Death and Birth

July 15, 2006

Sunrise over Cemetery.  Photo by Richard BoltWell, Moses is dead.  Surprised?  I hope not– I hear he has been dead for some time now.

What’s interesting to me is that the Daily Office Old Testament lesson for today is Deut. 34: 1-12, where Moses gets to see the promised land before dying.

It is also interesting that today is my birthday, and I moved into my new home in Austin this week.  The timing of these things makes me remember a post I wrote a few months ago on The Festival of the Booths.

And, what is the most interesting is that the people of Israel had to let go of one of the most important pieces of their old life in order to move into their new life.  In order to grow, a part of them had to die.  Moses had taken them far, but could take them no further.  I’ve read speculation as to why Moses couldn’t go any further, but the Bible isn’t really clear on why Moses couldn’t cross the Jordan.

Maybe it is because the people of Israel had grown up enough to need to take the next step.  The people had Joshua, but Joshua had less “spiritual” leadership than Moses.  The people, perhaps, had to rely less on someone else to tell them what to do and to rely more on their own faith, their own trust.  Moses warns them that they will try and fail many times, but the God of love always brings them back to the right place.

I wonder if in some ways that isn’t where we all are.  That we all have to let something go in order to gain something more.  We seem to have an innate need to want a Moses- a prophet to come down off the mountain and give us concrete answers carved in stone.  Would that it were that easy!

When we don’t have such a prophet, we find it so hard to work with each other to trust in God to move us forward.  Working from our singlular points of view, we’re unwilling or unable to let go of our own personal “Moseses”- hanging onto that guide that we think will lead us to the promised land, which has instead died long ago. 

Letting go is hard.  I think, though, that it is the core of the resurrection we have in Christ.  Imagine if Thomas had not been able to let go of the crucified Jesus and had instead insisted always that Jesus was dead.  If we cannot embrace that we always must die in order to give new birth– that we must move from beginning to new beginning– then we are dead already.

In my own journey, I feel the resurrection.  I have physically, emotionally, and spiritually moved from one home to another.  I have left something behind in order to establish something new.  I’m not trying to sound aloof- I’m just trying to share something that feels wonderful.  Maybe I will even move theologically :).  We shall see.  But of one thing I am sure, on this my birthday, this my day to remember my growth- if we are so attached to our own selves- be that physical, emotional, spiritual, or theological- that we cannot hear anything else, nor even accept the possibility of anything else- than we are dead already.

j

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6 Responses to “Death and Birth”

  1. Susan Russell Says:

    Happy Birthday!

  2. Louise Says:

    Ditto to HB, Jeff!

    As for prophets, Isreal is in much need of one today to lead them away from the bombing and pummeling of Lebanon. I have visited Beirut twice on business. It was once and was trying to be again the Paris of the middle east. I worked with people who grew up with bombs dropping on them everyday. The Lebanese are a peaceful, loving people. It sickens my heart to watch CNN as they report more devastation to this country only 70 miles in length. Where are the prophets of peace? Where are the voices of peace? Where is the respect for every human being? We need more reluctant prophets like Moses.

    Hope you have a fun day. Keep blogging!

  3. Milton Says:

    Ditto on Happy Birthday! Jeff, are you saying seriously that the Bible is not clear on why Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land?

    You write:

    ” Moses had taken them far, but could take them no further. I’ve read speculation as to why Moses couldn’t go any further, but the Bible isn’t really clear on why Moses couldn’t cross the Jordan.

    Maybe it is because the people of Israel had grown up enough to need to take the next step. The people had Joshua, but Joshua had less “spiritual” leadership than Moses. The people, perhaps, had to rely less on someone else to tell them what to do and to rely more on their own faith, their own trust. Moses warns them that they will try and fail many times, but the God of love always brings them back to the right place.”

    OK, here goes. Start at Deuteronomy 32: 48-52, especially vs. 51, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel.” Seems plain enough, with no special need of interpretation, but only to look up the incident to which the LORD refers.

    What happened at the waters of Meribah-kadesh? A footnote in the NASB says “meribah” means “quarrel” or “contention”. Exodus 17: 1-7 gives an account of the event, where the people camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. The people seemed ready to stone Moses. Vs. 5-6 show how the LORD provided water, but not how Moses failed to treat God as holy. “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”

    Now go to Numbers 20: 1-13 In this account the LORD asks Moses only to “speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water”. But Moses yields to his anger with the rebellious people and this scene unfolds”
    Numbers 20: 10-12 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

    Note that Moses did not say the LORD would bring forth water from the rock but asks, “shall we (Moses and Aaron) bring forth water”, claiming credit for God’s work. Also, Moses vents his anger not at the people’s rebellion against God but against himself, and strikes the rock in anger not once, but twice!

    Is there anything left unclear by the Bible about why Moses only looked upon the Promised Land but was not allowed to cross over into it? Cheers, and enjoy the birthday and the new house!

  4. Jim Says:

    Our great American prophet might very well have mouthed the words that Moses might have thought and spoken, but didn’t make their way into the Bible:

    “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
    “And I don’t mind.
    “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
    “And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

    Rest in peace, brother Moses and brother Martin. Because of you, we are walking in the light of God.

  5. Jeff Says:

    Thanks for all the Happy Birthdays.

    On the Middle East issues, it is certainly difficult for me to understand not only Israel’s response to their current problems, but how our president can support this inhuman policy of barbarianism against their neigbors in Lebanon. Oh- I forget- this is the same president who thinks nothing of “collateral damage” which extends to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and thousands of American lives so long as he gets his way in an unjust war to extend his empire. He must relate in some way to the Israeli PM.

    But I digress…

    j

  6. Jeff Says:

    Milton-

    Yes, I’ve heard that version as one possibility on why God might have been upset with Moses over the Meribah-kadesh incident. Yes, of course it stems from Moses bringing water for the congregation when they request it- a reasonable request, I believe, when one is in the midst of a wilderness and quite thirsty.

    Here is a brief note from my study Bible that I think asks most of my questions. The note begins on Num 20:12:

    The LORD’s angry response and punishment of Moses and Aaron is surprising and difficult to explain. Commentators have offered many possible solutions, but no clear explanation emerges out of the narrative itself. Did Moses’ act of striking the rock disobey the LORD’s instruction only to ‘command the rock’ (v.8)? Did Moses and Aaron in some way take credit themselves and away from the LORD (v.10)? Both Moses and Aaron are condemned to join the old generation in death outside the promised land of Canaan. Aaron’s death is recorded in 20.22-29 and Moses’ death is recorded in Deut. 34.1-8.

    Whatever the case, Moses as God’s faithful servant, I think does nothing here deserving of death and not being able to enter the promised land. Since Louise brought it up, it is a little bit like the Israeli response to the Palestinians or Lebanese. Israel has a kidnapping- not good news. But to begin an all out war with Lebanon is certainly an overstated response to that action. It is endemic to the way Israel has responded to their foes in the past, and there is a precedent that it has had no effect on the future actions of the very foes they seek to thwart.

    Similarly, God’s actions here with Moses seem disproportionate, given that we don’t really know conclusively what Moses has done wrong. God doesn’t say, “Moses, I really wish you had tapped the rock three times instead of just two.” We just find out that God is angry and have to deduce why.

    That was my point on the “not knowing why”– which was, incidentally, not the major theme of the post, as I’m sure you got.

    j


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