your greatest almost

Moses has always been a spiritual giant for me. I grew up watching that movie The Prince of Egypt, and while that is a fictional representation of what is recorded in the Bible, it definitely made those stories come to life.

One thing has invariably lingered (and I would even say bothered) me when it comes to Moses’ story. At the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 34, you see God take Moses up to Mount Nebo in Moab. And the Lord shows Moses every bit of land that God promised Abraham all those years ago, and the land that Moses intended to bring the Israelites after leaving Egypt. Here’s what happens next…

The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.

Deuteronomy 34:4

Now, I struggle with this because Moses was one of the greatest prophets ever. Actually, in the verses that follow the ones above it even says, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

Moses is an A-lister, okay. He’s up there with Abraham, David, Solomon — you name the big ones, and that’s who he’s up there with. So he pulls God’s people out of Israel and plans to deliver them through the desert and into the Promised Land, right? But humanity steps in to redirect — quite literally. The Israelites wander the desert until an entire generation dies, including our guy Moses, because the Israelites lose faith in what God was leading them through (you can read about this in the first chapter of Deuteronomy).

As a recovering perfectionist, I struggle with this because, if I were Moses, I did everything God asked me to. I was loyal, I was faithful, I performed great acts in God’s name, and ultimately brought them to the cusp of the promise for which they were made to receive. It would be my greatest almost.

It’s often portrayed that at the end of our life, our life will flash before our eyes. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, what did Moses feel in that moment? Great pride in being a major player in the story of humanity? Or did he feel like it was sand slipping through his fingers?

I have a lot of wonderful — and not so wonderful — “almosts”. And to be completely honest with you, if God took me to my own Mount Nebo and showed me what I almost had, I think it would crush me. At least the good stuff would. If I (hypothetically) did everything right with minimal error and still didn’t get the prize at the end? It would break my heart. But the lesson, I think, that this story provides us is one of smallness and yet great humility:

If God had allowed Moses to shepherd the Israelites into the promised land, Moses would have gotten the credit, not God.

We already know that the people of that generation weren’t getting in because of their lack of faith in God, so why would they change once they received the promise? God didn’t punish them because he wanted the credit, he punished them for their consistent doubt. But, instead of taking away the promise from the people as a whole, he just removed the weeds.

You know that saying, “God’s ‘no’ still has goodness written all over it”? It definitely applies here. In a way, Moses did see the promised land — the earthly one and the heavenly one. When Moses entered heaven, you know there was a party waiting for him. His job was done. He played his part in the grand story, and now it was Joshua’s turn to lead the people to the promised land.

My encouragement to you is this: your greatest almost might be a set up for the person after you.

Your story is ultimately not about you — it’s about God. If we live for him and everything we accomplish is to glorify him in some way, then we cannot be upset that we don’t get the spotlight in the end. We should be overwhelmed with gratitude that we even got to be a part of something that great.

To ease my heart over the years, I created this fake conversation and imagery that we don’t see from that one line God said to Moses at the end of his life, but I wanted to share it with you as we close:

His sandal reached the final step onto the highest point of the mountain. He looked up, past the glaring desert sun, at the wisp of cloud and mist that gathered on the edge. Moses walked up beside it and from it spoke the voice he had grown so familiar with, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.'” The wind whipped through Moses’ hair and before him laid out a great expanse. It was lush, green, ever-reaching. Tears sprang to his eyes and he looked to the mist gathered to his left as the voice continued, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Moses’ gaze returned to the valleys in front of him and he nodded. The sun felt warm on his skin and the wind picked up. “It’s not for me to see, Father. It wasn’t meant for me. But, what is next?” The cloud seemed to glow and rumble as the voice replied, “My child, your work is done. This is as far as you go in this place. Remember, I said you are not meant to cross over there, but you are meant to cross over to me. It’s time.” Moses closed his eyes and tears streaked his dusty face into his beard. He sunk to his knees, overwhelmed by the presence of God, and let the warmth of the sun take over. The last thing he heard as he faded from the mountaintop were the words, “Well done.”

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