Preparing for Death

As we advance in years, and death looms closer, what do we have to look forward to?  What can make life and death worthwhile?

For 40 years, Moses had been leading the Israelites through the desert, on their way to settling in the Promised Land.  For 40 years that seemed to be Moses’ role in life and his purpose in living.  But before he reaches the goal—before he can lead the people into the Promised Land—Moses dies.  He climbs a mountain to the east of Jericho and gazes upon the Promised Land, but that’s as close as Moses gets. 

Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson suggests that in our final stage of life, we look back upon our lives, wondering whether we achieved our goals in life, whether our life has been productive, and whether our life was worth living.  The answer to our contemplation will result either in bitterness and despair or with a sense of completeness and closure.  Thus, we can face death either with dread or with peace.

When I first read the story of Moses’ death, I reacted to it with great sorrow.  It seemed tragic to me that Moses got so close, but did not get to complete his life’s mission.  But as I look more closely at the life of Moses, I realize that Moses had his heart set on something greater than entering the Promised Land.  Exodus 33 tells us that Moses made three great requests of God:

  • In verse 13, Moses asks, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways.”
  • In verse 15, he pleads, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”
  • And in verse 18, he requests, “Show me your glory.”

These are the things Moses longed for most deeply, and these are the things that were fulfilled in his life. 

  • Moses wanted to know God’s ways, and he gave to us the Ten Commandments. 
  • He longed for God’s presence, and Deuteronomy 34:10 records, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
  • And he longed to see God’s glory.  This was a more difficult request.  Indeed, God told him, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  As it turned out, God put Moses in “a cleft of a rock” and allowed Moses to see his backside as he passed by.  That was good, but not quite enough.  Moses was left still with the longing to see God’s glory.  That longing would be fulfilled at Moses’ death.  As Max Lucado points out, “We may speak about a place where there are no tears, no death, no fear, no night; but those are just the benefits of heaven.  The beauty of heaven is seeing God!”  Therefore the story of Moses death is not a sad conclusion to his life and but a joyful anticipation of heaven!

Moses’ life must not be considered a disappointment because he failed to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land; it must be recognized as a success because he teaches us how to love God more deeply and to trust God more fully.  Ruth Haley Barton summarizes well the legacy Moses leaves to us: “Every time I read about Moses’ relationship with God I am filled with longing, and it is not the longing to get somewhere…. It is the longing to be a certain kind of person.  A person who knows God.  A person who is faithful against all odds and does not shrink back.  A person through whom God can perform whatever deeds need to be done—mighty or otherwise—but also a person who can be just as content settling down beside a well or sitting on the side of a mountain in God’s presence.  Someone whose face shines because she has been talking to God.  Someone whose every move is a result of an attempt to listen to God and then do what he says.  Someone who, when God says, ‘It’s time to let go; it’s time for you to come home,’ easily lets go and rests in the arms of this One whom she has grown to love and trust with her very being.” (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, p. 219)

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