Imagine, if you will, that you have searched for years to find a great discovery, and finally, after all your hard work leading your team toward this goal, you finally arrived at the moment of the fulfillment of all your efforts. Right before you was the very thing for which you had longed for so many years. Suddenly, you are told that you are not only not going to lead the team in the final phase of discovery, but that you would not even be able to participate in that phase. Instead, your assistant that you have trained and mentored for years was going to take your place and lead the team to the end of the search and the fullness of the discovery. It would be easy to imagine from the scenario above how you would feel and how one’s emotions would respond if such an event did take place.
For most people, this is exactly the event written about in Deuteronomy 3:23-28:
“I pleaded with Adonai at that time, saying, ‘O Lord Adonai, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand—for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do deeds and mighty acts like Yours? Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon.’ “But Adonai was angry with me because of you, so He would not listen to me. ‘Enough!’ Adonai said to me, ‘Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will cross over before this people, and he will enable them to inherit the land that you will see.’
As we read through these words, which take place at the very end of Moses’ life, we find that after almost 41 years in the wilderness leading the Children of Israel towards the ultimate goal of the Promise Land, Moses is told with finality that he would not lead the Children of Israel across the Jordan. Instead, Joshua would. It is easy for most people to have empathy towards Moses as we read about this event. It is also very easy to picture ourselves in Moses’ place pleading with G-D and doing exactly what so many people do when situations arise like this trying to play “Let’s Make a Deal.” Moses’ human emotional response is easily understandable. It seems to us a very cruel punishment. After all, Moses was a faithful leader for many years and it seems a little (okay, a lot) overhanded punishing him so severely for one act of anger and rebellion. He hit a rock – not a person.
The truth is that this action seems out of character for G-D. We know that G-D is not cruel and He is not spiteful. His Word teaches us that He is long-suffering, loving, and full of grace and mercy. Yet, these verses seem to exhibit attributes that are contrary to G-D’s nature while not demonstrating attributes that are consistent with G-D’s nature.
After all, the Bible teaches us in Romans 8:28:
Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.
We know that Moses loved G-D and we know that Moses was called according to His purpose. If Romans 8:28 is true, and if our understanding of these verses in Deuteronomy is contrary to what we know about the character of G-D, then we must be misunderstanding the event.
With this in mind, maybe looking at the verses in context again will help to bring into focus a true picture of the event and with this more focused picture maybe we will learn something deeper about G-D.
First, notice that in response to Moses’ plea we read:
“But Adonai was angry with me because of you, so He would not listen to me.”
Normally, these words are read from the point of view that Moses is complaining that the people caused him to behave badly and as a result of their actions he is being punished. What if these words have an entirely different emphasis and meaning? What if Moses isn’t blaming the people for his troubles, but instead saying that G-D was angry with him on behalf of the people? What if Moses was saying that G-D was angry because his actions failed in demonstrating faith to the people and it was because of this that G-D was angry? What if it wasn’t Moses blaming the people, but rather Moses taking responsibility for his actions and understanding why G-D was angry with him?
Second, notice the next words we read:
Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him…
Here we find Moses being commanded to go up Mount Pisgah and look at G-D’s Promised Land and all that surrounded it. Contrary to our negative assessment, this was not G-D’s way of punishing Moses further to not allow him to enter the Land and also force him to see what he was not going to attain. In context, we read that the purpose of Moses going up the Mountain was so that he would be able to encourage and strengthen Joshua. This was not G-D punishing Moses, but restoring his position as leader by elevating him before Joshua so that Moses could minister to Joshua.
Third, notice that while G-D does tell Moses that he was not going to cross the Jordan to enter the Promise Land, He did not tell Moses that he would not be able to enter the Promise Land. This last part is very, very important for us to understand. Moses pleaded with G-D, “Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon,” and G-D answered him, “you will not cross over this Jordan.”
Moses being told he would not cross over the Jordan with Joshua and Caleb was not a punishment as we so often view it. The truth is that G-D had two more important people with which Moses would be able to enter the Promised Land.
After six days, Yeshua takes with Him Peter and Jacob and John his brother, and brings them up a high mountain by themselves. Now He was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Yeshua.
Understanding how G-D works in our lives is all about our perspective. If G-D’s Word is true, then anytime our view of His working in our lives seems out of character we need to reexamine the situation. He is never out of character and His Word is always true. We need to stop looking for the punishments and start looking for the blessings.