He’s Not Listening, I Don’t Think…

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, we can read Moses’ account of certain aspects of Israelite history.  Specifically, he addresses the situation in which the people were too afraid to enter the land due to the reports of the spies.  In short…

Spies went.
Spies returned.
Spies disagreed on report.
The people despaired.
God sent them back to the wilderness.
The people recanted.
The people entered the land.
The Amorites rocked.
People died.

And in verse 45 Moses laid it out: “You came back, sobbing like schoolgirls, licking your wounds, but the Lord totally ignored you and let you cry yourselves out.”

(I would like to be able to say that I used my two semesters of Hebrew to accurately translate the above section, but if I were to do so, my Biblical Ethics professor would come to my house and put a sleeper hold on me.  The actual passage in my NKJV is “Then you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord would not listen to your voice nor give year to you.”)


What happened to “I will always be there for you”?  Where is the God of “…and I will never forsake you.”?

What I really want to ask, though, is what do we do when someone comes to us in pain, agonizing over some problem of his own creation, and asks for advice?  How can we comfort those whose sins are the source of their own pain?  Do we tell them, “He’s still there for you..”?  Because based on this passage, it would seem that, just for moment, God was most decidedly not there for His people.

Please…no pithy sayings.  I would really like to see some suggestions.

What would you tell my friend Gonzalo, living alone because of all the damage he’s done to his family?  He’s a baby Christian, but is more worldly than holy in his thinking.

What would you say to the minister whose kids have gone off the rails because he was never around?

How do you counsel my pastor friend, the one I mentioned here, as he tries to figure out where his future place in the church might be?

A fired worker who is lazy?  A gossip who drove away all his friends?

Lay it out here, folks.  What advice would YOU have given the Israelites, knowing that God wasn’t listening anymore?



  1. Christiane says

    from a psalm of David:
    Psalm 34, the psalm of the humble


    “1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
    His praise will always be on my lips.
    2 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
    3 Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt His Name together.

    4 I sought the Lord, and He answered me;
    He delivered me from all my fears.
    5 Those who look to Him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
    6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    He saved him out of all his troubles.
    7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
    and he delivers them ”



  2. Dave Miller says

    I have a situation in my own life which is very similar to what you say here. Wish I could go into details.

    • Jeremy Parks says

      I would imagine we all do.

      I have a theory about a lot of the punishments that seemed to be pronounced in the Bible: they are not things God will do to the guilty party, but instead are predictions of what the natural consequences are going to be. The notion that King David’s family would solve their problems with the end of a sword has always struck me as one of those situations, simply a prediction of the fallout, not necessarily something God would actively do.

  3. says

    First, seek repentance. Dig deeply into your heart to think if there is anything keeping you from the Lord. Once you solve for that, repent. When you do that, as Mike White pointed out, it will humble you before yourself and before the Lord.

    Realizing your own sin caused your problems is important. Realizing and then seeking forgiveness is of the utmost to be able to move forward. I know it’s cliche, but you need to realize you have a problem before you can move forward to deal with it.

    The Lord wants to see reconciled families. He doesn’t want us to suffer, but there will always be consequences for our actions. Reminding people of that is important.

  4. says

    Our compassion for people in these situations in no way alters the reality we all face–“whatsoever a man sows, that he also reaps.”
    In the past two years in my church and in close family relationships I’ve seen the truth of this biblical principle worked out. It does us no good to ignore it, as many wish to do. This is where the pastoral role becomes prophetic, I believe. Neither judgmental nor condemning, but factual, practical, and biblical. The counsel we give must be honest and straightforward. And we must always approach it with humility and grace. We must recognize that we are also people who are prone to wander but for the desire and choice to follow hard after Jesus.
    Such are those times which will break a man’s heart as he ministers to people.

  5. says

    Along with Deut. 1, I would walk them through several other passages. For example, Jer. 29:11, interpreted within its context of 70 impending years of exile; Rom. 8:28, interpreted within its context of making us more conformed to the image of God’s Son; and Jeremiah 29:5–7, with reference to how to redeem the time and make something useful of it while you are in exile.

    • says

      Let me add while I am at it, for some reason I missed your post on Christian Islands, part 1, when you posted it. After reading it just now, since comments are closed on it, I just wanted to say thank you here for that post. It is an excellent post, one of the best I’ve read in a while, and one I believe we would all do well to read over and over again and meditate on.

      • says

        Thank you for your kind words.

        I’ve had other pastor friends who staggered and stumbled their way to unemployment, and I’ve seen the church completely ignore the possibility that they have a duty to love these fallen brothers. This in no way excuses the sins that cause their fall, though.

        The post about Christian Islands was a result.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    “What I really want to ask, though, is what do we do when someone comes to us in pain, agonizing over some problem of his own creation, and asks for advice? How can we comfort those whose sins are the source of their own pain?”

    Did Jesus pastorally speak the truth in love? Is there conflict between being pastoral and truth-telling?

    “How can we comfort those whose sins are the source of their own pain?”

    Suppose you meet an unrepentant gay person whose sins of same-sex behavior are the manifestation of the true source of his pain. How would Jesus want His priesthood of believers to pastorally speak the truth in love to this fellow?

    If someone adopted John the Baptist’s approach of “Repent!” would that be considered pastorally speaking the truth in love?

  7. Donald says

    “What I really want to ask, though, is what do we do when someone comes to us in pain, agonizing over some problem of his own creation, and asks for advice?”

    No matter the situation, even if it seems obvious that all the blame is on the other party, I always tell counselees that you begin by looking at yourself. There is always plenty of blame to go around. I will talk about how we can only affect change in ourselves and that we have to align our lives with Scripture. It is only then that we can really start to deal with life situations and others in our lives.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says

      Jeremy Parks: “What I really want to ask, though, is what do we do when someone comes to us in pain, agonizing over some problem of his own creation, and asks for advice?”

      Donald: “I always tell counselees that you begin by looking at yourself.”

      That’s helpful Donald. Jeremy Parks, a partial answer to your question is to begin by looking at yourself.

    • Kevin Peacock says

      In training spiritual leaders, we try to use the same kind of counsel, “What is it about your leadership that others are not willing to follow?” Such a question immediately causes the leader to become introspective rather than whine and complain about all of the sorry sorts that surround them. It’s not a bad question to ask a husband or father — “What is it about your leadership that your wife/children are not willing to follow?” Paul tied fitness in leadership of God’s people directly to one’s ability to lead in the family (1 Tim 3:4-5). Such introspection may not answer all of the questions, but I have found that it is a great place to start.

  8. says

    “I always tell counselees that you begin by looking at yourself”–Good thought.
    Then maybe we need to simply ask, “How’s that working for you?” At least it’s a place to start.

  9. Kevin Peacock says

    Jeremy, so many times people forget that God’s forgiveness of sin and His forgiveness of the consequences of the sin are two different things. God immediately forgave David’s sin upon his repentance (2 Sam 12:23) but chose to let the consequences of his sin to remain (12:10,11,14).

    Unfortunately, are so much more concerned about the awful consequences of their sin rather than the sin itself — more concerned about felt effects of God’s discipline than the need for a restored relationship with God.

    Compare David’s response to God’s convicting word to Saul’s response (1 Sam 15), where he blamed the people (v. 15), sought to explain his sin away (v. 20), then offered half-hearted repentance (vv. 24, 30). The consequences were dire — he was rejected from his kingship (v. 26) and he lost God’s empowering presence (16:14). The rest of his life demonstrates Saul’s deliberate choice not to humble himself before God — which would have immediately established the relationship. The consequence of being rejected as king would have remained, but the relationship would have been restored. God can forgive in an instant, but to build godly character takes longer.

    In terms of the Israelites in Deut 1, by their actions they demonstrated more of a desire to be saved from the dire consequences of their sin than indeed to be reconciled to God — regardless of the remaining consequences. God threatened, “Do not go up and fight, for I am not among you” (1:42). Moses well understood how important that vital relationship with God was (Exod 33:1-3), and he refused to budge from Sinai until God guaranteed His presence with His people (Exod 33:15-17). The relationship was vital for survival, not immunity or forgiveness from any kind of harm.

    God promises to discipline those He loves (Heb 12:4-11). Our response to His discipline must be to draw closer to Him and learn some of the tough lessons He has to teach us. “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness” (Heb 12:10). Godly character is always more important than physical comfort.

  10. says

    We all have those times and events, where God does not listen or where He says no or says just keep on waiting, waiting past the point of utter exhaustion. There is a Puritan work entitled, A Lifting Up For the Downcast. Years ago, I found it a great help.

  11. says

    “You screwed up. We all do. So repent. You will still have to suffer the consequences today, but if you are willing to repent, then fear not because God is already working with you.”

    If the individual is willing to repent at this point, then work with him on managing the consequences in a godly way and following God’s will from that point out under the circumstances.

    If the individual is unwilling to repent, then let him go and suffer on his own because there is nothing more that you can do to benefit him spiritually. It is most loving to let his suffering drive him to repentance.

    • Christiane says

      there IS something you can do:

      you can pray for this person who is suffering . . .

      Augustine’s mother, Monica, prayed for him many years with great devotion to Our Lord, and Augustine was converted . . .

      Monica set a great example of the unremitting perserverence of a faith-filled hope anchored in Christ, a trusting reliance on the great power that comes to help us from beyond this earth.