Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the death of Moses

Highlights from Sunday's lesson on Deuteronomy 34, the closing chapter of "the Pentateuch" (the first five books of the Bible or "the Law")...

The first question I asked was about the sort of music one would use to accompany the scene of Moses ascending the mountain and looking out from Mt. Nebo to Canaan. Our answer was some combination of triumphant, majestic, and bittersweet. It is a wonderful ending to a staggeringly great life-- and yet, there is this poignancy of Moses only seeing the Promised Land instead of entering it (because of his sin in Numbers 20).

Some miscellaneous observations:
-Moses climb up the mountain (vs. 1) gives a picture of his "ascension" into heaven.

-It's interesting that he's being punished (only seeing the Promised Land), but is about to receive something far more glorious (heaven). Similarly, for the believer, the things of earth matter but ultimately and ironically pale beside the things of heaven.

-What an honor it is for Moses to have been buried by God (vs. 6a)!

-What a smart move to have the location of Moses' bones unknown (vs. 6b).

-Who wrote Dt 34? Either a very divinely inspired Moses-- or more likely, Joshua, Eleazar or Samuel.

-Moses' death (as the law-giver/deliverer) signifies that the Law could make nothing perfect. It is left to Joshua (whose name means "the Lord saves"-- as a type of Jesus and the Spirit-filled life) to accomplish that.

-It's interesting that Charlton Heston died the week of my lesson on Moses-- and that he was not nearly as strong as Moses is depicted at the end (vs. 7b).

-Moses' death makes Joshua's leadership transition far smoother and far less complex.

Then, we covered Moses' epithet of sorts-- the awesome final three verses of Dt. 34:

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt-- to Pharaoh and to all his official 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.

In the larger picture of biblical history, Moses was the Prophet-- only to be eclipsed by the PROPHET Jesus Christ (as evidenced in Hebrews 3:1-6). In the words of Matthew Henry, the other prophets only took care of much more limited matters-- "particular reproofs, directions and predictions"

I wrapped up by reading three quotes on Moses' death and life-- the last of which was from a favorite author of mine, Frederick Buechner in his book, Peculiar Treasures. Here's an excerpt of what I read:

“Like Abraham before him and Noah before that, not to mention a lot of others since, the figure of Moses, breathing his last up there in the hills with his sore feet and aching back serves as a good example of the fact that when God puts the finger on people, their troubles have just begun. And yet there’s not a doubt in the world that in the last analysis, Moses like the rest of those tough old birds, wouldn’t have had it any different…

[O]ut of the burning bush, God had collared him the first time, he had asked God what His name was, and God had told him so that from then on he could get in touch with Him any time he wanted. Nobody had known God’s name before…and with that thought in his heart up there on
Mt. Nebo, and with that name on his lips, and the sunset in his whiskers, he became in the end a kind of burning bush himself.”

I can't read the longer passage to myself without tearing up. And I can't read it in public without choking up. I'm simply blown away by Moses as a leader and as a human being.

From there, I transitioned into a discussion of the future of our Sunday School class-- after Tonia and I join the Southern Indiana campus of Southeast-- including some humor with the Top Ten ways that I'm similar to Moses.


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