Deuteronomy 34: The View from the Mountaintop
I don’t like saying goodbye. At every major life milestone I have experienced, I try and make my goodbyes as quick as possible. Kind of like a band-aid, just pull it off and be done with it already! But as we approach our goodbye to Moses, I can’t help but want to linger here for awhile. It’s such a beautiful scene, such a climactic end, I just don’t want to say goodbye quite yet. When I think of where Moses started, all that he went through, and then where he finished; it makes me want to smile and cry all at the same time. Let’s quickly glance back at Moses’ last words to his people; words that are so indicative of his character:
“Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?”
Oh how Moses loved his people! He was building them up and encouraging them all the way to the end. They didn’t deserve his affection. At their best the Israelites were whiners, and at their worst they were threatening to stone Moses. But Moses was continually faithful, and always interceded on their behalf. Moses understood his calling to these people. He understood that the Lord was a God of freedom and forgiveness. Later the prophet Isaiah would foretell of the Messiah’s future mission by proclaiming “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). That is who our God is, and Moses understood that. Moses obediently laid God’s ground work for what only Christ could ultimately fulfill. God used Moses to reveal to the Israelites that He is a God who deliverers. What a job that was! How highly esteemed Moses must have been in the eyes of the Lord!
But now we have arrived at the end. Deuteronomy 32:50 warned us this day was coming. The Lord told Moses, “on a mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people.” So after Moses blessed the tribes, he began his final ascent. Can we just stop there for a minute and try to grasp that level of faith? Moses knew he would die on Mount Nebo, yet he climbed it. He didn’t run from it, but rather put one hand over the other and pulled himself to it’s summit. How did he welcome the end of life so courageously? He knew to Whom he was going, like no one else in history ever had. Oh, that we would long for the Lord’s presence like that! That we would keep climbing our mountain with the kind of faith that Moses had, the kind of faith that tells us that He is our great reward, and that He will be waiting for us when we get to the top.
Moses’ final climb to his death however, is more than just a lesson on faith. It was also evidence of obedience; an acceptance of not Moses’ will, but God’s ultimate will for his life. By God’s mercy, Moses was allowed to see the Promised Land, but was not allowed to move in. From a human perspective this seems like failure. But in a review of God’s plan for Moses from the beginning, Exodus 3 reminds us that Moses’ job was to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Further, read carefully Exodus 3:8 where God states that He plans to bring them (meaning the Israelites, not y’all-as He would have said if the burning bush was in the South) into a good and spacious land. As Moses stood on the mountaintop on his dying day and looked over Canaan, he was fulfilling God’s plan, and in God’s timing.
How about us? Can we accept that? What happens when you and I journey and labor, and then land in a place that is not what we expected? Watch and listen to the last words of another man who led an oppressed people to a better place, but was also unable to escort them in.
Like Moses, Martin Luther King Jr. died right after he gave this final speech, only King’s death was by gunshot. Was he a failure? Of course not! He led the way to freedom for millions of African Americans less than a century ago. His death, though tragic, was no surprise to the Lord. Dr. King had faithfully fulfilled his purpose and once complete, the Lord welcomed him home to the eternal Promised Land. That’s not called defeat, that’s called Glory! When we look around and find that God has planted us in a land we did not envision, we must hold unto the truth that His ultimate goal for each of His children is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.[i] Instead of saying, “God this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I kind of wanted my Promise Land to look a little different”, let’s instead put on the attitude of Moses (and ultimately Jesus). May we with faith and obedience proclaim instead, “Not my will, but Yours” (Luke 39:42). Believe us both when we say-we know that is not always easy! But will it be worth it? Read Paul’s eulogy for Moses from Hebrew’s “Hall of Faith” chapter and you decide:
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” Hebrews 11:24-28
Being mentioned in this famous chapter of scripture testifies to how blessed a sacrifice it is when we are courageous enough to look ahead to our reward and not wallow in less than desirable circumstances; certainly one of the greatest lessons we can glean from Moses.
And so Moses, the servant of the Lord, stands atop Mount Nebo victorious in his purpose: delivering the Israelites to freedom. He kept the faith, and he was about to inherit his heavenly reward. He was moments away from stepping foot into his eternal Promise Land, and finally being able to see all of God’s glory (not just the back view of the Almighty as He passed by). And there at that moment, Moses breathed his last breath, and only God knows of where he is buried. There would be no tomb left for the Israelites to make into an idol. Moses’ unmarked tomb is but a whisper of another that the Ultimate Deliverer would one day walk out of. God’s story was just getting started. Soon, there would be another tomb that would shout louder than any other “Freedom for the captives!” This tomb is empty, for the One vainly laid to rest there could not be contained. He is victoriously sitting at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3). By faith in Him, we are free to enter our Promise Land. So what are you waiting for?
Mary and Amy
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A few last thoughts…
Words cannot express the great privilege that this bible study has been to us. You have walked along two girls that needed to study this information more than any other women walking this planet! Our desire was to bring God glory, and perhaps along the way, walk a little closer to our own Promised Land. Neither one of us has yet entered into the land that we know God has set aside for us; we still don’t know what that will look like. But our desire, as we are sure yours is, is to keep the faith and get there! To our sister Elizabeth, who helped us edit our words, even when we sent them to her in the last possible hour, thank you! You didn’t have to do it, but you joyfully did, and we love you! For those of you that came back day after day, thank you! Your commitment was an encouragement to us, and we are forever grateful. We hope that along the way you found encouragement to believe and follow the One who adores you, and has created a place just for you. You have a purpose sweet friend, press on and keep the faith! Your Reward is waiting for you…
Mary and Amy
[i] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1