Moses and the Promised Land

Imagine leading two to three million slaves into freedom, while God performs incredible miracles through your hands. You then take these newly freed slaves to Mt. Sinai and receive the Law and Ten Commandments directly from God. You have an intimate relationship with God, where the Lord speaks to you face to face, as a friend. For forty years, you lead these stubborn, hardheaded people through the desert, enduring their complaining and grumbling, while miraculously seeing God feed them daily with manna from heaven. From the time you leave Egypt, through the next forty years, you continuously talk about your destination, the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. Then, when God sees His people finally ready to journey into the land He promised, you as their leader are only allowed to climb a mountain and see the Promised Land from a distance. You are not allowed, however, to enter into the land yourself, or go with your people!

How would you feel if you were Moses? The Bible says “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

No greater man in the Old Testament than Moses, and yet, after 40 years of faithfully following God, he dies in the mountains overlooking the Promised Land, never having set foot in himself!

How would you feel if you were Moses? This was an interesting discussion we had in our Bible Study group two weeks ago. We have been studying the 50 greatest stories from the Old Testament, and have been reflecting especially on Moses and Egypt and the Hebrew journey from captivity to freedom, their sojourn through the desert, receiving the Law and Ten Commandments, and throughout all these discussions, we have tried to understand what message these ancient stories of Holy Scripture have for us in our contemporary lives.

So two weeks ago, we get to the story of Moses, the greatest leader of the Old Testament, leading his people to the edge of the Promised Land, and yet not being allowed to enter in. I think there was a consensus in our group that it seemed unfair, that Moses must have been disappointed, that it didn’t seem right that after all the wondrous things God did through Moses, that he wouldn’t be allowed into the Promised Land. Although Moses was a faithful leader, a friend of God, one who had constant communion with God, we did read about a particular failure of Moses when he disobeyed God, and possibly allowed his own ego to show forth. Yet, despite that failure, in comparison to all that Moses had done, it just didn’t seem right or fair that he couldn’t journey with his people into the land of Canaan.

Yet as we reflected deeper on this passage, and wrestled with understanding its meaning, a revelation came to our group. If WE were in Moses shoes, WE most likely would have been extremely disappointed, and felt a terrible injustice done to us. For Moses, however, he was someone who truly knew the Lord face to face and who was friends with God. We came to realize that for Moses, the greatest reward of his life and all his endeavors was not to enter the promised land, but simply to be with God each and every day, and to know that he was doing the Lord’s will! Ultimately for Moses, it really didn’t matter how everything else played out in his life. Whether God allowed him to enter the Promised Land or not was a completely secondary issue. He didn’t follow God SO THAT he could enter the Promised Land. He followed God because he loved Him, and wanted to faithfully follow and obey Him. It really didn’t matter where he went, or what he did. In today’s language we would say that Moses didn’t follow God to get something out of it! He didn’t try to use God for his own utilitarian purposes. Absolutely not! As long as Moses was with God, and he knew God was with him then he was already in the “promised land,” he was already in the will of God!

Now let’s compare Moses’ attitude towards God with our own. Honestly speaking, how many of us treat our relationship with God as one in which we too often try to manipulate Him, where we try to use Him to fulfill OUR own purposes and desires. Although Christ taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done,” the truth is, accepting God’s will in our lives seems extremely hard. So instead of sincerely praying “Your will be done,” we too often pray in our heart “Lord, please do what I want. MY will be done.” We even try to bargain with God. “Lord, I’ll go to church every Sunday IF you do this or that for me.” Or we say, “SINCE I pray every day, and fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and am a good member of the Church, THEN the Lord SHOULD do this for me!”

Too much of modern Christianity has been watered down to an egocentric, self-help ritual or philosophy. If we believe in God He’ll bless us financially. If we follow God He’ll heal us from every illness. If we obey God and live a good Christian life, He will take care of us the way we want to be taken care of.

Yet, compare this contemporary perspective with the life and story of Moses. Here we see the greatest figure in the Old Testament not receive what many of us would consider his just and due reward!

Maybe his life is a reminder to us about what a life in Christ truly is all about. Our faith is NOT about ME, and MY desires, and MY dreams and MY aspirations. Our Christian faith is NOT supposed to be manipulated, so that God serves ME. Instead, our faith should be all about GOD! “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” These words of our Lord Jesus very clearly teach us that the path towards the kingdom of heaven can only be found through denial of self, through sacrifice, and ultimately through death to self. And yet the paradox of our spiritual journey is that the more we practice such denial and sacrifice and daily death, the more we experience the Kingdom of Heaven right here and now!

As Moses discovered, we also are called to discover that the Promised Land isn’t so much about a destination, as it is the journey itself! Moses walked with God every day and thus experienced the spiritual Promised Land – he experienced the loving presence of God fully in his life. Thus, when it came to the point of climbing that mountain and only seeing the Promised Land from a distance, Moses was content, for he had fulfilled the will of God in his life.

May we all learn from Moses and strive to cultivate this same spirit of faith in our own lives. May we all learn to sincerely pray, “Lord, here I am. Do whatever you want with me in my life. As long as I am with you, doing your will, I will be content. May YOUR WILL truly be done in my life!”

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