‘But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me’ ~ Deuteronomy 3:26
One of the things Moses recalls about Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, and their wanderings in the desert was how he himself suffered because of the people’s rebellion and sin. Like a constant leaking, their grumblings and rebellion soon seeped through to Moses. When the Israelites had camped at the Desert of Zin, in an area called Kadesh, ‘there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!’ (Numbers 20:2-3). This was not the first time that the Israelites were complaining against Moses and rebelling against God. But this time round, it got to Moses so that his emotions and consequently actions were influenced.
After consulting God, Moses was told to, ‘Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water’ (v8). When Moses was in front of the rock, it was evident that the people’s rebellion had gotten the better part of him, for he tells them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ (v10). Moses then ‘raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff’ (v11), instead of speaking to it as commanded by God. Although water gushed out even when Moses went contrary to God’s command, it costed him. For God tells him, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them’ (v12). Just like that, Moses shared in the sin of the people. The sin of those who did not trust in God enough, and so would not see the Promised Land.
Although ‘everyone shall die for his own sin’ (Jeremiah 31:30), it is well possible to share in the consequences of the sins of others. By our conduct and especially ignorance, we can be victims of other people’s sins. In fact, ‘He that walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed’ (Proverbs 13:20), and that is exactly what Moses experienced. Even though he was a God-fearing man, he walked among a complaining, unbelieving, and rebellious people, and he too suffered harm. That is why, ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers’ (Psalm 1:1). But, while carrying out our God-given mandate, we will more often than not find ourselves amidst such people. When Ezekiel was to prophesy amidst such a people, God tells him how to go about it, and equips him with the right attitude. He tells the Prophet, ‘But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house . . . But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house’ (Ezekiel 2:8, 3:v9). Only when we are carrying out God’s mandate in sharing the Gospel are we exempt in associating with wicked people in all watchfulness, not yielding to any evil way. But an association outside of that will prove detrimental to us. ‘Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Rejoicing in another’s (enemy or ally) misfortune is also one of the ways one can share in another person’s sin. When Israel was experiencing its decline and was set for captivity, other neighbouring nations rejoiced because of their downfall. One of the nations was of the Ammonites. So God decrees to them, ‘Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will cut you from the nations and exterminate you from the countries’ (Ezekiel 25:6-7). Also taking advantage of one when they are experiencing calamity is also a sure way of sharing in the sin of others. When Edom took advantage of Israel while in their weak state, God tells them, ‘Because you harboured an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax . . . Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you’ (35:v5,6). Thus, to avoid sharing in the sin of others, ‘You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice . . . in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster . . . nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble’ (Obadiah 1:12-13, 14).
An extreme opposite of getting too involved in the misfortunes of others is complacency- not speaking up when injustices or sin is ongoing. Keeping silent when harm is coming about a person has its consequences. God tells Ezekiel, ‘When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood’ (Ezekiel 3:18). That is why Jesus came into the world in the first place, ‘to preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners . . . to release the oppressed . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18-19). Likewise, Believers are left with the mandate to proclaim the Gospel in order to turn as many from going to eternal damnation. Paul advises, ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (Titus 3:10-11). After sharing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that besides loving God, we are to love our neighbour. Just like the Good Samaritan, we are to, ‘Go and do likewise’ (Luke 10:37). So, meeting the needs of others spiritually, emotionally, and physically is directly tied to the Christianity, to loving God. In fact, Christians should not dare ask like Cain, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9). Because as Jesus says, ‘I tell you tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40). So, when we refuse to help the needy (spiritually and physically), we directly refuse God, suffering harm.
Forming ungodly alliances is also one other way of sharing in other people’s sin. God declares a woe to those who go about ‘forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me’ (Isaiah 30:1-2). When ‘Jehoshaphat king of Judah made an alliance with Ahaziah King of Israel, who was guilty of wickedness. He agreed with him to construct a fleet of trading ships’ (2 Chronicles 20:35-36). Eleazer then prophesies against him saying, ‘Because you have made an alliance with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made’ (v37). Eventually, ‘The ships were wrecked and were not able to sail to trade’ (v37). Those who also put trust in other people, things, or gods besides the Living God share in their sins. God decrees, ‘He who helps will stumble, he who is helped will fall; both will perish together’ (Isaiah 31:3). Regarding idols, ‘those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them’ (Psalm 115:8). Trusting and consulting anything other than God is sharing in their sin because ‘should not a people enquire of their God?’ (Isaiah 8:19). When we do not seek God in all things, we become opposed to Him for we do not discern His will. When Josiah did not understand and align with God’s will on a certain matter, Neco King of Egypt warns him, ‘God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you’ (2 Chronicles 35:21). Those who do not discern God’s will end up opposing Him, by resisting or slandering what God has set up. As a result, they find themselves sharing in the sins of others. That is why Paul urges;
‘Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three (credible) witnesses . . . do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure’ ~ 1 Timothy 5:19,22