Today on Faithful Fridays, I attempt to answer my Mom’s questions:
- Does God punish His people/children, and if so, why?
- Why didn’t God allow Moses to enter the Promised Land?
I will do my best to do so while framing this with a further study of the Book of Deuteronomy.
So: does God punishes His people: yes, He does, and in the manner that a father disciplines his children.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
— Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
Israel (and we, presently) constantly strays from God’s commandments. They are specially notorious in running after gods and carved idols, and engaging in sexual relationships with the Old Testament equivalent of non-believers. This really shouldn’t surprise us, but it does! It only goes to show how much we don’t know God, how He loves, and how He is Love.
What is happening?
The wandering around Sinai is coming to an end, and God is giving Moses the details of what lands they are to pass, and they people with whom they should and should not engage with. They are reaching the end-game of this significant chapter of Israel, and they are about to claim the Promised Land — the other half of the promise God gave to Abraham, hundreds (thousands?) of years ago.
On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
— Genesis 15:18-21
The other half, is of course, that Abraham’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. By the time Deuteronomy was written, Israel was a wandering nation of around 2.5 million people — and the numbers have not stopped, specially if you count the children of God adopted through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
As I mentioned in the previous post, Moses wrote down God’s laws and provided “case studies” for Israel, so that they would be prepared as they enter the Promised Land. See, God wants to bless us — the blessing is there; but the question is: are you prepared to receive this blessing? Is your heart in the right place by remembering who the Giver is, and have the constant humility to know that the gift/blessing was given not because of your deeds, but because God loves you? Do you have the knowledge and the wisdom to know what to do with this blessing?
This is why the constant refrain of Moses throughout the 34 chapters of Deuteronomy revolves around loving God and obeying His laws. Do not forget that He loved you first and that He bent the laws of His own creation to deliver His people out of physical and spiritual slavery.
God is such a killjoy! If He really loved His people, He wouldn’t do things to hurt them!
Thing is, man threw the first stone, when Adam and Eve decided that God, and all the things He gave them, were not good enough. Picture this —
The world fresh out of creation: the air is clean, plants are blooming and bursting with fruit, all animals are friendly and are actually able to communicate with man. You don’t need clothes because the weather is always perfect. The work God has sent you out to do is simple: take care of His creation, name the animals, be good to your companion.
And what makes everything perfect is that Adam and Eve enjoyed God’s presence every day. They walked in the garden together, they talked face to face, laughed side by side, and maybe even sang together.
But they decided that that was not enough. It was not enough that they did not have to labor to have something to eat. It was not enough that they did not have to run for their lives because of savage beasts. It was not enough that they did not have to kill and skin an animal to have clothes to wear. It was not enough to be able to look into the face of The One who created them and everything around them, and who loves them with such a love that He made them in his own image and likeness.
Talking to the snake wasn’t wrong. Eating a fruit wasn’t wrong. Wanting to gain more knowledge is not wrong. But what Adam and Eve did wrong was that at the bottom of it all, they rebelled.
If you read through Genesis 3, it would seem that Adam and Eve were punished, but never was it mentioned that God hurt them. He did not beat them, He did not kill them. Instead, the blood of another creature had to be spilled to cover the shame that the couple felt because of their sin.
“Sin” in Greek means “to miss the mark.” Anything that falls short of the glory of God, anything short of God’s definition of perfection, is sin. Rebellion was how Adam and Eve returned God’s perfect love. The wages of sin is death — and God made it so that a sacrifice had to be made to cover for those sins (see: Levitical sacrifices, and of course, Jesus’ death on the cross).
40 years in the desert, and Moses left out.
It is said that when Lucifer and his small contingent of angels rebelled, God’s punishment was immediate: he cast them out of heaven. Why are they not allowed to benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice? It was because they have seen the Glory of God with their own eyes — God so awesome that Isaiah did not know how to respond but to cry out how unworthy he is to even see God’s throne room; they see God face to face every day for all eternity — and yet there were those who had the temerity to rebel.
It was no small thing, therefore, that God had to “punish” Moses. See, throughout those 40 years, Moses had been gazing upon God’s face on a daily basis:
And the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
— Exodus 33:11, KJ2000 (emphasis mine)
And Moses had front-row seats to all of the miracles that God had made to provide and care for 2.5 million people. And yet, at the very crucial moment, Moses chose disobey God:
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
— Numbers 20:8-12 ESV (emphasis mine)
Moses was still human. We might not know exactly what was going on in his mind at the time, but perhaps being God’s favored leader may have gone to his head, combined with 40 years’ worth of frustration over whiny Israelites. He said, “… shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” — “We” here, being Moses and Aaron. Bottom line is that Moses did not choose to trust God after all that he has seen and experienced in His presence. Like Adam and Eve, like Lucifer and the rebel angels, love repaid by rebellion does not go unpunished.
Our punishment comes through trials, and our trials shape our character. Giving us commandments and shaping our character is God’s way of saying, “I love you, and you are Mine.” Ever since Abraham, God was all about exclusivity — He has a covenant with those He had redeemed, and who choose to love and place their faith in Him. He doesn’t say, “Do this and I will love you.” He says, “I love you. I made you. I care and provide for you, and protect you. I have set you free and claimed you as My own. Will you love Me?”
Our Promised Land
But God doesn’t punish for the sake of punishment. God operates on love, on a covenant. God’s love is not fleeting like an emotion: it is deliberate, an active decision, and a promise that will never be broken. As you read through the Old Testament, we see a redundant pattern: God promises a blessing, Israel rebels, God calls for repentance, Israel repents, Israel is blessed. And He goes through the process — up until today — wash, rinse, repeat. God wants to bless His people abundantly, but obedience is key.
What’s remarkable is how God has never stopped pursuing us, until this day. He wants us to be reconciled to Him, to the point where He made Himself flesh in His Son Jesus, who had to suffer and die as the sacrificial lamb to cover the sins of many — past, present, and future. Where Adam had failed, Jesus rose victorious. The best illustration for me of this fact is the book of Hosea.
Of course, our lives are more complex than a cycle of rebel-repent-be blessed. Paul wrote:
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
— 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Moses may not have physically set foot on the Promised Land, but one thing’s for sure, he learned his lesson. God did not forget His promise, however; and His relationship with Moses definitely accounted for something. God took His friend, body and soul, up to heaven with Him. So what’s better? Having to work the land and sweat it out in the Promised Land, or be able to enjoy God’s presence for all eternity? If anything, I don’t even think Moses was “punished” — He was spared from further hardship 😉 . What is Moses looking at in the Promised Land, anyway? More whining from the Israelites? I’ll take God’s presence, thankyouverymuch!
Paul suffered and died for his faith. So where was his promised land? Where is our promised land? He had enjoyed riches and prestige in his life, but to the church in Philippi, he wrote:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;…
— Philippians 3:7-9
Moses no longer cared for the Promised Land because He has God. Paul no longer cared for his earthly comforts because He has Jesus. We have to understand, that once we declared that Jesus is Lord over our lives, we claim Him and the access He grants to the presence of God as our Promised Land. As one of our pastors said, the Promised Land is not a physical place, but it is in our hearts where Jesus dwells.