In the Sight of All Israel

Deut. 34

21 June 2020

When we are people of faith, we develop two kinds of vision. The first kind of vision is the kind that almost everybody has. This vision is the stuff that we see through our eyes. This vision is not perfect by any means, and as we begin to age, we discover more and more just how imperfect this vision is. And sadly, some people do not have this kind of vision at all. They are physically blind. The other kind of vision that people of faith have is the kind that we can see through our hearts. It is not necessary even to have eyes in order to have this kind of vision. This is the vision that improves with age. This is the vision that turns normal expectations right upside down. We’ve all said things like, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” or “seeing is believing.” The real truth for a person of faith though, is “I’ll see it when I believe it” or “Believing is seeing.”

Moses was a person of incredible and extraordinary vision. If not for God’s gift of vision to Moses, Moses would likely not have survived for very long in the wilderness. And he would not have survived for long because he was leading a stubborn and rebellious people who intentionally and consistently limited their vision to that which they could see with their eyes. And that vision went barely beyond the tips of their noses. Their hearts didn’t hardly enter into it. If not for Moses’ God-given ability to comprehend God’s plans for his people, Moses would certainly have become a casualty of the desert. His own people would have killed him. They could only see what was wrong, what was frightening and what was deficient and lacking. And that is a very bad place to be. It appears that God’s people were neither moved nor humbled by God’s glory. They certainly took no opportunity to rejoice in it, even though Moses continually tried to point it out to them. They just didn’t see it.

But now, because he has very nearly fulfilled the calling that God has given him, Moses is getting ready to die. But before we get to that, I’d like for us to focus for a bit on verse nine. Verse 9 is pretty extraordinary. This is God’s vision for a day that goes beyond the ministry of Moses. God is always looking ahead. God is always planning for his people even if they can’t or won’t see it. Verse nine says, “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.” Moses won’t be there when God’s people cross over into the Promised Land, but Joshua will be. The mantle has been passed, Joshua is now the Lord’s anointed one.

If we were able to miraculously transport ourselves this morning to the plains of Moab, and if we were to hike up the side of Mount Nebo, and then cross over to Mount Pisgah, and climb to the very tippy-top of that mountain, there is not the slightest possibility that we could see all of the places that are listed in verses one through three, no matter how good our eyesight was. It is humanly impossible. There are other mountains in the way and much of it is beyond the horizon. We couldn’t see it unless God showed it to us. And that’s exactly what verse one says. God opened the eyes of Moses’ heart, and the two of them went on a grand tour. This was God’s final gift to Moses, and Moses got to see all of the Promised Land, perhaps right down to the palm trees swaying in the valleys and the goats climbing up and down the mountains. Moses had been faithful seeing with the eyes of his heart, throughout his entire ministry. This is how God rewarded that faithfulness.

And then, Moses died. Our English translations say that Moses died at the command of the Lord. Simply put, God spoke Moses into eternity. Moses had been obeying the commands of God all along. I suspect that this one was one of the easiest commands of his whole life for Moses to obey, and he obeyed it with great joy. The text implies that Moses died not of old age, nor of illness, but rather by the decision of God. And that’s exactly how I want to step off this planet. It is, ultimately how all of us will step off this planet, even if it is because of illness or old age, it will still be by the Lord’s command. We came into the world by the Lord’s command, and we’ll leave it in the same manner. Will we leave joyfully, or will we leave reluctantly? The choice, of course, is ours, and it has to do with how much we can see with the eyes of our hearts.

There may be, though, a bit more to Moses’ death than immediately meets the eye. Verse five says in the Hebrew language that Moses died at the mouth of God. And early on, Hebrew scholars began to ponder the unequaled intimacy that Moses and God enjoyed. That intimacy is clearly stated in verse ten: “Never since has there arisen a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” And it seemed to these scholars that an extraordinary man ought to die in an extraordinary way. And so if Moses died at the mouth of God, it just might very well be that Moses died when God kissed him into eternity. It may not be true, but I really like that. That’s love. That’s intimacy, and it is a relationship to which we should all aspire. When I think that God himself came to this earth to give up his life so that we can live forever, getting kissed into eternity seems like it could be God’s final, loving gift to us. Throughout his entire career as a servant of God, Moses was a person who could see more with his heart, than he did with his eyes. Moses was able to see the glory of God in places where ordinary people couldn’t or wouldn’t. And it all began, kind of, when Moses’ curiosity was aroused by that mysterious burning bush. Moses saw something in that bush that an ordinary person might have missed, or ignored. He saw that it was in flames, but that it was not being consumed. And even though he might not have realized it fully from a distance, when he drew nearer, he suddenly realized that he was face to face with the glory and presence of God himself. This was Moses’ conversion experience, and even though he wavered from time to time, he never departed from that glory.

God’s people, on the other hand, over whom he was given charge, saw the constant glory of God every single day, but for many of them, not much of it even made it’s way into their hearts. That’s sad. And it is sad, because they didn’t get to see any of the good that was all around them. All they saw was a dry, inhospitable desert that could never support life. All they saw was cause for grumbling and complaining, and, as a result of that, joy was always in very short supply among them.

In these times of uncertainty and loss, we need to work hard at being people of vision. We need to work hard at seeing the glory of God, even in the desert, which has now become our life. Even in the desert there is good stuff. Even in the desert there is much in which to rejoice, and there is much for which we can give thanks. Rejoicing in the good stuff not only takes away the power of the bad stuff, but it trains our spiritual eyes on God’s glory.

Moses was well aware of the hot, dead, inhospitable desert. He saw it everyday. But he also saw the manna and the water that God provided, and he knew that these things did not come by his own hand, but by the hand of God. He understood that the manna that came down from heaven and the water that sprang up from the desert were the gifts of God and the evidence of God’s glory. They were symbols of life in a land that produced only death. And those symbols of life were always in abundance. They were always enough, and they satisfied the hunger and the thirsts of all the people. God’s gifts, are always satisfying, always fulfilling, and always enough. God grant that we will have the eyes of faith to realize this during this time of our testing in the desert.

In 40 years, Moses kept the eyes of his heart focused on God’s gifts and God’s glory. And it was God’s glory that led him at every step of the way through the wilderness. The writer of his obituary says that Moses had sight that was unimpaired and vigor that was unabated. And it was that vision and that vigor that brought him to the final moments of his ministry, when in a blaze of glory, God kissed him into eternity. How good is that? How good is our vision? Can we rejoice in what we see? Is there a blaze of God’s glory that constantly surrounds us?

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