Fifth Wednesday of Lent
The Death of Moses
Moses did not enter the Promised Land. After all his years of faithfulness to God, all the grief he took from the Israelites, all the time in the desert, Moses did not get to the Promised Land. At the end of Moses’ life, God called him to the top of Mount Nebo and showed him the Promised Land. “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” said the Lord. And he showed to Moses “Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.”
This is the land I am giving to your children, said God. “But you will not go there” (Deuteronomy 34:1-12).
Most people see God’s action here as punishment for something Moses had done. And, in fact, two chapters earlier, God reprimanded Moses for “breaking faith.” Back when they were wandering around in the desert, the Israelites had complained because they were thirsty, so God gave Moses a rod to strike against a rock from which water would flow. Strict constructionists say that Moses took credit for the job instead of giving credit to God, or that he struck the rock twice instead of once. Or perhaps God was disappointed that the people did not trust Him to provide and blamed Moses. At any rate, God declared that Moses would not enter the Promised Land, “because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel” (Numbers 20:10-13).
But the voice of God that I hear in chapter 34 of Deuteronomy is not a voice of reproof; it is a voice of love. There in the land of Moab, at the age of 120, still full of vigor and good health, Moses dies and is buried. The Hebrew word used may mean that God himself secretly buried Moses. To this day “no one knows his burial place” (34:7).
The Israelites wept for 30 days, then they moved on. They followed Joshua, the leader Moses had appointed, and they crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
The epitaph for Moses reads thusly: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10-12).
What if, instead of seeing the circumstances of Moses’ death as downfall, we see it as a Sabbath moment?
If God took me to a high mountain, showed me that my children would live in a new land free of oppression and strife, and told me that I would abide with Him for all eternity, I would die a happy woman.
If, during my lifetime, I had seen the Lord face to face and my successors praised me for my faithful acts done in the sight of God’s people, I could take that to my grave. If I knew that the struggle had been worth it and the one I had appointed to carry on would do a fine job of it, I would see that as a good thing.
Sabbath moments are just such moments of recognition of God’s hand at work in our lives. Sabbath moments are about seeing that what I have been given is sufficient, and that I have no need of longing for more. Sabbath is about seeing things from a different perspective.
In his book The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan suggests that “before we keep a Sabbath day, we cultivate a Sabbath heart.” We shift perspective instead of waiting for circumstances to change. “You still have the same job tomorrow, the same problems with your aging parents or wayward children, the same battle looming at church,” he says. “But you make a deliberate choice to shift point of view, to come at your circumstances from a fresh angle.”
Buchanan even suggests that time set aside for Sabbath must include such a shift in perspective. Sabbath is not just time to get away from the job – the TGIF mentality. It is time set aside –sanctified – as time spent with God specifically to bring about a shift in perspective.
And seeing differently, we are free to live differently, or, in the case of Moses, to die differently.
In God’s economy, God’s reward is God himself; and that is sufficient.
For your spiritual discipline this week:
Are there some circumstances in your life that might benefit from a new perspective?
What do you most want to hear God say to you when you die? What is your epitaph?
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.