Was God Unfair to Moses?

December 9, 2019 at 11:43 am | Posted in Q&A | 3 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).

Will We Know Our Loved Ones in Heaven?

November 30, 2018 at 9:57 am | Posted in Q&A | 2 Comments
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Question: In Heaven will Christians know and recognize other Christians to whom they were related in this earthly life?

Answer: I believe we will. In the Bible we see the phrase “he was gathered unto his people” when someone dies, meaning that his soul went to a place where his deceased loved ones already were. Genesis 25:8 and Numbers 20:24 are just a couple of examples. This indicates that in Heaven fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, even distant relatives and friends will know each other based on the earthly relationships they had. I don’t think that there will be the same familial, relational, or “legal” responsibilities and obligations between people in Heaven (such as mother-daughter, husband-wife) because Jesus will be the supreme recipient of all worship, affection, and adoration, but I Corinthians 15:49 seems to indicate that our resurrected and glorified bodies will carry with them enough of our physical resemblance and distinctiveness to make us recognizable to our loved ones.

Standing in the Crossway

July 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Posted in Salvation | 8 Comments
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The descendants of Jacob were chosen by God to be the people through whom He would bless the entire world. The descendants of Jacob’s twin, Esau, are anther story. They became the Edomites. Since they shared a common ancestor, God had commanded the Edomites to treat the Hebrews as “brothers,” and to be sympathetic toward them in times of trouble. (Numbers 20:14-17)

Apparently the Edomites did not take this command seriously, because, centuries later, when the Chaldeans were invading and slaughtering Jacob’s descendants in Jerusalem, the Edomites stood by and rejoiced.

But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.

Obadiah v. 11

And that’s not all! As some of the Hebrews were trying to flee, some of the Edomites stood at the crossroads areas (what the Bible calls “the crossways”), and blocked their escape while the pursuing heathen hordes caught up to them.

Neither shouldest thou have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither shouldest thou have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.

Obadiah v. 14

It is a shame to hear of such treachery. However, at the same time, could there be a more applicable reminder for those of us, in our day and time, who stand by as unbelievers come to the “crossroads of faith?”

As men and women fall under the convicting power of the Holy Ghost and realize their sinful condition, they sometimes see the need to flee from God’s wrath. When we as Christians stand at the crossroads of decision, do we snatch desperate sinners out of the wrong path, and help to usher them toward Jesus Christ? Or, are we like the Edomites, who lurk in hiding, waiting to spring out, trip them up, and hold them down until the enemy arrives to capture or slaughter them?

The Lamb of God was nailed to a wooden cross on ancient Golgotha. That instrument of torture – which He turned into the ultimate symbol of love – is a place of crisis for those who have not yet believed. Let us not be like the Edomites of old. Let us help the hurting and the hunted and the helpless to see that the “Crossway” is the only way to eternal life.


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