Enter into Joy
Deuteronomy 34 is a startling passage. Israel stands on the very edge of the Promised Land. Moses has led them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea. He has stood in the gap between their sinfulness and God’s righteousness. He has mediated the Law to them, protected them from the wrath of God, guided them in battle against overwhelming enemies, and faithfully led them through 40 years of wandering in the desert because of sin. Over the last 40 years, an entire generation has died. Literally every man and woman who had refused to be blessed by God and instead preferred the slavery He had led them out of has perished. And now there is only one more life for God to take before Israel can go home.
Moses knows this is coming. He knows it because God promised it to happen. And God’s promises always come true. After Moses disobeyed a command of the Lord, God says in Numbers 20, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” In Deuteronomy 34, it is time for this promise to be realized. Moses has lived under the shadow of this promise for a long time. He knows that every step closer he takes the people, the closer he is to his own grave. And now, now it is time for the end.
I wonder how Moses ascended Mount Nebo. Did he run up it? Did he shuffle slowly? The text doesn’t say. But there is a hint of sadness throughout all the text. Moses has faithfully led the people through trials you and I have never faced. Now, he must leave God’s people, his people, for he has an appointment to keep with God.
Moses scaled the cliff alone. At the top, God shows him all the blessings of the land. The fertile plains of wheat. The cool forests of Lebanon. The city of palms. Everything the people had looked forward to since their deliverance from Egypt. Everything Moses knew he wouldn’t be able to enjoy. His life was a hard journey across a hard land leading hard-hearted people.
“So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according of the word of the Lord, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” ( 5-8 )
Who killed Moses? God did. Why did Moses die? Because of his sin. Moses did not die naturally. He was full of life and energy. Though every single man and woman of his generation had died in the wilderness, Moses hadn’t aged a day. He was sustained by God, equipped to lead a people who were hard to lead. Up on that mountaintop, it was just Moses and God. I don’t think Moses was afraid to die. He was with His God, the one who had sustained him and counseled him year after year, step after step. Yet, Moses’ last moments on earth were spent face to face with his failure to live how he ought. His sins had been atoned for by the blood of Christ (Heb 11:26), but he still knew he was dying because he had failed God.
The sound of shallow breathing broke the stillness of the hilltop. Then, as Moses breathed his last, silence. The next thing Moses heard was a shout of joy ringing from every corridor of heaven “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into joy today!” Well done, faithful servant. Enter into joy. No longer was there the shame of failing God. No longer was there the struggle and tragedy of leading a stiff-necked people. Just unending, radiant joy.
Like Moses, we will enter into joy someday. We see shadows of it now in the lives of Christians. In the people who suffer for Jesus’ sake. In the people who sacrifice their time and money to live how Jesus commanded. In the people who bear reproach for believing that there really is a God who created everything. One day those struggles will be over. And all our failings to live how we ought will be naught. I think this knowledge buoyed Moses’ heart as he took each step closer to the Promised Land. Like Moses, we are slowly but surely walking towards our own deaths. We can’t see it as he did, but it’s comingFor those of us who know Christ as Moses did, joy is coming our way. One day soon, we too will hear those words we long to hear: Well done. Enter into joy.