What does God owe us?
Do you ever think about the way Moses’ story ends? There’s something about it that connects with me on an almost unconscious level, probably due to my attraction to bittersweet, melancholy stories…
Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, as the LORD had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. He said to them, “Listen you rebels! Should we produce water from the rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice. Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them.” (Numbers 20:9-12 CEB)
“The LORD was angry with me because of your deeds and swore that I couldn’t cross the Jordan River or enter the wonderful land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. I will die here in this land. I won’t cross the Jordan River. But you will, and you will take possession of that wonderful land.” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22)
- God appears to man (Moses) in a burning bush and says, “I want to release my people from slavery, you go do it.
- Man resists.
- God insists.
- Man resists, but hesitantly begins, and courageously speaks “truth to power”.
- God acts.
- Man watches miracles happen, culminating with the freeing of Israel.
- Man faithfully leads nation through the wilderness, interceding for them, judging their disputes, and keeping their complaining in line.
- Man makes mistake, and God tells him he will not enter the promise land.
For me, I don’t focus on the mistake/punishment part of it; that just doesn’t seem to be part of the equation. What does fascinate me is Moses’ faithfulness to the vision, and then the (apparent) acceptance of the fact that he will not be a part of its completion.
I wonder how easy it was for Moses to release that dream.
I think a lot of us confuse what God has promised to us with what God has promised.
We like to add pronouns—“I”, “me”, “mine”—then we get very attached to them.
We build whole theologies that say, “God will promise me amazing things.”
But even at the beginning of the whole operation, God doesn’t specifically promise that He will do great things for Moses:
“Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)
He does promise to do things through Moses.
God does want freedom for His people, but some of us will be called to be Moses: we may start the journey, and lead people through the wilderness, but our part will be done before the journey is complete.
Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t get to see amazing things: manna, instruction, guidance, flames, and clouds.
But it does mean we have to get used to surrendering our pronouns.
We are so used to fighting for our dreams and for spiritual “visions”, but that’s not always the point. God may want to indeed do something amazing, but the role we play may not be the one we think.
“Then the LORD said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however you will not cross over into it.”
Then Moses, the LORD’s servant, died—right there in the land of Moab, according to the LORD’s command. The LORD buried him in a valley in Moabite country across from Beth-peor. Even now, no one knows where Moses’ grave is. (Deuteronomy 34:4-6)
One of the great acts of art in a life is to be able to release our dreams, and be able to throw ourselves into God with no preconceived notions of “crossing into the promise land.” To be able to say, “God there is a great unknown out there, but I will choose life with you—even without any promises of success or “good things”—over anything else. It’s the mark of greatness, of a very high level of surrender and spirituality…