Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number; then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.
God instructed Moses to number the people but warned him there were dangers in doing so. The first danger, as we noted yesterday, was that Moses would focus on the total at the expense of the individuals who comprised the group; and soon individuals would lose their value.
But there was another danger that Moses needed to avoid – the danger of a herd mentality.
There is a propensity for individuals who become part of a large group to lose their identity to the collective and adopt “group think”. Individuals lose a sense of responsibility in a crowd and so are prone to behaviour they might otherwise never approve.
We have all seen instances in which people did nothing to assist, figuring that someone else in the group would help. We have also seen occasions when people engaged in reprehensible actions for no other reason than “everyone is doing it”.
God warned Moses that in counting the Israelites they must continue to honour individual dignity and integrity. Each person counted in the group had to offer a ransom, reminding them that being part of the group was not an excuse to abdicate personal responsibility.
Large groups are not bad. Jesus preached to multitudes, and in heaven there will be an incredible multitude. But we must never allow the excitement of being part of a great crowd to overwhelm our personal integrity.