No one likes to be told “no,” whether it’s asking for time off, looking for volunteers, or seeing if there’s one last piece of cake left. It is even more significant, sometimes even faith-shattering, when we hear “no” from God. Somewhere along the line, we’ve grabbed on to an idea that because God loves us, He’s supposed to answer us with a ‘yes.’ The reality is God often says ‘no,’ and we can learn a lot about ourselves and our relationship with God in those times.
In Numbers 20, Moses is instructed to take up his rod and then speak to the rock there and God would provide water for the nation of Israel. Instead, Moses hit the rock … twice. In verse 12, God decrees that neither Moses nor Aaron would enter the Promised Land with the nation. Now that’s a rich account in itself, but let’s jump ahead to Deuteronomy 3.
Then I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying … I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the LORD said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.’ Deuteronomy 3:23-26
Moses earnestly, sincerely asked God to reconsider, to allow him to lead Israel into Canaan. And God said no. No, and don’t bring it up again. A cursory reading might give the impression that God is needlessly harsh and intractable. However, if we consider the exchange more carefully we find out God reveals quite a bit about Himself and His dealings with His people.
God’s holiness cannot disregard defamation. At Meribah, (besides the Christ-typology in the water from the rock) Moses communicated to Israel through his own short-tempered frustration was that God was put out with meeting the needs of His people, that He was weary of hearing their requests, that it was a hassle to fulfill the very things He had promised. God cannot simply let such distortion and disrespect slide. He didn’t then with Moses and He won’t now with us.
Intimacy with God doesn’t bring privilege. Moses enjoyed an amazingly intimate relationship with God, a fact Yahweh acknowledged in Numbers 12. “I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. “ Numbers 12:8. I admit, reading the exchange in Deuteronomy, my reaction is, “But God, it’s MOSES… and it’s the PROMISED LAND…” But the standards God holds us to apply equally to all of us. Those who cultivate a close relationship with the Almighty are not afforded Teacher’s Pet status. We are all equally bound to obedience. Even Moses.
Grace doesn’t grant presumption. God is gracious beyond measure and understanding. However, His grace is dispensed in line with His will and His purposes and always reflects His character and His holiness. Because God is gracious and has demonstrated the grace to us doesn’t give us place to presume on that grace. The idea that we can do what we want – even if that is giving in to frustration like Moses – and then God will forgive us later because He’s gracious is contrary to the declaration that He is Lord. He is in no way obligated to show grace or to forgive. Grace, by definition, is a gift, an undeserved one. That’s what makes it amazing.
Another result of this ‘no’ was the increased humility and transparency it brought out in Moses. Since the exchange with God was private, Moses could have kept it quiet. Israel would have never known. However, in the book of Deuteronomy, he very candidly reveals what God said, and he doesn’t hide his grief and disappointment. Moses was a great leader, though, and he understood that leading Israel out of Egypt was not just a matter of geography or socioeconomics. It was a process of replacing false notions about God with revealed truth, even if the revelation came from hard circumstances.
Moses wasn’t the only one who heard God say, ‘No.’ Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at a few of them, beginning with David next week.
Consider a time when God told you ‘no.’ What was your reaction? What did you learn from the experience?