Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
Moses is a hero of the faith. After growing up in a King’s palace, he left privilege and opulence behind in order to follow God in faith. He faced down the Pharaoh and led the Israelites out of Egypt. He met God and delivered the Law that would bear his name from Mt. Sinai. He faithfully led a grumbling, stiffnecked people over years of hardship. He is a wonderful example of a man of God. Yet, when Moses gets to the very edge of Israel, he gets some bad news. Moses is prohibited from taking God’s people into the Promised Land. He can see it, know the tribes are going in and probably smell it, but Moses will never step foot on God’s chosen real estate. When we read this in the Bible, this seems like a huge blow to Moses. He led the people for 40 years to get here but now God won’t let him complete his journey. Is God being unfair to Moses? The answer is clearly “No”. God is never unfair. Sometimes His reasons for doing things are harder to see. Our initial reactions to things, though seemingly reasonable, often fall apart once we hold them up to the light of Scripture. So let’s break it down.
Does Moses Deserve to Enter the Promised Land?
The first balloon to pop for us when questioning God’s goodness is usually entitlement. Humans have been plagued with an idea that we deserve what we want since the earliest days. We try to set the rules of fairness, what is right and wrong and judge everyone else by our own personal rule book. Satan’s rebellion has infected humanity since the fall. We love to place ourselves on the throne of judgment and make arbitrary decisions on what is fair or not. “Hitler going to hell is fair,” we say but our neighbor who is a nice person but refuses the mercy of Jesus, that seems less clear. “Is God being unfair to him?”, we wonder. What about the folks on the desert island?
What is the truth about all of humanity? We have all fallen short of the glory of God. Every single person ever born, save Jesus, is a repeated and unrestrained sinner. We all denied God at some point. As a result, outside of Jesus, we all stand condemned before God. Humanity on its own rebels against the perfect righteousness of God every single day. Even the most obedient, most righteous, and most faithful man is a light years fallen away from the righteousness of God. So when God makes decisions on how to respond to this rebellion, how should He respond if He is truly fair? If we are paid absolutely fairly for everything we have done, good and bad, fairness results in some terrible judgment. Justice requires punishment for bad deeds. It would be unfair to the victims of our bad deeds to allow us to go free. The classic scenario of a murderer claiming that he should not go to jail because he is an otherwise nice person comes to mind. There is nothing fair about God’s treatment of us as His followers. If it were fair, we would be in immense trouble.
Moses is a Sinner
Moses is a great man in many respects. He is a faithful leader and willing servant of God. But he is also just a man with a long track record of sins that would guarantee him judgment if life were really fair. Moses killed the Egyptian overseer when he saw him abusing the Israelites early on in his life. This may be argued to be in defense of another, but it also may be simple murder. Moses spends 40 years in a remote place in a desert running away from the call God has on his life. Running away from God’s call is not a good thing, it is disobedience. It is often overlooked, but Moses also spent the years before this as an adopted son of the Pharoah. We can presume he was doing all of the things that the false god worshipping family of the Egyptian king did at that time. Sure, Moses repents of these things, but he is clearly guilty. What are the fair judgments for a murderer, an idolator, and someone disobedient to God? God gives Moses none of the punishments he earned by his conduct. Moses doesn’t receive any justice for those crimes. Rather, he is freely given a position of privilege among God’s people. There is only one guy who talks with God on Sinai. What an amazing blessing! So when we look at Moses’ life, we can see God showers blessing upon blessing on this unworthy man. Moses deserved punishment for many things in his life. God gave him love and care. It can be hard to have God’s perspective when we are sitting in a throne we can’t handle, trying to do a job that is not ours.
Looking closer, we also see when God prevents Moses from entering Israel, God’s is far from unfair with his servant. Moses is generally a great guy, but the actual sin he commits bringing about this punishment is extremely problematic. Because Moses goes his own way, the love and patience of God are turned into anger and disdain. The goodness and mercy of God are questioned. Perhaps worst of all, the glory of God is stolen by Moses.
The incident is recorded in Numbers 20 and takes place a Meribah. The Israelites have been wandering in the Wilderness for 40 years but their time of aimless wandering is almost done. They are about to enter the Promise Land. Yet, despite this, the people are grumbling as usual and bring their discontent to Moses. They need water and are complaining about it. The persistent lack of gratitude of the Israelites is tough to read about in the Bible. God includes these complaints about good reasons. To show man his nature and God’s glory in response. The people are whining, yes, but God’s response is one of patience and provision. He previously provided a miraculous rock that provided water for them when Moses struck it with his staff. He tells Moses that He, God, will provide water through the rock as second time. Moses should speak to the rock and water will come forth. God is in control of this entire situation, including the lack of water previously. He allowed thirst to lead to an amazing blessing and present a picture. Of what, you ask?
The rock is a picture of God’s mercy and grace offered through Jesus…and Moses messes with it.
The New Testament tells us that rock was Christ. He was with them providing water out of God’s goodness and mercy towards His people. Notice, the first time God provides water is at the outset of their journey and Moses is told to strike the rock. The second time is at the end of the journey, just before they enter the Promised Land. Moses is told to speak to the rock and water will come forth. There is no indication God is upset with his people. The same cannot be said of Moses:
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
Moses misrepresents God to His people. He does so simply because he, Moses, is angry with them. Moses places himself on God’s throne and pronounces judgment on the “rebels”. There is an extraordinary amount of pride and presumption here on Moses’ part. He also claims the glory for the soon to be coming miracle for himself in the process – must we bring you water – whether Moses means he and Aaron or he and God, it is clear that Moses’ focus is completely off at this moment. Moses has no actual part in providing water. He is a servant whacking a stone with a stick without God. The humility that often characterizes Moses is completely absent. As a result, he twists what is supposed to be a display of love and mercy to the Angry Moses show. This is a temptation everyone in ministry or working for the Lord is familiar with.
The greater damage comes in the blurry picture presented through Moses’ disobedience. The rock is Jesus meant to be stuck once and only once for His people to provide them with life-giving water. After the initial strike, it is only necessary to come to the Rock in faith and speak in order to receive blessing. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moses’ rebellion messes with that picture. His lack of loving faith confuses the issue…but don’t worry, this is also for a reason.
Pointing to the Meta-Message of the Gospel
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Moses gets the people to the edge of the Promised Land. His leadership leads them to the place where the desert ends and the Holy Land begins. Who actually leads the people into Israel? Joshua, we know him as but in the Hebrew, he shares the same name as our Savior, Yeshua…Jehovah is Salvation. Moses can take them to the verge of the Promised Land but it takes Yeshua to get them in.
The Law that comes to bear Moses name, the Mosaic Law, is never meant to save anyone. It is never meant to provide people with the place of permanent rest. It provides a road map to get there. It brings to life the sins that show us our need for a Savior. It is holy, perfect and wonderful, but is only meant to lead to Jesus. There is nothing the Mosaic Law can do to lead us into the Spirit-filled life. That job belongs to Joshua alone.
Isn’t it wonderful? Rather than unfair, God is patient, merciful and loving to Moses. He allows him to stand for God’s perfect law that points us all to His Son.
God doesn’t leave us here though. He makes His feelings about Moses clearly known in the New Testament. First, despite his multitude of sins, God does not allow accusations of Satan to lay claim on this wonderful man of God:
But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
If this were not clear enough, read Hebrews 11:
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
Far from being unfair or unloving to Moses, God loves His servant and sees clearly his heart for Christ. God is just working on a whole higher level than we are. It is the reason it is He who is on that throne, not us. God allows the life of a simple unworthy man of God to symbolically stand for the Law that leads each of His children to Him. He includes Moses in the hall of faith among awesome men and women of the faith, not because Moses earned it through righteous acts, but due to his faith in God. Moses led the Nation of Israel as a servant of God knowing that he and the Nation belonged to God to do with as God wished. Since God chooses to love and bless us, God was faithful to Moses and preserved his righteousness against the attacks of Satan.
When we place ourselves on the throne of justice for the universe, we run into one ginat problem. We are not God. We don’t have His knowlege, vision, ability or love. We are limited to the information, viewpoint and sin tainted abilities we have in ourselves. As a result, we often cannot even see the questions being asked in a situation much less have the correct answers. We can only gets exposure to the actual Eternal plans through following Jesus and reading His Word. It is only through our association with God do things begin to make sense.
Moses was looking forward to a city whose foundation had a builder and maker who is God. It is worth noting the last time we see Moses in the Bible – with the Messiah in the Promise Land. Do we think Moses believes God was at all unfair to him?
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.