Seeing the Real Promised Land
(1) And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land … (4) And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes …
This is about the death of Moses. After forty years of wandering in the desert, the children of Israel have finally come to the edge of the Promised Land and are poised to enter. But before that, God calls Moses to the top of Mount Nebo to die. Some time before, at the waters of strife of Meribah, Moses had disobeyed the Lord by striking the rock instead of speaking to it as the Lord commanded him. For that reason the Lord told him he would not enter the land with the people he had led for all those years. (Num 20:1-12).
But before Moses passes out of this world, God gives him a vision of the land.
I’ve read this story for nearly fifty years. My mother bought me a children’s Bible Story book when I was 9 or 10, and I read it over and over. I’ve always loved these stories.
But for a very long time I saw Moses as a sad character in the end. It seemed to me a small consolation that God let him see the land that he was never going to enter. That might be construed a punishment. Some see it that way, I’m sure.
But any way you cut it, it can be a sad sight to think of, Moses by himself about to die, able to remember everything that had happened as he had lived with the congregation of Israel day by day for 40 years in the wilderness. They are going into the land but he is not. He just gets this beautiful view from afar.
I could see it from the standpoint that Moses in the scheme of things represents the law and the law cannot take us into the Promised Land. And I can see it that Moses knew very well that he was the Lord’s intercessor, and his physical death was another corn of wheat falling into the ground to perish, only to bring forth much fruit. Moses was certainly willing and even eager for that. Even though it had come about because of his disobedience, I’m sure Moses could look past that to the greater purpose of God.
That is a life-altering truth in itself, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw Moses in his humanity, rather than Moses the “type.” Moses my human brother, aside from any typeology, remained a sad figure to me in the end. So somehow it becomes important that not only do I see Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, but that I also see Moses in the same way — come in the flesh. What I mean by that is that I know Moses as a real living human man*, and because of knowing the humanity of Moses, I know my own as well. Not just a type or an historical figure. But just knowing Moses as a real living human man, as perhaps me or you or someone right next to us. So if that real living person, the real Moses, is left sad in my heart, then that doesn’t seem satisfactory. If he is sad, I am sad. (*I am not making a case here for Biblical historical accuracy. I am speaking of things above, of the Spirit.)
The reason I got into all this in the first place is that I came home from a trip and got in late. I turned on the TV and there was a movie about Moses playing. It wasn’t especially good and it wasn’t especially bad, but for me more than anything it served to put a more human face on Moses. It struck me that if Moses was a real figure as I have believed and so do millions of others, then he would have been a man just like me or any other, and that he and Aaron and Miriam, and all the other characters in Moses’ story, were also men and women as we all are.
The end of the movie corresponded with the Mount Nebo story I related above, and it shows Moses getting a view of the landscape from the top of Mount Nebo, getting what appeared to be a vision like one might hope to get on a clear day from Rock City, Tennesee, where one is reputed to be able to see 7 states. I’ve been there, and all 7 states are pretty hard to spot — you have to sort of take it by faith that’s what you’re seeing.
I realized that that is how I have seen that final moment of Moses, as sort of a 25-cent telescopic view of the whole of the land of Palestine, a land he would never see nor enter, but getting this glimpse at the moment of his demise, of all he was going to miss out on. How pretty it was, how green, how luscious, how arable, how prosperous. He had come to the very brink of all its fulifillment, but he would never see actually be there and see it for himself.
I just hated that for Moses. Even if I saw the typology. Typology doesn’t pay the rent (of life.)
But then I got the real story and my sadness for Moses left.
It was a not-too-good but not-too-bad television Moses movie that opened my eyes. They did such a good job showing the Promised Land in the distance in Moses’ last moments. It was so good I realized that was what God had done with Moses.
God showed Moses the real Promised Land on the top of Mount Nebo. It may have started out with the physical views of the various territories soon to be occupied by Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and so on. But suddenly I saw it. Why would God give him a view of a temporal land? Moses had long before found the Eternal God — I AM. Moses, surely more than any of the people, knew the true land to which they were being taken.
The well-watered gardens, luscious valleys and inviting paths spoke to Moses not of a land still in strife, with enemies to repel and fortresses to take. He could only have seen the Real Land, God Himself, the filler and upholder of all, unfolding and speaking all, providing all, loving all. He Himself as our Land of Promise.
That was the Real Land, the Real Promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Heb 11:8-10
That was the real promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to all of us who are their heirs. A city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
And this is where we also join with Moses. These men and women did not live their lives for themselves, but for us who would come later. Because we have learned of God in their lives, we are able to know God in our own lives. So this Moses is also us, and it is true, that sadly, because of the law, we can never enter the land in the flesh of this world. We can only sit as if from afar and can never get a full view of of Promise by being only mindful of the temporal land. That land is always full of strife and passing away, and in it we can never find any lasting country of fulfillment.
But suddenly our sights are raised, and behind the misty view of the temporal land we see the Real Land appearing, and in our faith the clarity and glory of the Real outshines the obscurity and corruption of the temporal. The view of the temporal by itself can only be incomplete. But when we begin to see the Eternal Promise (God Himself) as we have been given it and received it by the Holy Spirit — then it becomes obvious that we have not believed in vain. Paul told us our “light affliction” would only be a moment in comparision to the “eternal weight of glory” that is being worked in us.
And by grace this is our walk in the Spirit. That every moment we see through the temporal to the Eternal, and find our truth in the Eternal, and no longer in the temporal. This is not as a mental exercise of the intellect, but a simple receiving through faith the Word of God Who is our very life — Christ Jesus our life.