Moses, Paul Harvey, and God’s Hermeneutic of GraceAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Bobby's World, Christian hope, Deuteronomy, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Jude, Precision Obedience, Suffering
Though Moses’s name appears in the Bible over 800x, I freely and openly confess that I did not hear much teaching about the person of Moses from anyone in Churches of Christ. As I recall Moses was usually brought up in two principle contexts. First when some one mentioned the Old Testament there were frequent responses like “we are not under the law of Moses.” The second context was use of Moses as a negative example of disobedience to God, usually in the context of discussions of instrumental music. In fact this second use of Moses while probably not more numerous than the first was the most substantive. Thus Moses was not a very positive role model in any teaching that I recall within the fellowship of Churches of Christ.
Moses’s Costly Failure at Precision Obedience
The most common idea I knew most about Moses was that after a lifetime of faithfulness he had a costly moment of slippage. Moses struck the rock and God punished him severely (Num 20.1-15). This is the primary story of Moses, sadly, that many know. I take the following from a CofC website:
“In Numbers 20:7-12, while Israel was camped in the wilderness of Zin, God told Moses to speak to the rock, and it would yield water. This was a different command for a different event.
In the wilderness of Zin, Moses failed to do precisely as God commanded; he did what He had previously commanded (at Rephadim) and struck the rock. This was not what God wanted. Actually, two sins were committed here, and God explained both.
Moses didn’t believe God. He didn’t do precisely what God commanded.
He didn’t sanctify God in the eyes of the children of Israel.
God punished Moses by not allowing him to enter into the promised land–Canaan. This example shows that just because God previously commanded a thing, it doesn’t mean that He approves of it now. God approves of doing things by faith. He wants us to obey His commands precisely. This is the obedience of faith.
We must worship God in the way that He commands, and He has commanded us to use vocal music.”
This is not an aberrant example of how Moses is presented to many disciples sitting in the pews. The Precision Obedience promoters hold Moses at the rock to show that the Father of Jesus is really a Technical “god.” Moses crossed a technical line and it cost him his reward. As a young person the clear implication to me was if I messed up even a smiggin I would likely end up just like poor Moses, without my reward, lost, damned, sent to hell!
From time to time I heard that Hebrews taught us that Jesus was greater than Moses so we do not pay attention to him. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that about sums it up. I knew I did not want to be Moses and have a moment of slippage.
I confess I did not understand much of what the Bible says about Moses and what I did know bordered upon slander of one of the greatest men in human history. Moses was reduced to a sledge hammer for sectarian debates with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ with little intent to actually understand why Moses did not enter the Holy Land nor the fact that God did NOT take his reward from him but gave him a reward he could neither imagine nor dream.
As Paul Harvey was fond of reminding us there is often “the rest of the story.” Moses cannot, by anyone that loves what the Bible actually says, be reduced to slapping a rock.
In 1995, I was a younger preacher in New Orleans and decided to do a Sunday evening series on Deuteronomy. I do not remember why but I did! Little did I know that series would mess me up and is still messing me up. I ended up calling Deuteronomy “the GOSPEL According to Moses.”
In Deuteronomy, encountered an altogether different take on Moses. I learned that Deuteronomy speaks of the fate of Moses not once but three times and it had nothing to do with striking a rock. Each time Moses, inspired by the Spirit, laments in prayer his exclusion.
“When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: ‘No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephuneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set foot on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.
BECAUSE OF YOU [on account of you, NRSV] the LORD became angry with me also and said, ‘You shall not enter it, either …” (Deut 1.34-37)
Again Moses lamented in his sermon,
“At that time I pleaded with the LORD: ‘Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan–that fine hill country and Lebanon
BECAUSE OF YOU [on your account, NRSV] the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. ‘That is enough,’ the LORD said. ‘Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east and west. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan” (Deut 3.23-28).
So Moses lamented Again:
“The LORD was angry with me BECAUSE OF YOU [on your account, NRSV], and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan …” (Deut 4.21)
What is all this “because of you,” “because of you,” because of you?” Yahweh is not letting Moses in the land because of Israel! Not once but three times the Spirit says these words. Why had no one ever pointed them out? Why had no one ever said that Moses was not allowed in the Holy Land because of Israel not simply because of a mere slippage at at rock!
There are a couple of possibilities. First, the promoters of the point of view I was fed simply did to know what Deuteronomy states unambiguously. Second, sectarianism relishes things to be cut and dried but Deuteronomy muddies the water of salvation by precision obedience by claiming that it was not Moses disobedience at all but “on account of” Israel. We would do well to meditate upon these words, they are just as Scriptural as Numbers 20. They are not in conflict with Numbers 20 but they certainly cast that text in such a new light as to reframe it.
But as I became more familiar with the Hebrew Bible, I learned that the rest of the story has a similar view on what happened to Moses. In the Psalms we read long confessions of sin on the part of Israel. In one of those communal lamentations we read of Israel’s sin and how it impacted Moses. In fact it sounds just like Deuteronomy,
“By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses
BECAUSE OF THEM [on their account, NRSV]”
Was Moses being punished on account of the people in some sense? The language clearly seems to point that way. I had understood that God smacked Moses down because of his technical disobedience. And I thought that Moses failure at Precision Obedience cost him his reward. But Deuteronomy continued to mess up my neat unexamined theology. Moses died outside the Land. I knew this.
Yes, Moses died outside the land but that is not the end of the story of Moses. But I did not know anything else about Moses. I did not know the rest of the story was complex and ends not in doom for Moses but in grace more brilliant than the Sun!
Deuteronomy 34, which relates the death of Moses, gives the highest honors to Moses. God personally become tour guide and shows Moses the whole Land. God personally tends to the burial of Moses. And it is declared that Moses was the greatest prophet ever and God knew him “face to face.” I do not think it is possible to exaggerate this praise. Finally it calls Moses “the servant of the LORD” … a phrase that is pregnant with meaning.
But that is not the end of the story of God with Moses. Moses was such an important person in history that, according to that small, and little read book of Jude, Satan tried to steal his body! God either stationed Michael his archangel, or sent him, to protect the body of Moses and fought Satan for it (Jude 1.9).
But that is not the end of the story of God with Moses. See Hebrews does mention Moses. But it does not compare Moses with Jesus. Rather the Preacher compares Jesus with Moses! What the Preacher says Jesus is “faithful to the one who appointed him, JUST AS MOSES also was faithful in ALL God’s house” (3.2-3, 5). Jesus’s faithfulness is compared to Moses’s. This does not work if Moses was not really faithful and lost his reward on a mere technicality. Whereas, I learned about Moses’s Precision DISobedience, the Preacher to the Hebrews stressed Moses’s faithfulness in “all God’s house.” So Moses was faithful.
After all, all prophets in the Bible would be measured by the paradigm of Moses. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet” (Deut 18.15ff). The New Testament stresses that Jesus is the prophet that is like Moses.
But the that is not the end of God’s Hermeneutic of Grace with Moses. Returning to Deuteronomy, the land and death “outside” the Land (like Jesus died “outside” the great city). Moses’s prayer in Deut 3.23-27 is incredibly moving. He wanted to go in the land but God refused because he “was angry with me on your account.” God buries the “servant of the Lord” proclaiming him the greatest of all.
But here is the rest of the story in two parts. God woke Moses from the grave and when he opened his eyes he did not see the beautiful cedars of Lebanon but the revelation of the promised prophet “like Moses” Transfigured in all of his glory (Mt 17.1-13).
God had a greater reward for his Servant than the land. He gave him the grace of seeing Jesus in all his luminous glory. And get this … God revealed Jesus to Moses IN THE LAND!
But perhaps the greatest of all compliments that God could give Moses is the penultimate of this example of God’s Hermeneutic of Grace. The Prophet John was shown a vision of God’s people in the presence of the Creator himself. What did John hear the saints singing in eternity? This is actually mind blowing when we think about it beloved.
“And they sing the SONG OF MOSES the Servant of God, and the song of the Lamb …” (Revelation 15.3).
Moses, not Bobby Valentine, not Abraham, not the apostle Paul, John the Baptist, not even Mary the Mother of Jesus, is connected with the Lamb of God in songs of worship to the God of the Universe. This is simply astonishing. There is clearly more to the story that Moses struck a rock and lost his reward!
Final Thoughts on the Greatest Human Ever, next to Jesus
Yes, Moses did not enter the land. Was it because Moses broke a technical command or was it because of the people? Maybe it was both. Perhaps there is more to the biblical typology of Jesus being like Moses than we first have imagined. Perhaps Moses “the servant” was also a suffering servant on behalf of God’s people in a sense that he himself did not understand. Jesus, like Moses, suffered “on account of” the people … you and me.
We have no need to deny Numbers 20 (and I do not). But we are hardly true to the text of Torah, much less the rest of the Bible if that is our primary way of remembering Moses. In God’s Hermeneutic of Grace he did not punish Moses but honored him above all …
1) He buried him personally
2) He placed his archangel in charge of his body
3) He declared him his “servant” (same title that will be used of Jesus!)
4) He declared that he was “faithful in all God’s house”
5) He pulled him from the grave to witness the revelation of the Son of God .. in the promised land
6) He will have all Israelites and all Christians for eternity singing the Song of MOSES …
Yes! God did not cast Moses aside when he had a moment of slippage. The God of the Bible applied an astounding Hermeneutic of Grace to Moses to do more than he could ask or imagine. We grossly misrepresent the Bible and the God of the Bible when use Moses as an example to manipulate and frighten folks.
I can only fall on my knees and worship such an amazing God … the Father of Jesus.