Punishment and the Mercy of God (Deuteronomy 32)

This morning I was pondering the story we find in Deuteronomy 32 where God allows Moses to see the promised land but not enter it (I share more on the events that lead to this discipline in my post Showing God is Worthy of Our Trust (Numbers 20)). I was reconciling God’s punishment of Moses (which to me seemed harsh) with the merciful God I know and love. I combined that with the truth that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and determined either we have two God’s – a harsh Old Testament one and a softer, kinder New Testament one, or they are the same and my perspective was amiss. 

Let’s begin with the story from Deuteronomy 32:49-52 (VOICE)

Eternal One: Climb to the top of Mount Nebo, one of the Abarim mountains here in the land of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, and look at the land of Canaan, which I’m giving to the people of Israel as their property. Just as Aaron died when he climbed Mount Hor and joined his ancestors in death,you’ll die on top of the mountain you climb and join your ancestors in death. This is because you and Aaron disobeyed Me in front of all the Israelites at Meribah-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, when you struck the rock instead of commanding it to give water. You did not honor Me, your holy God, as if you could ignore My instructions if you wanted to, in front of all the Israelites! So you can look at this land from a distance, but you can’t go into it, this land I’m giving to the Israelites.

As I meditated on all the ways I felt this consequence was unfair given how much Moses had to go through, God immediately reminded me of how much he had been given: unfettered access to God and repeated signs and wonders. 

This reminded me of a situation years back when I was venting to God about something my husband had done, and I was complaining about this particular area that I always felt like I was having to be “the bigger person in” and I was expressing my frustration about this to God. He immediately reminded me of my childhood and the lack of trials or hardships I had and He contrasted that with Allen’s childhood and the multitude of trials and hardships he had.

He then rebuked me and essentially expressed how dare I get self-righteous about a blessing I had been given rather than seeking to put that blessing into action by allowing it to help me extend the grace I was equipped to give. In other words, if you are healed and whole BE GRATEFUL rather than being frustrated with those who aren’t, and let yourself become a tool by which their healing can be accomplished. This is confirmed in the end of Luke 12:48 (NLT) “…when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”

Coming back to Moses, he had been given much and was held to a high standard. He knew how to hear and obey God, and they had done so many times before. He knew ever detail was important, so to disobey – even a “little”, wasn’t a small thing. God is a righteous judge, so we can rest assured when He makes a decision. If we think God’s being unfair, we are the ones missing something, not Him.

As I pondered all these things, I felt Him whisper that I knew what comes next in the story, and so I started considering that. Yes, they enter the promised land, but the Israelites continue to complain and execute partial obedience (like not vanquishing everyone in the land as they were instructed to do, which we know causes problems in the future). In other words, one could argue that God was being merciful by not allowing Moses to continue the journey.

Moses gets the promise of the promised land, and knows that it’s right there about to be taken, but has none of the drama of the execution of that which includes a lot of stuff that would have frustrated him exceedingly. In essence, it was likely the happiest conclusion to his life God could have given him. So even in His discipline, God is being merciful.

Father, we thank You for being the Righteous Judge and for being a merciful God. You are so good to us. Forgive us for the moments we doubt that, and thank You for giving insight and understanding even though we’re called to know it by faith. You are such a good Father. We love You!

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