If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock (Deuteronomy 13:12-15).
The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words to the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. The entire thirteenth chapter emphasizes that the worship of other gods was strictly forbidden. Moses’s instructions were clear. The people had their marching orders: Any town that was found to worship other gods was to be completely destroyed.
BUT FIRST . . .
Before the Israelites rushed to war – before they completely destroyed a town based on what they had heard, they were told they “must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly” (v. 14).
This is not a suggestion. It is a command. You MUST inquire, probe and investigate, Moses said.
Notice the progressive nature of these verbs.
To inquire means to gather information by asking questions.
To probe takes inquiry to a deeper level. It means to question closely, to look into a matter or examine something thoroughly.
To investigate goes even deeper. Here’s how the dictionary puts it: To investigate is to search out and examine the particulars of a matter in an attempt to learn the facts about something hidden, unique, or complex, especially in an attempt to find a motive, cause, or culprit.
The idea is one of digging out the truth.
Moses commanded the people to investigate, probe AND investigate. These three actions work together to dig out not just the facts, but to dig out the backstories, the motives, all of the nuanced factors that, when put together, reveal the truth.
In other words, before the Israelites completely destroyed a city, they were to be very, very certain that they had the full story. And the only way for them to know that they had the full story was to inquire, probe and investigate. Plus, they were to do these things thoroughly. There was too much at stake for them to look into a matter halfheartedly.
Oh, dear friends, I can’t help but wonder how many ministers would still be serving their churches had deacons, elders, staff and lay leaders followed these steps. How many relationships would still be whole had the individuals involved taken the time to thoroughly check into what they’d heard? How many reputations of ministers, churches and organizations would avoid damage or complete destruction had people inquired, probed and investigated before saying or doing destructive things?
Friends, we simply must stop forming attitudes and making decisions before checking into a matter thoroughly. We must stop sharing unsubstantiated ideas which can easily turn out to be lies or slander. Reputations are being tarnished, lives are being ruined and ministries are being destroyed, all because people fail to do the work of digging out the truth.
Please, the next time you’re tempted to repeat something that could harm a reputation or relationship, first grab a shovel and dig for the truth.