A Reflection on Deuteronomy 34

I have always been intrigued by obituaries.

One man’s, who passed away in 2016, says this, “he died to avoid having to make a decision in the pending presidential election.” Another reads, “he wrote a song each year and sent it to the Cleveland Browns as well as offering other advice on how to run the team.” Another part of an obituary reads, “She despised ‘uppity foods’ like hummus, which her family lovingly called ‘bean dip’’ for her benefit. She never owned a personal cell phone and she had zero working knowledge of the Kardashians.’

Obituaries are what the family members or friends say to summarize the life and character of the deceased one. What a daunting task. How is one expected to summarize an entire person in a paragraph or two? I gave the eulogy speech at my grandfather’s funeral a number of years ago and I ended it with something like this, “He was a simple man. He loved God and he loved his family, most of all his wife of nearly 60 years. This is what he was known for. Love.”

If you could choose, what would you want your obituary to say?

In Deuteronomy 34 we get the short obituary of the greatest leader in the history of ancient Israel. By Chapter 34, Moses has led a full and powerful life. He was saved by an Egyptian princess out of the Nile River. He lived as a run-away. He performed miracles in Egypt and led the people to freedom. He received the 10 commandments. He rebuked and challenged and loved and encouraged the people. He stood as a liaison between the people and God. And finally, he delivered the bad news that the wandering generation who came out of Egypt would not enter the land of Promise because of their rebellion. And he accepted the fact that he would not either.

Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the ]word of the Lord. Deuteronomy 34:4-5 NASB

Then the words of what I am calling his “obituary.” These were the last words spoken about Moses. This is what he would forever be known for.

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:10-11 NASB

Look closely. There has not been another prophet like Moses due to the face that he knew God face to face, not because he performed mighty wonders. Lots of prophets will come after Moses. There will be lots of signs and mighty acts of terror against the enemies of God. Even Joshua will experience signs and wonders. But no other prophet will know God face to face. At least, not until Jesus of course.

What if our lives where characterized by the degree to which we knew God instead of just the stuff we did “for God”? In other words, what if our lives were less about our doing and more about our being. We are human beings, after all. There is something significant about the call to “be.” Be loved. Be still. Be present. Be holy. Just Be. Being is an act of defiance in a world that insists that we define ourselves by doing. Being with God instead of doing things “for God” can appear, to some today, as lazy or un-spiritual. Taking time to rest, un-plug or simply un-wind could seem to some like wasting precious time. The invitation from the life of Moses is that tasks and accomplishments (and even signs and wonders perhaps) may come and go but a life committed to being with God is a life that truly counts as something spectacular, beautiful and even un-matched in its brilliance.

In this election season where there is an abundance of racial tension and political polarization, what would it look like for you to turn inward instead of outward? To prioritize time alone over time on FaceBook? To reset your life intention. Until we become a people characterized by being with God we will accomplish nothing “for God.” And we may just tear each other apart in the midst of it. So, to adapt the words of an old Baptist revival preacher, ‘if you were to die today”….not “where would you go,” but instead, “what would they say about you?”