Grace in Forbidding


A Study of Deuteronomy 3:21-29

If only we could simply pray to God to have all our desires met. If such were the case, every one of our perceived and real problems would be fixed in an instant. But not getting what we think
we want is sometimes God telling us no. This does not mean God no longer loves us. Rather, it is a signal that we should accept God’s decision, and get on with our lives within the framework He sets for us. God expects us to live up to certain standards, and sometimes His “no” is a corrective measure designed to right our "ship." When God says “no” to leaders, it may be to bring them back down to Earth. The text tells how Moses discovered this when he disobeyed God after being tasked with delivering water to the Israelites. God holds leaders to even higher standards than he sets for more ordinary folk. This is why, when leaders fall, it is always in such a dramatic way.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

In the
New York Times Magazine
, Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman once described a conversation between Secretary of State James Baker and President George H.W. Bush. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was to arrive for a state visit, and Baker hurried into the Oval Office to brief the U.S. leader, telling him what the sore spots were, what favors would be asked, and what aid would be sought. Baker said,

– “Mubarak is going to ask for money. You are going to have to say no. You tell him he cannot have any money.”

President Bush would have none of it. He replied,

– “Turning down money is dirty work. That is your job Jimmy. I want to do the good stuff.”

Telling someone no can be very uncomfortable and, in some cases, painful. It is especially painful when two people are close, as in a marriage, the family or between friends. Yet …

… there are times we must deny requests from those close to us no matter how painful doing so might be.

Our text highlights Moses retelling a conversation he had with God. Moses made a request and the LORD denied it. The context for this conversation is found in the 20th chapter of the Book of Numbers. The Nation of Israel, wandering in the desert, began to grumble about their situation. Not only had they been walking in this direction and that for almost 40 years, they were now in a place where there was no water!

Moses and Aaron went before the meeting tent to confer with God. The LORD instructed them to take the staff and speak to the rock. God would then cause the rock to produce water. But instead of speaking to the rock, Moses began to chastise the people. With the staff, he struck the rock twice. God noted the disobedience.

Whether it was because Moses had hit the rock in anger, or that his action had implied that he and Aaron – not God – had performed the miracle of producing water, God imposed a consequence. He told Moses and Aaron that, because of their actions, they could not lead the people into the Promised Land.

Moses messed up. He blew it big time.

There are times we will have only one opportunity to get it right. Since we cannot know if an opportunity will be our last, we must make every effort to get it right the first time.

Moses made several mistakes. He allowed the people’s complaining to distort his judgment. He allowed the actions and comments of others will get under his skin.

Every time we respond to people who push our buttons, we give them power over us. If we react out of fear or anger, we no longer control ourselves or the situation.

There are many who believe that Howard Dean’s tirade during the presidential primary campaign cost him his party’s nomination. The perception was,

– How can we entrust the leadership of our country to someone who allows himself to become so undone?

Moses, as he states in the text, lost sight of the fact that …

– “God, Himself will fight our battles.”

Instead of giving the people over to God, Moses proceeded to play God. He said,

– “Must we bring water from this rock?”

For starters, Moses did not have the power to bring water from a rock. Apart from God, Moses had no power.

We must be careful how we portray ourselves, and recognize the power of words.

Former Vice President and presidential candidate Al Gore learned this the hard way. During his run for the White House, he said he “took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

Gore took a lot of flak for having said that. He became the butt of jokes on late night television. Of course, he had not meant he’d actually created the Internet. But his statement had been clumsily conveyed. It shows how careful we must be with our word choice.

Perhaps, the most egregious error Moses made is found in our text’s verse 26. He says,

– “But because of you, the LORD was angry with me, and would not listen to me.”

Even after time had passed, Moses did not accept personal responsibility for his actions. Instead, he blamed others for his mistakes and shortcomings. He was unrepentant. I do not know whether God would have changed his mind had Moses shown contrition. But it is clear that Moses was bitter and angry about God’s decision. It is also clear that …

… an unrepentant heart will never move the hand of God.

God, of course, had selected Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage and into the Promised Land. Why, then, was God so resolute in His decision to prevent Moses from completing the mission?

I believe this case illustrates that, in God’s economy, the standards He sets for leaders are exponentially higher than those He expects others to meet. The consequences, therefore, are greater.

This is one reason why it such drama is involved when one of society’s leaders falls. God raises up leaders in the business and political worlds, the church, the community, and in the family to be templates for people.

Leadership is a privilege, not a right. It is unfortunate that some folks misunderstand this and believe they are bigger than their position.

In addition to leading, they are supposed to be a model of godly behavior and decision-making. Therefore, when leaders violate the standards of God, their fall is far more painful.

God has established a course for leaders, whom He expects to fulfill His purpose, and not succumb to distraction.

We must realize God is our heavenly Father, who loves us. As our Father, however, He has to discipline us in ways that can be extremely painful. I do not know of any parent who rewards a child who misbehaves.

It is difficult to accept that God will say “no” to some of the things we would dearly like Him to do for us. Our comfort in these situations must come from the fact that God is gracious. Indeed, while God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land, He did allow him to see the Promised Land. Friends, that defines God’s grace.

God’s grace is when God gives us something we have neither earned nor deserve.

As we look at Moses, we see a man called by God who made a bad error in judgment. He messed up big time. This text encourages us to learn from not only Moses’ mistakes, but also his response. What should our response be when God says no?

We should react to God’s “no” by accepting the reality of our situation and move on.

There is no need to become bitter and angry with God, and take out our frustration on others. We simply need to accept the sovereignty of God’s decision, and get on with the rest of our lives. Life does not end with the word no, even though it may sometimes feel like it.

No is not the end of the world, it just signals that, in regards to the matter at hand, the door is closed.

Even though Moses was devastated by God’s “no,” God was there to pick up the pieces. He continued to use Moses until He called him home.

If life has devastated you, God is here, waiting to pick up the pieces. God offers us His Son Jesus Christ, who is the “open door.” Take a moment to acquaint yourself with Jesus, and invite Him into your life so that He can put you back together.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.


Sunday 18 October 2009

May God Bless You

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