Is God Unfair?

Sometimes the Bible surprises me. 

And sometimes God seems unfair. 

My organized personality prefers to tie every theological box with a color-coordinated ribbon, but sometimes these Scripture boxes are oddly shaped and lumpy. Other times the ribbon keeps slipping off. Such was the case with the account I read recently in Deuteronomy 34. 

Moses is one of my favorite Old Testament heroes. Apparently he was one of God’s favorites, too, because God talked with him face to face, as a friend. 

I like him because he was humble, self-sacrificing, courageous, and God-fearing. He loved God wholeheartedly, and he loved the people God called him to lead, too. In fact, he loved those whining and complaining Israelites so much that when God threatened to destroy them all and start over, Moses begged him not to. If it were me, I think I would have agreed with God and stood back while the lightning started popping. 

But not Moses. 

He led them through the wilderness, even when their cowardice and lack of faith added an additional 40 years to their desert wanderings. He prayed for them, even when they committed idolatry less than 40 days after they had pledged their loyalty. He mediated their disagreements, even when they pridefully challenged his authority. And he served God with the highest level of integrity, loyalty, and patience, even when few men stood with him. 

This is why I had a hard time with Deuteronomy 34. 

The wilderness wanderings are over. The Israelites stand on the edge of the Promised Land poised to enter the territory God promised to their forefathers. Moses has led them for over 40 years, shepherding, conquering, interceding, and teaching. 

And God says, “Sorry Moses, you can’t go in.” 

“Please, Lord?” 

I imagine Moses saying, “I really want to see this land. I’ve served you faithfully, led your people courageously, and believed you could bring us in when almost no one else did . . . could I please go in?” 

“I’m sorry, Moses, but remember that time I told you to speak to the rock so I could bring forth water from it? And you got angry and prideful and struck the rock instead?”

“Yes, Lord, but it only happened once, and I said I was sorry.” 

“I told you then I wouldn’t allow you to enter the Promised Land.” 

“Yes, Lord.” 

And so Moses, faithful Moses, dies within view of the destination he’s been working toward for over one-third of his life. 

The justice-loving center of my heart screams, NO FAIR! 

I recently shared a message called “Serving a God Who Disappoints Us” at a women’s retreat. I made the statement, based on the story of the raising of Lazarus, that God says no to our requests because he has something better in mind. And this “something better” will often span time and space. 

“For our light and momentary troubles,” the apostle Paul said, “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). 

The words of the unknown writer of Hebrews puts the time/space question into perspective: 

“God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:10-11). 

I repented of the ridiculous notion that God is unjust when I read the rest of Moses’ story: 

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus,” (Matt. 17:1-3). 

Moses. On the Mount of Transfiguration. Smack dab in the middle of the Promised Land. Hanging out with Elijah and talking with Jesus face to face. 

God said no to Moses’ request to enter the Promised Land because he had something better in mind for him—not just a few years in Israel surrounded by grumbling Hebrews, but a heavenly, miraculous, eternally significant conversation with the transfigured Savior as he prepared to begin his mission to save the world. 

If Moses had to choose, which visit to the Promised Land do you think he would have picked? 

God says yes because he loves us. And God says no because he loves us. And when God says no, it’s because he has something far better in mind. 

Will you trust him today?

If you liked this post, you might enjoy "Mumble with a Jamaican Twist." 

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  1. Wonderful message! Somehow the mention of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration never caught my attention. The big perspective--connecting OT & NT--is beautiful and so encouraging.

    1. This was new for me, too, Carol, but a great example of the treasures I find by reading the One Year Bible during my quiet time. I read selections from the Old Testament and the New Testament each day, and so many parallel passages like this appear on the same day. Coincidence? I think not. Thanks so much for stopping by!