Moses misses out
1. Introduction – missing out!
ILLN – In late 1987 Melinda and I went to England for 2 years. As the time drew near to go home again, we started planning our holiday home. Decided to do a safari in Africa. We arrived in Africa, had a great time on safari, and then it was time to catch the plane to Australia. So we turn up at Harare airport in Zimbabwe, a week before Christmas, ready to come back to Australia and celebrate Christmas with our families. Show our tickets and passports – yes sir, you can go, but sorry, your wife can’t. I was born in Australia and so I have an Aussie passport. Melinda however was born in UK, so whilst we were in the UK she traveled on her British passport, and during our time away her Australian passport expired. To get back into Australia from Africa she either needed an Australian passport, which was now out of date, or an Australian visa for her British passport, which she didn’t have. She wasn’t going home on that flight. Despite all our begging, pleading, and even offering to pay the fine at the other end – no go! And so she didn’t make it back to Australia for Christmas Day. Missed out! So close and yet so far!
The end of Moses’ life is also a case of so close and yet so far, and missing out. Over the past four weeks we’ve looked briefly at the life of Moses. As we come to look at the end of his life, Moses is now 120 years old. He has been a great servant of God. He has seen God bring his people out of their slavery in Egypt, and now heading for the Promised Land. But not only has Moses seen God do it, God has done so much of it through him - the 10 plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the death of the Egyptian Army, the provision of water from the rock, quail from the skies and manna on the ground. Moses has been in all of it. And now as reach the end of Deuteronomy God is only a month or so away from fulfilling his promises to Abraham from centuries earlier, of bringing his people into the Promised Land. What a time to be alive! But only 2 adults from those thousands of adults who crossed the Red Sea will make it into the Land. Why? And why wasn’t Moses one of them? What happened to him? And what can we learn from it? That’s what we want to look at today.
So let’s pray. PRAY
2. Many Israelites miss out!
Let’s just recap where we are in the story of Moses. 2 weeks ago we saw God’s heavy hand of judgement on Egypt, and his salvation of Israel in the 10 plagues. We saw how under God, Moses led Israel out of Egypt. Last week we remembered how Moses and the people miraculously passed through the Red Sea when God parted the waters before them. We saw their great victory celebrations, then just 3 days later they were grumbling and complaining and showing a great lack of trust in God – they were thirsty, they were hungry, they wished they were back in Egypt. But again and again God miraculously provides for them – water from the rock, manna on the ground 6 mornings a week, quail from the sky every night.
Over the next year Israel travel in the desert, spending time with God at Mt Sinai to receive the 10 commandments, and then a year after the Exodus celebrating the Passover again. But all that time they kept ignoring God and rebelling against him – perhaps the most infamous episode was the making of the golden calf as an idol while they were waiting for Moses at Mt Sinai. The picture we have of the people is not very encouraging.
Well, soon after that the people were off – heading for the Promised Land. And as they come near, God tells Moses, in Numbers 13, to send 12 men out to be spies and to explore the land. After 40 days they came back. Yes, it’s a great land, but… 10 of the 12 spies said Israel shouldn’t go into the land as the people there were stronger than they were. The other 2 spies said they should go, because the Lord would be with them. All the Israelites except Moses, and Aaron, sided with the 10. No – we shouldn’t go. Why? They didn’t trust God. And then the glory of the Lord appeared to Moses and God told Moses he would punish those who didn’t trust him. They wouldn’t enter the Promised Land. Instead Israel would wander in the desert for 40 years until all that generation who didn’t trust God died. What should have been an 11 day journey to get to the Promised Land would now take them 40 years.
Why? It’s that little 3 letter word which has such huge consequences – Sin! Because of their sin in not trusting God they would miss out. How devastating. To miss out on life in the land God promised. How devastating!
3. Moses misses out!
But of the 4 who did trust God, the 2 spies, Moses and Aaron, only 2 of them made it into the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb, the 2 spies who came back trusting God. Not even Moses would go into the Land. We saw that in our first reading didn’t we - there is Israel camped within sight of the Promised Land, and Moses climbs up to the top of a high mountain, looks out across the Jordan river and sees the land stretched out before him. What a marvellous sight. And then God takes his life and buries him. Why? Surely he trusted God. If anyone did it must have been Moses. Look at his epitaph – v7, v10-12. What wonderful words. Surely if anyone was going to get into the Promised Land it was Moses. What on earth happened to him?
Again that little word – sin. Did you see the reason in Deut 32:50-51 – God says to Moses ‘you will die and be gathered to your people (and then to v51)… because both of you (that is Moses and Aaron) broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.’
What is this all about? Turn back with me to Numbers 20.
As Numbers 20 opens we learn the Israelites have been wandering around for 39 years. And as they began in the desert all the years earlier, so they end – grumbling. Again there is no water, v2, and again the people quarrel with Moses – v3. Again Moses and Aaron take it to the Lord. The Lord appears in glory to silence the people, and promises to again graciously provide. How long-suffering is God? It is amazing isn’t it.
God says to Moses – v8 of Num 20 – ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
Just as we saw last week – water from the rock. But different. Here Moses is only to speak to the rock, not strike it as he did last time. Speak to the rock and it will obey, unlike the people who had heard so much and didn’t obey. But look at what happens.
V9 – ‘So Moses took the staff from the LORD'S presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Moses and Aaron will miss out on going into the Promised Land because they disobeyed God and dishonoured him in the sight of all Israel. God told them only to assemble the congregation and then just speak to the rock. They didn’t. Moses assembled the congregation and then spoke to them, and in doing so seemed to suggest that he would do this miracle not God, detracting from God’s glory. And even though God had not told him to strike the rock, he did, twice. Perhaps out of sheer anger and frustration at Israel after 40 years of traveling around with them. I don’t know. Ps 106:33 tells us they were rash words from Moses’ mouth. Whatever the reason, Moses disobeyed God, and dishonoured him. A lack of trust. Disbelief. Not upholding God’s holiness. Sin.
And the consequence – Moses will not lead Israel into the Promised Land, but will miss out. The last 40 years of his life had been preparing for this time – but he won’t get there. Devastating. All because of sin. That little 3 letter word. A sin that to me seems so small, but is enough to disqualify these two awesome servants of God from going into the Promised Land, and so they miss out. Aaron will die later on in Numbers 20 on the top of Mt Hor, and Moses as we have seen in Deut 34 dies on the top of Mt Nebo, both of them outside of the Promised Land.
This is the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes. What seems small and petty to us – is so significant in God’s eyes. Even one sin will disqualify us from God’s Promised Land – and who of us is not guilty of at least one?
4. Or did he?
Well, did Moses miss out? Yes – he missed out on going into the land of Canaan. But Canaan is not the end. It is not God’s final resting place – not his final Promised Land. Moses’ hope was our hope – being part of God’s new heavens and new earth. Heb 11:26 tells us that ‘Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.’ Not the reward of Canaan, but of eternity with God in his new heavens and new earth, the true Promised Land.
Did Moses miss out on that as well?
Do you remember the account of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? Who appeared before Jesus and his disciples? Elijah and Moses. And in Lk 9:31 we learn that they talked to Jesus about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem’ They talked to Jesus about his death.
Moses is there because he is still spiritually alive. He will be in the new heavens and the new earth, for the same reason anyone is - because of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death pays for the sin of all people, even those who lived before he came to earth, people like Moses. Moses’ sin will not keep him out of the better Promised Land, because of what Jesus did for him. Moses doesn’t get into God’s eternal Promised Land because he was a great leader, or because God did all those miracles through him, or because God spoke to him or gave him the law, or because he kept the law. We’ve already seen he sinned and disobeyed God and dishonoured him. No, Moses gets into heaven because Jesus died for his sins, and as Moses put his trust in God in repentance and faith, so he has the promise of being in the better Promised Land. And he didn’t miss out on that. It is the same for us.
5. The incredible mercy of God!
As we’ve been going through these accounts of Moses and the people, I have been struck again by the incredible mercy of God. God raised up Moses in answer to Israel’s cries. He spared his life as a baby. He forgave him as a murderer. He used him as a leader and an instrument of his miracles. Even when God’s justice must be done – in punishing the people, he leaves all those under 20. When Aaron must be punished God ensures the priesthood remains, as Eleazar takes over from his father. When Moses must be punished – God grants him a look at Canaan, a sign of God’s being reconciled to him. And God ensures there is another leader to take Israel into the Promised Land, Joshua; and another mediator between God and the people – not a person this time, but the Law, the written word of God, which is to be at the centre of Israel’s life, to guide and direct the people into God’s ways and will.
Yet Eleazar and Joshua will also die. And the Law itself would prove unable to save people from that little 3 letter word - sin. What would God do about all these things?
Well again God is incredibly gracious. He continues to provide all we need.
We need a new priest – Heb 4 tells us Jesus is our great high priest now in the heavens.
And we need a new leader to take us into the Promised Land – That is Jesus. He was tempted in the desert 40 days just like Israel, yet he did not sin. He will succeed where Israel and Moses failed. And through his death and resurrection he has now gone before us into heaven, and he now makes the new Israel, the church of all believers, who will enter the Promised Land despite their sin, for their sin has been dealt with in his death.
And so Jesus is now our new mediator between us and God – so in 1 Tim 2:5 Paul tells us ‘there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men’. The Law cannot save us, but Jesus can and does through his death on the cross.
Ultimately Moses and all he did and said point us forward to Jesus Christ.
6. Don’t you miss out!
Friends, back in 1989 Melinda needed a Passport or Visa to get back into Australia – she didn’t have one and so missed out until she got one.
The Israelites needed faith in God to get into the Promised Land – so many of them didn’t have it, and so missed out. And the Bible warns us in Heb 3 and 1 Cor 10, not to miss out like the Israelites did, because of unbelief.
There is only one way into God’s Promised Land, only one way to be part of the new heavens and the new earth God is preparing – and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. He is our passport, and because of our sin there is no other. You need to ask yourself - Do I have that faith, or will I miss out? It is a faith that will express itself every day in trusting God, and seeking to obey him every day as we see the seriousness of sin, and God’s answer in Christ.