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Feb 05, 2023

The Refining Power of Disappointment

Passage: Deuteronomy 3:12-29

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Deuteronomy

Keywords: sin, character, growth, disappointment, anger, danger


Disappointment is a universal human experience. But how we handle it will determine whether it is beneficial or destructive to us and others. This message takes a page from the life of Moses about how both to handle and not handle disappointment.


The Refining Power of Disappointment

Deuteronomy 3:12-29

February 5, 2023


There are so many universal human emotions in life—love, fear, anger, laughter.  One of the least-desired but perhaps most-common, I think, is disappointment. (I know, some of you are already disappointed that I’m addressing disappointment today, right?)

            When does disappointment seem to flourish most in our lives?  When our expectations are low?  When we’ve just embarked on a new project…or new friendship…or new church?  No, disappointment is usually one of those human emotions that tends to rear its gloomy head the higher our expectations, the longer the friendship or the deeper we get involved in something, right?

            Leaders are not immune from disappointment either. Good leaders aren’t just over-active optimists.  But the world’s best leaders and people somehow know how to face disappointment head-on yet not let it dominate their lives.   

In today’s passage, we find one of history’s greatest leaders, Moses, struggling with a couple of very disappointing experiences. And as we know, this isn’t coming at the beginning of his leadership career; it’s after nearly 40 years of practice leading a difficult nation through tough experiences.

As we unpack this passage today, start by asking yourself, “What’s my natural go-to reaction when I’m disappointed?  To bail out?  To get angry?  Depressed?  To dive into an addiction?  OR am I learning to find the more fruitful side of disappointment, things like increased determination, deeper seeking after God, more love or patience or passion for Christ? 

Both of today’s stories will concern events that were internal to the people of God.  They weren’t so much about how they were handling pressures affecting them from outside the nation.  Rather they both deal with how they were handling life together.  In that regard, it’s clear that one of the messages is that life with the people of God can often be where we battle disappointment most in life whether that’s in our families, our brotherly relationships or in ministry to one another.  Life in the family of God and with God himself will present us with disappointments that God clearly wants to use to deepen us while the devil clearly wants to use to defeat us.  So here we go!

            Deut. 3:12-17 give us the geographic description of the area east of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee where 2½ of the 12 tribes of Israelites chose to settle rather than join their brothers in the Promised Land.  Those tribes were the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh.  You can see where they settle on the MAP on the screen. 

            Deut. 3:18-20 gives us the condensed version of Numbers 32.  There is a lot more emotion and disappointment expressed in Nu. 32 than here in Deut. 3. But let’s read this summary paragraph of the event first starting in vs. 18 of chapter 3 of Deut.

18 “And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The Lord your God has given you this land to possess. All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel. 19 Only your wives, your little ones, and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in the cities that I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you.’ 

                    Before we move on, let’s look at the more emotional back story in Numbers 32.  There is a level of disappointment in Moses that comes screaming through that is not found in the account in Deuteronomy.  Here’s how it is described.  Nu. 32:5-15

And they [2 ½ tribes of Reuben, Gad & Manassah] said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land [east of the Jordan] be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.”  [You judge whether or not this ‘found favor’ with Moses!]

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? [And now Moses gets ‘historical’.]  Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. 10 And the Lord's anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, 12 none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ 13 And the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. 14 And behold, you have risen in your fathers' place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! 15 For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

            At first glance it just looks like Moses is having a grumpy day.  He’s old.  Maybe he didn’t sleep well that night.  Maybe his bunions are acting up.  It’s actually much more than that. 

When over 100,000 of the Israelites come to ask for a military deferment from fighting in the Promised Land and are simply happy to settle down outside the territory God had promised to them, Moses is more than a little disappointed.  He smells the familiar odor of national sin some 40 years ago that had cost him 40 years in the desert instead of the Promised Land and it cost the lives of virtually all of his family and friends. So, he levels some pretty direct words at these tribes (vs. 14).  And he clarifies exactly what is at stake with their request (vs. 15).  

Their apparent contentment with just stopping where they are and avoiding the battles to take the Promised Land are not benign contentment; they are blatant sin.  They are “turn[ing] away from following” the LORD.  They are stepping into their ancestors sandals of disbelief and disobedience.  They are provoking God to anger and insuring the destruction of the people of God.  Moses is not just disappointed; he sees the danger of disbelief at a level that will destroy the entire nation. 

  1. Disappointment can be a legitimate symptom of impending danger.
  • Parents: when we see our children engaged in dangerous, sinful behaviors and attitudes, we should be disappointed.  Good parents care about the inevitable harmful effects of sinful choices in their children’s lives.
  • Children: when you see your parents’ marriage melting down, you should be very disappointed.  You know intuitively that when marriages fail, no matter what your age, that inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering on you and your entire family.
  • Church: when pastors experience moral failures, you should be disappointed. You know that is going to negatively impact the lives of everyone under their care.
  • Brothers & Sisters: when we see one of us start drifting away from the Lord Jesus, flirting with sin…or diving head-first into it, if we have the love of Christ in our hearts, we should be disappointed. 

And that disappointment should move us to say something and do something to express that disappointment in a godly, Christ-like way.

ILL:  When Jesus walked into his Father’s house, the Temple in Jerusalem, and saw what the priests were doing to make it a house of commerce, he was disappointed.  He went away and took time to process his disappointment with the Father.  And then he came back and expressed that disappointment in a very direct, powerful and confrontational way.  And it wasn’t sinful even though it was very direct.

            The same can be said for Moses’ response here.  It seems pretty strong, right.  But I don’t see anything sinful in this response to this situation.  He was ‘telling it like it is’…and it was actually nation-threatening. 

Don’t assume that disappointment is always sinful.  It may be a very righteous response to sin. 

            So what happened when Moses processed his disappointment in a proper way?

Numbers 32:

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” 20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, 21 and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him 22 and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. 23 But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.” 25 And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben said to Moses, “Your servants will do as my lord commands. 26 Our little ones, our wives, our livestock, and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead, 27 but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before the Lord to battle, as my lord orders.”

            Disappointment actually led to repentance—a change of heart among people in danger of self-destruction.  And their obedience spared all Israel from becoming discouraged as they had 40 years before and turned away from the Promised Land.  Using disappointment to move God’s people away from sin is a hallmark of a good leader. 


  • Who or what are you disappointed about? [Take a few seconds to honestly answer that before God.]
  • Now, take time to analyze WHY you are disappointed?
    • Is it just that YOUR plans, expectations or desires are getting frustrated or blocked? Then confess your own selfishness or desire to control or lack of trust in God or whatever unrighteous thing is producing that disappointment.  Ask GOD to renew your spirit and refocus your desires. 
    • But if you’re disappointed because some sin or danger is threatening you or someone else, then take that to God. Listen to His counsel.  Go ask the counsel of a few other wise saints.  And then do what God asks you to do to address the danger and call people into obedience. 

Disappointment, when handled well, can have decidedly good results. 

            Before we leave this story, let me just make a couple of observations about what I think this text has to teach us from the perspective of the people of God and our relationships together today.  The most evident is that…

  1. The people of God are called to fight battles together for the benefit of each other.
    1. The bonding power of the military—when it is a healthy military, there is nothing that creates a brotherhood more than a shared fight. Just ask people who have served together in war.
    2. We are called to put the safety, success and provision of others ahead of our own preferences, personal peace and safety.
    3. The battles we’ve already fought are the same kinds of battles God asks us to step into for others. Have you learned to beat an addiction?  Probably a battle you need to help others win.  Learned how to successfully battle materialism, gossip, over-controlling, lust?  You’ve got some experience and ‘spiritual muscles’ that God probably wants to put to work helping others. 
    4. The bigger the battle, the greater the team needed. ILL: our missionaries need more dedicated, sacrificial, prayerful, caring teams of fellow saints than any other ministry we have.  Why?  Because their battles are more daunting and difficult—centuries of entrenched forces of darkness, isolation loneliness, health issues, physical dangers, etc.
  2. Fighting for new territory in others lives will cost us.
    1. Making sure our primary responsibilities on the home front are cared for. Family, work-life/livestock, protection/cities, homes.
    2. Time away from our loved ones. It took somewhere between 1-2 years to conquer enough of the Promised Land that the 2½ tribes were able to return home.  But it was not an ‘endless war.’  It didn’t last a lifetime.  There was a cost, but it was a measured and limited cost.  APP:  helping others take new spiritual territory will cost you time.  EX:  12 Step Groups, discipling a new believer, being part of a building Bible study, etc.  But don’t let it ‘eat your lunch’.  (Word to reluctant spouses:  stop holding your spouse back from doing what God is asking them to do.  Word to over-extended spouses:  stop sacrificing your primary responsibility before God for secondary responsibilities.  Word to kids:  if your parents are doing the right think in helping others, you will sometimes feel like they are not putting you first.  That is correct.  God must be first and obedience to him above even their desire to spend more time with you.  They will actually be a better parent when they get that balance right.)
    3. It will cost you ease, comfort and safety at some level to fight for others victories. ILL:  Virtually any ministry at Mosaic (from Missions Team to Children’s Ministry to Building Bible studies and breakfasts) require that people who have put in a full day at work show up and spend another few hours spending themselves rather than going home to settle down with a good book or mindless TV program.)

So now let’s shift to the second story in today’s text.  Having processed one disappointment well doesn’t guarantee we will do the same with the next, even for the best of us.

Deuteronomy 3:  Moses says,

23 “Then I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying: 24 ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? 25 I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’

26 “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. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. 28 But command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see.’

29 “So we stayed in the valley opposite Beth Peor.

            This whole dialogue here will leave you pretty perplexed unless we fill in some of the details.  Why, after 40 years of shepherding His people, was God not allowing Moses to cross over into the Promised Land?  What had happened that had sidelined his life-long yearning to lead Israel into this great land?

            For the full version, you need to go to Numbers 20.  This event takes place at the end of the wilderness wanderings.  Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister, had just died. They are back at Kadesh Barnea.  And God let’s them run out of water…again.  The people start grumbling against Moses and Aaron, against God and against His dealings with them.  They are disappointed with everything and everyone and start pining again for Egypt, a place most of them had never even known.  (The past always looks better to people who never lived there!)

            So Moses and Aaron go to meet God at the Tent of Meeting…and God shows up.  He tells Moses in Nu. 20:8 to “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

            So far so good.  But then something unexpected and unnecessary happens.

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

            Moses is clearly having a ‘bad day.’  Yes, the people are rebelling.  Their disappointment of no water has moved into sin of murmuring against divinely ordained leadership and God himself.  But here is where Moses’ disappointment with them moves into sin as well.  What is his sin?

  • He presented himself as the provider they needed, not God. “Shall WE bring water for you out of this rock?”  When we do anything that purposefully encourages people to see us in the place God alone should have in their lives, we sin.  And when we think WE are the ones that are the answer to other people’s problems, we sin.  When God provides or moves or answers, it’s not about us; it must be about pointing people to Him.  That was the first sin.
  • The second sin? He directly disobeyed the word of God—he struck the rock twice rather than speaking to the rock.  “Big deal,” you say.  “Isn’t God making a mountain out of a molehill here?”  It seems pretty severe to keep Moses out of the Promised Land he’s been longing for his entire life just because of that.

First, Moses’ job was to teach the people by word and deed that the Word of God was sacred.  It was non-negotiable.  It needed to be obeyed consistently and continually.  So, when Moses chose to give way to his anger rather than hold to God’s word, he was teaching the people something that was not true, namely that obedience was not really that all-important.  It could be compromised and wouldn’t really be any major consequences.  (We’ve seen repeatedly through this series the importance of actually experiencing negative consequences for disobedient behavior.)  And he was teaching them this at a time when obedience was particularly needed.  The prosperity of the Promised Land was going to hold more dangers for the people of than the barrenness of the desert. 

Some of you who know your Bibles might be thinking, “But wait a minute.  Didn’t God command Moses at one time to strike the rock to bring forth water?”  Yes, he did.  In Exodus 17, when they are fresh out of Egypt and fresh out of water, God commands Moses to strike the ‘rock’ at Horeb in order to provide water for the people.  He does so and there was no sin in doing that. 

            So why was it okay then and not this time.  Well, we’ve already seen that God wanted to get glory by providing water the second time in a different way.  His command was clear (speak, don’t strike) and Moses disobeyed. 

            But beyond that there may be another reason why this was sin, a reason that Moses may not have fully understood.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 something very important. 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

            Just as we’ve been seeing these past weeks how applicable these experiences of the Israelites in the desert and the Promised Land are to our lives, so what God was doing in their history sometimes had a much deeper meaning.  In this case, the “rock” that Moses struck and was supposed to speak to were what we call a “TYPE” in Scripture.  The rock that provided physical water was a type of Christ that would come and provide ‘living water’ for all mankind.  God wanted Moses dealing with those rocks to eventually speak of Christ. 

            Moses’ striking of the rock in the first instance was probably symbolic of Christ’s crucifixion and the living water that flowed from Him being struck, beaten and crucified for us.  From that point on, however, believers are not to ‘strike’ or ‘crucify’ Christ afresh. (Heb. 6:6?) When we need more of His living water, we are to speak to God about it.  We are to ask in prayer.  When Moses struck the water-giving rock the second time he was doing damage to the type or image God wanted to display in that provision of water. There was more at stake here than we might at first assume.

            One final reality about why God came down seemingly harshly on Moses.  Leaders are always held to a more exacting standard.  James 3:1 tells us that most of us should be formal teachers in the church because “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  Trust me, I don’t enjoy this particular truth as a pastor-teacher…especially when I sin.  If I’m honest, I occasionally wonder if some yearnings of my heart may, in fact, not have come to pass or may not be realized in my lifetime in part because of my own sin.  That doesn’t undermine the amazing forgiveness of God.  God forgives every teacher who repents, just as he forgave Moses.  But forgiveness does not always mean the removal of consequences…thankfully.  And in the long-look of things, while Moses did not get to hike into the Promised Land or eat of its abundance, he did see it from afar (Heb. 11:13).  He did get to train the next generation of leadership.  And he did get to graduate into the presence of God whom he had walked with for 40 years. 

            A couple of final things for all of us to consider when it comes to disappointment.

  1. For all of us, there is a danger that the closer we are to a longed-for objective, the greater the temptation to sins of impatience.
  • Young people: the closer you get to adulthood, the greater the danger you will dishonor your parents by rebellion or failing to listen to and respect them.
  • Singles: the closer you get to marrying the love of your life, the greater the danger you will compromise your holiness and purity.
  • Business professionals: the closer you get to achieving the successes in business you’ve dreamt about, the greater the temptations to cut corners to climb the ladder.
  • Seniors: the more our health declines and the closer we get to the end of our journey, the greater the temptation to become frustrated with God about our impending graduation.
  1. The greater our disappointment with people, the greater the risk of disappointing God.

I certainly don’t blame Moses for his frustration with the people of God.  He had been so close too many times to the fulfillment of his life’s passion—delivering his people from Egypt and delivering them to their promised land.  Over and over again, their faithlessness and sin had delayed and damaged the plan of God for them. 

            Disappointment with the people’s disobedience was not something new for Moses to contend with.  He knew what to do and what not to do when he had had it with people.  When he handled it well, he would go to the mountain of God to be with God OR he would leave the camp and go to the Tent of Meeting to pour out his heart to God.  But when he handled it poorly, he took matters into his own hands.  He killed an Egyptian.  He broke the tablets of the Law.  He struck the rock repeatedly. 

            Some of life’s deepest disappointments will be people.  Sometimes they will be the people we love most.  Sometimes they will be people who we are responsible for.  Sometimes it will be people who just irritate us.  When people become our consuming disappointment, the presence of God needs to become our place of refuge.  If we don’t pull away from people and press into God, chances are our disappointment will turn to sin against people and against God. 

ILL:  If you want to learn how to handle disappointment with people well, read the Psalms.  For his many faults, David was a man who took his disappointments with people to God.  And it saved him many a time from sinning against both people and God.

CLOSE:  We’re all going to experience disappointment in life.  The choice really is about HOW we will handle it. 

  • It can help us warn others away from sin…or lead us into sin.
  • It can draw us closer to Christ and His blessing…or deeper into all kinds of sins such as frustration, impatience, anger and arrogance.

Let’s help each other handle our disappointments well.

  • Come to Jesus for the first time?
  • Bring to Jesus some disappointment for the umpteenth time?