Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: 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. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequalled 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.
So, after 40 years wandering in the desert Moses gets to see the promised land, but dies before he can reach it. Amazingly, at the age of 120 he has impaired sight and unabated vigour – I imagine plenty of us wish we had those at 30/50/70 let alone 120! Despite this, you might think he has failed in his life’s work – he hasn’t managed to lead the Israelites into Canaan – but there’s no sense of that in the text. Rather, it’s seen as a fulfilment of the promise made earlier in Numbers 27, where God said that Moses would not reach the promised land himself, because of his rebellion in the wilderness.
Moses has, however, identified Joshua as his successor, who will lead the people into the promised land. He’s recognised that the task of leadership is something bigger than he can accomplish in his own life. How often do we manage to do the same? Do we encourage other people to grow as leaders and take more responsibility, or do we feel we can’t trust anyone else to do something properly? People who care for vulnerable relatives are often very careful to make sure there are proper arrangements for looking after their spouse or child after they die – but others of us can sometimes seem to behave as if we are immortal and irreplaceable, which doesn’t do us, others, or the causes we care for any good.
In churches we are often very aware of the saints who have gone before us – even commemorating them in the names of our buildings, for example. But we should also think of those who will remain after we have gone, and make sure that we are encouraging their gifts of prophecy and leadership, just as Moses encouraged Joshua.
Lord, you call each of us to our own form of service. May we help each other discern our callings, and encourage each other in our journeys of faith. We pray for those called to be leaders, that they may serve with honour, and know that leadership is a team game, rather than a virtuoso performance. And may we know how to be followers, as we seek to follow your way. Amen.
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