November 12, 2007

€œBe Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out!
(Numbers 32:23)
by Pastor George Van Alstine

That’s one of the scariest memory verses I learned as a kid. It was such a threatening idea that I’ve avoided thinking about it since then. I don’t think I’ve ever preached a sermon about it. Who wants to be reminded that you never get away with anything?

I had a memorable experience when I was about twelve. My brother and I had just returned from spending a week in upper New York State with my Aunt Florence, who in her fifties was still rebelling against her churchy upbringing. She had begun the week with the announcement (through puffs of cigarette smoke), “Now you’re going to see how the other half lives.â€? She let us hang out in the record store where she worked, listening to the latest popular (“worldlyâ€?) music for hours. And toward the end of the week, she took us to the movies. I don’t remember what we saw; I’m sure it was innocent, but it was in a movie theater, and that was bad!

Well, after we came home, my mom asked how our visit was, and we reported about the farm, the cows, the tractors—all the wholesome stuff. Later that day, Mom asked, “What movie did you see?â€? I was speechless. Had my aunt told on me? Finally, I asked, “How did you know?â€? My mom answered, “It all comes out in the wash.â€? She let me dangle for a while before she showed me the movie theater ticket stub she had taken from my pants pocket before washing them. She thought it was pretty funny, but I felt very exposed. The memory verse went through my mind: “Be sure your sin will find you out.â€?

For a short time, I actually believed I would never be able to keep anything from my mom. Somehow she’d find out. But I soon learned to be better at concealing my excursions into forbidden territory, and I got away with lots of stuff.

Or did I? As I look at this verse now, I see something very important that I missed as an amateur sinner. It wasn’t my mom I had to face. I was answerable to God himself. The preceding phrase is important: “You have sinned against the Lord; be sure your sin will find you out.â€? My cleverness could keep my mom in the dark, but she was not the one I was sinning against. God was the offended party. Sooner or later, I was going to have to come to the same conclusion David did in Psalm 51:4—“Against you, you alone have I sinned.â€?

There is one other interesting thing about the wording of Numbers 32:23. The Hebrew verb translated by “find outâ€? would ordinarily be used when a sinful act is uncovered, brought to light. An investigation would “find outâ€? about the sin. Here the tables are turned: Sin is almost personified (compare Genesis 4:7), and sin is the “oneâ€? uncovering the sinner. Instead of my exposing sin, sin is exposing me.

I guess the meaning of this is that my sinful acts expose the kind of person I am, revealing my hypocrisy, self-centeredness and superficiality. So it’s time for me to revisit this scarey verse from my childhood, recognizing that it describes a very important way in which God is helping me to “find outâ€? about my sinful nature and my need for renewal. Hopefully, I’ll respond to his gentle ticket-stub reminders, so he doesn’t have to use harsher means.

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(I have to add two observations that I want to clarify:
(1) I don’t really think those things I did at Aunt Florence’s were sins. However, since my family defined them that way, they were on my boyhood list of no-nos and therefore moral issues for 12-year-old George.
(2) Real Bible students will notice that this verse was taken out of context in the first place. You’ll see from verses 20-22 that the potential “sinâ€? for the Israelites would be their failure to go to war against the Canaanites, which is not an issue you or I face every day. I hope you’ll allow me to apply the principle to the kinds of sins we do deal with.)