[above: Death of Moses, Alexandre Cabanel, c. 1851, click picture for larger image]
The days of Moses draw to an end and a new day begins for the people of Israel. Moses shares God’s words of blessing to his people and the baton of leadership is passed to Joshua, the son of Nun. Forty years they have traveled in the wilderness being fashioned and blessed by the Lord, through miraculous provision, words of wisdom, truth, and guidance, moments of kindness and grace, discipline and hardship.
Throughout this time Moses has grappled with a contentious and quarrelsome people quick to forget the goodness of the Lord, quick to desert him to seek after false gods and vain promises. Moses has served in the unenviable role of their leader and mediator, a dangerous and tenuous position, but now at last the time has arrived to enter the Promised Land.
It sounds great, but then to my mind there is a tremendous twist. I know I’m not in charge of the script, but human nature being what it is I say, ‘wait a minute, this is the thanks that Moses gets?’
We are told that Moses is directed to Mount Nebo to view the land of Canaan that the people of Israel have longed for and then to die “because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh…because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel…you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there…” (Deuteronomy 32:51-52).
Not that I know what fair is, but like a child my first response is to say, ‘that’s not fair.’ And perhaps at first blush it is not, but my response is hasty and childish, like that of the people of Israel who Moses and Lord grappled with throughout the wilderness.
Moses sees, but does not enter; and when we listen, we see the greater blessing that he receives. Moses is given the title ‘the man of God.’ Is there any greater title given to man or woman? We read that at the death of Moses his “eye was undimmed…his vigor unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:8) and he was loved by a people who wept for him for thirty days on the plains of Moab.
All of these are great things, but there is that which is even greater, beyond compare. We hear that the Lord himself buried Moses (Dt. 34:6) in a valley in the land of Moab.
The one who gave Moses life in the beginning, the one whom he had the honor and blessing of knowing face to face, the Lord himself, laid Moses to rest and he alone knows the place where he is laid. There are words of blessing and benediction (see Deuteronomy 34) and there is the act itself of the Lord’s grace and kindness with his servant whom he certainly did not forsake.
I share this, for you and for me, who may cry ‘unfair’ when seeming judgment falls, when they things don’t go as we feel they should, when seeming hopes go unfulfilled. We are given here a view of something greater than our short sights.
We are given a view of the grace of God, his greater plans, his deeper mercies, his faithfulness. These gifts are more than any temporary earthly blessing; they are his greater gift and greater promise, our strong rock in a rocky world.