Was God Unfair to Moses?

December 9, 2019 at 11:43 am | Posted in Q&A | 2 Comments
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Question: Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. He led them in the wilderness for 40 years. They were almost always whining, complaining, disobeying, griping, grumbling, and disobeying. They were ungrateful to God and Moses, even though they had been delivered, rescued, and given food, water, and safety so many times. Meanwhile, Moses, who they frequently wanted to stab in the back, even when he pleaded with God not to destroy them, made one little mistake, and God punished him by not letting him enter the promised land, and even showed him the promised land from the top of a mountain, so he could see what he missed out on right before he died! I have a hard time understanding the unfairness of this. Was Moses’s relatively small error really bad enough to justify what God did?

Answer: There are several issues to address here. First, let’s look at the incident to which you’re referring.

Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink. And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

Numbers 20:1-12

On a previous occasion, when the people panicked about not having water, God instructed Moses to strike a rock with his special rod. Moses did so, and water came out. On this occasion, God gave Moses a different instruction: TAKE the rod, but SPEAK to the rock. Moses, no doubt frustrated and angry at the people because of their attitude and their accusations and their lack of trust in God despite all that He had done, and was doing, for them, “smote” (struck or hit) the rock, not once, but twice. Water came out, but God was not pleased. Because of Moses’s lack of belief in the necessity of following God’s orders precisely, and because of his failure to “sanctify” God (proclaim His holiness) in front of all the people, God decreed that Moses would not live to lead the people all the way across the Jordan River and into the promised land of Canaan when it was finally time for them to go.

Many Bible scholars have struggled with this incident, and with the temptation to see an overreaction on the part of God. God’s decision can be explained a number of ways. I’ll set forth just a few of them, without pretending to be an expert on the matter, of course, or even to have any great insight:

1. Moses’s disobedience was done in the presence of all the people, giving them a false idea of God’s holiness and the importance of obeying Him completely.

2. Moses made it seem to the people like he and Aaron were the ones doing the miracle (“must WE fetch you water out of the rock?”), rather than giving the glory to God. God will not share His glory (Isaiah 42:8).

3. The New Testament would later reveal that the rocks that gave water during the wilderness wandering were symbols of Christ, Who would ultimately be and give “the Living Water” (I Corinthians 10:4; John 7:37-38, 4:13-14). Moses had already struck a rock once (Exodus 17:6). Now he struck a rock twice, as though Christ would need to be crucified twice (which is inaccurate and misrepresentative of the Gospel).

4. Moses’s disobedience was blatant and direct. God said to speak, but Moses struck. While we are prone to excuse Moses, and to recognize his anger as something we often see in ourselves when confronted with ingratitude and whining, God, Who saw Moses’s heart and ulterior mindset, saw it as “unbelief” – something perhaps more calculated than provoked.

I will admit that, even with all this reasoning factored in, our inner sense of “fairness” may still not be satisfied. However, it helps to remember that Moses was not the only one who did not ultimately make it to the promised land. All of his generation, save Joshua and Caleb, perished in the wilderness, although their descendants finally did cross over into Canaan.

Also, I doubt that God allowing Moses to see the promised land, but not enter it, was intended as a taunt. I imagine that Moses was thankful to even see his goal with his eyes before God called him to an even better home in Heaven. The Bible portrays this as more of a consolation than an additional punishment (Deuteronomy 34). In context, it seems like a blessing that Moses, while still in good health and spirits, got to finally lay down the burden of shepherding such a rebellious people, who, no doubt, would have continued to be more than a handful even in Canaan. And, as a side note, we DO get to see Moses with his feet finally standing in the promised land in the New Testament, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3).

Finally, while those explanations may not help our finite minds to understand exactly why Moses’s punishment seems so disproportionate to his crime, my brain always sends up a big red flag when I see the term “unfair” connected to God. Every breath that Moses took – and that every one of us takes – is an undeserved gift from God. We owe our very existence to him, and, from the moment of our conception, our whole experience is one of overflowing grace whether we recognize it or appreciate it, or not. Remember, Moses was a human being. A sinful and fallen human being just like me and you. The last thing we want from God is “fairness,” because, as the only image-bearing rebels and traitors in the universe, what we really “deserve” from God is eternal punishment and conscious torment. It is unwise to think our sin is “not as bad” as someone else’s (II Corinthians 10:12-13) or try to evaluate how, or in what measure, God should distribute His glorious grace and mercy (Romans 9:20-23; Job 38; Matthew 20:1-16).

Corporal Punishment?

November 20, 2019 at 10:37 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: I’m confused about corporal punishment or corporal discipline. We’re running a family, not a corporation. And I thought corporal punishment was like the death penalty, or is that capital punishment?

Answer: “Corporal” discipline refers to discipline that inflicts pain on the body. Corpus is Latin for “body.” Generally speaking, corporal punishment (more properly: corporal discipline) in the context of parenting refers to parents spanking their children as a means of teaching them right from wrong, and the principle of consequences for disobedience and sinful choices. See Proverbs 13:24 and 23:13-14 for example.

It is true that “corporal punishment” is sometimes used to describe the death penalty, in the context of the government punishing criminals, but, obviously, that is not talking about parental discipline. The death penalty is also called “capital punishment” because the Latin word for “head” was capitalis and beheading has historically been one of the most common forms of administering the death penalty to convicted criminals.

Signs of Approval from God?

November 1, 2019 at 8:22 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: Sometimes when I’m praying about a decision that I’ve made or that I’m about to make, I will look for a sign, like a butterfly showing up in my backyard, or a rainbow in the sky, so that I know I’m doing what God wants me to do. Isn’t it wonderful when He does something like that?

Answer: No, I don’t think that’s wonderful, and I think it’s presumptuous for you to assume God’s approval from such occurrences. I think that’s a very dangerous and unbiblical way to make decisions, or to interpret God’s approval of what you’ve already done. God has not instructed us to take a stab at forming our own subjective plans, and then to test them by external signs that we dictate to Him, or that we interpret based on our preferences. The Bible is very clear that He has given us His Word, filled with principles and precepts, and that we are to filter our decision-making process through these (II Timothy 3:16-17). Things that are clearly forbidden in Scripture will never be given God’s stamp of approval by the appearance of a rainbow, a song on the radio, a dream, or even a “feeling of peace.” Decisions that we face that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible should be prayed about with humility, and should be undertaken with a willingness to submit to God’s will if He later shows us that our decisions were wrong. Saturating your mind with Bible knowledge, and humble trial and error bathed in prayer while depending on God to guide you, will help you to grow to be more like Jesus and to make better decisions. (See Romans 12:2 and Hebrews 5:12-14.) He has also equipped other members of His body with gifts of knowledge and discernment, and you would be wise to seek counsel from mature believers before taking your cue from light refracted through moisture in the sky (Ephesians 4:8-12; Romans 12:3-8; Proverbs 11:14)!

Signs of the End Times?

October 16, 2019 at 10:05 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: It seems like every year somebody comes up with some sign of the end times, whether it’s lunar or solar eclipses, natural disasters, or some political figure who is secretly supposed to be the Antichrist, and there are all these preachers or internet prophets who have supposedly been given visions that the world will end at a certain time. Isn’t it silly to pay attention to these things?

Answer: Well, I would be cautious about mocking people who are interested in these things. Certainly, there are charlatans and frauds who promote end times prophecies in order to make money or get attention, and the majority of them seem to be severely lacking in sound Biblical support. However, as Christians looking forward to the return of Jesus, I can certainly understand the desire to be aware of how current events might or might not be signaling the approach of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (II Peter 3:12-13; II Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13).

There are two competing ideas at work here. Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders for their insistence on seeing miraculous or prophetic “signs” that would demonstrate the credibility of Jesus’s ministry. He rightfully rebuked them as being part of a wicked, adulterous, and sign-seeking generation (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-12; Luke 11:16-29). However, when His Disciples asked Him about the sign of His coming and the end of the world, He gave them a good bit of information (Matthew 24), without chastising them.

The key for us today is to focus more on getting ready for the return of Christ by living holy lives, and staying busy carrying out His great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), than on idly (or obsessively) speculating on dates or trying to match current events to some of the apocalyptic language in Scripture. However, I would certainly not want to make fun of anyone who is earnestly trying to understand Biblical prophecy, or who is seeking to view current events and even astronomical phenomena through a Biblical worldview.

Did God Have to Go Down and See?

September 27, 2019 at 10:24 am | Posted in Q&A | 2 Comments
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Question: My question is about Genesis 18:20-21: “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” If God knows everything, and if He is omnipresent, why did He have to “go down and see” Sodom and Gomorrah?

Answer: First of all, we need to determine if these verses are setting forth a clear precept about the nature of God. Since Genesis 18 is a section of the Bible that is written in the genre of historical narrative, rather than a sermon on the attributes of God, we must balance it against other Bible verses, especially those that speak directly about the question of what God knows in a general way.

For example, Job 37:16 says, “Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?” Not only is the Book of Job considered wisdom literature, but here God Himself is addressing the question of His own knowledge directly. To be perfect in knowledge is to be complete – to lack no knowledge whatsoever.

Another example is Psalm 139:1-4: “O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” Psalm 139 is specifically about how God knows all our thoughts, “ways,” behavior, actions, and even our words before we say them.

So, if we apply this to Sodom, God knew more than the general condition of Sodom. He knew everything that each individual was doing and thinking and saying – and why they were doing it! Psalm 147 is perhaps the most explicit precept concerning God’s omniscience: “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” (Psalm 147:5). This means that God possessed all knowledge about Sodom from all eternity, but it also begs the question: Why is He making it sound in Genesis 18 like He’s not omniscient?

The answer is that God often uses anthropomorphism to describe His actions: anthropos = man; morph = form. Anthropomorphism means “man-form.” It is when the Bible describes God as a character in the narrative using human terms that help us understand His point of view. In Genesis 18 it helps us to understand how seriously God took the sin of Sodom, and how much He immanently (not just transcendently) cares about the events of this world. It also records God’s way of letting Abraham understand His thinking, since these statements are part of an actual dialogue between the Lord and Abraham.

Another reason for the statement that God would “go down to see” Sodom and Gomorrah is to let us know that this was a type of Theophany (or perhaps even Christophany): an instance where God appeared to humans in bodily form. God wanted to have a personal visit with Abraham, who was called “the friend of God.” This establishes the trust the God had placed in Abraham’s faithfulness, which will be a key later in the Genesis narrative to understanding the Lord’s testing of him with Isaac.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings?

September 13, 2019 at 8:34 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: I don’t see the big deal about going to church on Wednesday nights, especially if it’s just a prayer meeting. I can pray at home. Why should I go listen to other people pray?

Answer: Well, attendance numbers indicate that the vast majority of Christians agrees with you, but there are many reasons why the members of a local church body should meet together when the church has a regular service, whether or not it’s a prayer meeting. Instead of addressing that, though, since your question is specifically about prayer, take a look at how church meetings took place in the Bible. If you read through the Book of Acts, you will see the Church of Jesus Christ, from its very inception, has been dedicated to the practice of corporate prayer (praying together as one body), and physically meeting together for this purpose. It is difficult to read very far in Acts without coming upon a passage of Scripture alluding to prayer. Just two examples:

And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where MANY WERE GATHERED TOGETHER PRAYING.

Acts 12:12

And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and PRAYED WITH THEM ALL.

Acts 20:36

I capitalized the key words for emphasis, but you can also check out Acts 1:14, 3:1, 6:4, 12:5, and 16:13-16. If you pray by yourself or with your spouse and children at home, that is great, but, as Christians, we must have a deep concern with obeying the Bible, and with involving ourselves in church according to the Bible’s principles and precepts for what our responsibilities as Christian church members are. Remember, corporate prayer in a church meeting should not be one person praying aloud and everyone else listening in. It should be a group of people unified by the Holy Spirit, all praying mentally to the same Lord, even while one person is leading by speaking aloud. Don’t cut yourself, or your family, off from this crucial means of grace and growth in Christ-likeness. “Our” denotes plural – a group of people praying together – in “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9).

Why Read Other Books?

August 26, 2019 at 10:57 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: I read my Bible. What does it matter if I read other books or not?

Answer: I agree that if you are only going to read one book, read the Bible. That’s the most important book. However, one reason adults – especially Christian adults – should read other things, too, is that the ability to read is a great gift from God, and a great way to acquire information and knowledge about areas where the Bible gives principles, but might not go into a lot of detail. Also, I’m concerned about our brains. The part of your brain intended for reading comprehension will get atrophied (like a muscle that never gets any exercise) if it is not used. The result will be a decreased ability to understand concepts, to apply information or knowledge to circumstances (wisdom), a poor vocabulary, and a failure to be able to properly explain what you are trying to say when it might be important.

Also, I’m concerned about how social media and television have come to replace reading. These activities are far more mentally passive, and they don’t use the same part of your brain. Also, they are addictive in a bad way. According to studies, when you get attention on social media or achieve a goal on a video game or app, your brain releases dopamine which creates a sensation of pleasure. However, you soon develop a higher tolerance level, and you need to feed the unconscious craving for dopamine more and more, so you spend an inordinate amount of (mostly wasted) time playing silly games or checking your status for “likes,” hoping to keep your dopamine receptor engaged. It’s just not mentally healthy the way reading is.

A Marvelous Work?

August 5, 2019 at 10:38 am | Posted in Isaiah, Q&A | 2 Comments
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Question: In Isaiah 29:14 the marvelous work that God promised to do for His people seems to be something bad, instead of something good like revival. Why would we want something bad, or what am I missing?

Answer: The word “marvelous” is a little tricky because in modern English it typically means something that is delightful, or “wonderful” in a positive sense. In the Bible it can mean that, too, but its literal meaning has to do with something that causes people to stop dead in their tracks and “marvel” at something. To stand silently still and gaze with amazement. Or to gasp with surprise that something so extraordinary is happening. So, depending on the context, it can be something marvelously beneficial and joyful (Psalm 17:7), or it can mean something marvelously horrific (Daniel 11:36). And, yes, you are correct that the “marvelous” thing God is saying that He will do in Isaiah 29 is that He will bring judgment and destruction upon the people of Jerusalem because of their spiritual hypocrisy and their failure to heed the warnings of His prophets. The “marvelous” thing about it is the extreme nature of it. God would use Godless heathen nations and armies to punish His Own people and to destroy His holy city (29:1-9)! He would even take away their ability to hear and understand His Own Word (29:18), and their ability to see the truth (29:11)! It would be horrendously marvelous, not happily marvelous. So, in that sense, I would like to experience a spiritual revival in my heart, home, church family, community, and nation that would PREVENT this type of “marvelous” work, not the continued apathy and hypocrisy which would bring it to pass. I think that may be what you are getting at with your question.

Celebrating at a Funeral?

July 17, 2019 at 10:08 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: Someone in my family died, and this person had a strong salvation testimony and lived for many years the way the Bible says we would expect a Christian to live. The funeral was more like a party than a funeral. Everybody was laughing and joking, and they even played upbeat party music. Is this okay, since everybody agreed that the person had gone to Heaven?

Answer: Well, I don’t want to say it was NOT okay. There is certainly a sense in which it is okay to celebrate when we believe someone we love has gone to Heaven. But I wouldn’t want to tell people they are not supposed to grieve when someone they love has died, either. I Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Some people take that to mean we shouldn’t sorrow at all when a Christian dies, but I think it means that it is okay to sorrow, just not the same way we would sorrow over someone that died without ever having trusted Christ. After all, Jesus Himself wept when Lazarus died (John 11:35), and He knew He would bring him back to life!

There are two considerations that might temper the celebratory atmosphere at the funeral of a Christian. One is compassion for those in attendance who may not feel like celebrating (Romans 12:15). It would be callous to act irreverent in the presence of people who are going to miss the person who has died. Two, the Bible makes it clear that death itself shouldn’t be frivolously talked about as some “natural, circle-of-life, blessing-in-disguise” occurrence. Death is caused by sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:6; Romans 5:12, 6:23). Death is an adversarial invader into God’s originally “very good” (Genesis 1:31) creation. Every time someone dies, we should grieve over the fact that we ourselves engage in behavior that our Creator deems worthy of death, and a funeral is a stark illustrated sermon on the seriousness of sin and its consequences.

Is Cremation Allowed?

June 12, 2019 at 9:07 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: Does the Bible say that cremation is allowed?

Answer: The Bible – to the best of my knowledge – doesn’t specifically forbid or authorize cremation. In the vast majority of instances, the bodies of dead human beings in Biblical accounts were buried, rather than burned, although there are a handful of instances of burned bodies in the Bible. Because the Bible offers no specific commands on the subject, I would not be comfortable in saying that cremating the body of a deceased loved one is a sin. Faced with a choice, and the ability to afford a burial, I would go with the burial, simply because – as stated above – it seems to have been the preferred method during Bible times, and because burying a body whole seems to more properly symbolize our hope of bodily resurrection, as emphasized in I Corinthians 15.

Having said that, it is also necessary to point out that there will be a bodily resurrection of believers whose bodies were cremated, were donated to medical schools to be used as cadavers, were blown to smithereens in turkey-fryer explosions, were completely decomposed, were melted in hot lava, were “sawn asunder” (Hebrews 11:37), and were eaten by sharks. How will God resurrect a body which has disintegrated and been blown by the four winds of the four corners of the earth? I have no idea, but it won’t be difficult, because – you know – He’s God.

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