Chapter 5: Integrity
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. Solomon
The poem If by Rudyard Kipling provides an appropriate way to introduce the subject of integrity:
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Kipling’s poem is the counsel of a father to a son, and it could be described as a poetic interpretation of integrity. Kipling undertakes to explain how to find the balance in our responsibility to others while keeping true to who we are.
Integrity is defined as the state of being whole or undivided. It is generally used to infer moral uprightness, honesty and a person of strong moral principle. Integrity is rooted in personal conviction, and personal convictions are established in the conscience. These convictions manifest themselves by the choices we make in life, by way we treat others, by the way that we behave, and by the way we strive to attain individual goals. Whether the goal is based in an attainable virtue, personal accomplishment, or spiritual fulfillment; our convictions determine how we pursue our goals.
One scriptural example of integrity is found in the story of Job. At the beginning of the book of Job we read of the conversation between God and Satan concerning Job’s character. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause (Job 2:3). Later on in the same chapter we read of Job’s wife saying to him: Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die (Job 2:9). Towards the end of the book Job said: all the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit. God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove my integrity from me (Job 27:3-5). The story of Job is a testament to his integrity. The Lord had confidence in Job’s character but Satan questioned it. Job’s integrity was in the balance. Throughout the story we read of Job trying to navigate through his trials; even though Job was perplexed deeply by his experiences, his purpose did not fail which he displayed by saying: till I die I will not remove my integrity from me (Job 27:5).
Another scriptural example of integrity is David. David understood the importance of retaining his integrity. David wrote: O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee (Ps. 25:21). Again David wrote: Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide (Ps. 26:1). But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me (Ps. 26:11). The psalmist Asaph, when recounting in psalm the experience of the children of Israel, also referenced David’s integrity: He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands (Ps. 78:70-72). David was a man of integrity.
Integrity is a character trait. Up to this point we have analyzed external factors that are essential to life. The next few chapters present a few character traits that contribute to our understanding and appreciation for our responsibilities in life.
The two examples already given, Job and David, were men of integrity. They were men who examined their hearts and were accepting of counsel and correction.
It also is helpful to see the other side of the coin, in this case, examining the life of a man who lacked integrity, to better appreciate why integrity is ‘essential’. The story of Achan, found in the book of Joshua, provides such an example.
The story of Achan in the book of Joshua provides insight into individual integrity. The story is set at the time of the invasion into the land of Canaan by the children of Israel. The children of Israel were given specific instructions concerning the spoils of war: And ye, in any wise keep yourself from the accursed things, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord (Josh. 6:18-19). These were the instructions given to the children of Israel before the battle of Jericho. The seventh chapter of the book of Joshua introduces us to Achan, a man of Judah, who took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel (Josh. 7:1). In the midst of the congregation of Israel one man made a choice and the consequence of that choice disrupted the spirit of the entire body; which ultimately resulted in death and defeat in the first battle against Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Sherabim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water (Josh. 7:5). The individual choice of Achan’s resulted in defeat in battle, a consequence which weakened the resolve of the children of Israel.
Joshua was distraught by the outcome of the battle. Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads (7:6). The sinful act of Achan, an act of disobedience, was unknown to the congregation, but the spirit of Achan’s influence inhibited God’s ability to be with the children of Israel in battle. God told Joshua: Get thee up, wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have ever taken of the accursed thing (7:10-11). Notice that God said Israel, not Achan. The spirit of Achan’s disobedience was judged initially in the congregation. Achan’s individual testimony altered the way God saw the entire congregation of Israel, introducing the spirit of disobedience among the children of Israel. God told Joshua: Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against the morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you (Josh. 7: 13).
In dealing with the situation, God asked Joshua to create a scenario where the entire congregation was evaluated. In the morning therefore ye shall be brought by your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the Lord take the shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the Lord shall take shall come by households; and the household which the Lord shall take shall come man by man. And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel (Josh. 7:14-15). Through this evaluation a tribe was chosen, then the familial line, then the head of the household which led to the individual. At the beginning, everyone would have watched tentatively, Is it our tribe? And then, Is it our line? And then, Is it our household? As certain people were eliminated others would have come under more scrutiny. This process began with self-reflection, and ended ultimately in judgement. Individually, the healthiest moment would have been when they questioned, Is it I?
We have a parallel example in the New Testament when Jesus was with his apostles the night preceding his crucifixion. Jesus told his disciples: Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? (Mat. 26:21-22). Judas, the betrayer, also asked of the Lord, Is it I? Judas had already negotiated to betray the Lord, so it was with guile that he asked the question, Is it I? The moment for self reflection and examination had passed. Judas had made his decision and Jesus knew it. Jesus told Judas when Judas asked the question, is it I? Thou hast said (Mat.26:25). In similar fashion Achan also knew that he was the guilty party, but he did not voluntarily come forward. God had to show through the hand of Joshua, that He knew who was guilty. Individual integrity was severely lacking in both of these men. Up until that last moment when they were revealed, their spirit of guile kept them hid from others. Contrition came to late, and their influence had to be eliminated. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him, and tell me now what thou hast done, hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it (Josh. 7:19-21). In the light of his judgement Achan realized that the Babylonian garment and the shekels of silver and gold which he had taken were powerless objects.
In the case of Achan, the end result was very informative. The congregation was responsible for dealing with Achan and with all of those who were in his sphere of influence. We must conclude that Achan’s confession was lacking in repentance because it did not stay God’s hand in judgement. God required that the entire household of Achan be destroyed: his family, his goods, and his cattle. And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said: Why hast thou troubled us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The Valley of Achor (Trouble), unto this day (Josh. 7:24-26).
The story of Achan provides an example of how being our brother’s keeper, at times, requires judgement and sacrifice by the collective body to maintain the integrity of the whole. Achan’s choice affected his entire family. It appears as a harsh judgement, however the sin of disobedience had the potential to derail the entire congregation. It seems evident that Achan’s spirit of disobedience had already affected his immediate family since they also were killed in consequence for the choice that Achan had made.
Further on in the book of Joshua reference is made to Achan when the children of Israel were dealing with a situation that they felt had the potential to divide the congregation. This reference can be found in the 22nd chapter and it is set in the time after the children of Israel had taken possession of the land of Canaan. The battles had ceased and Joshua had given permission for the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh to return to their inheritance which was on the east side of Jordan. Upon crossing the river Jordan those three tribes erected an altar on the east bank of the Jordan, it was an altar made in the similitude of the altar in the tabernacle. Upon seeing the altar the remaining tribes prepared themselves to go to war. An embassage, composed of Phinehas who was the son of the priest Eleazar and ten princes representing the other tribes, went ahead to confront the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. The congregation had this question for their errant brethren: Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the Lord, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the Lord? (Josh.22:16) They then posed the question, Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man perished not alone in his iniquity. (Josh.22:20) The children of Israel had learned the lesson of The Valley of Achor. The sin of the individual affects the whole congregation.
In this reference we see the lesson presented from the opposite perspective. In this scenario the congregation perceived an issue that they felt compromised their integrity and they rushed in to deal with it. However, the congregation was mistaken in their assumption because the altar had been erected not in an attempt to promote division, but rather to maintain unity among future generations. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh responded to the accusation, saying: Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice: but that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the Lord before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the Lord. (Josh.22:26-28) The tribes in question we’re not guilty of Achan’s sin of disobedience. Their integrity was intact. The integrity of the congregation was maintained because individual integrity existed within the congregation.
The individual failing of Achan’s integrity adversely affected the congregation. Years later, the memory of the experience in the Valley of Achor, prompted the congregation to attack a perceived lack of integrity of three tribes. Individually and collectively the remaining tribes believed they were acting righteously. As individuals, they understood the sanctity of the altar, and they individually understood that there must only be one altar, a symbolic reference to the one God whom they served. The individual understanding imparted to them by Moses had been integrated into the congregation resulting in a unified belief.
In the scriptures the thought is developed that one True testimony is the example that determines the formation of the beliefs of the congregation. The hope is that the many will emulate the one. In the history of the Jews this is represented through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; which eventually led to Moses and the canonization of laws that promoted the faith of Abraham, which became known as the Ten Commandments. In the New Covenant that individual is Jesus, the Christ, who is the embodiment of Truth and righteousness. Jesus’ life and Spirit represent both life and law to those who believe in him. Individual integrity, the foundation of our testimony, demonstrates our conviction in that belief. The health of the whole depends upon the health of each individual member, demonstrating the value of our individual integrity as it relates to the whole. More simply stated, the body is only as strong as its weakest member. Individual responsibility is how we establish our integrity.
Again we return to the scales mentioned in chapter one. As we can learn from the example of Achan, integrity establishes the balance between a value for our individual soul and our responsibility to the collective body. If the scales tip toward the collective then we will compromise our individual testimony. We will become hyper focused on the ideology of the collective body. Ultimately, we will become instruments of the collective, repeating the indoctrinated thought of the collective without an individual awakened conscience. In this scenario, we fall prey to the construct of our belief system. We will neglect our responsibility to evaluate what the construct produces and verify it against our own individual conscience. We will become de facto “yes men” to whatever is asked of us, to our own peril.
If the scale tips towards the individual our focus becomes purely egocentric. The collective body, if acknowledged at all, is merely seen as a tool to be used as we see fit. When the “I” becomes the focal point anything that serves the “I” is allowed. The conscience of an egocentric person is focused only on the ‘I’ and therefore cannot foresee or comprehend how their actions affect the whole, as seen in the story of Achan.
Achan did not consider that his individual choice would result in the death of his brethren in battle nor did he understand that it would result in the death of his immediate family. Achan was overtaken by his nature and chose to simply satisfy its cravings. Achan was aware of the restrictions put in place concerning the treasures of Jericho, but the law, as spoken by Joshua, had no weight to counter the weight of his own will. Achan’s story exemplifies what happens in the absence of individual integrity. Simply put, when our integrity is compromised it will negatively effect us as an individual and negatively effect those who are in our sphere of influence.
Integrity is ‘essential’ to maintain a healthy conscience.
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