The Most Unfair Punishment

It seems like the most unfair punishment ever given. And it was given by God.

Moses was the greatest leader of the Old Testament. He confronted Pharaoh. He led the Hebrew nation through the Red Sea to safety. He tolerated all of the grumbling from the people. He met with God on top of the mountain and walked away with tablets engraved by the very finger of God.

Then one day, Moses hit a rock instead of speaking to it, and he lost out on the Promised Land. (Read the whole story in Numbers 20:2-13.)

If you’ve ever thought life was unfair, maybe you know how Moses felt. Life does feel very unfair sometimes. Psalm 73:3: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Sometimes the bad guys get away with atrocious things, and the good guys get punished for minor infractions. Extremely unfair!

I always thought God excluded Moses from the Promised Land because Moses hit a rock when instructed to speak to it. But in preparing to teach junior high religion class, I came across this insight: Moses, in fact, was taking credit for God’s work. Before striking the rock, Moses fumed, “Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring water to you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10)

Who’s “we”? Moses and Aaron? Moses and God? The miracle of water from a rock was to God’s credit alone. “I am the Lord; that is My name; My glory I give to no other.” (Isaiah 42:8) Even worse than hitting a rock was Moses setting himself on a pedestal alongside God.

But even then, was one mistake enough to ban Moses from the Promised Land? Think about it this way:

First of all, God is always right in His judgments, even when His judgments don’t make sense to us.

Second, Moses didn’t deserve the Promised Land. He wasn’t entitled. It was a gift. Just like we don’t deserve heaven. It’s a gift. We deserve wrath and punishment. God is gracious to us through Jesus.

A gift is up to the Giver’s discretion. Job 1:21 “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all loss for Moses. Consider:

  • He saw the Promised Land from a distance.
  • Moses’ departure cleared the way for Joshua to assume full leadership.
  • Moses was one of two people who stood by Jesus in His transfiguration.
  • Moses is revered as a great leader.

In all of these things, God’s gifts to Moses outweighed the punishment.

God’s gifts to us outweigh any hardships we may face. Forgiveness, salvation, peace with God, purpose in life, a guaranteed spot in the greater Promised Land of heaven – everything else pales in comparison to these.

Life is unfair. Some days, that’s a tough pill to swallow. In the grand scheme of things, however, there’s a beautiful truth for us to embrace: God is unfair in our favor. That’s what grace is all about.

Author: Christopher Kennedy

Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, School, and Child Care in San Antonio, Texas. Husband to my beloved Ashley. Dad to the four most wonderful children in the world.

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