The Lonely Prophet’s Last Day
Do you think Moses thought back to when he struck the rock on that eternal wilderness trek? (Num. 20:10–13).
Scripture is silent about his internal feelings, but I often imagine what his terminal days looked like on the peak of Mount Nebo.
The children of Israel — rehearsing their favorite ritual of unruliness — were begging for decisive action. Moreover, Moses had acted similarly in the past. Perhaps the Almighty was being too inflexible for His own good. After all, this stammering commander was the undisputed savior of the people. Moses knew best, or at the very least, knew better than the disembodied voice clamoring inside his heart.
Now, it’s unlikely that Moses consciously felt this way about his unfortunate mishap in the desert, but his lack of self-control is evident throughout his life. At just forty years old, he had come to the aid of a mistreated slave and, in setting him free, slew his oppressor. More than four decades later, now an aged leader of the people, Moses flung the Ten Commandments against the ground, shattering the statutes God had just devised for His people.
These flourishes of anger reveal that Moses, not unlike the tragic heroes of Greek mythology, possessed a fatal flaw: he could not surrender to God’s vision of the present moment. Whether out of fear or folly, Moses refuses to relinquish control. Of course, the irony is that Moses’ lack of self-control (and desire for situational control) is what leads to his lonely final days.
At every moment, I can almost hear that competing voice in his head, urging him to follow the path of humble submission.
“Moses, killing this Egyptian will do nothing to liberate my people.”
“Moses, do not let your anger cause even more destruction of what is holy.”
“Moses, speak to the rock, and I will deliver my people.”
Yet, Moses rejects the voice of grace and tumbles forward into sin, destruction, and, ultimately, death.
Unlike any other patriarch, Moses’ narrative ends in tragedy. There is no positive twist in the story, either. Because of his disobedience, Moses is prevented from entering the Promised Land. Fortunately, he is permitted to gaze into the vast territory of Canaan.
As he stands near the edge of Mount Nebo, I imagine the wind carries some of the fragrance from that blessed destination. He’s not sure how, but he can almost smell the honey from where he’s standing. Then, maybe he hears a distant laugh of an Israelite as they cross that boundary into the new kingdom. I don’t know for sure, but I can imagine him reciting the names of all the children who will grow up in this exotic land.
And he’ll never know the joy or pain of any of them, ever again. Soon, they’ll forget him and all he accomplished on their behalf. His decades of leadership feel hollow and brief. It’s almost too much to bear.
It’s not clear how long Moses lived on Mount Nebo, but I know that for him, it must have felt far too long. Indeed, there is no rest for a weary mind.
But then again, his people needed water.