08/10/2012 03:41 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Old Testament Observations About People

We all have impressions of what to expect from "the masses" of people. The Old Testament contains illustrations of groups and individuals in action. Here are six observations that the reader may expand upon:

1. People, individually and collectively, are all too often mistaken. The Book of Jonah describes Nineveh as a place where people "cannot tell their right hand from their left" (Jonah 4:11). While one may praise the wisdom of crowds, there are many historic and contemporary examples of mistaken and dangerous groups acting upon misinformation or lack of knowledge.

2. People, individually and collectively, seemingly complain more than express appreciation. The Old Testament account of the wilderness wanderings is filled with accounts of complaints and longings for the good old days, when enslaved, where "we ate in Egypt at no cos." (Numbers 11:1-10). People tend to forget past difficulties in their demand for more, even if their present circumstances have improved.

3. People tend to be impatient. "When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain," they wanted something and someone to follow and adore (Exodus 32). People tend to expect immediate action and do not want to wait, even if some delay would allow time for a better result.

4. It is better to have a few dedicated followers than masses who may be improperly motivated. Gideon began with 22,000 men who were selectively narrowed to 300 (Judges 7). This commander used what we might call "shock and awe" to achieve a great victory. A dedicated few may achieve more than an unrefined mass.

5. Individuals may be courageous while the group is inactive and fearful. David was the only person with the courage to fight Goliath (I Samuel 17). The masses often are afraid or focused upon personal concerns and it falls to heroic individuals to take action to better society.

6. Loyalty to ones' group, while commendable, may be cynically used against the individual. The Old Testament account of Uriah illustrates a loyal individual who literally and presumably unknowingly carried orders for his death (II Samuel 11). Excellent individuals may be destroyed by corrupt cadres of power.

As these examples illustrate, it is wise not to have high expectations of groups and instead rely upon dedicated and heroic individuals.