Moses didn’t really want to stop

Published 4:35 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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By Charles Qualls

We can suppose we understand something like the Grand Canyon from pictures until we step onto the dusty, grainy crushed gravel that leads us toward one of the overlooks. Then, the body does something as you approach the canyon rim that you have no control over. You feel an inhale come from outside you as suddenly you are looking out at a vista that seems to go on forever. You hear yourself say “Wow!” even though you didn’t intend to speak.

It’s the farthest east to west I’ve ever seen, it’s the farthest up and down I’ve ever looked. Its vastness is like nothing I’ve ever beheld. Our Scripture took us to Deuteronomy 34: 1-7 this week. Moses was taken up to view the Promised Land, effectively seeing everything he would not get to experience with the Children of Israel. Not having been to Mt. Nebo yet, every time I hear this Scripture about Moses being taken up by God to look across at the Promised Land, the Grand Canyon view is my mental image.

I’ve actually watched a video or two lately of the view from Mt. Nebo. The sight had to have been both breathtaking for Moses and soul crushing for him, all at the same time. For he was beholding that which he had been leading the Hebrews toward for generations. He was also seeing all that he knew he would never get to explore firsthand. A bittersweet experience that probably leaned toward the bitter side, if he’d been transparent enough to tell us.

The Scripture indicates in its own special biblical shorthand that Moses was old at this point. I don’t think he was ready to be done just yet. Deuteronomy 34 gives us that feeling, anyway. Sometimes we have to pause in order to look out and see what is to be. Hopefully the pause is just that, a “pause” rather than an end as Moses experienced in this particular story.

The one who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt didn’t find out in that moment recorded for us here in Deuteronomy 34 that his journey was over. He already knew that was coming. Back in Numbers 20, God tells Moses that he wouldn’t be crossing over into the Promised Land. Right there where the offense happened, earlier in his life, he drew water improperly from a rock. He failed to recognize and give homage to the Almighty. So, God told him of his impending punishment.

Moses continued to lead the people for some time between then and our episode over in Deuteronomy 34 where God took him up to survey the Promised Land. Moses didn’t want to stop, at least I doubt he did. “His vigor had not abated,” we are told. His eyesight was keen. He had prepared Joshua and a leadership structure to be in place after him. But he continued to move the people forward, and he governed them because he saw a bigger picture than just what he wanted for himself. Let’s be honest.

A lot of us would have just gotten mad or sad and would’ve gone through the motions once we knew what he knew back in Numbers 20. None of us wanted to effectively stop in some ways back in March, either. Thankfully, that’s not exactly what happened. It just feels like that. In reality, at least here at the church we have continued on with mission and ministry despite some limitations, and despite some temptation to try to tell the story another way. But from our perch, each of us have been forced to see life differently as we have looked out across all that we are not getting to do, and at all the people we aren’t getting to be with.

Has your life found you getting everything you dreamed? Probably not. Have there been some surprises? Hopefully good ones. Has pain or tragedy, serendipity or survival changed your course at some point or points along the way? Has life slipped up from behind you and said, “Boo!” before you knew what was going on? Or maybe you got a forced exit from your journey somewhere along the way. This past year has taken us up onto a mountain, and made us stop to look out at the horizon. If ignorance is bliss, clear sight from a vantage point like we’ve had over the last year has stripped away some of the ignorance. I hope the view has been informative and hopeful from where you stand.


THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.