Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 3:23 - 3:28

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 3:23 - 3:28

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Deu_3:23-28. And I besought the Lord at that time, saying, O Lord God, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain and Lebanon! But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.

THE character of Moses, in whatever point of view it be considered, is worthy of admiration: his zeal and industry, his patience and meekness, his fidelity and love, were never surpassed by any child of man. As an intercessor for the Lord’s people, he stands unrivalled. Many were the occasions whereon he prevailed on God to spare that rebellious nation that had been committed to his charge. But behold, this eminent saint, who had so often succeeded in his applications for others, was now refused when praying for himself. And, though it might appear humiliating, and might lower him in the estimation of all future generations, he gives a faithful account of the whole matter, recording both the prayer that he offered, and the answer he received.

The points to which we would call your attention, are,

I.       God’s rejection of the prayer of Moses—

Nothing could be more proper than this prayer of Moses—

[He requested that he might be permitted to “go over Jordan, and see the promised land.” It was with a view to the enjoyment of this land that he had laboured incessantly for forty years. He had held up the possession of it as the great inducement to the whole nation to come forth from Egypt, and to endure all the hardships of journeying in the wilderness, and the perils of protracted warfare against the inhabitants of the land. He knew that Canaan was “the glory of all lands.” And now that the period for the full possession of it was arrived, yea, and God had given them an earnest of it in the subjugation of the kingdoms on the east of Jordan, who can wonder that Moses should be anxious to participate the promised, happiness? The manner in which he sought it was most becoming. He did not complain of the sentence of exclusion that had been passed upon him; but only prayed that it might be reversed. Often had he urged similar petitions for others with success: and therefore he had reason to hope, that he might not plead in vain for himself. He did not certainly know that God’s decree with respect to him differed from the threatenings that had been denounced against others: there might be a secret reserve of mercy in the one case as well as in the other: and therefore he was emboldened to offer his requests, but with a meekness and modesty peculiarly suited to the occasion.]

But God saw fit to reject his petition—

[The refusal which God gave him on this occasion was most peremptory. When he had rejected his prayer for the offending nation, be said, “Let me alone;” and in that very expression intimated the irresistible efficacy of prayer. But on this occasion he forbade him to “speak to him any more of that matter:” yea, he “sware to Moses, that he should not go over Jordan [Note: Deu_4:21.].” In this refusal there was an awful manifestation of the divine displeasure. It was intended as a punishment both for his sin, and for the people’s sin; for God was “wroth with him for their sakes,” as well as for his own. To him the punishment was great, as being a painful privation, a heavy disappointment: to them also it was a severe rebuke, inasmuch as they were deprived of a loving father, a powerful intercessor, an experienced governor, and under whom they had succeeded hitherto beyond their most sanguine expectations.

We forbear to notice the typical intent of this dispensation, because we have mentioned it in a former part of this history [Note: See Discourse on Num_20:12.]: it is in a practical aspect only that we now consider it; and therefore we confine ourselves to such observations as arise from it in that view.]

This refusal however, though absolute, was not unmixed with kindness: as will appear from considering,

II.      The mercy with which this judgment was tempered—

As God in later ages withheld from Paul, and even from his only dear Son, the blessings which they asked, but gave them what was more expedient under their circumstances [Note: 2Co_12:8-9; Luk_22:42-43 with Heb_5:7.], so now, whilst he denied to Moses an entrance into Canaan, he granted to him,

1.       A sight of the whole land—

[He commanded Moses to go up on Mount Pisgah to view the land; and from that eminence he shewed him the whole extent of the country from east to west, and from north to south. The sight, we apprehend, was miraculous: because, however great the elevation of the mountain might be, we do not conceive that the places which he saw could be within the visible horizon [Note: Deu_34:1-4.]. However this might be, we have no doubt but that the sight must have been most gratifying to his mind, because it would be regarded as a pledge of God’s fidelity, and a taste at least of those blessings, which Israel was about to enjoy in all their fulness.

But we are persuaded that Moses, notwithstanding he spoke so little about the heavenly world, knew the typical nature of the promised land, and beheld in Canaan a figurative representation of that better kingdom, to which he was about to be translated.]

2.       An assurance that his place should be successfully filled by Joshua—

[To him was committed the office of instructing, encouraging, and strengthening Joshua for the arduous work which lay before him. And what could be a richer comfort to an aged minister, than to see that God had already raised up one to occupy his post, and to carry on the work which he had begun ? Methinks, the preparing of Joshua’s mind for his high office was a task in which Moses would take peculiar delight: and the certainty of Israel’s ultimate success would cheer him under the pains of his own personal disappointment.]

The practical observations arising out of this history, will bring the subject home to our own business and bosoms. We learn from it,

1.       To guard against sin—

[We might profitably dwell on this thought, if we considered only the exclusion of Moses from the promised land for one single transgression. But as other occasions must arise whereon such an observation may be grounded, we would call your attention rather to the injury which both ministers and people may sustain by means of each other’s transgressions. Repeatedly does Moses say, “God was wroth with me for your sakes:” from whence we are assured, that their sins were punished in him. And we know also that his sin was punished in them: they suffered no less by the loss of him, than he did by the loss of Canaan. Such a participation in each other’s crimes and punishments is common in the world: children are affected by their parents’ faults; and parents by the faults of their children. In the ministerial relation, this happens as frequently as in any. If a minister seek his own glory instead of God’s, or be remiss in the duties of the closet, his people will suffer as well as he: the ordinances from whence they should derive nutriment will be to them “as dry breasts or a miscarrying womb.” If the people slight the ministry of a faithful man, what wonder is it if God remove the candlestick from those who will not avail themselves of the light? If, on the other hand, they idolize their minister, and put him, as it were, in the place of God, what wonder is it if God, who is a jealous God, leave him to fall, that they may see the folly of their idolatry; or take him from them, that they may learn where alone their dependence should be? Let the death of Moses, and the bereavement of the Israelites, be a warning to us all; that we provoke not God by our rebellions to withhold from us the blessings we desire, or to inflict upon us the punishments we deserve.]

2.       To submit with humility to afflictive dispensations—

[When once Moses was informed of the decided purpose of God, he forbore to ask for any alteration of it; nor did he utter one murmuring or discontented word concerning it. God had bidden him to be satisfied with the mercies which he was about to receive; and he was satisfied with them. Now it may be that God has denied us many things which we could have wished to possess, or taken from us things which we have possessed. But if he have given us grace, and mercy, and peace through our Lord Jesus Christ, what reason can we have to complain? We have prayed to him perhaps under our trials, and they have not been removed; or we have deprecated them, and they have still been inflicted. But God has said to us, “Let it suffice thee” that I have made thee a partaker of my grace: “let it suffice thee” that I have given thee prospects of the promised land: “let it suffice thee” that thou hast a portion in a better world. And shall not these things be sufficient for us, though we be destitute of every thing else ? Shall any of the concerns of time or sense be of much importance in our eyes, when we are so highly privileged, so greatly enriched? Ah! check the first risings of a murmuring thought, all ye who are ready to complain of your afflictions. Think whether you would exchange one Pisgah view of heaven for all that this earth can give: and, if you would not, then think, how richly heaven itself will compensate for all your light and momentary afflictions: and, instead of indulging any anxiety about the things of this world, let the prayer of David be the continual language both of your hearts and lips [Note: Psa_106:4-5.].]

3.       To serve God with increasing activity to the end of life—

[The last month of Moses’ continuance on earth was as fully occupied with the work of God as any month of his life. Though he knew that he must die within a few days, he did not intermit his labours in the least, but rather addressed himself to them with increasing energy and fidelity. This was the effect of very abundant grace: and it was an example but rarely copied. How many towards the close of life, when they know, not from revelation indeed, but from their own feelings, that they must shortly die, become cold in their affections, slothful in their habits, querulous in their tempers, and remiss in their duties! Instead of taking occasion from the shortness of their time, to labour with increased diligence, how many yield to their infirmities, and make their weakness an excuse for wilful indolence! The Lord grant, that no such declensions may take place in any of us; but that rather “our last days may he our best days;” and that our Lord, finding us both watchful and active, may applaud us as good and faithful servants, prepared and fitted for his heavenly kingdom!]