"O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your greatness and power to Your servant. For what god in heaven or on earth can perform such works and mighty acts as Yours?
I. AN AFFECTING ENTREATY. "I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land," etc. (vers. 24, 25). In this speaks
1. The man. How hard to flesh and blood to be cut off just then! To see the goodly land (ver. 27), but not to enter it. Yet not an uncommon experience. Few things are more painful than to be removed when just on the verge of some great success; when the hopes of a lifetime seem just about to be realized; when some great cause with which we are identified is on the eve of final victory.
2. The patriot. There never beat in human breast a more patriotic heart than that of Moses, and it was supremely hard to step aside and commit the leadership into other hands, when all his wishes for his nation were so nearly fulfilled. It was Israel's triumph, not his own, he wished to celebrate.
3. The saint. For Moses' deepest longing in the matter after all was to see God glorified - to witness his greatness and his mighty hand (ver. 24). No man had ever seen as much of God's greatness and glory as he had, but what he had seen only whetted his desire to see more. It is always thus with saintly natures. The thirst for the manifestation of God increases with the gratification of it (Psalm 63:1-6; cf. Exodus 33:18-20). "Father, glorify thy name" (John 12:28).
II. A DECISIVE REFUSAL.
1. The cause of it. "Wroth with me for your sakes" (ver. 26). How painful to feel that misconduct of ours has involved any
(1) in sin,
(2) in penalty,
(3) in disappointment!
2. The severity of it. It seems a great punishment for a not very great offence. Yet how often do we find that one false step, "one pause in self-control," entails on the individual irretrievable loss! God could not allow the sin of one who stood in so close and personal relation to him to pass without putting on it the stamp of his severe displeasure.
3. The irreversibility of it. He who had succeeded so often in saving Israel by his powerful intercession, fails in his intercession for himself. "Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter" (ver. 26). Moses, the mediator and representative of the Law, must, when he sins, undergo its severity. In a case so typical, a reversal of the sentence would have shaken faith in all God's threatenings. He interceded for others, but there was no second Moses to intercede for him. Those who live nearest to God, and are most honored by him, must expect to be treated with exceptional strictness for their faults; as a father is more particular about the morals of his own son than about those of servants and aligns.
III. A PARTIAL COMPENSATION. It was given him:
1. To see the goodly land (ver. 27). Even this he must have felt to be a great boon, and how his eyes, supernaturally strengthened, must have drunk in the precious vision! How many toilers have to leave the world in this frame of mind - getting glimpses of a future they do not live to inherit!
2. To know that his successor was ready (ver. 28). There are few sights more suggestive of magnanimity than Moses meekly surrendering his own dearest wishes, and helping to prepare Joshua for the work which he coveted so much to do himself. It may be felt by us that there was kindness as well as severity in the arrangement which gave Israel a new leader. "The conquest of Canaan - a most colossal work - demanded fresh, youthful powers" (Oosterzee). The work of Moses was indeed done on earth, and he had to pass away to make room for instruments better fitted to do the work of the new age.
CONCLUSION. In this refusal see
(1) God's severity,
(2) God's kindness.
For in addition to the point just mentioned, we can see how, from his temporal loss, Moses reaped a great spiritual gain - the perfecting of his will in its choice of God as its exclusive portion, and in entire acquiescence in Divine arrangements. This great renunciation was the last sacrifice asked of him, and he rose to the heroic height of making it. - J.O.
Thou hast begun to show.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I pray Thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan...But the Lord...would not hear me.
(J. Denney, D. D.)
Homiletic Review.1. Our first consideration is that the case before us does not disprove God's willingness to hear and answer prayer.
2. Our second consideration is that God does not always answer in just our way. The two things which Noses wanted were these —(1) To enter the Promised Land. He did not, indeed, cross the Jordan into the earthly Canaan; but, closing his eyes, he opened them on a vision of heavenly beauty such as he had never dreamed of.(2) He wanted to see "the work of his hands established upon him" (Psalm 90:16, 17). This also was given in manifold measure. The influence of Moses was, under God, the controlling factor in the theocracy. His name has always been revered among the Jews.
3. Our third consideration is that no prayer is true prayer unless it is offered in the filial spirit. Some supplications are unfilial in their presumptuous boldness. Other supplications are unfilial in their servility.
II. OBSERVE WHY GOD DENIED MOSES' APPEAL.
1. We must not forget that what Moses sought from God was a temporal, not a spiritual blessing.
2. Perhaps, too, God may have refused the appeal of Moses because it humbled him and made him feel his complete dependence on God's grace to save him.
3. It may be, too, that the Divine refusal was only a part of the process by which God was fitting Moses for a better inheritance than Canaan. When the denial of his prayer was first made there were yet two years before him ere his earthly pilgrimage should end. Into those two years God was crowding the final work of preparation of His servant. Said Beethoven once of some famous musical composer, "He would have been a great musician if he had only been terribly and mercilessly criticised."
(Bp. Cheney.)Psalm 89:6). Now, Moses proceedeth in his prayer, saying, "I pray Thee, let me go over," etc. Here Moses prayeth like one of us, who are always craving, but never hath respect to the will of God, to say, "Thy will be done." What is this mountain Lebanon? Surely Moses meaneth the place where the temple should be built, and God honoured; for after that Joshua had quietly possessed the land of Canaan, he only builded a tabernacle (Joshua 18:1) wherein to call upon the Lord. Now it followeth in the text, "But the Lord was angry with me," etc. So soon as Moses changed his prayer God turneth from him, and will not hear him; so soon we make God to forsake us, if we do not according to His will. Moses showeth the cause why God would not hear him; although he were a great man, and in high authority, yet he is not ashamed to confess his fault. So we see that where sin is, there prayer is not effectual; so that if we will hope to receive by prayer anything at God's hands, we must first remove and take away the cause of our hindrance, which is sin, before we can receive the thing we pray for. God, when Moses had prayed, did not grant his request, but was angry with him; but lest Moses should be quite discouraged, He straightways mitigated His anger, and biddeth him be content and speak no more unto Him of that matter. God doth not bid him that he should not pray any more unto Him, but that he should pray no more for that thing. First, God biddeth him to be content; as if He should hat e said, Although thou mayest not enter into the land, yet I will content thee otherways. Thus God would have us, in what estate soever we be, to be content with our calling, for it is His appointment. God is so merciful that, though we are not able to pray aright, yet He considereth our prayers, and turneth all to the best for our good; not granting our request many times, but a better thing than we do desire of Him. Who, then, will offend so merciful and loving a Father? Let us, seeing God is so merciful unto us, take heed that we abuse not His mercies, lest in so doing we provoke Him unto judgment. Now, God hath told Moses that he shall not go into the land, He beginneth to teach him how he shall do to see it, and biddeth him go up into the top of Pisgah, and cast his eyes eastward, and westward, and northward, and southward, and behold it, etc. As a bird stayed with a little string, or a strong man in swimming held back by a small twig, so a little sin stayeth this great captain, that he cannot come within the land of Canaan. First, God is angry with him, and envies him altogether, as though he were not worth so much as go up to the mount. Thus we may see how one of the least sins is able to turn from us all the goodness and all the favour which God beareth to us. After, God commands Moses to go up to the mount. Here, Moses obeyeth God's commandment; but if he had been like many a murmuring man he would have denied to go up to the mount, saying, What banquet is this to me, but a dainty dish set before one forbidden to eat? But Moses had rather die than anger the Lord again when He had bid him be content. This we may learn of Moses, to be content with our calling, whether we have little or much; for God contented Moses as well with the sight of Canaan as those who possessed it. So when God hath not ordained us to see great substance, as He hath some of our brethren, yet because we should not be discontent He will give us as much pleasure at the sight of them in others as though we ourselves enjoyed them. Many things might Moses have objected which might have hindered him from going up the mount; for surely it must needs be a grief to him, when he considered that great pain which he had taken in bringing them through the wilderness, and conducting them forty years together; and now, when he had no farther to go, but even over Jordan, to be taken away then; and another, which never took any pains, possess all his labours: this, I say, must be a great and intolerable thing to flesh and blood; for when one hath laid a foundation and another comes and builds upon it, surely he will think himself hardly dealt withal. Such is our nature; and yet, notwithstanding all this, Moses is content. He knoweth that God doth him no wrong, but is just and merciful also. He blesseth all alike, as Jacob's children were blessed (Genesis 49). Moses, so long as he was upon the plain ground, could not see the type of heaven; but when he was upon the mount he saw it before he came to heaven itself. So let us even now scale the mount as Moses did, that we may see and consider those joys; which thing shall serve to reclaim our hearts from earthly matters. As Peter went up the mount to see Christ's glory, and Moses went up the mount to see the land of promise, so let us ascend from these earthly things to the contemplation of heavenly. Now, Moses is in his prospect as David was in his tower. Here he must prepare himself to die, while he is looking upon the land which so long he hath been in coming to. Who would not have grieved at this, that, after so long as forty years' travel in hope to possess it, he should now in the end be content with a sight of it, and so vanish away! Yet Moses, for all this murmureth not, but, like Job, taketh it patiently. And as he was upon the mount where God vanished, so here he is upon the mount and vanisheth away himself; as it appeareth (Job 24:6). So good rulers are taken away in a time when death is least suspected. As Lot was taken away before the people of Sodom knew, as is showed (Genesis 19:10); so we see that when our time is come, and our glass run out, that neither our riches, nor our wits, nor our friends, nor anything that we have in this world, can carry us any further. No, no more than Moses could go over this Jordan.
I. It was a LAND, a good land, the slope of that goodly mountain, even Lebanon, which Moses looked upon; it was a land of promise, which God had prepared. Canaan was in a sense the heaven of Israel's hope; the more heavenlike, perhaps, because it was so fair a feature of our world; because it was a home in which a man, a family, a nation, could nobly dwell. A would behind the veil is the instinctive belief of every human spirit; a world, with all the attributes of a world like this, in which all the promises of this fractured creation shall be realised, wherein no hope shall be frustrated, no cord of association broken, which has been consecrated by holy communion here. This is man's vision, inseparable, too, from his condition here. Imagination! we may say; blank dreams, no more! and pass it by. Imagination surely! but who inspired the imagination? Who but the Being who is the Maker of the reality, which He has kept for ages before the imagination of the world? I accept imagination here as a witness to reality. The wise here are the wise for ever, for to be wise is not simply to know; wisdom takes cognisance of what is common to the two worlds. Nothing which has been truly, reverently learnt will need to be unlearnt. The faithful students of God's hand in the visible are learning to know His mind through the whole sphere of the invisible; they are familiar here with the things which the angels desire to look into; and pass at once from the training school of the Spirit into the inner circle, the elect spirits which are next the throne. "A goodly land beyond Jordan." A real, substantial, homelike world.
II. The images which are employed by the sacred writers as most expressive when they are treating of heaven ARE ALL BORROWED FROM THE HIGHER FORMS OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF MAN'S SOCIAL AND NATIONAL LIFE. All that society on earth aims at and misses, the grand order of human relations, the majestic procession of human activities, of which, marred and crippled as they are on earth, the wisest and noblest have not ceased to dream, shall there be realised, with Christ the King visibly in the centre of it, and the angels attendant to watch the actors and applaud the results.
III. THAT GOOD LAND BEYOND JORDAN HAD SOME HEAVEN-LIKE FEATURE HEREIN; it was to be the theatre of the highest and holiest human association, under conditions most favourable to the most perfect development, and in an atmosphere of life which God's benediction should make an atmosphere of bliss. This is joy, this is glory, to dwell nobly, purely, faithfully with men under the smile of God.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I. Now observe, THIS CRY MAY BE, AFTER ALL, MERELY SENTIMENTAL, AND IN SUCH A CASE IT CANNOT BE TOO STRONGLY CONDEMNED. One of the great dangers to which we are exposed in the religious life, in our songs and prayers and utterances, is that of cherishing high, forced, fictitious emotions, and of going altogether beyond our real feelings. What we want is holy feeling, transmuted into Christly living and Christly service. The prospect of a bright life beyond should have the effect upon us of making the present life very happy.
II. Again, THIS CRY MAY BE THE RESULT OF MATURITY AND RIPENESS, AND THEN THE SPIRIT PROMPTING IT IS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL. I see one who is a great sufferer. It has pleased God, in the order of His inscrutable Providence, to lay him aside from the activities of life for months, or even years. And the sorrow has been sanctified. He has not sought relief in cherishing a stoical spirit or by looking to earthly sources, but with a full consciousness that suffering is wisely and graciously designed, he has looked upwards and has found in God almighty strength. Despite adverse influences, he has been moving onwards towards the haven of eternal rest. And thus he has become ripened and matured, thoroughly weaned from earth; his heart has long been in heaven, his treasure lies there, and fittingly he longs for the hour of full release, and cries, with a chastened spirit, wholly resigned to the Divine will and full of expectant hope, "I pray Thee, let me go," etc.
III. And now let us specially notice that there is an aspiration after heaven which may be fittingly cherished at any and every stage of life: even ASPIRATION AFTER THOSE MORAL EXCELLENCES WHICH CONSTITUTE THE PERFECTION OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE.
1. Heaven is "the good land," for it is free from sin. Then be it ours to desire heaven's purity, and even here to break away from the enthralment of evil.
2. Heaven is "the good land," for it is the realm where there is realised in all its perfection the vision of God. Then be it our desire to have granted unto us here this vision; let us seek, through Divine help, to become possessed of a heart right loyal to the Divine will, in which evil passions and desires have been dethroned, and in which has been set up the spiritual kingdom of God; that so, being renewed and sanctified, God may even now be apprehended by us. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
3. Heaven is "the good land," for it is the realm of light. Endless progression in knowledge characterises its inhabitants. Then be it ours to cry for "more light" here, and to seek the influences of the Revealer of truth, that under His guidance we may "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
4. Heaven is "the good land," for it is the land of rest and peace — rest from sin, rest from temptation, rest from care, rest from harassing and perplexing doubt; calm, unruffled, perfect rest. Then let us see if we cannot get an earnest of this even whilst we sojourn in this world, by accepting the gracious invitation of Him who has said, "Come unto Me all ye that labour," etc.
5. And heaven is "the good land," for it is the land where prevails concord and love. No note of discord is heard there, no strife of parties prevails there; unity and love reign, and shall reign there eternally. Be it ours to aspire here after this characteristic of the heavenly life. Let us avoid all narrowness and exclusiveness, and cherish the spirit which finds expression in the benediction — "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." Whatever lack of charity others may show towards us, let there be no lack of this on our part towards them.
(S. D. Hillman.)I. MOSES' DESIRE TO ENTER.
1. It was strong and deep; the strongest desire of his soul in regard to anything earthly, is our longing for the heavenly Canaan as vehement as his for the earthly?
2. It was a holy desire. There was nothing carnal in it; nothing of self. It was the desire of a holy man for a share in the fulfilment of the Divine promise.
3. It was a patriotic desire. Canaan was his true fatherland, though he had never dwelt in it.
4. It was a natural desire. Though brought up in ease, for now eighty years he had been a dweller in tents in the wilderness, a man without a home. How natural that he should be weary of the desert, and long for a resting place!
5. It was a desire connected with the welfare of his nation. Israel was to be blest "in that land of blessing, and he desired to see his nation settled in the Lord's land.
6. It was a desire connected with the glory of God. He knew that God was about to choose a place wherein to set His name, and to show His glory. He had once before pleaded, "Show me Thy glory"; and what could be more desirable in his eyes than that he should see the manifestation of this glory, and witness the mighty power of God in the land which he knew was to be the centre and stage of all these?
II. HIS ARGUMENTS (ver. 24). The first part of his argument is, "Thou hast showed me the beginning, wilt not Thou show me the end? It is natural, even in man's works, when we have seen the beginning, to desire to see the end, and to expect that he who has shown us the one will show us the other. Moses feels as if he would be tantalised, almost mocked, by not seeing the end. He argues that God's willingness to show him the beginning is a pledge of His willingness to show him all. We may all use this argument. Thou, who hast forgiven me past sin, wilt Thou not forgive all present and all future sin? (Philippians 1:6.) The second part of his argument is, that to stop here would leave so much undiscovered of His greatness and mighty hand, that, for the sake of the glory to be unfolded and the power to be revealed, he might expect to be allowed to enter. So great is the undiscovered glory of God, and so desirous is God to reveal it to us, that we may use this argument with Him respecting anything we desire. The third argument looks at the very little already seen — only a glimpse. Moses pleads this little, and because of it asks to enter Canaan. He had seen much of God's power, yet he speaks as if it were little; not as if undervaluing the past, but still feeling as if it were comparatively nothing. So all that we have tasted hitherto is small. It is in the ages to come that He is to show the exceeding riches of His grace; and hence we may call the past a little thing, and use it as an argument with God.
III. GOD'S ANSWER. It sounds stern; yet is the answer of wisdom and love.
1. The anger.
2. The refusal.
3. The prohibition.
IV. GOD'S CONDESCENDING GRACE. Entrance is denied, but a full vision of the land is granted (ver. 27). He strains His purpose (if one may speak so) as far as possible, without breaking it. The actual request is denied, but something as like it and as near to it as might be is accorded. What a favoured child does Moses seem, even in this very scene of apparent sternness! O love that passeth knowledge! O condescension of God, to what depths of indulgent tenderness wilt Thou not stoop!
1. What one sin can do. One sin cost Adam Paradise; one sin costs Moses Canaan. In the case of Moses it is the more startling, because it is a forgiven sin, and he is a forgiven sinner. His sin is forgiven, yet it leaves a stain behind it; it traces a testimony to its unutterable evil on the person of the sinner.
2. What God's inflexibility is. He cannot change. He cannot call that no sin which is sin; nor that a small sin which is a great sin; nor that a private sin which was a public sin. His purpose is not the easy, pliable, changeable thing which ours is. He is the God only wise, only righteous, only mighty, and is therefore above all such vacillations.
3. What the grace of God is. Many waters cannot quench it, nor the floods drown it. To what lengths it will go in order to pardon a sinner or to bless a saint!
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
I. WHAT GOD REFUSES TO GRANT. Take a man who has set his heart on some plan of life. It may have been one of ambition. He has worn himself out to attain it. Every line of his life converges to it; but at length comes his Waterloo, and he is dethroned for ever. It may be some creation of learning or genius. He has brooded over it in chaos, he has gathered slowly all the materials, he is about at last to shape them by the skill and vivify them with the light of the soul within him; but the fire grows dim, and at last dies out, and the great design and the yearning desire stand apart for ever. It is unachieved, and he carries the broken plan to the grave with him; he himself is cut down, while the harvest of his life is left to waste ungathered in the darkening fields. Or it may be some post of honour and influence. But when the time comes to seize it another steps in, and you are left empty handed. Then, too, there are higher visions — visions of the moral and spiritual order — left unfulfilled. Who has not felt times, say, of conversion, when there rose upon the soul the sweet Divine dawn of Christ's salvation, trembling over its calmed waves and revealing transcendent worlds of beauty; or of revival, when at a new turn on the road some heavenly vision met us and blessed us with "a joy unspeakable and full of glory"; or of comfort, when hope sprung immortal out of some dark grave beside which we sat crushed and alone; or of a strange strength front on high, when we had almost altogether perished? Such seasons have been; but see how some failing to pass over the temptation that crossed unexpectedly our path, some mean passion laying its arrest on our onward march, some looking away from the great Lebanons of nearness to God, and fellowship with the very death and resurrection of Christ, kept us from our last crowning step; and the supreme attainment of our lives was, on this side the grave at least, lost for a while, it may be for ever.
II. WHY GOD REFUSED TO GRANT THE PRAYER OF MOSES.
1. The sin of Moses.
2. It was the last stroke of God's chisel that Moses needed to clear away his last infirmity.
3. It lifted Moses to a nobler elevation of character — more unselfish, more Divine.
4. It was an opportunity such as Moses never had before of honouring God, in the midst of disappointment, before all.
IV. WHAT, BECAUSE OF REFUSAL, GOD THE MORE GRANTS.
1. A larger outpouring of grace into the heart of Moses. Grace of forgiveness, grace of restored joy of God's salvation, grace of broken bones rejoicing, grace of fresh communion.
2. The speedier crossing the Jordan of death into the life everlasting.
(Prof. W. Graham, D. D.)1. Natural to wish to enter Canaan as an object of curiosity, of which he had heard so much; still more as an object of hope, which had been promised so long with every enhancement. This animated the people to leave Egypt, and encouraged them in the desert. This was the end, the recompense of their toils for forty years, and now they had nearly reached it. How painful to miss the prize when the hand was seizing it — to have the cup dashed even from the lip!
2. Yet the desire was refused. God sometimes refuses the desires of His servants, even the most eminent. He does this in two ways.
3. Sometimes He does it in love. What is desired might prove dangerous and injurious. In many cases must a wise and good parent distinguish between wishes and wants! A child may wish for liberty, and want restraint; for a holiday, and want schooling; for dainties, and want medicine. Here the parent must act, not according to the wish, but the welfare of the child. How much better for the Jews had God turned a deaf ear to their importunity! Who knows what is good for a man in this life? No one but God — the good God.
4. He sometimes refuses in anger. Wrath is incompatible with love; but anger is not: anger may even flow from it. Though Christians cannot be condemned, they may be chastened: and the law of the house is, that if the children obey not, He will visit with the rod. Hence those saved eternally may fall under present rebuke, and be refused many things on which they set their heart. By such conduct Providence teaches submission to His people, and the evil of sin to others.
5. Yet his desire was partially indulged. The command to get on the top of Pisgah was not to tantalise him, but to be a mitigation of the severe sentence. The preservation of his sight fitted him for the gaze — the prospect showed him how worthy the country was of all that had been said about it; and would give him high views of the truth and goodness of God in His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With this also was the influence of Divine grace which satisfied hint and made him content with his condition. While his mind was raised to things above, in type and emblem, to a better country, into which he was immediately to enter — and there would be no want of Canaan. Thus in judgment God remembers mercy, and though He cause grief yet will He have compassion.
(W. Jay.)1. We learn from this, first of all, that one sin may shut us out of heaven. Moses had committed a sin long ago; since then he had done God good service, yet that sin was not forgotten, it shut him out of the promised land. Sin always brings its own punishment, at some time or other, and in some way or another. Some sins, like some seeds, grow up and bear their bitter fruit very quickly. Others lie hid for a long time, but they bear fruit.
2. Learn next, that doing good does not atone for a past sin. "All our obediences," says an old writer of the Church, "cannot blot out one sin against God." When we have forgotten our sins, God remembers them, and though not ill anger, yet He calls for our arrears. If Moses died the first death for one fault, how shall they "escape the second death for sinning always"? Do not think that the old sins of your past lives are of no importance because you may have been living decent lives of late. "I pray thee, let me go over, that I may see the good land that is beyond Jordan." Some of us, who have wandered these many years in the wilderness, long very eagerly for that "rest which remaineth for the people of God." Many a one is tempted sometimes, when the sorrow is very sharp and the road very tempted sometimes to say, "I pray Thee, let me go over, that I may see the good land that is beyond Jordan." Wishing for Paradise will not take us there. For us all there is a work to be done, and a given time to do it in. A quaint old writer tells us that "God sends His servants to bed when they have done their work." Our journey through this world must be one of watching, of fighting, of praying, and of waiting, and when that is over our Master will give His beloved sleep. When the American saint and hero "Stonewall" Jackson was dying, he said, "Let us cross the river, and rest under the shade of the trees"; so may we one day hope to cross the river of death, and to see the good land that is beyond Jordan, and to rest under the shadow of the Tree of Life, "whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."
(H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)I. IN REGARD TO THE PRAYER ITSELF, it may be remarked —
1. That the desire it expressed was a very natural one. He had been looking forward, it may be, to years of honourable service and rich enjoyment, and he might mourn in the cutting off of his days, that he was to go to the gates of the grave, and say, as Hezekiah did under like prospects, in the sadness of his heart, "I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living. I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world."
2. The desire expressed was a benevolent one. It was dictated by his regard to the welfare of the people. It was a desire that he might be spared to assist in effecting their settlement in the land of Canaan, and in establishing such order as might promote their prosperity as a nation there.
3. The desire expressed may be regarded as a pious one, as having been prompted by devout affection. What he had already seen had convinced him that there is no god in heaven or in earth that could do according to His works and according to His might; but he felt that there were wonders yet to be shown in the introduction of His people into the promised land and their establishment there, which might fill his mind with increasing admiration and joy in beholding them.
II. We proceed, then, in the second place to notice SOME OF THE REASONS FOR WHICH, AS WE MAY CONCEIVE, THIS PRAYER OF MOSES WAS DENIED. These may have been such as the following —
1. To mark the Divine displeasure with a part of his conduct.
2. To convey a lesson of reproof and instruction to Israel. "The Lord was wroth with me," says Moses, "for your sakes." There was displeasure, then, with their conduct, as well as with that of Moses, manifested in his removal. And God, by taking him away, might design to tell them that they were not worthy of such a leader.
3. It was in order to satisfy in another manner, and more fully, the affections and desires which were expressed by His servant. The prospect of it showed him how worthy the land was of all that the Lord said concerning it. The reality exceeded, we may conclude, all that imagination had pictured. But there was more in the vision enjoyed than the gratification of a natural curiosity — there was what satisfied benevolent and pious affection. He saw the end of his cares and toils for the people attained, and the truth and goodness of God in His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob vindicated. And the vision with which he was favoured may have been, as it were, the seal of his own reconciliation to the God whom he had offended, who now came to take him to a more glorious recompense than if he had been spared to reign there for long years over the tribes of Israel. And may we not conceive that when he saw the good land that was beyond Jordan he knew that he saw in type and emblem the better country — that is, the heavenly, which lies beyond death's dark river. The patriarchs who before sojourned in it as in a strange land showed that it was thus regarded by them, and the same faith by which they walked dwelt in him who recorded their history.
(J. Henderson, D. D.)I. FROM WHAT PRINCIPLE DOES THIS DESIRE AFTER A HEAVENLY STATE ARISE?
1. From having formed a right estimate of the present world. He has passed through the world not as a cynic. He has mixed in the world's society, he has tasted some of its pleasures, he has acquired some of its riches, he has enjoyed some of its esteem; yet, by the grace of God, he has been taught to see that "vanity of vanities" is inscribed "on all the world calls good or great"
2. From having realised the blessings of true religion.
3. From strong faith in the unspotted honour and integrity of Him who has promised this good land to us. The Christian believes what God has graciously revealed of this heavenly state.
II. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES OF YOUR TRULY DESIRING A HEAVENLY STATE.
1. Earth loses its attraction.
2. Religion assumes its personal importance. "Let me go."
3. There will be a restlessness of desire while absent from the Lord. They feel that this is not their rest.
4. Death will lose its terrors.
III. LET ME NOW URGE YOU, BY SOME APPROPRIATE MOTIVES, TO AIM AT THE ATTAINMENT OF THIS HOLY ARDOUR AFTER A HEAVENLY STATE.
1. Be convinced that it is attainable. Oh, how many Christians there are who stop short of this holy state of mind! They seem to be quite satisfied if they can but arrive at heaven, and never manifest any anxiety to attain that perfection which is the great preparation for its enjoyment.
2. Be assured also, that this state is desirable. It is desirable that you should be thus dead to this world and alive to that which is to come, on several accounts.(1) Consider the personal advantage to the individual.(2) But you should aim for this holy ardour, because of the benefit likely to result to others. Can such a city be set on a hill, and not observed? Impossible. Such a city must be admired.(3) And by this you will also be an honour to the religion you profess.(4) Hereby God will be glorified.
I. Now we are naturally led to the inquiry, FROM WHENCE ARISES THIS FEELING IN THE CHRISTIAN'S HEART — THIS EAGERNESS TO SEE THE GOOD LAND? I should say, from his having taken a proper estimate of the world. The Christian has been taught to look above it and its low concerns to nobler objects, to heaven and heavenly things, as the supreme object of his ambition and as his incorruptible and undefiled portion.
II. NOW, WHAT PROOFS HAVE WE THAT WE ARE DESIRING THIS "GOOD LAND," THIS BETTER AND HEAVENLY COUNTRY? If we are looking forward to be with God in heaven we are now endeavouring —
1. To sit loose to the things of this world.
2. Another proof of our earnestly seeking this heavenly country is, that we are now making religion our chief concern, that it is the most important matter we have at heart, that our worldly engagements, of what nature soever they may be, are all secondary to the interests of the soul.
3. Another evidence that we are advancing towards the heavenly Canaan is that sin is becoming a matter of habitual distaste to us.
(Dr. L. F. Russell, M. A.)
I. THERE KNEELS IN PRAYER A GODLY MAN TO WHOM, AS WE CAN SEE AT ONCE, SUCH INTERCOURSE WITH GOD IS NOT A DUTY MERELY, OR A HABIT, BUT A PLEASURE AND DELIGHT. Must we now picture Moses in the stillness of the tent of witness, or in the boundless temple of creation, or in the solitude of waking night? It is enough for us that he now ventures, all alone with God, to place upon his lips the prayer that had been already lying heavily upon his heart for days and weeks, and he receives the answer which you know so well, but which produced, upon a heart like this, such an amount of grief. Well may we, first of all, speak of dark dealing in God's providence. For who is he whom we now see driven from the throne of grace with such inexorable severity? Is it a wicked man, to whom the wise king's words apply in all their force, "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination"? Nay, but it is the special favourite of God, who often could succeed, by powerful intercession, in averting from a hundred thousand guilty heads the sword of justice when it had been raised to smite. What does he ask, that he thus stirs the wrath of Him to whom he speaks? Some special recompense, perhaps, for years of toil; or possibly, release from that most arduous post which he approached with such reluctance. Nay; he merely asked for a free entrance, a short stay, in the evening of his life, in that inheritance which God had promised to the fathers. How was that prayer expressed? Was it with an excessive urgency, unsteady faith, in an uncourteous tone? Nay; he himself is not afraid to own that he but asked a favour as a guilty one; and it is quite impossible to listen to his prayer without perceiving there the spirit of profound humility and the most hearty gratitude Are there not many who have had such an experience as Moses underwent? A lovely prospect smiled on you, a pilgrim on life's path; it seemed to you a very Canaan of terrestrial luxury; then you put forth your strongest efforts to attain that height and call the treasure yours. Alas! you see the palm trees of Canaan, but it is not permitted you to rest beneath their shade. Where would I stop, even if out of the book of each man's life I wished to do no more than indicate the chief among the sealed-up pages bearing the superscription "Unanswered prayers"? Verily, the Lord did not without good reason say of old that He would dwell in the thick darkness.
II. BUT IS IT REALLY HE, THE ONLY WISE, THE GRACIOUS ONE, THE GOD UNCHANGEABLE IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, WHO DWELLS IN THIS DARKNESS? Before you hesitate to answer this in the affirmative, look back a moment from the valley opposite Bethpeor, where the conclusion of this chapter places you, to Kadesh, which you know so well. Such a refusal, which, viewed in itself, seems almost quite inexplicable, harsh, at once appears in another light, when you have heard not merely what the heart of Moses says, but also what his conscience tells. We know full well there is a thread — often, indeed, invisible, yet natural, and such as none can break — which forms a bond between our conduct and our destiny; and if the history connected with each one of you were accurately known to us, it would be far from difficult to prove that God has really good reason for the choice He makes of such steep paths for some. At one time, weak in body, you pray vainly for recovery of health and strength, and you exclaim, "How dark my path!" But did you not, in younger days, employ your powers, when they were fresh, as instruments of sin? May not your present suffering, besides, be a sharp thorn that must remind you, through the flesh, how deeply you once fell Or yet again, some wretched father may be now beseeching God to bring his lost son back into his arms and to the home of God — but all in vain; the blinded one holds on in the broad path that leads to death. But have you ever thought upon the time when your own mother vainly urged you to forsake the sinful path? and have you also said within yourself, "I am but punished now, in my own family, for sins committed in my youth"?
III. But our sphere of contemplation tends to widen out on every side. IT IS NOT MERELY TO THE PREVIOUS HISTORY OF MOSES, BUT ALSO TO THE NEEDS OF ISRAEL, THAT WE MUST LOOK TO FIND THE TRUE SOLUTION OF THE ENIGMA CONNECTED WITH THE FIRM REFUSAL TO ACCEDE TO HIS REQUEST. If we mistake not, the providence of God becomes apparent here after His righteousness; and when we take a step still further in advance, we find that we can readily extol Him for a wise arrangement in His providence. Moses was but a man; it is impossible that one man should do everything; it must, too, be acknowledged that he was more fitted to guide Israel through the wilderness than lead them into Canaan. When we so rashly raise a loud complaint because our prayers remain unanswered, do we not far too frequently forget that we are here not for ourselves, but with and for each other; and that He who makes provision for the wants of all, without respect of persons, frequently must quite withhold something from one, that the fulfilment of his wishes may not turn out for another's injury? How much more lightly would our disappointments press on us had selfishness less influence; and what a multitude of instances does history afford in which God often, in His wisdom, gave no answer to men's prayers — at least, delayed His answer — so that in what saddens us there might be found a germ of what would work for others' good.
IV. BUT SOMEONE MAY REPLY, IT SURELY MUST HAVE SADDENED MOSES' HEART TO THINK THAT HE HAD BEEN INCITED TO THE SACRIFICE OF HIS OWN PERSONAL, LEGITIMATE DESIRE FOR ISRAEL'S BENEFIT. Such an objection might be called a fair one, if the man of God, through what he was deprived of, had been really too great a loser in the case. But just as many a hard, uncomely shell often conceals a kernel of the sweetest fruit, so it is with God's chastisements; the very rods employed in smiting drop with blessing from the Lord. He is deprived of — yes, Canaan; and that word means — does it mean everything? No, in the eye of faith it is not everything; it merely seems so to the mind of Moses now. Canaan is — and how could it be otherwise? — his earthly ideal; but ideals seldom gain by being realised, and even the Land of Promise offers no exception to the melancholy rule that there is far more pleasure in desire than even in the actual enjoyment of prosperity. But will it be impossible to forfeit Paradise even in Canaan? Shall sin be unknown there? Shall death have no dominion there? Does it make such a mighty difference to one like Moses whether death takes place on Nebo or, a few months later, upon Zion hill? for surely to such minds and hearts the whole earth is a land of sojourning, where all is strange. Has he been thinking of the daily cross he must expect, because within the first few weeks he only looks upon sad scenes of blood and tears, and afterwards finds out that Israel has certainly changed for the better as regards their dwelling place, but not in heart? Many an earnest prayer for longer life is utterly refused, that so the eye, closed ere the day of evil comes, may not perceive the misery to follow us.
V. WE PLACE OURSELVES UPON THE STAND POINT OF THE WORLD TO COME, AND THEN THE BLESSING IN DISGUISE APPEARS TO US AS AN ETERNAL GROUND OF GRATITUDE. But do you not yet feel convinced, with us, that Moses has received the punishment of his offence wholly within this present life, and that the temporary loss has been abundantly made up by God in heaven? Well may we rest assured that all the friends of God will have much cause for gratitude in heaven, but more especially for this — that He has said so often, in this world, through His strong love, "No more of this!" But do we not begin to find this out even on this side of the grave? Many of you, in silent admiration, must acknowledge that the principle of everlasting joy would never have been drawn out in your hearts had not the Lord been pleased to lead you through this world by paths where pains and crosses are familiar things. But the poor heart, that has been cured of lusting by the sorrow it has felt, finds constantly, in overwhelming measure, how the All-sufficient One, in a most wondrous way, makes up for what He has Withheld by giving us Himself.
(J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
I. THE DESIRE TO ENTER CANAAN AWOKE ANEW IN THE HEART OF MOSES —
1. A prayer, coloured by deep emotion, came from his heart like a forest stream breaking its way through a narrowing ravine, and then dashing over the falls.
2. Was it possible that the man of God should cry out for what lay behind in a conquered desire? The power of earthly hopes over the heart must be remembered. Moses remained Moses — and his heart remained a man's heart, which only conquers after fresh struggles, which relinquishes hope only when the Highest unmistakably strikes through these hopes and uproots the desires of the heart.
3. It was the hour of conquest where joy filled the hearts of the Israelites. Was it not natural, then, that the old desire should awaken amid this outburst of joyful hope? and that his tongue should utter that of which his heart was full? The words of the prayer show that "the goodly mountain and Lebanon" were before his eyes; and it was in view of them that he again prayed and must again submit.
II. MOSES' RECEPTION OF THE ANSWER TO HIS PRAYER.
1. We all understand this fluctuating of the human heart. "By the grave we stand in silence and sow the seed of tears." But the Easter sun rises, and in its brightness flowers bloom on the graves. Easter bells ring. In this Easter gladness sorrow is stilled and the heart finds peace. It conquers through Him who has swallowed up death in victory.
2. Yet does sorrow never return? We must remember that grace leaves the heart a human heart still. "Grace blameth not thy sighing, but makes it still and pure." The heart still retains its deep emotions, desires, love, hope, longing, and sorrow; and it would be an evil day for men when tears did not bring relief, nor the words of the tongue express the emotion of the heart.
3. When a fervent desire or deep sorrow fills the believing heart it finds relief in prayer — which sometimes bursts forth like a pent-up stream. So it was here with Moses. He entered on this conflict in prayer, and his heart found rest only when the clear answer came.
4. The poet is right when he thinks such conquest impossible on the plane of the world. "The heart that here in sorrow sails by a storm-swept shore gains peace, but on that morrow when it shall beat no more." But it is otherwise in the kingdom of God. Moses, in his words to the people, showed that he had overcome and attained to rest. In his heart he was victorious when he was led by God in His answer to his prayer to the sepulchre of his earthly hopes. His heart did not break — the foaming waves and jagged rocks did not wreck his faith. We almost hear the words, Not my will, but Throe be done.
III. ARE SUCH DECISIVE AND UNMISTAKABLE ANSWERS, SUCH AS THIS GIVEN TO MOSES, GIVEN FROM ON HIGH NOW?
1. Answers in view of which all questionings and grievings cease, all petitions withdrawn, and prayer ends in submission, thanksgiving, and victory.
2. Not precisely as they came to Moses, who lived in such close communion with the Invisible, since only thus in that time could Divine Revelation progress; nor as in later times to the apostle (2 Corinthians 12:9). To the apostles as instruments of revelation the eternal world came nearer than to ordinary men.
3. Yet even to ordinary Christian men there come indications and messages from above which cannot be misunderstood. Not every day — not always when we desire, but in the events of life, in the ordering of circumstances, in the indications of the end of life drawing near, answers are often given as clear and definite as in the words, "Let it suffice thee," etc. And he who understands God's Word and has hid it in his heart, like Moses looks steadily towards Pisgah. The spirit overcomes and looks toward the earthly Canaan, but only to leave it. Let the heart turn, let the eye look upward to the Canaan above!
(J. A. Broadus, D. D.).
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