The Death of Moses

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Moses – Prince of Egypt

End of an Era

Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Deuteronomy 34:1-10

 

 

Joshua to Succeed Moses

31 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

The Death of Moses

34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

 

 

On 24 January 1965, Winston Churchill died aged 90. In a time in the life of our country where outward emotion was not often shown, 300,000 people filed past his coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall, the first such lying in state to be accorded to a commoner since the Duke of Wellington. There is black and white television footage. The Britain of my parents’ generation came along. Old men with their wide flannel trousers and trilby hats. Women with heavy coats and headscarves. But also young men in drainpipe trousers. Women with short skirts, mascara and peroxide hair. People crying, staring, holding on to each other in their public grief and holding up primitive cameras to take pictures of the event and themselves. This was something new.

 

After the funeral in St Paul’s, the People’s Cathedral rather than the ceremonial Abbey, his body was taken on a launch from Tower Pier to Waterloo. As it passed the docks of the Pool of London, the cranes of the then busy port bowed in salute. A special train took him to Blaydon in Oxfordshire where he was buried in the grounds of the church. There is no sign in the village that this is his resting place, in stark contrast to Althorp in nearby Northamptonshire. You go through the lychgate and stand over the grave. He lies with his wife, his mother and father, his brother and children. Perhaps England’s greatest. A fairly anonymous resting place.

 

These are the closing words of the penultimate chapter of the book by Boris Johnson called the Churchill Factor. A man born in a political family, very well educated, a writer and wordsmith, never afraid of controversy and difficult decisions, popular and populist yet perceived as treacherous in Westminster, who challenged the Prime Minister of the day and found himself sitting on the backbenches waiting to warrant his belief in himself by the call by his country in its dark and difficult hours. But that’s enough about Boris Johnson

 

The book is a fairly easy read, some might cynically say self-serving, but with interesting aspects on the life of Churchill. In the final chapter Boris tries to analyse what it was about Churchill which contributed to his greatness. He was clearly a genius and one of incredible energy. A politician, journalist, historian and even a painter. He published more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined. He won the Nobel prize for literature. He inspired millions in armed conflict on four continents. He was Prime Minister twice. He led us to victory in a world war and thereby helped to make us the country we are today and the people we are today.

 

He certainly possessed a titanic ego but one tempered by humanity, humour, irony and understanding and sympathy for other people and a commitment to public service. He knew failure; Gallipoli amongst many others in battle, the July 1945 general election.

 

But ultimately, I felt Boris, like many much more eminent historians before him, failed to pin down the Churchill factor, what it was about this man which meant he was the right man with the right characteristics for the situation when needed. Boris doesn’t dwell on his spirituality and I don’t think we need to either. Because we believe we have a God who is able to bring forward people and work through people to bring about his outcomes, his plans, his best purposes.

 

So it is with Moses, a gigantic and titanic person who, with David and Abraham, made the Israeli, Jewish people and religion from which has come our Christ and our faith. I reflected on the life and death of Churchill as we look at the death of Moses in our sermon today.

 

 

The end of Moses’ story is profoundly moving. It was a historic moment for Israel. Moses gives his farewell speech and Joshua becomes his successor – commissioned for the task and given the assurance of God’s presence with him, as he leads God’s people into the Promised Land. Leadership was being passed on. Moses had served God and led Israel for 40 difficult years. He knew his age, 120 years. According to the passage, when Moses died, “he was as strong as ever and his eyesight was still good” but he knew his time had come. He knew his limitations: he says, I am no longer able to lead you.

 

He was also sadly aware of God’s prohibition on him entering the promised land. We can understand the need to pass on leadership but why did God treat his friend Moses with what appears to be a harsh no entry ban. It was because Moses had disobeyed God, striking the rock to which he should only have spoken. It is found in Numbers 20:7-12. Moses had acted angrily and rashly, and God has high standards for his servants, even his most devoted servants. It’s probably something which in our present day we find very surprising and perplexing.

 

But it meant Moses in his physical being did not enter the promised land. But wait. He did. Centuries later Moses was there with the transfigured Christ. We find it in Matthew 17, 1-3. It says that Jesus took Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

 

Moses may not have entered the promised land in his physical being but he was there with God, through his son Jesus Christ. God does not abandon his friends

 

Moses dies and the Lord buries him; to this day, his exact burial place is known only to God. Why? We don’t know but we can guess. God had plans for his holy temple, the centre of the Jewish religion, to be Jerusalem. But it was several centuries before this would be established. There was every risk that the known burial place of Moses would have become a shrine, outside the promised land and outside God’s plans for Jerusalem. Perhaps even worse, a shrine for a breakaway sect of Judaism, for those disaffected from the fairly strict laws of Judaism as it was to be applied in their life in the new land they were being given. When the US Marines found and killed Osama bin Laden, his body was thrown into the ocean so that it would not become a centre and shrine for his followers. It’s good to remember the dead. It’s not always necessary to have an actual place for burial.

 

 

It is often said that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Certainly that was true for Moses. A long life, literally from cradle of a basket floating in the Nile to an unidentified burial on the cusp of the promised land and so much in between. It was life as a marathon runner. The apostle Paul continually refers to the need for perseverance in the Christian life. The faithfulness and commitment of continuing discipleship. Of course there will be times when we will be metaphorically sprinting and running faster. For me, my three years at university heavily involved in the Christian union and Christian mission was a foundation which still remains and is still highly informative of my Christian life decades later. 15 years ago, I worked and lived for a couple of years in Sydney; a difficult time but a wonderful time with incredible teaching and fellowship in a terrific church and opportunity for Bible study. It was a real Christian energy drink boost for me. More sprinting. And at other times, like most of us most of our lives, it is the marathon pace of perseverance.

 

But instead of a marathon and yet using the analogy, life can also be likened to a relay, where we each run a section of the race, before passing the baton to the next runner.

 

Jesus’ words ring true here in John 4.37: “One man sows, another reaps. I have sent you to reap a harvest … where you did not work; others worked there and you profit from their work.” In 1 Corinthians 3.6 Paul writes: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

 

The preacher of my church in Southampton, Leith Samuel, used often to say: we live our life in Christ to bring about those things which will outlive our life. What we do in our Christian work, in its narrow sense of direct evangelism and in its wider sense of the way we live our lives in Christian witness and good works, is likely, or more precisely should, continue far longer than our earthly lives.

 

I come back to Churchill. A great war leader but who planned for peace. On 10 June 1941, exactly a month after the last major blitz on London on 11th May, the government announced the setting up of an enquiry under Sir William Beveridge to tackle what were said to be the five “Giant Evils” in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. From this came the Beveridge report of November 1942 and very quickly after the end of the war was put into operation with the creation of what we would now know as the welfare state. Found in our free education service, the wonderful National Health Service, legal aid for access to justice, state pensions, welfare benefits and much more. Some might say it is a chief characteristic of our country and has been of phenomenal benefit to so many and still continuing. In the midst of war, planning for the benefits of peace, to be put into practice by others. The relay, passing on the baton to others.

 

Moses had done the same. The new leader, Joshua, was chosen by God and had been trained by Moses during those many decades wandering around the desert. Starting as Moses servant, he became his student and then his successor. Moses told him what he must be and what he must do, verse 7. God’s plan, to bring Israel to the promised land; God’s promise, the Lord himself goes before you; and God’s presence, the Lord will be with you. God would ensure Joshua’s success, verses 7 and 8

 

However the passage mentions another leader. The best one. The one on whom there can be absolute reliance as a team leader and manager. The Lord himself tells Moses and reassures Moses and Joshua that he would cross the Jordan ahead of Joshua, verse 3. The Lord would teach Joshua that, as leader, he himself must be led by God. God will be the advance guard, verse 3, the victor, verse 4 and constant companion, verses 6 and 8. The new Testament portrays Jesus as our leader, the shepherd who lays down his life for us and heads the triumphant procession. To be a leader, a witness, a disciple, one must first be a follower of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 

In our lives, young or old, new Christian or many years, we must always be very careful who or what we are allowing to lead us. How can we ensure that we follow Christ rather than the crowd? What are the particular promises of God we have heard in this passage which we can hold onto and follow?

 

 

So Moses climbs to the top of Mount Nebo to get a panoramic view of the land the Lord God was giving to Israel. It was a vantage point that would inspire and energise but for Moses it was like the sign in a shop: you can see but you cannot touch. He knew he would never set foot in the land. This was the mountain where he would die. Imagine climbing a mountain knowing that you would not return. It could have made Moses very bitter. Is this how God treats his friends? But Moses knew his God well. He could trust him for his wisdom and justice, love and faithfulness. He accepted God’s will and died with a wonderful view of the land. Although amazingly physically fit at the age of 120, his work was done and it was time to go home to God. There are times when God calls us even though the body has still got life to be lived. Please be ready for the Lord and don’t necessarily expect it to be years hence, although statistically it is likely to be so.

 

My wife likes the books by Mitch Albom. One of them is The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Eddie is an old, grumpy, complaining maintenance worker in a fairground. A classic Victor Meldrew. He has led, he believes, a very uneventful life. Then tragically he is killed in an accident when a rollercoaster ride breaks down. He finds himself in heaven and is amazed to meet five people whom he had known in different ways during his life but whom, unbeknown to himself, he had helped, inspired, encouraged or had just simply been there for them and in so doing had changed and transformed their lives. The book is a challenge as to how we live our lives. The book ends with the challenge which Eddie dwells upon as the book develops: if I knew that I had only an hour or a day or a week to live, how would I live it differently; and having then carefully and conscientiously thought about that possibility, would I now live my life differently if I knew I had my normal life expectancy?

 

 

So at the end of his life, Moses is called the servant of the Lord, and receives a divine verdict that rises above all human assessment. He was God’s special servant, through whom God did mighty miracles and with whom God spoke face-to-face, verse 10. These verses, 10-12, are a fitting eulogy for this man of God. There really was no one like him. Let me read them again.

 

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

 

God uses us for his larger plans. We see horizons we may not personally reach. We know that our successors in the Christian faith, perhaps in the work of this church here but certainly in the work of the gospel, will reach those horizons because the same God will lead them as has led us. It’s good to be the runner in a relay team that will ultimately win and good for ourselves to have run the race well.

 

God may be using us to prepare others to go places where we ourselves cannot go. We must trust God and work with him to his glory.

 

Amen

David Hodson

dh@davidhodson.com

07973 890648

Sept 2018

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