When God answers prayers with a “No”

The Torah portion that synagogues are going to be reading this Shabbat is called Va’etchanan, (ואתחנן) from Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11. This Torah reading in my opinion is probably one of the saddest of all Torah portions in the five books of Moses. The first words of this Torah portion and the meaning of the word “Va’etchanan” in Hebrew is: vaetchanan “Then I pleaded with the LORD!”  A more pedestrian word to translate the Hebrew is “I begged!”

This is the prince of Egypt, the one that was raised in Pharaoh’s palaces in Egypt. This is the man who was 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai in a personal one to one time with the Creator of the Universe. This is the man who inspired Israel in the second millennium B.C. and continues to inspire billions of people around the God’s blue orb that we call Earth.  He is pleading, begging, God to cross the Jordan River, just to put his foot on the land that the Almighty gave to Abraham and to his seed as an everlasting inheritance.

God answers Moses with these words:

“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 3:26)

The reason that this Torah portion is so important for me, and I believe for all of us is that I don’t like to get a “No!” answer from anyone if I really want something bad enough.  Especially If I beg someone for something that is very important for me, and I think that that person is my friend getting a “NO!” answer makes me upset.  In fact, I think that most people would feel upset if a close friend or even just a good acquaintance with whom I have had good relationship and a backlog of time spent together and cooperation.  If I need or want something that would not cost the person anything and he just flat rejects my request and doesn’t give me a good reason why he tells me, “I don’t want to!” It would make me angry and may cause me deep unhappiness.

What makes this more complex is the style of the answer that God gives Moses: In the vernacular God tells Moses His servant, “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear more of this request from you!  The text makes it ever more sad and difficult, God tells Moses, “Shut your mount” and go up the mountain and die there…”  Can you imagine Moses 120-year-old man, servant of the Lord of whom God Himself said:

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD.” (Numbers 12:6–8 NKJV)

Here comes the question that ought to help us all understand God just a little better: “Why didn’t God allow Moses to cross the Jordan River together with the children of Israel and with Joshua the Son of Nun leading them into the conquest of the land of Canaan?”   I really believe that God was thinking only of what is best for Moses himself and what is also best for Joshua the son of Nun and the children of Israel.

Leaders must know when to step down and pass that baton to the next generation of leaders.  In this case, it was by the grace of God that Moses was not allowed by God to cross the Jordan River with the children of Israel.  Moses was the greatest leader of the children of Israel in the history of Israel, but also in the history of both Christianity and Islam.  But he would have been both in the way and unhappy with the much-needed totally different style and mode of leadership need to lead the children of Israel in the conquest of the land of Canaan.

How do I know that God took into consideration only what is good for Moses when He told Moses, “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear from you on this issue anymore! Just go up the mountain and die there!”  Look at the first verses of the book of Joshua:

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: “Moses My servant is dead. Now, therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all these people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel.” (Joshua 1:1–2 NKJV)

God didn’t want Moses standing on the banks of the river Jordan and watching the hordes of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River and He, Moses, staying behind.  He sent Moses up to the mountain of Nebo (Mizpah) to die first before He gave Joshua the marching orders to cross the Jordan River with the children of Israel.  It was out of pure mercy and consideration for the feelings of His servant Moses.

We must remember that Holy Principle that is often forgotten by us when things in our lives don’t go the way we wanted or wished them to go:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:26–30 NKJV)

When we quote Romans 8:28, and say:

“And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

We often take the words of their natural context and make them have a card-blanche for all occasions and for all people.  But the more correct meaning would be that the LORD makes all things that are fit and equip us for our own good because we love the Lord and because we are called to live and serve according to His purpose.

This was the case with Moses, God took into consideration what is good for Moses first and postponed the whole nation of Israel from crossing the Jordan River to save Moses’ feeling bad to see the children of Israel crossing the river and Moses standing on the banks of the river feeling really bad that he has to stay behind.  Let us all, dear brothers realize that central truth that God really loves us, and sometimes He says “NO!” to us because of that Love and because He knows what is best for us.

Our ambitions and desires and appetites are not always good for us and each adult person that is a good father does the same to his children and tells them “NO!” As children, we don’t understand this when it happens but years later, we see the wisdom and love that our family had for us when they told us, “NO!”  Thank God for His wisdom and for His love when He tells you “NO!” Just as much as when He tells you, “Yes, my good and faithful servant!”

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.