End of an Era

View from Mt. Nebo
View from Mt. Nebo, Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Then Moses left the plains of Moab and climbed Mount Nebo to the overlook at Pisgah, opposite Jericho. From there God showed him the Land, all of it from Gilead to Dan, from Naphtali to Ephraim and Manasseh, from Judah to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Plains of Negeb (including the valley of Jericho with all its palm trees) to Zoar.

God said to Moses, “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I told them I would give it to their descendants. I’ve let your eyes see it, but you shall not go there.”

Then God struck Moses down and he died there in Moab. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a Moab valley opposite the House of the Gorge. But no one knows exactly where. Moses was 120 years old when he died. He never lost his sight or strength.

The Israelites mourned Moses’ death there on the plains of Moab for a month. When the official morning period was over, Joshua Nun became their new wise leader, hand-picked by Moses. So the Israelites continued to follow Moses’ orders. But never since has there been a truth-teller like Moses, who knew God face to face. When it comes to the number of signs and spectacles of God in Egypt against Pharaoh, his minions, and his empire, and the number of the mighty deeds and displays of sheer power he showed the Israelites – nobody can match Moses. Nobody.

The Herbrew tries to soften the blow. A close translation reads: “Moses died by the Lord’s command.” But however you try to make it sound, God ended it. By God’s command may as well be the same as a flaming sword or a bolt of lightning.

In the same way, the Scripture makes it very clear that Moses was the best there ever was. The best. The greatest. Bar none. And he died.

Deuteronomy doesn’t go into making excuses for or explaining away either of these two disturbing points. There is no recapitulation here about striking the rock at Horeb. There is no rationalizing God’s action. Thankfully. Because this is how it is. With Moses and with us.

No matter how great we are, or what we’ve accomplished, or how famous we are, no matter how close to God we may be, we are time-limited. At some point it ends. And the greatest lights of our day are great in part because they recognize that death is integral to our reality.

In part, then, to become great at whatever you’re doing (ministry, being a church, business, scholarship, art, whatever) requires realizing that the time we have is it. Do your best work in every moment you have. That way, when you come to the moment when you, by the command of the Lord or otherwise, come to the end with no excuses, no regrets.

Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs