Looking ahead as young adults, we hoped to accomplish much. Looking back at previous decades, we ask ourselves, “What was actually achieved?
During a recent reading of Deuteronomy, this question arose: “What did Moses accomplish?” How did his life end?” He achieved a great deal. He led two million Israelites through a desert for 40 years! His leadership skills are still studied today. He wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). Enormous accomplishments.
And yet he experienced several negatives at the end of his life that must have left a sour taste. As we evaluate what we accomplished in life, his situation can give us perspective. His experience balances our hopes, aspirations and expectations with the reality that we are utterly ruined by sin and live in a sin-cursed world. Looking at Moses’ life will give us a benchmark and a baseline for what may happen to us at the end of our lives.
Four end-of-life negatives may have taken some of the shine off for him (not for generations of students of his leadership, not for history’s verdict, but for him). These may blunt our own expectations in a way that balances and instructs us.
Sin unto death It is startling to realize that the great Moses committed a sin that God could not tolerate. A sin that resulted in an early physical death. The “sin unto death” (I John 5:16) is not a specific sin, but rather sinning in a situation that God could not allow (Joshua 7; Acts 5). Something He had to address.
Moses’ sin was striking a rock instead of speaking to it as God directed. He also identified himself too closely with God and not closely enough with the sinful, rebellious people he was leading. He claimed a bit more for himself by saying, “Must WE bring water out of this rock” (Numbers 20:10)! He failed to maintain a respectful distance between himself and God; a bit too cozy with the Almighty.
Leadership Transition As we come to Deuteronomy 31:1-3, 14 and 32:50, Moses knows his time is short. The nation of Israel was perched on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, ready to cross into the Promised Land. Moses must focus on a smooth transition and ensure the nation goes forward, even though he knows he will die within a few days. He is emotionally stressed.
Handing on your “baby” to anyone is wrenching (and normally it is done to someone younger; someone considerably less battle-proven). You have labored over it; poured yourself into it. And no one knows the sacrifices you’ve made to bring it to its present state of health and/or prosperity. All of Moses’ life reached a climax on the east bank of the Jordan River, but his focus had to be the future progress of Israel.
Longing for the Land For 40 years Moses had wandered in a wilderness, “enjoying” the heat, bugs, thirst and dust in his food. But he dreamed about the land God had promised. His anticipation of an abundant land sustained him. I would guess he had thought for hours about what he would do, where he will settle and what he will build. And how life would be after he retired from his overwhelming duties. All of those expectations are blown up! He is going to die early.
Israel Become Corrupt If you are leading an extended family, a business, or a church, you anticipate progress. Advancement. Growth. But God told Moses that after he died, the nation would become corrupt (Deuteronomy 31:16 & 17; 19). The people would rebel, follow local gods, and fall away from all he had struggled to teach them. How was Moses to evaluate his life-long contribution to God’s glory knowing that what he had labored to teach and model would be lost? (Can we expect better in life?)
Conclusion While a few people go out on top, with their boots on, still productive, the majority do not. How does one evaluate his / her life-time accomplishments when so many large negatives accumulate in the last part of a given life? Life ain’t no rose garden! No Disneyland. Suppose you are losing your home, an adult son or daughter is failing in some significant way, the family is fractured and you are in a lot of physical pain – are you still a success? Suppose . . . (put your present circumstances here).
Being fallen sinners, we imagine that we are supplying something essential to God’s kingdom. That what we are doing is foundational. That it is needed. Indeed, we may be rendering valuable, kingdom-building, Christ-honoring service. But even in our Evangelical churches, we can be building our own kingdom within God’s Kingdom, all in the name of being very spiritual, of course.
Yet our text makes it clear that God may use us for a while and we are privileged to invest our lives and assets to advance the name of Jesus Christ, God is not obligated to us, nor dependent upon us. Our reputations are unguaranteed. It is not over until it is over.
God has promised us He will never leave those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has unconditionally accepted Christians and destined them for eternity with Jesus Christ. That may have to be enough even if we have significant negatives. Moses was a success in spite of his end-of-life negatives. Assuming that obeying Jesus Christ has been a regular part of our lives, so are we.