“I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” Deu 34:4
The sandal’s leather sole slipped, and for an agonizing moment he feared his climb would end in rough descent back down the steep grade. In response, his staff, carved years ago from an ashur tree, bit hard between two large rocks, enabling the other sandal to find purchase on the mountain’s demanding surface. Age was not the culprit; in fact, at one hundred and twenty years old he could still outlast most of the younger men when it came to grueling treks through uninhabitable wilderness. He had proven as much over the past forty odd years. It was the anticipation of what lay ahead that pushed him upward at a pace that strained muscle and sinew to the breaking point. There was no time to waste. If this was to be the end, he intended to make the most of it. The others did not know, else they would have attempted to dissuade him from the climb and convince him that he had heard wrongly. Perhaps he had misunderstood. After all he had done, it couldn’t end this way. He had to admit the disappointment threatened to squeeze every last ounce of joy from his heart like the boulders he had seen crush everything in their path during a rockslide.
He paused and fought to regain his breath against the drain of ascent and altitude; it was then that he realized he had reached his goal. Atop Pisgah, the horizon spread before him in panoramic fashion–from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho. He could see all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean. Then he heard a familiar voice speak. At times it had sounded to him like the cataracts of the Nile; in other moments he strained to recognize it, not unlike a child pausing and leaning into the wind to detect a parent’s distant call. “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” A lesser man would have cowered and pleaded, but he was prepared for just such a time as this. In the place of resignation, he found resolve; instead of fear, he knew rest. The quest would not end with him; he had equipped a younger and more gifted man to lead in his stead.
There is a sense in which each of us sees but never crosses over. We cannot finish what we start, others must do it for us. Each of us is expected to entrust our stories into those we leave behind, those who will imitate us, follow us, exceed us.
“Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.” Deu 34:9
There was nothing magical about this transference. It was not mystical or supernatural. Joshua was filled with wisdom exactly because Moses had poured into him all that he had learned from the school of hard knocks and all he had received by means of divine revelation. The aged prophet knew that eventually his end would come, and the future of God’s people hung on what he left behind. The future of our people hangs on what we leave behind.
“We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work. We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made. But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross. There was no success there to be proud of. Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us” (Henri Nouwen).