Monday, July 23, 2012

TorahBytes: Blame Shifting (Devarim)

Even with me the Lord was angry on your account and said, "You also shall not go in there." (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:37; ESV)

In the first few chapters of this fifth book of the Torah, Moses recounts aspects of Israel's journey in the wilderness from when they left Mt. Sinai 38 years earlier. He reminds them how the previous generation, of which many of them were young people at the time, failed to enter the Promised Land due to their lack of faith in God. Moses then refers to himself and how God had also forbid him from entering the Land. But what he says about that doesn't jive with the original account of the incident. The Torah's description of what happened makes it clear that it was Moses' own attitudes and actions that disqualified him from entering the Land (see Bemidbar / Numbers 20:2-13). But here Moses is blaming the people for what happened, making it sound as if God's anger toward him was because of them. And this is only one of three times Moses tells the story this way (see Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:26; 4:21).

At first I tried to figure out how Moses' version of what happened could simply be another aspect of the story. I didn't want to consider that Moses could be blame shifting. That didn't fit with my understanding of him. But then I came upon another reference to this same incident near the end of Moses' life when God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land from afar. In this case, we see God's perspective, which is different from Moses' own. God's perspective is the same as the original description earlier in the Torah. The reason God gives for not allowing Moses to enter the Promised Land is

because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:51, 52; ESV)

While Moses' mishandling of the situation didn't happen in a vacuum, God clearly states that it was his fault. Who could blame Moses from expressing himself in anger as he did? He was frustrated due to the ongoing grumbling and negative attitudes of the people and reacted by failing to honor God appropriately. But while the people created the situation in which Moses did wrong, it was Moses and not the people who was responsible for the wrong he did.

Then why did Moses blame shift? I think we have a case here of honest reporting on Moses' part. He was struggling with bitterness. He knew God's take on the situation but continued to blame the people for his inappropriate behavior anyway.

I don't know about you, but this sure speaks to me. I could blame and have blamed others for all sorts of issues in my life. It's so easy to excuse my misgivings based on my difficult circumstances. But the better I know God and his Word, the more I discover that not only do I have no right to blame others for my issues, but also God has used my difficulties to work out his goodness in my life. The very things that I tend to be bitter about are the tools God has used to build me up as his child. It is only when I stop blame shifting that I can properly take responsibility for my actions and learn the lessons God wants me to learn.

As we realize how much like us Moses really was, the better we will be able to relate to him and be better equipped to know God as he did as well.

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