The day before he died, Martin Luther King Jr. predicted his own death. His haunting, prophetic words were delivered in the famous speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, which ended with the following:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
King was right. The very next day, he was assassinated.
In that speech, King drew on imagery from the Old Testament–Numbers and Deuteronomy to be exact. In both books, God forbids Moses from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience. God tells Moses that, before his death, he can climb up a mountain and view the Promised Land, but he may not enter into it.
Then, the strangest thing happens. Moses doesn’t protest. He doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, he does the most remarkable thing:
He keeps going.
Moses has just been dealt a terrible blow. Everything he’s spent his whole life laboring for, is gone. His entire reason for being, over. He would not achieve it. He would not get the reward.
And yet, he kept going. He didn’t quit. He didn’t turn around and go back to Egypt. He didn’t abandon the Israelites to find their own way. Instead, he just kept going.
Moses’ response is breathtaking. I mean, can you IMAGINE? Can you imagine how distraught Moses must have been? His whole life’s work, snatched away in an instant.
And still, he kept going.
Neither Numbers or Deuteronomy gives us much of an explanation, although Deuteronomy 3 ups the ante. In verses 23-25, Moses pleads with God to change His mind and allow him into the Promised Land. But God only raises the stakes. Not only is Moses forbidden from entering the land, but he must also train Joshua to lead the people instead. Joshua, not Moses, will enter the Promised Land.
Again, can you imagine??? As Moses is mourning the death of his dream, he is charged with handing it off to another. Another man that Moses must “encourage and strengthen” for the task. Talk about salt in the wound.
And yet, Moses keeps going.
I have wondered about this for days. Why did Moses continue on? What motivated him? How was he not sick with despair?
The only answer I could come up with was this:
Moses loved God more than the Promised Land. Deep down, Moses knew the Promised Land was not the reward. God was the reward. The journey was not a journey to a place, but to a person.
Moses wanted God.
I believe that was Moses’ motivation because of the instructions he later gives the Israelites. Over and over again, Moses commands faithfulness to the Lord. He tells them to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:6) and then he shows them what that love looks like: he keeps going.
I suspect Moses also did it out of love for the Israelites. In obedience to the second greatest commandment–to love your neighbor as yourself–he labored for the future of his children, his grandchildren, and his friends. Like Martin Luther King, it wasn’t about one man getting to the Promised Land, but about a people.
The story of Moses shatters prosperity theology. Moses was a faithful man of God who, despite his best efforts, did not receive his earthly inheritance. It’s a hard reality, and it has challenged me with this hard question:
What is my own Promised Land?
What are my dreams? What do I labor toward? What do I believe God put me on earth to achieve? And if I don’t achieve it, if I don’t have my dreams, will I keep going? Will I be faithful if my reward is God alone?
For most of us, our Promised Land is something earthly. Maybe it’s marriage, or kids. Maybe it’s the salvation of your children, your spouse, or a people group. A successful career. A successful ministry. A comfortable life. Retirement. Maybe, like Dr. King, it’s much bigger than yourself, like the end of human trafficking, or the end of poverty.
Whatever your Promised Land, are you content only to glimpse it from afar? Are you willing to labor in faithfulness, even if you never have the desire of your heart? Are you, ultimately, striving after the Promised Land, or after God?
I would love to shout a confident “God!” But if I’m being honest, I can only croak out a feeble, “I believe, but help my unbelief.” I am, as C.S. Lewis put it, a half-hearted creature.
But so was Moses, and that is a great encouragement to me. Moses doubted, was discouraged, and displaced blame. He was not a pillar of faith, but he still kept going–not because he was a great man, but because he loved a great God.
That is what’s challenging me today. Am I motivated by some earthly Promised Land, or by my love for Christ? In a broken, uncertain world like ours, the hope of the Promised Land is a fragile one. I want to hope in something that will never fail. I want to hope in something that keeps me going.