Cairo, February 2010
ON LEAVING BEHIND A LEGACY
His Burial Place Unknown (34:6, 9b). The record of the burial of Moses is also significant: “…and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (34:6). There has been some discussion about who the “he” is that buried Moses. The text does not make it abundantly clear. The writer/editor who inserted this last part to Deuteronomy could be saying God buried Moses. Joshua is also mentioned in this passage often, and it could be him. The writer could even be using “he” as a collective term to refer to the people of Israel.[i]
Is it not interesting that the burial place of Moses is not known? Chris Wright points out that some later Jewish interpreters saw this as a balance to the emphasis in Deuteronomy on the closeness of Moses to God. He explains, “There is danger that one who had spent so much time face to face with God (v. 10), one who spoke for God almost interchangeably at times, one who had mediated the blessings and the judgements of God, might come to be unduly venerated.” However, there is no grave that would tempt the people to have an idolatrous shrine for Moses.
I am writing this from Cairo, in Egypt, where the story of Moses began. We have a free day and some of the participants of the meeting I am here for are visiting the pyramids. The ancient Egyptians made sure that there were monuments to their great kings and queens. Moses’ great legacy was the Word. He had no interest in any other on-going legacy. Then and now people speak of dynasties. Leadership is passed on to the children of leaders after they complete their term of office. While this is not necessarily wrong, it is never an important factor determining the choice of leaders. The qualifications for Christian leadership are devotion to God and the ability to lead people to follow God and his ways. If the child of a leader is most qualified, then he or she can be appointed. But Moses’ left no dynasty. His successor, Joshua, was not related to him. He did not even belong to Moses’ tribe (Levi); he came from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8). Yet, our passage later says, “…the people of Israel obeyed [Joshua] and did as the Lord had commanded Moses” (34:9b). When the people obeyed Joshua, they were actually doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses’ great legacy was the Word. As we have said before, that is the legacy we must seek to leave behind: not great books that we have written, not books written about us, not buildings that bear our name; but people who seek to faithfully follow God.
I believe almost everything I do in ministry—especially in studying, teaching and preaching the Word—has been influenced by my mentor during my graduate studies, Dr. Dan Fuller. He has a brilliant mind and an amazing grasp of the Bible. I am greatly embarrassed that he is not too well known today, while I have received a measure of recognition, even though I see myself as a dwarf in the fields of Bible and theology in comparison to him. Seminary authorities sometimes questioned Dr Fuller about why he was not writing more. This is something that seems to be required of seminary professors nowadays. He would respond saying that he was writing people books! One of the students he influenced is John Piper—one of the most prolific and influential writers in the church today.
The record of the end of Moses’ life shows what we should have as a primary ministry aspiration: get people into the Word and teach them to obey the Word. Earthly monuments will be insignificant in light of the glory of eternity. In one of the few glimpses of heaven we have in the Bible, the twenty-four elders “cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev. 4:10b-11). Only God is worthy of glory. The thrill of seeing our God face to face will be so great that we would gladly lay the rewards for our service—our heavenly crowns—at the feet of God. Let us not waste our precious time and energy trying to leave legacies on earth that will make people remember us.
In all we do, the only ultimate vision or primary motivation we have is the glory of God. And if we have lived with that as a goal, we have lived well. The great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, often wrote at the end of the musical scores of his compositions the initials, “S.D.G.”, for Soli Deo Gloria, meaning, “To God alone, the glory.” Yet, he knew that he could not do this work of glorifying God on his own strength. So he would often initial his blank manuscript pages with the marking, “J.J.,” for Jesu Juva, meaning, “Help me, Jesus.”[ii] May that be our prayer too as we spend our remaining days on earth with a passion to bring glory to God along: “Help me, Jesus!”
[i] These three possible interpretations are listed by Peter Craigie.
[ii] From Patrick Kavanaugh, The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers (Nashville: Sparrow Press, 1992), p. 13. Electronic version: Electronic Edition, Logos Bible Software.