When God says no

Meredith Flynn —  August 6, 2012

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Have you ever run across something in Scripture that you’re pretty sure wasn’t in there before? Like maybe it’s new since the last time you read that particular book? I know the Word of God is a two-edged sword, and dynamic in the ways it applies to our lives depending on the season, but I recently ran across a story that was completely new to me.

It’s in Deuteronomy, when Moses is reviewing with the Israelites all that God has done for them. He takes them through their history, pausing for this one moment of personal reflection:

“And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’

But the Lord was angry with me because of your and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and life up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.'” (Deuteronomy 26: 23-27, ESV)

How disappointed Moses must have been. Not only does God say no, He closes the subject – forever. This is Moses’ last request, after a lifetime of service to God’s people, and the answer is still no. I can think of three possible (and probable) responses:

1. What he could have done: Go and die, probably in bitterness. I imagine the disappointment was heartbreaking, and Moses was at the end of his life anyway. He could have let it end with God’s no.

2. What I probably would have done: Kept on going, but without the energy and purpose I had before. How easy is it to do just that? To meet disappointment, be disappointed by it, and then call yourself moving on, but all the while you’re still wallowing in it.

3. What Moses did do: In the very next breath (well, the beginning of the next chapter), Moses completely changes his posture. After this very personal confession about his conversation with God, he’s back as the authoritative, instructive leader of the people:

“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rulesthat I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1, ESV)

How incredible is it that Moses is able to muster that reaction? Granted, we can’t quite tell from the text when all of these small events and conversations happened in relation to one another, so it could have been a while since the initial disappointment of God saying no. But still, he has just described a wrenching moment, when he asked God for the thing he wanted most and was denied it. And still, God is good, and Moses knows the people’s best course of action is to follow the plan He’s laid out for them.

When I run into disappointment, I want that reaction. And I think it starts with a knowledge and a remembering of how God has forgiven and redeemed before. Moses had seen God love and renew and forgive His people (and then do all of those things over and over again), and he also understood how God had forgiven him personally. So that even when God said no, Moses trusted Him enough to move forward. With Him.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.