M ANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since we were last on the road with the freed slaves. Forty years total from crossing the sea until now. Forty years of wilderness wandering.
Now, finally, the people of Israel are poised to enter the land promised to their ancestors long ago. They’re “coming home to a place they’ve never been before.”
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SADLY, MOSES will not enter the promised land with them. Moses is 120 years old. He’s been through so much to get the people here to the banks of the Jordan River. Revolts, ridicule and rejection. He’s even had his ins and outs with God.
He was told sometime back that his work, his ministry, is to get the people to the border, but not to enter himself. He argued with God about this, but God was firm. He’s in good health but nonetheless the death bell will toll.
There are a couple of reasons given in other places in the Bible as to why he’s not able to “cross over into” the promised land. Here, no reason is given. He’s going to die without living in the land of promise.
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BEFORE MOSES DIES, he climbs the mountain to see the promised land.
We’re given a geography lesson in our reading. From Dan in the north, to the sea in the west, to Zoar in the south, God affirms that this is the land that God had sworn to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. None of them got to claim the land. They lived as sojourners. Wayfaring strangers.
Neither will Moses claim the land. But he can see the future for the people of Israel.
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WE DON’T KNOW if Moses only got a momentary glimpse before he died, or if he was able to linger and drink in the view of the promised land.
We don’t know Moses’ feelings at his death. Was he, like Simeon, on seeing the baby Jesus, ready to depart in peace? Or, was he frustrated to see but not experience the promises?
Whatever his emotions, Moses never crosses the Jordan River. He is merely a servant doing his assigned work.
His work is to follow God’s directions and to be faithful. His task is not to complete the task of possession of the new land. His task is to get them there.
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AS THE NEW TESTAMENT SAYS, often we plant the seed and someone else gathers the harvest. In this case, it is Joshua who leads the people across the river into the land of milk and honey. That’s often the way it is.
I daresay that most of you know something of disappointment and dreams unfulfilled. You might recognize the feeling of being in a now-and-not-yet time, trusting in promises that have not yet been fully realized, but living by faith nonetheless.
Moses got to see the promised land but didn’t get to walk the land.
We often don’t get to see what’s ahead but we walk into God’s future. Don’t despair. This passage affirms that long-awaited promises are fulfilled, and the response to that ought to be hope and joy.
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GOD ALLOWS MOSES to see the land of promise. Let’s spend a moment with this theme of seeing. Even at 120 years old, Moses’ eyesight is unimpaired, but we are told God causes Moses to see. In verse 1, God shows Moses the land, and in verse 4, God tells Moses, “I have caused you to see it with your eyes.”
Moses has been obedient and faithful for a long time. It must have been a profound gift to have his hopes and convictions confirmed by what he did see. We may need to ask God to show us — to reveal to us — where God is at work.
This focus on sight is noteworthy, especially when in a number of places in the New Testament, seems to downplay sight. For example, in John’s gospel Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 2 Corinthians encourages us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” And Hebrews 11 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
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MOSES DIES on the mountain.
What happens next indicates a startling intimacy. God buried Moses and laid him to rest. Moses is described as unequaled among all the prophets and leaders. God knew Moses “face to face.”
Maybe we can be people who seek after God’s face. A later writer said, Moses “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance [he] saw and greeted them” (Hebrews 11:13).
Even though Moses is able to see into the land his time is at an end, and he cannot finish all that he may have hoped. The Israelites mourn for him for 30 days.
Even if a good, long life can be celebrated and eulogized, the end of that life marks a loss.