In (virtual) church today, we heard a great sermon today by Pastor Andrew Arndt from New Life Church (East) about the end of Moses’ life, as recounted in Deuteronomy 34 (also the end of that book, as well the Torah). Although it wasn’t central to the sermon, Andrew mentioned that Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land because of a little episode that happened many years earlier in Kadesh (as told in Numbers 20).
In a nutshell, the Israelites had been in the Desert of Zin for about a month, and there was no water to be found anywhere, so the people came after Moses and Aaron. They went to God and fell facedown before Him. God told Moses to speak to the rock and water will pour forth from it. Moses did as he was told–almost. Instead of speaking to the rock, in his anger about this rebellion, Moses struck the rock with his staff. God still produced the desired result–water did, in fact, pour from the rock–but because Moses didn’t completely obey God (he hit the rock instead of speaking to it), God told him he wouldn’t get to enter the promised land.
The apparent unfairness in this situation drew quite a visceral reaction from my wife, and rightfully so. I mean, Moses served God faithfully doing a job he didn’t even want, leading the people of Israel, for 40 years! But he makes one little mistake and then he doesn’t get to enter the promised land–where’s the justice in that? What about forgiveness?
Here is my take, or at least the first part of my answer: God knows our hearts. If we do the right thing for the wrong reason, I think God would prefer we not do it at all. God asked Moses to speak to the rock to draw forth the water, but Moses, because he was angry with the Israelites, hit the rock instead of speaking to it. In other words, he didn’t do it out of love, but more out of frustrated obedience. The results still seemed good to us, but we can’t see the dark river flowing through Moses’ heart in that moment the way God can.
Bottom line for this part of it: in everything we do, we need to do it out of love–for God and for others. If we serve at the food bank or soup kitchen or mission field (or write blogs!), but we don’t do it out of love, we’re better off not doing it. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 (“the love chapter”), if I do all sorts of holy, godly things, “but do not have love, I am nothing”. No word or story is in the Bible by accident, so it’s possible this little lesson in “unfairness” from the life of Moses is meant to remind us of this.
Also, we have to remember that there are parts of every story that God sees and knows that we can’t possibly see or know. When we judge this story to be unfair, we see that God shows Moses the promised land from Mount Nebo, then Moses dies. We think, The End. Roll the credits on an unhappy ending.
But wait. We who believe in heaven have to remember that when Moses dies viewing the earthly promised land, he passes into the eternal Promised Land. Maybe God kept him out of the earthly promised land so all of us who came later can learn this lesson, but also in the same instant welcomed him into heaven with a warm embrace and a “Well done, good and faithful servant.” All is forgiven after all.
And one last quick thought–Moses was not perfect. We are told of only one “little” slip-up during 40 years of leading the Israelites, which is an outstanding track record, but let’s not forget that he had murdered someone 40 years prior to being called by God to lead the people of Israel. But none of us is perfect, so it’s really good news that Moses wasn’t either, yet God chose him to do great things for the Kingdom!
There is only one perfect person who ever lived: Jesus. And he’s just the guy to lead us all into the Promised Land. Take His hand and come along too!