1,000 Trees (And Other Tall Tales)

I’m a third-generation exaggerator.

Part of our family folklore is the time my momma swore a tornado that swept through our yard uprooted “1,000 trees.” While it’s true that many trees fell, the total number was probably closer to 300 than the 1,000 she claimed.

Whenever a story starts to grow, we smile at each other and say, “Kind of like 1,000 trees?” Code: Busted! I know you’re exaggerating.

Maybe it’s because I love to tell a good story. Maybe it’s about one-upmanship. Maybe I worry I won’t be interesting without it. For whatever reason, I have to fight the urge to constantly exaggerate. I overshoot the details of the story, overshare what happened, and build up the emotions to a crescendo.

I’m in good company. Let’s take a quick tour of some exaggerators in the Bible.

The Ten Who Felt Small
In Numbers 13, Moses sends twelve spies into the Promised Land to scope out the land God had promised them. Two spies (Joshua and Caleb) came back excited about what they saw and confident in God’s provision, but ten spies came back shaking in their sandals. They didn’t want to go forward. To back up their position, they told a whopper of a story.

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who came from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (vv. 31–33).

I wasn’t among the top secret spies sent into the Promised Land (though that would have been cool!). There is no video to record exactly what they saw, but I smell some exaggeration here. How could they know that the natives were stronger than them? They never fought them after all. Are they sure that “all” the people were of great height? It seems unlikely that they discovered a people with zero height variation. And how about this grasshopper business? How tall would the Nephilim have to be for the Israelites to look like grasshoppers next to them? Ten feet tall? Twenty feet tall? Surely, these were not a people of such massive height.

But the spies couldn’t just say, “We are afraid.” They would be mocked. They couldn’t pander, “Um . . . they looked pretty tall.” No one would take their side. So they exaggerated. They puffed the story up. They invented giants where tall men stood.

God’s reaction should tell us something about His feelings toward exaggeration. He refused to let the entire generation who fell under the spell of the exaggerations of the ten spies into the Promised Land. They were forced to wander for another forty years. While the stories of the ten spies may have been interesting and terrifying, they didn’t measure up to the truth—that God had promised the Israelites victory in the Promised Land. To be clear, it was their unbelief in God’s promises and disobedience of His instructions that caused God’s wrath, but exaggeration seeped through their cracked faith, and the results were devastating.

The Lion Watcher
Proverbs 26:13 says, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!'”

The Bible uses the term “sluggard” to describe someone who is lazy. The image here is of someone using any excuse he can think of to avoid getting to work.

“I can’t get to work, there’s a lion in the road. An actual lion! He is roaming the streets with his huge mouth open. If I leave this spot on my couch, I will surely be devoured!”

A modern version of this exaggeration might be:

  • I can’t do my homework. I have a HUGE headache!
  • I can’t clean my room. I had a REALLY bad day at school.
  • I can’t read my Bible. I got ZERO sleep last night.

If we want to know God’s opinion on lion watching, we need to keep reading.

“The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Prov. 26:16). The habits of the sluggard are unwise (even if he doesn’t see it that way). Lion watching is evidence of a lack of wisdom!

The Original Exaggerator
In Genesis 3:1, the original exaggerator slithers onto the scene.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'”

If we flip back a verse or two we see how this story got stretched.

Genesis 2:16–17 records, “And the LORD God commanded the man saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'”

God said eat of every tree except one. Satan exaggerated this boundary by telling Eve that God said she couldn’t eat of any of the trees. It was a little exaggeration, a little twist of the truth—but the results were devastating. Eve was sucked into the enemy’s tall tale. She nibbled on forbidden fruit, and sin sunk its teeth into all of our hearts.

The enemy is a chronic exaggerator. He is constantly exaggerating my problems and flaws. He tells tall tales about the challenges in my life. He stretches the truth about who God is.

But here’s the thing about truth. It cannot be stretched. It holds firm. When Satan exaggerates, he’s really lying. And here’s the kicker. When we exaggerate, we’re lying, too.

Let the ten spies be a warning to us. There’s no sense in exaggerating the challenges ahead. God is with us after all. We should avoid the ways of the lion watcher. Instead of coming up with grand excuses, it is best to simply get to work. And we must learn to be on guard against the exaggerations of the enemy. He loves to exaggerate to gain ground in our lives. Knowing and clinging to the unchanging truth in God’s Word is the secret to avoiding His snare.

How about you? Do you tend to exaggerate? Do you struggle with lying and bending the truth?

If so, will you join me in praying this verse in the days ahead?

Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue (Ps. 120:2).

About Author

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

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