The Pisgah View

There she was again, her nose flattened against the screen door. If she appeared, it was always at suppertime when I was busy in the kitchen. She wasn’t a waif. Four or five years older than my toddler daughter, she didn’t ask to play. She peered through the wire mesh for a while and then was gone. The girl from next door  just wanted to look. Enigmatically, it was, I suppose, her Pisgah view. And I think it was bittersweet, as it was for Moses.

Moses, the mediator-man God had chosen to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and take to the Promised Land, would not set a foot on its soil. This faithful servant of God who, for forty years, had led and put up with the vacillating and rebellious Israelites begged the Almighty, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:25 ESV).

God, as Righteous Judge, refused to listen:  “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again” (Deuteronomy 3:26 ESV). Sadly, the die had been cast earlier that year.

The multitude of millions had whined for water at Meribah-kadesh, and Moses had asked God what to do about it. The answer was specific: 

‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink’ (Numbers 20:8 NASB).

If only Moses had checked his emotions–thought about cause and effect before he spoke and acted–the result would have been different:

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank (Numbers 20:10-11 NASB).

Yes, the congregation saw a miracle and got the life-giving water, but Moses would not get the long-anticipated prize of entering the Promised Land. He blew his future hope:   “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 NASB).

Moses, prophet and lawgiver, said and did everything wrong that day. It was bad enough he manifested anger and impatience when he called the assembly “rebels” and struck the rock not once but twice.

Going from bad to worse, Moses deflected the miracle from God to himself and Aaron when he said, “Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Such a small pronoun–we–with far-reaching implications. All the way up to and including breaking the first of the Ten Commandments God had spoken to Moses at the beginning of their pilgrimage:  “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). Lodged in that significant “we” was the suggestion that the Israelites would come to think of Moses as deity.

The worst infraction, however, was his disobedience bred from unbelief. Propelled by his anger and pride, Moses focused on himself and did not perform the miracle as God had directed. True, when he had struck the rock at Rephidim with that same rod, water poured out. But that was the way God wanted it done in Year 1 of the  journey (Exodus 17:1-6). In Year 40 God said nothing about hitting the rock. His instruction was to “speak to the rock.” The spoken word standing alone would give God all the glory for the miracle. God adamantly refuses to give His glory to someone or something else (Isaiah 42:8).

Everyone except Moses would walk into the Promised Land. In His grace and mercy, however, God permits Moses a panorama before he dies: “‘Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan'” (Deuteronomy 3:27 ESV). No, Moses did not go over “this Jordan”; but he did go over another Jordan, where he received a greater inheritance, as evidenced in the New Testament:

 Six days later Jesus chose Peter, James and his brother John, to accompany him high up on the hill-side where they were quite alone. There his whole appearance changed before their eyes, his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Then Moses and Elijah were seen talking to Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3 Phillips).

We, too, for whatever reason, may not obtain the earthly goal of our lifelong labors; but by faith we can know that ultimately God’s vision will be realized.


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