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Mt. Nebo and Moses’ Lessons in Obedience

If you’ve ever looked forward to something, really wanted it, strove for it but in the end didn’t realize it, you can identify with Moses as he gazed across at the Promised Land from today’s Jordan, realizing he would not enter.

This month’s video blog takes place at this special site, Mt. Nebo, the place in ancient Moab where Moses got only to preview Canaan from a distance before he died and was buried.

Did you wonder why such a faithful follower of God didn’t get to realize his dream? I did. The book of Numbers has answers, but first some context.

In that first month of the Exodus, the people had started murmuring about why Moses brought them up from Egypt only to die of thirst in the desert, their initial provisions having run out.

Anyone who has served in a position of leadership can identify with the frustration and end-of-his-rope feeling Moses must have experienced. Doing what he had always done when in trouble, the great leader turned to God for answers, retreating into the ‘tent of meeting’ constructed for the worship of God. There, Moses and Aaron experienced a theophany, a divine appearing, as recorded in Numbers 20:6, 8 –“They fell on their faces and the glory of the Lord appeared to them” (Common English Bible).    The continued instructions are clear: “You and Aaron your brother, take the staff and assemble the community. In their presence, tell the rock to provide water (vs. 8, emphasis added).”

Instead of following divine instructions, however, we learn: “Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice Numbers 20:11, emphasis added).“

It’s a subtle difference and the end result seemed not to matter: the people got their water.

But that moment of disobedience revealed far more than how water was extracted. It was about Moses either trusting God fully to obey His commands, or determining he had a better way. And in this case, that ‘better way’ appeared to be filled with anger (Moses striking the rocks), something that was completely contrary to the loving provisions that God was supplying.

Once again the Bible illustrates that the best leaders are those who follow the leadership of God.  It’s somehow a bit reassuring to realize that even history’s greatest leaders, like Moses, have their moments of doubt or ego.  Yet Moses seems to have learned a significant lesson at this early stage of the Exodus:  we don’t find another example of him choosing a way other than how God has directed him.  That is a leadership example we can all follow.

Sitting on an ancient wall at Mt. Nebo overlooking Roman milestones and the valley below where Moses is thought to have been buried. The view is tremendous!

The video blog from Mt. Nebo is an example of where the Bible’s physical geography teaches us spiritual lessons. Israel is so close, the promised land right there to enter.  Yet it wouldn’t be for Moses.   Mt. Nebo’s high ground overlooks nearby Israel, just West of the Transjordanian River Valley which serves as the border between Israel and today’s Jordan. Much of Israel spreads out before you like a vast desert carpet. Here Joshua would, as Moses’ first lieutenant, take the leadership command and begin his mission of conquering Canaan, but only after burying the great leader that had given Israel so much.

Deuteronomy sums it up: The Lord spoke to Moses that very same day:  “Hike up the Abarim mountains, to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho. Take a good look at the land of Canaan, which I’m giving to the Israelites as their property.  You will die on the mountain you have hiked up, and you will be gathered to your people….You can look at the land from the other side of the river, but you won’t enter there” (Deut. 32:48-50, Common English Bible).

Another Biblical lesson in obedience.

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September 7, 2017 5:35 am

Thanks Maddie. I love the Biblical insights you share! I always learn something new and helpful. It gives a fuller meaning and understanding of our wonderful Bible stories and lessons! Now when I come across this story I will have a better picture of the location and significance of the lesson Moses learned.

Linda Bargmann
Linda Bargmann
September 7, 2017 8:13 am

That is fascinating! Even though I’ve been to Mt. Nebo (with you in 2010!!) I don’t remember ever hearing this story about what God told Moses vs. what he did, even though it’s been in the Bible all along… thank you so much for explaining it so clearly and posting it for all of us to learn.

Karen mcmullen
Karen mcmullen
September 8, 2017 3:38 pm

Madelon, we went here too but I really didn’t grasp the significance of it until you wrote this piece. I never noticed the anger and disobedience of Moses there. Wow,makes it so real and meaningful to know everyone has their really bad break down moments. But it does not stop us from leading and going forward. I just had one of those as president of our church’s board! It gives me hope to push on and that I can make it.

Atsuko Nakajima
Atsuko Nakajima
September 8, 2017 10:39 pm

september 8, 2017 Thank you very much for this video and text which taught me new things about Moses. I must confess that I did not know about this story as I only knew the story of Moses and water which appears in Exodus 17:1-7. Your video led me to read three accounts about Moses and water. And the last account was amazingly on Moses’ disobedience. What a price he had to pay for this! I must confess that I did not know why Moses could not enter the promised land although I knew that he did not. It is… Read more »

Kaye and Jim Patterson
September 19, 2017 12:27 pm

Dear Madelon, Jim and I enjoyed traveling to Mt. Nebo with you!You are a wonderful story teller and make the Bible come alive.
We are playing catch-up with our study…see you in Oct!

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