The last time I blogged about anything in the book of Deuteronomy, it was back in chapter 15. This is largely due to the fact that most of this book was a rehash of the Law as it had been given in other areas of the Torah. But today, I have come to the end of the book, chapter 34, and I find myself feeling mournful. You see, I just read about the death of a great Israeli leader, a man who was called both prophet, and friend of God, who spoke with God face to face. But as great as his exploits were under God’s leadership and guidance, he was still human and still subject to those fits that cause us to sin against God.
I won’t quote verses showing how mighty he was, nor verses showing that face-to-face relationship that he had with God, as there are many in the Torah between the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Instead, we will look at verses showing God’s call to him, his sin, and my reason for mourning today.
Exodus 3:1-10 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Numbers 20:7-12 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Deuteronomy 34:1-7 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. 4 And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. 5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. 7 And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.
What isn’t quoted between these three sets of Scriptures, are all the times before and after the sin that displeased God, where God continued to use Moses to lead His people away from Egypt, through the wilderness and to the edges of the banks of Jordan. In fact, by the time Numbers 20 comes around, Moses had already led them to the banks of Jordan once! The Hebrew people were proving to be quite a handful on this journey and both Moses and Aaron had about had their fill of the constant complaining by the time they reached Meribah. On the human level, one could fully understand why Moses was so frustrated as to forget God’s directive to “speak” to the rock this time rather than “strike” it has he’d been directed to previously. God was not pleased and handed down His judgement right then and there. However it would be almost another 40 years before that judgement would be carried out. Hence my moment of mourning just now.
People today will look at those in positions of ministry and wonder how God can continue to use them even though they were known to sin in a given area. We think that sinful behaviour disqualifies God’s anointed from continuing to move in the capacity God anointed them for. If this were to be true, God would have had to raise up Joshua back in Numbers 20 instead of in Deuteronomy 34. God would have had to raise up someone in place of David after he sinned against Bathsheba and her husband.
Two lessons can be gleaned from this reality:
- God can still use people even after they have sinned against Him.
- The servant of God is not above his message.
Moses’ great exploits done at God’s leading and guiding did not nullify the judgement against him when the time came for Israel to cross over Jordan and take the Promised Land. For all the many laws God gave to him to give to the people of Israel, one thread that wove its way through all of them was that of listening to and obeying God in everything He directed them to do. Moses had failed to do this at Meribah, and no bulls or goats, no sin or transgression offerings would remove the punishment for that one lax moment in judgement. Moses was not above his own message! It may have seemed to others that almost 40 years would pass and the ups and downs of life with a stubborn nation would erase the memory of that dark moment back in the wilderness. But the moment predicted back then would still come. God never disqualified Moses from being leader of His people. God never disqualified Moses from hearing His voice or carrying His Word to the people. God did not cease to use Moses in great and mighty ways for those 40 years in the desert and for this we see God’s longsuffering with those who love Him. As human as Moses was, God never sent him away from before His face or the following verse would not be penned:
Deuteronomy 34:10 And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,
But Moses would only see the Promised Land, he would not be allowed to enter, and although he was still very strong with sharp senses, he would die at the age of 120 regardless.
I am saddened today. How many great leaders of our time have disqualified themselves from something even greater, because of a moment of rash decision that, because it was not in obedience to God’s commands to them, would be sin between them and God? Even worse, how many today have held up those moments of sin against these people, refusing to forgive as God has forgiven them, offended that they are somehow allowed to carry on in ministry even though they did something so terrible?
The act of sin is now covered under the Cross of Calvary, under the shed blood of Jesus Christ when we come in sorrow and repentance before God. The consequences of sin however, remain. For Moses, the consequences were that he would not enter the Promised Land. The consequences for David were strife in his home and the death of a son. For others in modern times, the consequences might mean death row, inability to have children due to disease, or some other consequence that might cross your mind as you read this. These consequences are not limited to those in positions of public ministry either. In the New Testament we see average members of the earliest church congregation discovering consequences to their chosen bit of sin.
My reader may remember Annanias and Saphira in the book of Acts, who thought they could change their minds about how much they’d give after discovering just how much their land sold for. We read the story in:
Acts 4:34-37 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 5:1-12 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. 5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. 11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. 12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
While it took almost 40 years for Moses to experience the consequences of his sin, and while it took David hardly a year to experience the consequences of his sin, those Old Testament men of God were given far greater grace periods than what this couple were given under the Law of Grace. Too many people think that they can live however they wish and the Law of Grace will wipe out any future consequences of their chosen sin. Sadly, this is not the case and whether today’s believers see the consequences immediately, or they see them decades down the road, they will see them. As fellow believers in Christ, we must not think that God has not seen their sin or dealt with them accordingly. God’s timing is not ours. When we see someone continuing in what seems like effective ministry in spite of the sin we know they committed, we cannot dismiss them out of hand and discredit their ministry. Doing so would call both Moses and David into question and yet even David is known as a man after God’s own heart in spite of the blatant sin he committed. For both these men, their responses are recorded for all to see. In today’s world, the fact a public figure may or may not have repented of their actions may not be known to us. We have to take them to God and let Him deal with them as He will.
The important thing to remember is that the servant is not above his message. God may continue to use them to speak to His people, but they will not be above whatever consequences are appropriate to the sin they may have engaged in. If God doesn’t write up His servants because of sin, neither should we. We just have to leave the judgement and the consequences in God’s hands, not ours.