In my (almost) nightly Bible reading, I just wrapped up the first five books last night–Genesis through Deuteronomy. The end of Deuteronomy (Chapter 34) is pretty cool:
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”
5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. 8 And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended.
9 Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, 12 and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. [Bold added.]
Upon this reading of the Torah (first five books), two things jumped out at me that I hadn’t noticed as much during earlier readings:
(1) Moses was qualitatively above the rest of the Israelites, standing between them and God. As the last verse above indicates, there would never be another prophet who talked face to face with God, as a friend.
(2) In comparison with the rest of the Israelites, Moses’ transgression seems completely trivial. Remember, when we discussed it here we couldn’t even agree on exactly what Moses had done wrong, to warrant his punishment (of never getting to see the Promised Land to which he had led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert). In contrast, his brethren–literally, including his brother Aaron–were literally constructing false idols to worship, while Moses is taking notes on the Ten Commandments.
But now that I’m thinking about it, I think the above actually go together. In order to make sense of some of the “crazy” stuff in the Old Testament, it’s important to remember that the Israelites were literally slaves. When we try to understand why their God behaves the way He does, I think that is crucial; He has to convert their mindset.
In that context, it now makes a lot of sense to me that they would need somebody who was a fantastic leader, who came from their ranks (but yet had a different background to explain why he was so much better educated and in a sense stood apart), but yet who wasn’t perfect himself. The LORD throughout the Old Testament chastises the Israelites for their failures, “breaking them down” as it were, but He always gives them hope so that their spirits aren’t completely crushed. He is like a really really tough coach or teacher. (Or, of course, parent.)
If Moses had never screwed up, or if he had screwed up but God never punished him, that might have made the rest of the Israelites completely despondent. But if generations of them looked back on their history, and realized that even the great and mighty Moses screwed up such that he was denied entry into the Promised Land, then that would help them accept their own sins but get on with their lives and try again.