“But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of the matter.’” Deuteronomy 3:26 NASB
Enough! – Was God fair to Moses? Before you put on your theological-correctness hat, does this declaration from God seem consistent with His character? Does YHWH say that He is first and foremost compassionate, merciful and long-suffering? Then why treat Moses so harshly? What really going on here?
We have looked at this verse before. We mentioned the problem recently. Certainly we can supply justification for God’s verdict, but it still seems rather difficult to imagine God being infuriated by Moses’ request. Maybe we need to take a different approach to this verse.
The Hebrew phrase here is rab lak. Our translation expressing irritation seems to be the result of the LXX’s rendering with the Greek words ikanoustho soi (“let it be sufficient for you”) and the Greek verb arkeo (to be enough, be sufficient). But the rabbis saw something else here. They interpreted the idiom rab lak as an exhortation to be content, not simply a prohibition against further discussion. In other words, they viewed God as saying, “Be satisfied with this, Moses, for I am not delivering you over to the angel of death but rather, I myself will be with you.” The rabbis argued that the same structure is seen in Genesis 17:1 where Abraham is instructed to be content with walking with God. The Genesis Targum Onkelos actually changes the verse from “be perfect, blameless (tamiym)” to “be shalom (at peace).” Clearly the rabbis were not comfortable with the emotional outburst version. The rabbinic Midrashim focus attention on the expectation of hope and gain rather than on the disappointment of unsatisfied objectives. Moses is about to enter into a permanent and unmitigated fellowship with YHWH. Why should he not be joyfully content? Rather than an emotional outburst of frustration, YHWH answers in character, with compassion. “Moses, be content. I will be with you.” This is hardly punishment!
Perhaps this little exercise in translation perspective teaches us a simple lesson. God never deviates from His character. When we find ourselves reading a text that seems quite extraordinary concerning the character of YHWH, maybe we need to take a step back and ask if we haven’t blurred the text because of our perspective. In this case, perhaps Moses’ faithfulness is actually being rewarded, his mistakes included in the overwhelming grace of God. Perhaps there’s a lesson here that we need to absorb. God is good – always. Even when it seems as if He is being harsh, by looking a little deeper we discover one more manifestation of grace.
Topical Index: Moses, Deuteronomy 3:26, enough, rab lak, content