Why Stop at Pisgah?*

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by Lt. Colonel Sharon Robertson –

The man stood alone on the arid heights. He was old–very old–but he had the hardened body and the vitality of a much younger man, and his vision was undimmed–by age, at least. He was conscious of a mist of unshed tears as he gazed hungrily at the land of his dreams. The Promised Land. So close–so very close–the land he would never claim.

He had been a leader of his people. Male and female, young and old, they had looked to him for guidance, as children look to their father. He loved them as a father loves his rebellious children. A sour smile twisted his lips as he thought of the journey now behind them. They had been slaves in Egypt, and the Lord had rescued them from servitude, but they had not yet achieved all that God held in store for them. God was leading them to the Promised Land. For years, they stumbled and muttered their way through the wilderness, sometimes doing well in their service, and delighting in the blessings of God, and at other times muttering, complaining, and even rebelling against him. Many, saved from slavery, died in the wilderness and never made it to the Promised Land at all. Moses was one of them. Joy and despair struggled for mastery within him as he stood on the heights of Pisgah, looking across the Jordan.

Moses, of course, was the great leader of the Israelites. He is honored even today by three major religious faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Jesus quoted him. In fact, in the New Testament Moses is referred to or quoted more than 70 times. He was one of the prophets who appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And yet, this great man never achieved his dream of entering the Promised Land. Why?

The wilderness experience has often been considered a picture of the Christian’s spiritual journey. As the crossing through the Red Sea was a type of salvation, so the claiming of the Promised Land has been considered a type of claiming God’s gift of holiness. And there are still lessons to be learned. So what kept Moses from crossing over Jordan and taking possession of the Promised Land? Three things: his attitude, his actions, and his refusal to take responsibility for either.

It happened at the rock.

At Meribah in Kadesh Barnea, Moses and Aaron, instead of pointing to God as the one who was responding to the cries of his people, said, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock?” Whether it was anger or arrogance that caused Moses to fail to honor the holy God, the fact remains: he did not give God the honor due him.

Moses, instead of speaking to the rock, as God had instructed, raised his arm and struck the rock. Yes, the water gushed out–God, in his mercy, met the needs of his people–but Moses had disobeyed God. Why did Moses strike the rock? Was he thinking, “This is how I did it last time, God just didn’t spell it out this time?” Was he thinking, period? Is it possible that he had come to the conclusion that it was he and God who caused the waters to flow? Or did he think he could put on a better show to impress the people? Whatever it was that caused him to disobey God’s instructions, the fact remains: he disobeyed.

Moses failed to acknowledge his sins, and repent. God does not turn his back on his people when they acknowledge their sins and seek his forgiveness and cleansing. Sadly, Moses seemed unable to do this. There is no evidence that Moses ever accepted responsibility for his own sins committed at Meribah of Kadesh Barnea. God told Moses in no uncertain terms what he had done wrong, but time and again Moses said to the Israelites, “Because of you, the Lord was angry with me also, and said, ‘You shall not enter it.'”

Moses was a great man of God. Deuteronomy ends with the words, Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt…no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deut. 34:10-12). But Moses was not allowed the joy of entering the Promised Land.

Unacknowledged, unforgiven sin can keep us from entering into the experience of holiness offered by God himself. God simply asks that we fully surrender our lives to him, seek his forgiveness and cleansing, and claim his holiness. Why should we, like Moses, remain only spectators to the fulfillment of God’s promise?

The Promised Land awaits.

* References: Deuteronomy 3:21-28; Numbers 20:2-12

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