Thursday, March 06, 2014

In Sight of the Promised Land

Very much alone, an incredibly old man made the slow, labored climb to the top of the mountain. Moses was 120 years old—way too old to be climbing mountains. While the summit of Mt. Nebo was only 2,631 feet above sea level, making it more a big hill than a mountain, Moses’ starting point on the Plain of Moab was 1,200 feet below sea level, which meant the hike to the top involved a climb of nearly 4,000 feet over rugged, rocky terrain through hot desert air. Exhausted, Moses rested a few minutes to catch his breath in the shade of a big rock (there were no trees here). Wiping his brow, he downed the remaining contents of his water skin. He needn’t save any for later. There would not be a return trip. God was granting him only a distant look into the land of promise. It would fall to Joshua to lead Israel on the next stage of a journey that began over forty years earlier in the court of Pharaoh. Moses’ work was over. He would die on this mountain, alone with God. 

He gathered his remaining strength, stood, and looked to the southwest, back toward Israel’s encampment. In spite of his many years his eyes were still clear, his vision sharp. But the rising heat from the valley floor rippled and distorted the view. He thought he could just make out dust rising as the people and their herds began to stir. They’d soon be on the move. Beyond the Plain of Moab, sunlight glistened off the waters of the Dead Sea. And though he could see no further in that direction Moses knew that far beyond those lifeless waters lay the blistering Sinai—Israel’s prison for a bitter forty-year sentence and Moses’ home for even longer, thanks to his years of sojourn among the Midianites. Somewhere out there Zipporah was buried in the desert sand, as was her father, Jethro. And Aaron… And Miriam…  And so many others… so much death. Not everything about a long life was a blessing. 

Below him to the west lay the great rift valley of the Jordan. He could just make out a thin, twisting, green, line snaking its way along the desert floor. That would be the Jordan River. Like the Nile of his youth, the Jordan’s muddy waters offered vegetation along its banks a place to flourish in a land with precious little rainfall. Moses briefly wondered how Israel would manage the crossing. It was early spring; the river was in full flood from the winter rains. Suddenly very tired, he set the question aside. It was no longer his concern. Joshua would have to deal with that one. 

Leveling his gaze he looked to the western horizon where he saw another thin green line rising above the barren slopes of what would come to be known as the Wilderness of Judah. That would be the central hill country of Canaan, in full flower from the rains. Due west of Nebo and just out of sight beyond the horizon was another summit: Moriah, the place where Father Abraham was once ready to offer up Isaac. And though Moses couldn’t have known it, almost 500 years later another leader of Israel would build the temple on that very same spot. 

His eyes followed that line of green hills north until they disappeared in the hazy distance. Finally, he looked due north. There, barely discernable on the very edge of sight over 100 miles away, the land rose to a lofty 9,232’ above sea level. This was a real mountain. In time it would be known as Mt. Hermon. Over fourteen centuries after Moses climbed Mt. Nebo he would stand on that other mountain. This time, appearing in his heavenly glory and accompanied by the prophet Elijah, he would wait in attendance on the Son of God at the occasion of Jesus’ transfiguration. 

But that was far in the future. For now, as his time on earth drew swiftly to a close, he caught a glint of white on that distant peak. Moses was a man who had spent his entire life in subtropical deserts. On the very day of his death, just maybe, he got his first and only glimpse of snow.