Deuteronomy 3:23-29

And I besought the Lord at that time, saying, O Lord God, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.

So we abode in the valley over against Bethpeor.

-Deuteronomy 3:23-29

Now the man Moses here speaks to the people of God showing them how great a desire he had to go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, the goodly mountain, and Lebanon. Hear the pathos in his longing! So much has he heard of it from God, so much dwelt on it and set his heart on the promise of the Lord that even after God’s anger he once again with simplicity and full desire earnestly asked to enter and to see. And God who had shown to him his glory said no.

If you are like me, you are probably tempted to take that “for your sakes” of Moses as something pettish. But I think at that point we are wrong, you and I. The man Moses had his weaknesses and failings, but I doubt he was a churl and I do not think in this remarkable address we are being shown his flaws. For one thing, it hardly seems the place for it, does it? Scripture doesn’t whitewash the great men of faith—their flaws are not hidden. But that doesn’t mean we have an exhaustive view of them at every sinful moment. God does not reveal the flaws of his friends in gossipy indiscretions or in the interests of accuracy alone. These things appear to serve greater purposes, they are there because they are necessary for our instruction in the life of faith.

So it is hardly the place: for one thing it is probably not an expression of Moses’ bitterness casually displayed and for a second thing it is better understood explaining why God the great and merciful did not forgive his servant. God did not forgive him for their sake. He was wroth and remained wroth in this matter for the sake of the people. It was for their good and their instruction. And for that reason Moses who eagerly longed for the good of the great and precious promises of God, who with touching and even childlike keenness yearned to stand in that land was not permitted to do more than gaze on it from the height of Pisgah. For the man Moses was a servant: a servant of God and a servant of God’s people, and in this he also served.

I do not say it was not his just punishment for usurping authority; it was, since he was a servant. But it was more than punishment: it was a lesson. We should learn from it that even great and holy longings can be thwarted in us by God for greater purposes. In other words, Moses was prevented from entering into that land which his heart desired and which God had promised for our sakes. How great is the lovingkindness of our God that at such expense he should take the trouble of instructing us!

So they abode in the house of shame in the land of Sihon, kind of the Amorites, and there they buried Moses. So they abode there, and Moses diminished, and Joshua came after. Is this only punishment? Is Moses resentful?

It is punishment, and in the knowledge of evil, it is good. Just as the cross is the knowledge of evil as good (and the cross is the tree that bears transforming fruit). For this Joshua is an allegory of the man Jesus, a greater than Moses, who leads his people into a better land and grants to all of them, and face to face, the glory of God. At the heart of every legitimate longing is one thing, one person, and that is Christ. Moses’ heart was well-guided in its longing, but his longing for the moment was thwarted.

Do you know that since his death he has been in that land? I do not think he looked around so much, but he saw what he longed to see. All of God’s promises are yea and amen in Jesus Christ who is the good land that is beyond Jordan, the goodly mountain, and Lebanon.


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