21:36. This time we will look at versus 30-36:

30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:30-36, emphasis mine).

In the ESV’s two cases of translating a word as “mob,” were they positive?

Absolutely not! With both the “especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence” is fully applicable. The mob wanted blood…the blood of God’s faithful.

Of course, whether the word “mob” is used or not, these two aren’t the only times that “a large crowd of people” was “disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” This week, after Wednesday’s daily Bible reading inspired this sermon, the first thing that came to mind for me with mobs was part of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels come down to see if things are as bad as had been reported (see Genesis 18:21) and Lot convinces them to stay at his place versus sleeping in the town square (see Genesis 19:1-3). We join Lot and the angels after supper.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them” (Genesis 19:4-5).

Kids, “know them” (by our standards) is a euphemism…which is to say it means something different than it appears. I am not going to say what that is, but trust me when I say they were “intent on causing trouble or violence.”

And where they a mob? Since what we just read speaks of “all the people to the last man”…yes, it was a mob.

A mob intent on causing trouble and violence.

Good Biblical Mobs?

During the week, as I continued to ponder mobs, I wondered if there were any biblical examples of good mobs. Cases where a whole bunch of people, intent on a purpose, could be seen in a positive sense. Let’s see if you agree with this potential example I found.

Short preamble is that, through Moses, God gave the Israelites all kinds of rules to follow. Now it’s time to find out if they’ll obey them:

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 Moses alone shall come near to the LORD, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD (Exodus 24:1-5)

Does that seem like a positive mob? They promised to follow all God’s commandments and then a bunch of them “offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings.”

Kudos to them!

However…

After that “good mob” made those promises Moses went up Mount Sinai, receiving a lot more instruction from the Lord for the new nation. Returning to those waiting for Moses…

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1).

Hmmm…

If we read to the last verse of Exodus chapter 24, we would know just how long that “delay” was:

Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18).

Deuteronomy 9:9 tells us that Moses didn’t eat or drink when he was up there…so, for him, it was quite a period of time. But, for the people, was it really a horribly long time? Don’t get me wrong…I can understand their concern a bit…but…regardless…does that excuse those who said (“with one voice”), “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” as a “good mob” flipping so fickley to asking Aaron to “make us gods who shall go before us”?

Of course not! Back in Exodus 20 they were told to have no other gods before the Lord and not to make idols to worship, but Moses disappears for a month and a week-ish and they do both! Not only that, but…continuing to Exodus 32:22-24, check out what Aaron said to righteously angry Moses:

22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

That last line shows that guilty Aaron was a big, fat liar…but I suspect that he was accurate in saying the people were “set on evil.”

My point is this…

We can say that back in Exodus 24 they were a good mob…but did they really mean what they said?

No. Perhaps not all…but many…probably most…were just going along with the mob.

Thus, it really wasn’t a good mob…because even back then they were “set on evil.”

My take is that mobs are basically never good…that even if their voice and actions have good consequences at a given time…the fact that they are driven by the “mob mentality” versus all truly being committed to that “good”…means it is bad.

And if we encourage a mob mentality for good, someone can just as easily encourage those same people into a mob mentality for evil.

Let me repeat that one more time to make sure everyone truly considers it.

If we encourage a mob mentality for good, someone can just as easily encourage those same people into a mob mentality for evil.

Avoid Mobs

At this point I have given four clearly bad mob situations and one that we can argue about after church. 🙂

But I have not specifically shared a command from God about mobs. Let’s try to do that now.

The verse that inspired this sermon was Exodus 23:2. Since our youngins are using the New International Reader’s Version, that’s what I’ve been using to, and this is what it says there:

Do not follow the crowd when they do what is wrong. When you are a witness in court, do not turn what is right into wrong. Do not go along with the crowd.

How does your version translate it? Here are some alternative wordings:

English Standard Version

You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice,

King James Version

Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:

New Revised Standard Version

You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice;

New International Version

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd,

Common English Bible

Don’t take sides with important people to do wrong. When you act as a witness, don’t stretch the truth to favor important people.

New Century Version

You must not do wrong just because everyone else is doing it. If you are a witness in court, you must not ruin a fair trial. You must not tell lies just because everyone else is.

The Living Bible

Don’t join mobs intent on evil. When on the witness stand, don’t be swayed in your testimony by the mood of the majority present,

Now, The Living Bible is more of a paraphrase than a translation, but I like how it actually used the word “mob.” 🙂

However, in all of them…except maybe the Common English Bible which spoke of “important people” versus crowds…what are the two principles regarding crowds…regarding mobs…that come through?

  • Don’t join mobs intent on doing evil
  • Do not pervert justice by siding with a mob

Social Media Mobs

Okay, I could see you saying, “Alan, I would never join an evil mob…especially in person…so I am in no danger of breaking Exodus 23:2.”

Good for you!

But last week we spoke of how, with Scripture, it is not a manual with rules for each and every situation. Instead, more often then not, we have to apply its principles to modern circumstances.

Having said that, how many here use social media…for instance, Facebook and Twitter?

Using social media, have you ever been part of a large crowd reposting, retweeting, posting, or tweeting about some terrible thing someone else has supposedly said or done?

What is another word for a “large crowd”?

Mob.

Have you ever been part of an Internet mob?

“Wait, Alan!,” you say, “But I always check all my facts before doing that so I’m never part of a ‘a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.'”

Well, congratulations to you! However, did you listen to both principles I said could be taken from Exodus 23:2?:

1) Don’t join mobs intent on doing evil

2) Do not pervert justice by siding with a mob

You can technically satisfy the first part of Exodus 23:2 by only joining “good” mobs, but I believe you almost always will pervert just siding with a social media mob that is condemning a wrong…even when it is truly a wrong.

How many here have heard of Justine Sacco?

Justine was a public relations executive for InterActive Corp, a company who owns some pretty big web sites. Back in 2013, before she climbed on an 11 hour flight to South Africa she thought she would be funny with her tweets. To quote Jon Ronson’s article, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”:

“‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ — Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”

Then, during her layover at Heathrow:

“Chilly — cucumber sandwiches — bad teeth. Back in London!”

And on Dec. 20, before the final leg of her trip to Cape Town:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She chuckled to herself as she pressed send on this last one, then wandered around Heathrow’s international terminal for half an hour, sporadically checking her phone. No one replied, which didn’t surprise her. She had only 170 Twitter followers.1

Guess what happened to that single tweet by a relatively unknown person in the Twitterverse? Back to Ronson’s article:

By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke. Hannah, meanwhile, frantically deleted her friend’s tweet and her account — Sacco didn’t want to look — but it was far too late. “Sorry @JustineSacco,” wrote one Twitter user, “your tweet lives on forever.”2

It blew up…and her ill-advised attempt at humor had her damned from all corners of the earth. As Ronson wrote:

Sacco’s Twitter feed had become a horror show. “In light of @Justine-Sacco disgusting racist tweet, I’m donating to @care today” and “How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!” and “I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.” And then one from her employer, IAC, the corporate owner of The Daily Beast, OKCupid and Vimeo: “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.” The anger soon turned to excitement: “All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail” and “Oh man, @JustineSacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands” and “We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.”

And, sure enough…Justine did get fired.

Was Justine’s tweet bad?

Yes.

Should she have tweeted it?

No.

Ignoring how they went about it, were people correct in condemning it?

Yes.

Did Justine get justice?

No.

How could she? The Twitter world had damned her when she couldn’t defend herself, apologize, or otherwise respond.

Justine did not get justice.

Remember the two principles from Exodus 23:2?

1) Don’t join mobs intent on doing evil

2) Do not pervert justice by siding with a mob

As I said, I believe you almost always will pervert just siding with a social media mob that is condemning a wrong…even when it is truly a wrong.

What Justine tweeted was truly a wrong…but Justine did not get justice.

Now, I am someone who says that it’s better to base doctrines on more than one verse…and the only straight-up mob verse I could find was Exodus 23:2. Maybe there are more…but it doesn’t matter it. There are plenty of verses about not doing wrong…not perverting justice…

Mob or no mob. Regardless of whether it is a person who has 172 followers or 172 million.

And, of course, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

How many people here have said something wrong…stupidly wrong?

How many people here have said something wrong on social media…stupidly wrong on social media?

If you don’t think you have, then I suspect you are unrepentant in your sin, foolishly ignorant, or don’t use social media…at least not much. It is the essence of a mob mentality, and encourages wrong…and stupidity.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

If you do say something wrong…stupidly wrong…on the Internet…do you want an angry social media mob coming after you? Would you like them to show some patience…some forgiveness.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Listen to our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

Listen to Jesus.

Follow Jesus.

Be like Jesus.

When the mob comes, don’t join it.

Give the next Justine justice.

Footnotes

1Ronson, J. (2015, February 12). How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html

2Ibid.

3Ibid.


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