The Dispensable Man

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Who could ever fill the shoes of a prophet like Moses?

Through Moses, God performed powerful deeds to free his people. Moses rallied the dispirited Hebrew slaves and in God’s name confronted the Pharaoh who held them in bondage.  Even though the Egyptians reacted to the Hebrews’ demands with yet harsher treatment, Moses held them together as God rained down his plagues on Israel’s oppressors.  As the final plague took the lives of Egypt’s young, God passed over the Israelites whose homes were marked with the blood of the lamb. At the Red Sea, God used Moses to destroy the Pharaoh’s army and lead the Israelites to safety through the sea. Generations later, the author of Deuteronomy could easily say, “No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses” (Deuteronomy 34:10).

At the age of 120, however, Moses died and the Israelites grieved (Deuteronomy 34:7-8). They grieved, as any people would, for their friend and leader. But they also grieved for the one who “did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:11-12).

Israel was sitting on the border of the Promised Land when Moses died and more battles surely waited just over the horizon. Still, not even the death of Israel’s incomparable prophet would not thwart God’s intentions for Israel. In his last encounter with Moses,

The Lord showed him the whole land–from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.'” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4).

Moses wasn’t the last hope of Israel. As Yoda said to Obi Wan Kenobi, “There is another.”

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses. (Deuteronomy 34:9)

Moses died and Joshua assumed command. Israel’s march into the Promised Land continued with the power of God paving the way. Eventually Joshua, too, passed from the scene and the center of God’s action passed to judges, prophets, kings, priests and sages. Eventually, it culminated in a new Moses and a new Joshua, who continues it among his chosen people even today.

The story goes on, and it now encompasses even me. One day, sooner than I would like, my day on God’s stage will come to the end. Someone else will take my place. Those who come after me will think differently than I do and lead differently than I do, and they will take God’s people down roads that I can only begin to imagine. Like Moses, I can only see the land of promise from the heights of Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:1).

Until Christ appears and gathers his people into the true Promised Land, what lies ahead remains a mystery to me. I’ll just have to trust that God will continue to work out his purposes in the generations to come.

As great as Moses was, he was not indispensable. Neither am I. Neither are the institutions to which I belong. Change happens, and God is still in control.

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