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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-11

Deuteronomy 3:1-11

So the Lord our God delivered into our hands Og also, king of Bashan.

Mastery of formidable enemies


1. How they got the mastery of Og, a very formidable prince.

(1) Very strong, for he was of the remnant of the giants (Deuteronomy 3:11). His personal strength was extraordinary; a monument of which was preserved by the Ammonites in his bedstead, which was shown as a rarity in their chief city. You might guess at his weight by the materials of his bedstead; it was iron, as if a bedstead of wood were too weak for him to trust to, And you might guess at his stature by the dimensions of it: it was nine cubits long, and four cubits broad; which, supposing a cubic to be but half a yard, was four yards and a half long, and two yards broad; and if we allow his bed to be two cubits longer than himself, and that is as much as we need allow, he was three yards and a half high, double the stature of an ordinary man, and every way proportionable; yet they smote him (Deuteronomy 3:3). When God pleads His people’s cause He can deal with giants as with grasshoppers. No man’s might can secure him against the Almighty. His army likewise was very powerful, for he had the command of sixty fortified cities, besides unwalled towns (Deuteronomy 3:5); yet all this was nothing against God’s Israel, when they came with commission to destroy him.

2. He was very stout and daring; he came out against Israel to battle (Deuteronomy 3:1). It was wonder he did not take warning by the ruin of Sihon, and send to desire conditions of peace: but he trusted to his own strength and so was hardened to his own destruction. Those that are not awakened by the judgments of God upon others, but persist in their defiance of heaven, are ripening apace for the like judgments upon themselves (Jeremiah 3:8). God bid Moses not fear him (Deuteronomy 3:2). If Moses himself was so strong in faith as not to need the caution, yet it is probable the people needed it; and for them these fresh assurances are designed, “I will deliver him into thine hand.” Not only deliver thee out of his hand, that he shall not be thy ruin; but deliver him into thy band, that thou shalt be his ruin, and make him pay dear for his attempt. He adds, “Thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon”; intimating that they ought to be encouraged by their former victory to trust in God for another victory; for He is God, and changeth not.

2. How they got possession of Bashan, a very desirable country. They took all the cities (Deuteronomy 3:4), and all the spoil of them (Deuteronomy 3:7); they made them all their own (Deuteronomy 3:10), so that now they had in their hands all that fruitful country which lay east of Jordan, from the river Arnon unto Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:8). Their conquering and possessing of these countries was intended not only for the encouragement of Israel in the wars of Canaan, but for the satisfaction of Moses before his death; because he must not live to see the completing of their victory and settlement, God thus gives him a specimen of it. Thus the Spirit is given to them that believe, as the earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Review and prospect

Is it not remarkable that good causes and good men should meet with constant opposition? We are now perusing the history of a journey which was undertaken by Divine direction, and again and again we come upon the fact that the journey was from end to end bitterly opposed. Were this matter of ancient history we might, in a happier condition of civilisation and in a happier mood of mind, dispute the theory that Israel travelled under Divine direction and guidance; but this very thing is done today in our country, in all countries, in our own heart and life. Never man, surely, went to church without some enemy in the form of temptation, suggestion, or welcome in other directions, seeking to prevent his accomplishing the sacred purpose. He who would be good must fight a battle; he who would pray well must first resist the devil. This makes life very hard; the burden is sometimes too heavy; but the voice of history so concurs with the testimony of conscience, and the whole is so corroborated by the spirit of prophecy, that we must accept the discipline, and await with what patience God Himself can work within us the issue of the tragic miracle. Is there no compensatory consideration or circumstance? The Lord Himself must speak very distinctly in some conditions and relations of life. “And the Lord said unto me.” That is how the balance is adjusted. In the one verse, Og, king of Bashan; in the next verse--Jehovah. Thus the story of our life alternates--now an enemy, now a friend; now the fight is going to be too severe for us and we shall certainly fall, and now the Lord of hosts is in the van, and kings are burned by His presence as stubble is burned by the fire. What was the Divine message? It was a message adapted to the sensitiveness of the circumstances: “Fear him not; for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand:” Get rid of fear, and you increase power. He who is strong in spirit is strong all through and through his nature; he who is only muscularly strong will fail in the fight. The brave heart, the soul alive with God--that will always conquer. Let us live and move and have our being in God. What was the consequence? We read the story in the fourth verse: “And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.” Opposition to God always means loss. There is no bad man who is successful. Do not let us interpret the word “successful” narrowly and partially, as if it were a term descriptive of mere appearances or momentary relationships. In the partial acceptation of the term the proposition will not bear examination; but in discussing great spiritual realities we must take in the full view; and, fixing the attention upon that view, the proposition remains an indestructible truth--that no bad man is really prosperous. He has no comfort. He eats like a glutton, but he has no true enjoyment; out of his bread he draws no poetry, no thought, no fire; it is lost upon him, for he is an evil eater. In his apparent wealth he is miserably poor. If it could be proved that a man can oppose God and be truly happy, the whole Christian kingdom would be destroyed by that proof, the word of the Lord, as written in the Book, is against the possibility. But what became of Og, the king of Bashan? We read in the eleventh verse, “Behold his bedstead,” etc. What an ending! How appropriate! How bitter the satire! Og, king of Bashan, came out to fight the people of God; a few verses are written in which battles are fought and cities taken, and at the end the bedstead of Og is nearly all that remains of the mighty king of Bashan! This is worthless fame; this is the renown that is pitiable. But there is no other renown for wicked men: they will leave a name in history, but a name the children will laugh at; they will leave behind them a memorial, but the memorial itself shall be an abiding sarcasm. The Lord turneth the counsel of the wicked upside down; the Lord will laugh at the wicked man and have all his devices in derision. His bedstead will be remembered when he himself is forgotten; he will be spoken of in the bulk and not in the quality; he will be measured like a log; he will be forgotten like an evil dream. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. Who would be wicked? Who would oppose God? Who would not rather coalesce with the heavens, and pray that the Spirit of God would work in the human heart the miracle of reconciliation with things eternal and celestial? (J. Parker, D. D.)

King Og’s bedstead

Why did not the Bible give us the size of the giant instead of the size of the bedstead? Why did it not indicate that the man was eleven feet high, instead of telling us that his couch was thirteen and a half feet long? No doubt among other things it was to teach us that you can judge of a man by his surroundings. Show me a man’s associates, show me a man’s books, show me a man’s home, and I will tell you what he is without your telling me one word about him. Moral giants and moral pigmies, intellectual giants and intellectual pigmies, like physical giants or physical pigmies, may be judged by their surroundings. That man has been thirty years faithful in attendance upon churches and prayer meetings and Sunday schools, and putting himself among intense religious associations. He may have his imperfections, but he is a very good man. Great is his religious stature. That other man has been for thirty years among influences intensely worldly, and he has shut himself out from all other influences, and his religious stature is that of a dwarf. But let no one by this thought be induced to surrender to unfavourable environments. A man can make his own bedstead. Chantrey and Hugh Miller were born stonemasons, but the one became an immortal sculptor, and the other a Christian scientist whose name will never die. The late Judge Bradley worked his way up from a charcoal burner to the bench of the supreme court of the United States. Yes, a man can decide the size of his own bedstead. Notice furthermore, that even giants must rest. Such enormous physical endowment on the part of king Og might suggest the capacity to stride across all fatigue and omit slumber. No. He required an iron bedstead. Giants must rest. Not appreciating the fact, how many of the giants yearly break down! Giants in business, giants in art, giants in eloquence, giants in usefulness. Let no one think, because he has great strength of body or mind, that be can afford to trifle with his unusual gifts. King Og, no doubt, had a sceptre, but the Bible does not mention his sceptre. Yet one of the largest verses of the Bible is taken up in describing his bedstead. So God all up and down the Bible honours sleep. Adam, with his head on a pillow of Edenic roses, has his slumber blest by a Divine gift of beautiful companionship. Jacob, with his head on a pillow of rock, has his sleep glorified with a ladder filled with descending and ascending angels. Christ, with a pillow made out of the folded up coat of a fisherman, honours slumber in the back part of the storm-tossed boat. One of our national sins is robbery of sleep. Walter Scott was so urgent about this duty of slumber that, when arriving at a hotel where there was no room to sleep in, except that in which there was a corpse, inquired if the deceased had died of a contagious disease, and, when assured he had not, took the other bed in the room and fell into profoundest slumber. Those of small endurance must certainly require rest if even the giant needs an iron bedstead. Notice furthermore, that God’s people on the way to Canaan need not be surprised if they confront some sort of a giant. Had not the Israelitish host had trouble enough already? No! Red Sea not enough. Water famine not enough. Long marches not enough. Opposition by enemies of ordinary stature not enough. They must meet Og, the giant of the iron bedstead. Do you know the name of the biggest giant that you can possibly meet--and you will meet him? He is not eleven feet high, but one hundred feet high. His bedstead is as long as a continent. His name is Doubt. His common food is infidel books and sceptical lectures, and ministers who do not know whether the Bible is inspired at all or inspired in spots, and Christians who are more infidel than Christian. You will never reach the promised land unless you slay that giant. Kill doubt, or doubt will kill you. Another impression from my subject. The march of the Church cannot be impeded by gigantic opposition. That Israelitish host led on by Moses was the Church, and when Og, the giant, he of the iron bedstead, came out against him with another host--things must have looked bad for Israel. Moses of ordinary size against Og of extraordinary dimensions. Besides that, Og was backed up by sixty fortified cities. Moses was backed up seemingly by nothing but the desert that had worn him and his army into a group of undisciplined and exhausted stragglers. But the Israelites triumphed. The day is coming. Hear it, all ye who are doing something for the conquest of the world for God and the truth, the time will come when, as there was nothing left of Og, the giant, but the iron bedstead, kept at Rabbath as a curiosity, there will be nothing left of the giants of iniquity except something for the relic hunters to examine. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The last of the giants

We, in our warfare, have many giants to contend against. As we go through our wanderings there are many places waste and wild as the tangled brakes and rugged rocks of Argob, in the land of Bashan. We have our wildernesses of temptation to pass over. In those wildernesses are many giants bigger than Og, more terrible than Anak, vaunting with greater insolence than Goliath of Gath. Perhaps you have conquered many of them. Is it so? Do they lie smitten and vanquished at your feet? Envious man, have you bound envy hand and foot and put him without your house and home? He is not dead, only chained. Beware lest in some unguarded moment he should be freed, and lead you captive with the accumulated power of long repose and the increased caution brought about by his former defeat. Is the evil spirit of anger vanquished which was formerly of such gigantic proportions? Or does it still rise at will from its bedstead to which, in prosperous sunshine, when nothing crosses us or thwarts us, it voluntarily retires? Is it bound there, or does it merely lie there in hiding, with no cords of religion to compel its slumbering inactivity? There are also Bunyan’s giants, some dead, some living--giants Pope and Pagan sadly disabled, giants Maul and Slaygood also disabled--giant Despair, still living in his dark dungeon with Mrs. Doubting his terrible wife. Giant Despair tells men and women to kill themselves, tells them God will never forgive them, shuts them up in his grim castle, and how can they escape? Those pilgrims found a key called “Hope.” With Hope in the breast adversity may be borne. The giant of Lust is a mighty giant also. And of all other giants the most dangerous to some natures. Many a sinner and some saints have found this the Og which has been last vanquished. God says, “Fear not.” Will you fear when your Maker tells you not to fear? Shall we not rather go and do our best against the sin that still struggles in our souls and would fain bring us to destruction? (S. B. James, M. A.)

Verses 23-26

Deuteronomy 3:23-26

Thou hast begun to show.

Revelation always new

“Thou hast begun.” That is all He can do. Always beginning, never ending that is the mystery and that is the glory of the Divine revelation. When we come to see that all things are but in the bud, and can never get out of it, we shall begin to see the greatness of God. How pitiable is the condition of the man who has worn out anything that has in it real life, poetry, meaning, and application to the affairs and destinies of life! We must not take our life line from such vagrants. We must be made to see and feel that everything has eternity in it. We shall be real students and worshippers when we say about the moors so desolate, and the sea so melancholy, and the forest even in December, “Lo! God is here, and I knew it not; this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” We should be wiser if we were not so clever. If we could consider that all things are yet in plasm and beginning and outline and suggestion, we should remit to a longer day the discussion and the settlement of questions which now constitute the mystery and torment of our intellectual life. A beautiful period of life is that in which a man begins to see the shaping of a Divine purpose in his own existence. Some can remember the time when the meaning of words first came really to the mind. What a light it was, how content was the brain; the whole mind rose up and said, “This is something really gained, and can never be lost.” A similar sensation comes to men who live wisely. In their childhood they did not know what God meant them to be, so they proposed many things to their own imagination; then early life came, and things began to settle into some kind of hazy outline; then manhood came, with all its experiences and with all its conflicts, and at last there was, as it were, a man’s hand building the life, putting it into square and shape and proportion, and flushing it with colour. Then we began to see what God meant to be the issue of our life. He made us great, small, strong, weak, rich, poor; but if we have lain in His hands quietly, gently, obediently, and lovingly, we see that poverty is wealth and weakness is strength. A holy thought of this kind has sanctified the whole purview and issue of life, so that men can now say, “That is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” When the Lord undertakes the outbuilding and shaping of a life, none can hinder it. “O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness.” Throughout the Bible God is never represented as a dwindling quantity. God, in other words, does not grow less and less, but more and more. When our imagination is exhausted God’s light has already begun to shine. Age after age has come and has written upon its record these words, “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” God has always reserved to Himself the use of the instrument of education which we call surprise. We have never anticipated God. When we have gone out early in the day it has been by the assistance of His light. If He had not kindled the lamp we could not have taken a step upon our journey. God surprises us with goodness. We think we have partaken of the very best He can give us, and, lo! when we have drunk again of the goblet of Divine love we say, “Thou hast kept the good wine until now. It is in that spirit of hopefulness, in that everlasting genesis, we must live; then we shall be young for ever. (J. Parker, D. D.)

I pray Thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan . . . But the Lord . . . would not hear me.

Man’s sin and God’s will

When we read the history of a nation as we do in the Old Testament, we cannot but be struck by the extent to which a nation depends upon its representative men. Its ambitions, virtues, and hopes may be what you please, but they must find visible embodiment and capable instruction in some great and commanding personality. One lesson of the opening chapter of Deuteronomy is that nations, as a rule, are not very sympathetic with those on whom the burden of their affairs is laid. They heap responsibilities upon their leaders, and leave them to carry weights beyond human strength. They hardly think of their limitations as men like themselves, who, besides the public duties which they discharge, have a spiritual life of their own to care for, a conscience of their own to keep right with Goal a spiritual ladder to climb, individual convictions, and a soul to save. They do not consider that God is looking on at the trial of a strong but weary spirit, while men may be doing their best to make the trial to turn out to his hurt. This passage shows us this great man in the last year of his life. The dying of Moses had been extended beyond the common measure of humanity, and his experience had been as various as his life had been prolonged. He had seen the courts of Pharaoh; he had dwelt in the tents of Midian for forty years, and for forty years more he had never escaped from the pressure of the tens of thousands of Israel. He knew the worry of his public position, and he knew also the awful message of God. The greatest figure in the Old Testament, as far as we can judge greatness, his heart was most deeply pledged to his people, and the promise God made to them. The day was long passed when he had identified himself with Israel for weal or woe. At the close of his long life--with the wonderful experience of what God had done lying behind him--what was the thought that rises to Moses’ lips? It is that all this has only been enough to awaken hope--“O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness and Thy mighty hand.” The mysterious name of God, which our Bible translates, “I am,” has been rendered by some scholars, “I will be; I will do what I will do. It is My very nature to be a God of unimaginable promise, doing for those who look to Me far more than they can ask or think.” I believe that rendering is as legitimate as the more metaphorical one. At any rate, this is the conception of the Divine nature which experience has enforced upon Moses. At the end of his long life he can only feel that God has begun to show His greatness. If he is sure of anything, it is that God can do more and will do more than He has done yet. His very name is a name of promise. Now, that is a worthy spirit with which to come to the close of one’s life. Death is a decisive end for us--the close of all our work on this scene. But if we have been in the company of God and learned to know Him, we will not measure His work by anything we have seen. Though our strength is spent, He has no more than indicated His purpose and excited His people’s interest and hopes. When St. Paul was ready to die he wrote to Timothy, I have finished my course. But if he had been able to see what we see now, would he not have exclaimed, as Moses did, “O Lord, Thou hast begun”? There is a famous passage in Latin poetry in which the founder of the Roman race is taken to the end of the world and shown the fortunes of posterity. The grand figures of later history pass in magnificent procession before his eyes. But what Moses felt was far better than any such vision. He had faith that the work which had been so much to him was in God’s hands, and that though his part in it was all but over, God’s was only beginning. It is easier to apply this consideration to New Testament times. When the last of the Apostles died, what had God done in the world? He had kindled His little sparks of light here and there in the darkness of heathendom. But the whole framework, the whole spirit of society were pagan. A society like that in which we live, in which there is an instinctive recognition of Christ as final moral authority, in which children are baptized in His name--such a society was beyond the Apostles’ vision, and perhaps beyond their conception. The Lord had more to do for the world than they had seen. It is the same now. Generation after generation passes, men grow old and grey and die in the work of the Lord, yet that work is ever beginning. We see the authority of Christ extending even in Christendom. We see the application of His will becoming more constant and thorough. They grow old, not to be pessimists, not to lose hope in the world because their own eyes are dim or their natural force abated, but with their hearts young within them; eager and interested in what God is doing; sure that the best is yet to be. Moses, with this noble faith in God’s purpose, offered passionate prayer to God--“I pray Thee let me go over and see the good land.” We can hardly imagine the interest of Moses in Canaan. It was the land of the fathers--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was the land God had chosen as the inheritance of Israel. It was the goal of forty years’ wanderings. It was at length, for the second time, and after a faithless generation had perished in the wilderness, within their sight. It was not God’s will that Moses should live to see the conquest of Canaan. There are people so deeply interested in the evolution of things--as to what practical applications electricity will be put, what Socialism will do in the way of reconstructing society, what will be the position of Christianity and the Church, what will become of the Chinese and Turkish empires--that they can pray to be kept alive to see the end. And if they are not they may leave the world with a keen sense of disappointment. What was the sin of Moses? At first sight it seems very strange. Moses has this testimony given him in the Bible--that he was meek above all men. Yet he was not always meek. He was hot and hasty in his youth when he slew an Egyptian, and the sin of his youth flared up one fatal moment as he struck the rock. At last his sin found him out, and excluded him from the Holy Land. I can imagine someone feeling that in this matter Moses was hardly dealt with, and that the inexorableness of God is painful to contemplate. No doubt it is meant to impress us that way. Believe it in time, all young men and women. There are good things, the best things, the only things you will one day care for, that sin makes impossible; a single bad action can forfeit hopes that you will never be able to redeem. It can draw an invisible line round about you--a line invisible to everyone except God and you--that you cannot cross. Moses is presented here to us learning one of the hardest of all lessons--the acceptance of God’s will as it is determined by our own sins. Often our repentance is no better than a desire to escape the penalty of our faults. But our hope lies in accepting, not in rebelling and struggling against, the consequences which God has attached to our sins. To learn humility, to learn that God knows the discipline which is best for us, to learn to walk softly and accept as His will restrictions and losses which our sins have brought with them--that is the secret for restoring the soul. Rebellion does no good. Unbelieving despondency does no good. What is required is that the punishment of our sin be recognised as what it is, and taken as God’s will for our good. It is never pleasant, how could it be? The most awful thing in the world, it has been said, is the unpardoned sin, and the next is sin which has been pardoned. To accept the punishment of our iniquity is to have experience of both of these, and we need it to make us hate sin as we should. For remember, though Moses’ prayer was not granted, we are not to Suppose that his sin was not forgiven. It is striking that in the New Testament Moses appeared in glory and talked with Jesus of the death He should accomplish in Jerusalem. Thus all the limits which sin had imposed upon his life had vanished; thus he saw how far the grand work of God had progressed. Thus his mind still looked forward to the great event in which that great work should be consummated in the death of Jesus on the Cross. Moses talked of that, for that was his hope as it is ours. It is not true that the consequences of sin are immutable. If that were so there would be no Gospel. By God’s will they abide for a time, but there is a world in which curse shall be no more. It is not true that the limitations of sin and its deformities are seen even in heaven. But God’s answer to Moses’ prayer did not end with His refusal. “Charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him, for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.” The natural effect of despair is that we lose heart. We lose interest in our work when the accomplishment of it is a thing in which we have no interest. We are not going to be there, why spend ourselves as though we were? To speak like that is to forget that the work is not ours. It is God’s. Our interest is not to be limited as if it were a private concern of our own. It is a mark of true goodness when a man can admire and encourage his successor, and keep up his interest and hope in the common cause, though active participation in its affairs has become impossible for him. We sometimes see men who have been great leaders retire with a bad grace. They looked askance at those carrying on their work. They are more ready to be critical and sulky than to cry, “Well done.” They are under no obligation to encourage their successors! Over against this set these words of God to Moses, “Charge Joshua.” Possibly there are some whose own sins have inflicted losses which are very hard to bear. We might have entered the land of promise. We might have been men and women infinitely different from what we are--brighter, happier, richer in our souls. Well, what does God say after our disappointments? He says what He said to Moses: Do not be selfish, do not sulk; do not let your disappointments, bitter as they are, cast a shadow over your family or over the church. Digest it in solitude. But beyond everything, get above Pisgah and see the goodly mountain of Lebanon, and then, with the glory of that prospect on your face, turn to those whose hearts are cold within them, whose spirits are broken, and cherish and encourage and strengthen them. Tell them what God has prepared for those who love Him, and rejoice with them that they will inherit the land which you have only seen from afar. (J. Denney, D. D.)

Moses unanswered

1. Our first consideration is that the case before us does not disprove God’s willingness to hear and answer prayer.

2. Our second consideration is that God does not always answer in just our way. The two things which Noses wanted were these--

(1) To enter the Promised Land. He did not, indeed, cross the Jordan into the earthly Canaan; but, closing his eyes, he opened them on a vision of heavenly beauty such as he had never dreamed of.

(2) He wanted to see “the work of his hands established upon him” (Psalms 90:16-17). This also was given in manifold measure. The influence of Moses was, under God, the controlling factor in the theocracy. His name has always been revered among the Jews.

3. Our third consideration is that no prayer is true prayer unless it is offered in the filial spirit. Some supplications are unfilial in their presumptuous boldness. Other supplications are unfilial in their servility. (Homiletic Review.)

The prayer which God denied

Observe that Moses here calls his own sin to remembrance. The plank which broke beneath one’s weight is not apt to be kept as a sacred relic or treasured with fond affection. The place associated with some sin whose memory makes us blush, or some blunder so foolish as to be worthy only of an idiot, is not a place which we delight to revisit. Therefore it is the more remarkable that when Moses, in life’s latest hour, reviews God’s mercy to His people, he should not pass over the one great blunder and sin of his own career. But with the finger of transparent honesty he touches the sorest spot in his memory.

Observe why God denied Moses’ appeal.

1. We must not forget that what Moses sought from God was a temporal, not a spiritual blessing.

2. Perhaps, too, God may have refused the appeal of Moses because it humbled him and made him feel his complete dependence on God’s grace to save him.

3. It may be, too, that the Divine refusal was only a part of the process by which God was fitting Moses for a better inheritance than Canaan. When the denial of his prayer was first made there were yet two years before him ere his earthly pilgrimage should end. Into those two years God was crowding the final work of preparation of His servant. Said Beethoven once of some famous musical composer, “He would have been a great musician if he had only been terribly and mercilessly criticised.” (Bp. Cheney.)

The petition of Moses to God

Here Moses teacheth us how to pray. He beginneth first and telleth God that He hath begun to show him favour; and well might Moses so say, for he was no sooner born but the Lord began to show him His greatness, in saving him when he was cast into the river, etc. If all that the Lord hath done for him till this time be considered he had great cause to say, “O Lord, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness.” Herein Moses in some part showeth himself thankful for that he had received, trusting thereby to entreat God to continue His benefits and loving kindness towards him, which is a thing which pleaseth God. He is not like one who sitteth in his door and sooth one day by day come by him and salute him, and yet taketh no acquaintance, so that if he stand in need of him, either he knoweth not where he dwelleth; or else, because he is not acquainted with him, he is abashed to ask anything of him. Moses is not such a one, but he is acquainted with the Lord, who so often passed by him; and therefore lie now saith, “Thou hast begun,” etc. Next, Moses challengeth all the idol gods, and telleth them, that amongst them all there is not one of them that can do like his God. So God, when He is opposed and set against His enemies, is then most glorious, and confoundeth them all (Psalms 89:6). Now, Moses proceedeth in his prayer, saying, “I pray Thee, let me go over,” etc. Here Moses prayeth like one of us, who are always craving, but never hath respect to the will of God, to say, “Thy will be done.” What is this mountain Lebanon? Surely Moses meaneth the place where the temple should be built, and God honoured; for after that Joshua had quietly possessed the land of Canaan, he only builded a tabernacle (Joshua 18:1) wherein to call upon the Lord. Now it followeth in the text, “But the Lord was angry with me,” etc. So soon as Moses changed his prayer God turneth from him, and will not hear him; so soon we make God to forsake us, if we do not according to His will. Moses showeth the cause why God would not hear him; although he were a great man, and in high authority, yet he is not ashamed to confess his fault. So we see that where sin is, there prayer is not effectual; so that if we will hope to receive by prayer anything at God’s hands, we must first remove and take away the cause of our hindrance, which is sin, before we can receive the thing we pray for. God, when Moses had prayed, did not grant his request, but was angry with him; but lest Moses should be quite discouraged, He straightways mitigated His anger, and biddeth him be content and speak no more unto Him of that matter. God doth not bid him that he should not pray any more unto Him, but that he should pray no more for that thing. First, God biddeth him to be content; as if He should hat e said, Although thou mayest not enter into the land, yet I will content thee otherways. Thus God would have us, in what estate soever we be, to be content with our calling, for it is His appointment. God is so merciful that, though we are not able to pray aright, yet He considereth our prayers, and turneth all to the best for our good; not granting our request many times, but a better thing than we do desire of Him. Who, then, will offend so merciful and loving a Father? Let us, seeing God is so merciful unto us, take heed that we abuse not His mercies, lest in so doing we provoke Him unto judgment. Now, God hath told Moses that he shall not go into the land, He beginneth to teach him how he shall do to see it, and biddeth him go up into the top of Pisgah, and cast his eyes eastward, and westward, and northward, and southward, and behold it, etc. As a bird stayed with a little string, or a strong man in swimming held back by a small twig, so a little sin stayeth this great captain, that he cannot come within the land of Canaan. First, God is angry with him, and envies him altogether, as though he were not worth so much as go up to the mount. Thus we may see how one of the least sins is able to turn from us all the goodness and all the favour which God beareth to us. After, God commands Moses to go up to the mount. Here, Moses obeyeth God’s commandment; but if he had been like many a murmuring man he would have denied to go up to the mount, saying, What banquet is this to me, but a dainty dish set before one forbidden to eat? But Moses had rather die than anger the Lord again when He had bid him be content. This we may learn of Moses, to be content with our calling, whether we have little or much; for God contented Moses as well with the sight of Canaan as those who possessed it. So when God hath not ordained us to see great substance, as He hath some of our brethren, yet because we should not be discontent He will give us as much pleasure at the sight of them in others as though we ourselves enjoyed them. Many things might Moses have objected which might have hindered him from going up the mount; for surely it must needs be a grief to him, when he considered that great pain which he had taken in bringing them through the wilderness, and conducting them forty years together; and now, when he had no farther to go, but even over Jordan, to be taken away then; and another, which never took any pains, possess all his labours: this, I say, must be a great and intolerable thing to flesh and blood; for when one hath laid a foundation and another comes and builds upon it, surely he will think himself hardly dealt withal. Such is our nature; and yet, notwithstanding all this, Moses is content. He knoweth that God doth him no wrong, but is just and merciful also. He blesseth all alike, as Jacob’s children were blessed (Genesis 49:1-33). Moses, so long as he was upon the plain ground, could not see the type of heaven; but when he was upon the mount he saw it before he came to heaven itself. So let us even now scale the mount as Moses did, that we may see and consider those joys; which thing shall serve to reclaim our hearts from earthly matters. As Peter went up the mount to see Christ’s glory, and Moses went up the mount to see the land of promise, so let us ascend from these earthly things to the contemplation of heavenly. Now, Moses is in his prospect as David was in his tower. Here he must prepare himself to die, while he is looking upon the land which so long he hath been in coming to. Who would not have grieved at this, that, after so long as forty years’ travel in hope to possess it, he should now in the end be content with a sight of it, and so vanish away! Yet Moses, for all this murmureth not, but, like Job, taketh it patiently. And as he was upon the mount where God vanished, so here he is upon the mount and vanisheth away himself; as it appeareth (Job 24:6). So good rulers are taken away in a time when death is least suspected. As Lot was taken away before the people of Sodom knew, as is showed (Genesis 19:10); so we see that when our time is come, and our glass run out, that neither our riches, nor our wits, nor our friends, nor anything that we have in this world, can carry us any further. No, no more than Moses could go over this Jordan. (H. Smith.)

The good land that is beyond Jordan

It is there, a seer has seen it; and God gave him words to paint the vision for us. A good land; glorious in beauty, yet homelike; familiar in every form and feature, but still a transfigured world. It is the hope that lights the way of the wilderness--the hope that we may one day behold the glories of a creation which has been “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” None believe that the present is final. Men, dreaming of a delivered humanity, have dreamed, too, of a delivered world. A world, a home to dwell in, not cursed as this is, with all its prophetic beauty--a world without wastes, marshes, lava floods, blights, famines, plagues--a world that will fit a redeemed, as this fits a fallen, nature--a world whose paths shall be, the pathways of angels, whose sun shall be the face of God. In Egypt, man’s toil is the prominent feature; man made its fertility: in Canaan, God’s bounty is the prominent feature; “It drinketh water of the rain of heaven.” Egypt is the field in which a man, by the low form of labour, might exist amply; Canaan the home in which a man, by joyful concert with God, might nobly live.

It was a land, a good land, the slope of that goodly mountain, even Lebanon, which Moses looked upon; it was a land of promise, which God had prepared. Canaan was in a sense the heaven of Israel’s hope; the more heavenlike, perhaps, because it was so fair a feature of our world; because it was a home in which a man, a family, a nation, could nobly dwell. A would behind the veil is the instinctive belief of every human spirit; a world, with all the attributes of a world like this, in which all the promises of this fractured creation shall be realised, wherein no hope shall be frustrated, no cord of association broken, which has been consecrated by holy communion here. This is man’s vision, inseparable, too, from his condition here. Imagination! we may say; blank dreams, no more! and pass it by. Imagination surely! but who inspired the imagination? Who but the Being who is the Maker of the reality, which He has kept for ages before the imagination of the world? I accept imagination here as a witness to reality. The wise here are the wise for ever, for to be wise is not simply to know; wisdom takes cognisance of what is common to the two worlds. Nothing which has been truly, reverently learnt will need to be unlearnt. The faithful students of God’s hand in the visible are learning to know His mind through the whole sphere of the invisible; they are familiar here with the things which the angels desire to look into; and pass at once from the training school of the Spirit into the inner circle, the elect spirits which are next the throne. “A goodly land beyond Jordan.” A real, substantial, homelike world.

The images which are employed by the sacred writers as most expressive when they are treating of heaven are all borrowed from the higher forms of the development of man’s social and national life. All that society on earth aims at and misses, the grand order of human relations, the majestic procession of human activities, of which, marred and crippled as they are on earth, the wisest and noblest have not ceased to dream, shall there be realised, with Christ the King visibly in the centre of it, and the angels attendant to watch the actors and applaud the results.

That good land beyond Jordan had some heaven-like feature herein; it was to be the theatre of the highest and holiest human association, under conditions most favourable to the most perfect development, and in an atmosphere of life which God’s benediction should make an atmosphere of bliss. This is joy, this is glory, to dwell nobly, purely, faithfully with men under the smile of God. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Heaven upon earth

We take the words of Moses before us as appropriate to indicate the earnest aspiration of the Christian heart after “the rest and the inheritance of the saints.”

Now observe, this cry may be, after all, merely sentimental, and in such a case it cannot be too strongly condemned. One of the great dangers to which we are exposed in the religious life, in our songs and prayers and utterances, is that of cherishing high, forced, fictitious emotions, and of going altogether beyond our real feelings. What we want is holy feeling, transmuted into Christly living and Christly service. The prospect of a bright life beyond should have the effect upon us of making the present life very happy.

Again, this cry may be the result of maturity and ripeness, and then the spirit prompting it is bright and beautiful. I see one who is a great sufferer. It has pleased God, in the order of His inscrutable Providence, to lay him aside from the activities of life for months, or even years. And the sorrow has been sanctified. He has not sought relief in cherishing a stoical spirit or by looking to earthly sources, but with a full consciousness that suffering is wisely and graciously designed, he has looked upwards and has found in God almighty strength. Despite adverse influences, he has been moving onwards towards the haven of eternal rest. And thus he has become ripened and matured, thoroughly weaned from earth; his heart has long been in heaven, his treasure lies there, and fittingly he longs for the hour of full release, and cries, with a chastened spirit, wholly resigned to the Divine will and full of expectant hope, “I pray Thee, let me go,” etc.

And now let us specially notice that there is an aspiration after heaven which may be fittingly cherished at any and every stage of life: even aspiration after those moral excellences which constitute the perfection of the heavenly life.

1. Heaven is “the good land,” for it is free from sin. Then be it ours to desire heaven’s purity, and even here to break away from the enthralment of evil.

2. Heaven is “the good land,” for it is the realm where there is realised in all its perfection the vision of God. Then be it our desire to have granted unto us here this vision; let us seek, through Divine help, to become possessed of a heart right loyal to the Divine will, in which evil passions and desires have been dethroned, and in which has been set up the spiritual kingdom of God; that so, being renewed and sanctified, God may even now be apprehended by us. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

3. Heaven is “the good land,” for it is the realm of light. Endless progression in knowledge characterises its inhabitants. Then be it ours to cry for “more light” here, and to seek the influences of the Revealer of truth, that under His guidance we may “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

4. Heaven is “the good land,” for it is the land of rest and peace--rest from sin, rest from temptation, rest from care, rest from harassing and perplexing doubt; calm, unruffled, perfect rest. Then let us see if we cannot get an earnest of this even whilst we sojourn in this world, by accepting the gracious invitation of Him who has said, “Come unto Me all ye that labour,” etc.

5. And heaven is “the good land,” for it is the land where prevails concord and love. No note of discord is heard there, no strife of parties prevails there; unity and love reign, and shall reign there eternally. Be it ours to aspire here after this characteristic of the heavenly life. Let us avoid all narrowness and exclusiveness, and cherish the spirit which finds expression in the benediction--“Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Whatever lack of charity others may show towards us, let there be no lack of this on our part towards them. (S. D. Hillman.)

Longings for the land

Moses’ desire to enter.

1. It was strong and deep; the strongest desire of his soul in regard to anything earthly, is our longing for the heavenly Canaan as vehement as his for the earthly?

2. It was a holy desire. There was nothing carnal in it; nothing of self. It was the desire of a holy man for a share in the fulfilment of the Divine promise.

3. It was a patriotic desire. Canaan was his true fatherland, though he had never dwelt in it.

4. It was a natural desire. Though brought up in ease, for now eighty years he had been a dweller in tents in the wilderness, a man without a home. How natural that he should be weary of the desert, and long for a resting place!

5. It was a desire connected with the welfare of his nation. Israel was to be blest “in that land of blessing, and he desired to see his nation settled in the Lord’s land.

6. It was a desire connected with the glory of God. He knew that God was about to choose a place wherein to set His name, and to show His glory. He had once before pleaded, “Show me Thy glory”; and what could be more desirable in his eyes than that he should see the manifestation of this glory, and witness the mighty power of God in the land which he knew was to be the centre and stage of all these?

His arguments (verse 24). The first part of his argument is, “Thou hast showed me the beginning, wilt not Thou show me the end? It is natural, even in man’s works, when we have seen the beginning, to desire to see the end, and to expect that he who has shown us the one will show us the other. Moses feels as if he would be tantalised, almost mocked, by not seeing the end. He argues that God’s willingness to show him the beginning is a pledge of His willingness to show him all. We may all use this argument. Thou, who hast forgiven me past sin, wilt Thou not forgive all present and all future sin? (Philippians 1:6.) The second part of his argument is, that to stop here would leave so much undiscovered of His greatness and mighty hand, that, for the sake of the glory to be unfolded and the power to be revealed, he might expect to be allowed to enter. So great is the undiscovered glory of God, and so desirous is God to reveal it to us, that we may use this argument with Him respecting anything we desire. The third argument looks at the very little already seen--only a glimpse. Moses pleads this little, and because of it asks to enter Canaan. He had seen much of God’s power, yet he speaks as if it were little; not as if undervaluing the past, but still feeling as if it were comparatively nothing. So all that we have tasted hitherto is small. It is in the ages to come that He is to show the exceeding riches of His grace; and hence we may call the past a little thing, and use it as an argument with God.

God’s answer. It sounds stern; yet is the answer of wisdom and love.

1. The anger.

2. The refusal.

3. The prohibition.

God’s condescending grace. Entrance is denied, but a full vision of the land is granted (verse 27). He strains His purpose (if one may speak so) as far as possible, without breaking it. The actual request is denied, but something as like it and as near to it as might be is accorded. What a favoured child does Moses seem, even in this very scene of apparent sternness! O love that passeth knowledge! O condescension of God, to what depths of indulgent tenderness wilt Thou not stoop!

1. What one sin can do. One sin cost Adam Paradise; one sin costs Moses Canaan. In the case of Moses it is the more startling, because it is a forgiven sin, and he is a forgiven sinner. His sin is forgiven, yet it leaves a stain behind it; it traces a testimony to its unutterable evil on the person of the sinner.

2. What God’s inflexibility is. He cannot change. He cannot call that no sin which is sin; nor that a small sin which is a great sin; nor that a private sin which was a public sin. His purpose is not the easy, pliable, changeable thing which ours is. He is the God only wise, only righteous, only mighty, and is therefore above all such vacillations.

3. What the grace of God is. Many waters cannot quench it, nor the floods drown it. To what lengths it will go in order to pardon a sinner or to bless a saint! (H. Bonar, D. D.)


There are many things in a man’s life which he desires; but these may come and go, and yet leave the real life of the man little touched. But there are few men who have not had once and again in their life, certainly once at least, some great object on which they set their whole heart--some vision that towered over all others, as Lebanon now did to the eye of Moses--some ideal, some supreme good, that kindled their brightest and most impassioned hours.

What God refuses to grant. Take a man who has set his heart on some plan of life. It may have been one of ambition. He has worn himself out to attain it. Every line of his life converges to it; but at length comes his Waterloo, and he is dethroned for ever. It may be some creation of learning or genius. He has brooded over it in chaos, he has gathered slowly all the materials, he is about at last to shape them by the skill and vivify them with the light of the soul within him; but the fire grows dim, and at last dies out, and the great design and the yearning desire stand apart for ever. It is unachieved, and he carries the broken plan to the grave with him; he himself is cut down, while the harvest of his life is left to waste ungathered in the darkening fields. Or it may be some post of honour and influence. But when the time comes to seize it another steps in, and you are left empty handed. Then, too, there are higher visions--visions of the moral and spiritual order--left unfulfilled. Who has not felt times, say, of conversion, when there rose upon the soul the sweet Divine dawn of Christ’s salvation, trembling over its calmed waves and revealing transcendent worlds of beauty; or of revival, when at a new turn on the road some heavenly vision met us and blessed us with “a joy unspeakable and full of glory”; or of comfort, when hope sprung immortal out of some dark grave beside which we sat crushed and alone; or of a strange strength front on high, when we had almost altogether perished? Such seasons have been; but see how some failing to pass over the temptation that crossed unexpectedly our path, some mean passion laying its arrest on our onward march, some looking away from the great Lebanons of nearness to God, and fellowship with the very death and resurrection of Christ, kept us from our last crowning step; and the supreme attainment of our lives was, on this side the grave at least, lost for a while, it may be for ever.

Why God refused to grant the prayer of Moses.

1. The sin of Moses.

2. It was the last stroke of God’s chisel that Moses needed to clear away his last infirmity.

3. It lifted Moses to a nobler elevation of character--more unselfish, more Divine.

4. It was an opportunity such as Moses never had before of honouring God, in the midst of disappointment, before all.

What, because of refusal, God the more grants.

1. A larger outpouring of grace into the heart of Moses. Grace of forgiveness, grace of restored joy of God’s salvation, grace of broken bones rejoicing, grace of fresh communion.

2. The speedier crossing the Jordan of death into the life everlasting. (Prof. W. Graham, D. D.)

God’s refusal of desire

1. Natural to wish to enter Canaan as an object of curiosity, of which he had heard so much; still more as an object of hope, which had been promised so long with every enhancement. This animated the people to leave Egypt, and encouraged them in the desert. This was the end, the recompense of their toils for forty years, and now they had nearly reached it. How painful to miss the prize when the hand was seizing it--to have the cup dashed even from the lip!

2. Yet the desire was refused. God sometimes refuses the desires of His servants, even the most eminent. He does this in two ways.

3. Sometimes He does it in love. What is desired might prove dangerous and injurious. In many cases must a wise and good parent distinguish between wishes and wants! A child may wish for liberty, and want restraint; for a holiday, and want schooling; for dainties, and want medicine. Here the parent must act, not according to the wish, but the welfare of the child. How much better for the Jews had God turned a deaf ear to their importunity! Who knows what is good for a man in this life? No one but God--the good God.

4. He sometimes refuses in anger. Wrath is incompatible with love; but anger is not: anger may even flow from it. Though Christians cannot be condemned, they may be chastened: and the law of the house is, that if the children obey not, He will visit with the rod. Hence those saved eternally may fall under present rebuke, and be refused many things on which they set their heart. By such conduct Providence teaches submission to His people, and the evil of sin to others.

5. Yet his desire was partially indulged. The command to get on the top of Pisgah was not to tantalise him, but to be a mitigation of the severe sentence. The preservation of his sight fitted him for the gaze--the prospect showed him how worthy the country was of all that had been said about it; and would give him high views of the truth and goodness of God in His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With this also was the influence of Divine grace which satisfied hint and made him content with his condition. While his mind was raised to things above, in type and emblem, to a better country, into which he was immediately to enter--and there would be no want of Canaan. Thus in judgment God remembers mercy, and though He cause grief yet will He have compassion. (W. Jay.)

The long journey

1. We learn from this, first of all, that one sin may shut us out of heaven. Moses had committed a sin long ago; since then he had done God good service, yet that sin was not forgotten, it shut him out of the promised land. Sin always brings its own punishment, at some time or other, and in some way or another. Some sins, like some seeds, grow up and bear their bitter fruit very quickly. Others lie hid for a long time, but they bear fruit.

2. Learn next, that doing good does not atone for a past sin. “All our obediences,” says an old writer of the Church, “cannot blot out one sin against God.” When we have forgotten our sins, God remembers them, and though not ill anger, yet He calls for our arrears. If Moses died the first death for one fault, how shall they “escape the second death for sinning always”? Do not think that the old sins of your past lives are of no importance because you may have been living decent lives of late. “I pray thee, let me go over, that I may see the good land that is beyond Jordan.” Some of us, who have wandered these many years in the wilderness, long very eagerly for that “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Many a one is tempted sometimes, when the sorrow is very sharp and the road very tempted sometimes to say, “I pray Thee, let me go over, that I may see the good land that is beyond Jordan.” Wishing for Paradise will not take us there. For us all there is a work to be done, and a given time to do it in. A quaint old writer tells us that “God sends His servants to bed when they have done their work.” Our journey through this world must be one of watching, of fighting, of praying, and of waiting, and when that is over our Master will give His beloved sleep. When the American saint and hero “Stonewall” Jackson was dying, he said, “Let us cross the river, and rest under the shade of the trees”; so may we one day hope to cross the river of death, and to see the good land that is beyond Jordan, and to rest under the shadow of the Tree of Life, “whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.” (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

The request of Moses

In regard to the prayer itself, it may be remarked--

1. That the desire it expressed was a very natural one. He had been looking forward, it may be, to years of honourable service and rich enjoyment, and he might mourn in the cutting off of his days, that he was to go to the gates of the grave, and say, as Hezekiah did under like prospects, in the sadness of his heart, “I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living. I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.”

2. The desire expressed was a benevolent one. It was dictated by his regard to the welfare of the people. It was a desire that he might be spared to assist in effecting their settlement in the land of Canaan, and in establishing such order as might promote their prosperity as a nation there.

3. The desire expressed may be regarded as a pious one, as having been prompted by devout affection. What he had already seen had convinced him that there is no god in heaven or in earth that could do according to His works and according to His might; but he felt that there were wonders yet to be shown in the introduction of His people into the promised land and their establishment there, which might fill his mind with increasing admiration and joy in beholding them.

We proceed, then, in the second place to notice some of the reasons for which, as we may conceive, this prayer of Moses was denied. These may have been such as the following--

1. To mark the Divine displeasure with a part of his conduct.

2. To convey a lesson of reproof and instruction to Israel. “The Lord was wroth with me,” says Moses, “for your sakes.” There was displeasure, then, with their conduct, as well as with that of Moses, manifested in his removal. And God, by taking him away, might design to tell them that they were not worthy of such a leader.

3. It was in order to satisfy in another manner, and more fully, the affections and desires which were expressed by His servant. The prospect of it showed him how worthy the land was of all that the Lord said concerning it. The reality exceeded, we may conclude, all that imagination had pictured. But there was more in the vision enjoyed than the gratification of a natural curiosity--there was what satisfied benevolent and pious affection. He saw the end of his cares and toils for the people attained, and the truth and goodness of God in His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob vindicated. And the vision with which he was favoured may have been, as it were, the seal of his own reconciliation to the God whom he had offended, who now came to take him to a more glorious recompense than if he had been spared to reign there for long years over the tribes of Israel. And may we not conceive that when he saw the good land that was beyond Jordan he knew that he saw in type and emblem the better country--that is, the heavenly, which lies beyond death’s dark river. The patriarchs who before sojourned in it as in a strange land showed that it was thus regarded by them, and the same faith by which they walked dwelt in him who recorded their history. (J. Henderson, D. D.)

Holy ardour after a heavenly state

From what principle does this desire after a heavenly state arise?

1. From having formed a right estimate of the present world. He has passed through the world not as a cynic. He has mixed in the world’s society, he has tasted some of its pleasures, he has acquired some of its riches, he has enjoyed some of its esteem; yet, by the grace of God, he has been taught to see that “vanity of vanities” is inscribed “on all the world calls good or great”

2. From having realised the blessings of true religion.

3. From strong faith in the unspotted honour and integrity of Him who has promised this good land to us. The Christian believes what God has graciously revealed of this heavenly state.

What are the evidences of your truly desiring a heavenly state.

1. Earth loses its attraction.

2. Religion assumes its personal importance. “Let me go.”

3. There will be a restlessness of desire while absent from the Lord. They feel that this is not their rest.

4. Death will lose its terrors.

Let me now urge you, by some appropriate motives, to aim at the attainment of this holy ardour after a heavenly state.

1. Be convinced that it is attainable. Oh, how many Christians there are who stop short of this holy state of mind! They seem to be quite satisfied if they can but arrive at heaven, and never manifest any anxiety to attain that perfection which is the great preparation for its enjoyment.

2. Be assured also, that this state is desirable. It is desirable that you should be thus dead to this world and alive to that which is to come, on several accounts.

(1) Consider the personal advantage to the individual.

(2) But you should aim for this holy ardour, because of the benefit likely to result to others. Can such a city be set on a hill, and not observed? Impossible. Such a city must be admired.

(3) And by this you will also be an honour to the religion you profess.

(4) Hereby God will be glorified. (G. Hyatt.)

Ardour after the heavenly Canaan

If we take this prayer in its spiritual sense we shall find in it much to elevate our hopes and views beyond the passing scenes of time, and to fix them on the more permanent realities of that eternal world to which we are all quickly approaching. “I pray Thee,” says Moses to God, “let me go over and see the good land.” The words of this prayer imply a strong desire, a heartfelt eagerness, on the part of the person uttering them, to see the good land, and not alone to see it, but to enter it and enjoy its pleasures.

Now we are naturally led to the inquiry, from whence arises this feeling in the Christian’s heart--this eagerness to see the good land? I should say, from his having taken a proper estimate of the world. The Christian has been taught to look above it and its low concerns to nobler objects, to heaven and heavenly things, as the supreme object of his ambition and as his incorruptible and undefiled portion.

Now, what proofs have we that we are desiring this “good land,” this better and heavenly country? If we are looking forward to be with God in heaven we are now endeavouring--

1. To sit loose to the things of this world.

2. Another proof of our earnestly seeking this heavenly country is, that we are now making religion our chief concern, that it is the most important matter we have at heart, that our worldly engagements, of what nature soever they may be, are all secondary to the interests of the soul.

3. Another evidence that we are advancing towards the heavenly Canaan is that sin is becoming a matter of habitual distaste to us. (Dr. L. F. Russell, M. A.)

The refusal

Disappointment--the very word has an unpleasant ring; but who is fully able to describe the painfulness of the reality which this word indicates? Just picture to yourself a traveller making his preparations in another portion of the world to visit his dearest friends once more before he dies. For years he has been making his arrangements with the utmost carefulness; at the appointed time he has embarked with all his property, and he has safely managed through the greater portion of his journey, though most dangerous. But suddenly there rises up a violent storm that makes the masts and tackling crack, the flail craft, though in view of the desired haven, sinks to the bottom, and the wanderer, who came expecting rest within the circle of his friends, finds but a grave down in the gloomy depths. “How sad a picture!” you exclaim. It is no sadder, we reply, than the reality of many lives on earth. The public life of Moses, as Israel’s lawgiver and guide, is, as it were, a picture set within a flame of two great disappointments. The first is the occasion when, on slaying the Egyptian, he fancies that his brethren should acknowledge him as their deliverer, and finds himself most cruelly betrayed; the second, when he sees be is refused an entrance to the promised land.

There kneels in prayer a godly man to whom, as we can see at once, such intercourse with God is not a duty merely, or a habit, but a pleasure and delight. Must we now picture Moses in the stillness of the tent of witness, or in the boundless temple of creation, or in the solitude of waking night? It is enough for us that he now ventures, all alone with God, to place upon his lips the prayer that had been already lying heavily upon his heart for days and weeks, and he receives the answer which you know so well, but which produced, upon a heart like this, such an amount of grief. Well may we, first of all, speak of dark dealing in God’s providence. For who is he whom we now see driven from the throne of grace with such inexorable severity? Is it a wicked man, to whom the wise king’s words apply in all their force, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination”? Nay, but it is the special favourite of God, who often could succeed, by powerful intercession, in averting from a hundred thousand guilty heads the sword of justice when it had been raised to smite. What does he ask, that he thus stirs the wrath of Him to whom he speaks? Some special recompense, perhaps, for years of toil; or possibly, release from that most arduous post which he approached with such reluctance. Nay; he merely asked for a free entrance, a short stay, in the evening of his life, in that inheritance which God had promised to the fathers. How was that prayer expressed? Was it with an excessive urgency, unsteady faith, in an uncourteous tone? Nay; he himself is not afraid to own that he but asked a favour as a guilty one; and it is quite impossible to listen to his prayer without perceiving there the spirit of profound humility and the most hearty gratitude Are there not many who have had such an experience as Moses underwent? A lovely prospect smiled on you, a pilgrim on life’s path; it seemed to you a very Canaan of terrestrial luxury; then you put forth your strongest efforts to attain that height and call the treasure yours. Alas! you see the palm trees of Canaan, but it is not permitted you to rest beneath their shade. Where would I stop, even if out of the book of each man’s life I wished to do no more than indicate the chief among the sealed-up pages bearing the superscription “Unanswered prayers”? Verily, the Lord did not without good reason say of old that He would dwell in the thick darkness.

But is it really He, the only wise, the gracious one, the God unchangeable in righteousness, who dwells in this darkness? Before you hesitate to answer this in the affirmative, look back a moment from the valley opposite Bethpeor, where the conclusion of this chapter places you, to Kadesh, which you know so well. Such a refusal, which, viewed in itself, seems almost quite inexplicable, harsh, at once appears in another light, when you have heard not merely what the heart of Moses says, but also what his conscience tells. We know full well there is a thread--often, indeed, invisible, yet natural, and such as none can break--which forms a bond between our conduct and our destiny; and if the history connected with each one of you were accurately known to us, it would be far from difficult to prove that God has really good reason for the choice He makes of such steep paths for some. At one time, weak in body, you pray vainly for recovery of health and strength, and you exclaim, “How dark my path!” But did you not, in younger days, employ your powers, when they were fresh, as instruments of sin? May not your present suffering, besides, be a sharp thorn that must remind you, through the flesh, how deeply you once fell Or yet again, some wretched father may be now beseeching God to bring his lost son back into his arms and to the home of God--but all in vain; the blinded one holds on in the broad path that leads to death. But have you ever thought upon the time when your own mother vainly urged you to forsake the sinful path? and have you also said within yourself, “I am but punished now, in my own family, for sins committed in my youth”?

But our sphere of contemplation tends to widen out on every side. It is not merely to the previous history of Moses, but also to the needs of Israel, that we must look to find the true solution of the enigma connected with the firm refusal to accede to his request. If we mistake not, the providence of God becomes apparent here after His righteousness; and when we take a step still further in advance, we find that we can readily extol Him for a wise arrangement in His providence. Moses was but a man; it is impossible that one man should do everything; it must, too, be acknowledged that he was more fitted to guide Israel through the wilderness than lead them into Canaan. When we so rashly raise a loud complaint because our prayers remain unanswered, do we not far too frequently forget that we are here not for ourselves, but with and for each other; and that He who makes provision for the wants of all, without respect of persons, frequently must quite withhold something from one, that the fulfilment of his wishes may not turn out for another’s injury? How much more lightly would our disappointments press on us had selfishness less influence; and what a multitude of instances does history afford in which God often, in His wisdom, gave no answer to men’s prayers--at least, delayed His answer--so that in what saddens us there might be found a germ of what would work for others’ good.

But someone may reply, it surely must have saddened Moses’ heart to think that he had been incited to the sacrifice of his own personal, legitimate desire for Israel’s benefit. Such an objection might be called a fair one, if the man of God, through what he was deprived of, had been really too great a loser in the case. But just as many a hard, uncomely shell often conceals a kernel of the sweetest fruit, so it is with God’s chastisements; the very rods employed in smiting drop with blessing from the Lord. He is deprived of--yes, Canaan; and that word means--does it mean everything? No, in the eye of faith it is not everything; it merely seems so to the mind of Moses now. Canaan is--and how could it be otherwise?--his earthly ideal; but ideals seldom gain by being realised, and even the Land of Promise offers no exception to the melancholy rule that there is far more pleasure in desire than even in the actual enjoyment of prosperity. But will it be impossible to forfeit Paradise even in Canaan? Shall sin be unknown there? Shall death have no dominion there? Does it make such a mighty difference to one like Moses whether death takes place on Nebo or, a few months later, upon Zion hill? for surely to such minds and hearts the whole earth is a land of sojourning, where all is strange. Has he been thinking of the daily cross he must expect, because within the first few weeks he only looks upon sad scenes of blood and tears, and afterwards finds out that Israel has certainly changed for the better as regards their dwelling place, but not in heart? Many an earnest prayer for longer life is utterly refused, that so the eye, closed ere the day of evil comes, may not perceive the misery to follow us.

We place ourselves upon the stand point of the world to come, and then the blessing in disguise appears to us as an eternal ground of gratitude. But do you not yet feel convinced, with us, that Moses has received the punishment of his offence wholly within this present life, and that the temporary loss has been abundantly made up by God in heaven? Well may we rest assured that all the friends of God will have much cause for gratitude in heaven, but more especially for this--that He has said so often, in this world, through His strong love, “No more of this!” But do we not begin to find this out even on this side of the grave? Many of you, in silent admiration, must acknowledge that the principle of everlasting joy would never have been drawn out in your hearts had not the Lord been pleased to lead you through this world by paths where pains and crosses are familiar things. But the poor heart, that has been cured of lusting by the sorrow it has felt, finds constantly, in overwhelming measure, how the All-sufficient One, in a most wondrous way, makes up for what He has Withheld by giving us Himself. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

The desire of Moses

The east side of Jordan had been conquered, Moses and the people had experienced the nearness and help of Jehovah; and Moses had exhorted Joshua to press on Without fear. It was then that--

The desire to enter Canaan awoke anew in the heart of Moses--

1. A prayer, coloured by deep emotion, came from his heart like a forest stream breaking its way through a narrowing ravine, and then dashing over the falls.

2. Was it possible that the man of God should cry out for what lay behind in a conquered desire? The power of earthly hopes over the heart must be remembered. Moses remained Moses--and his heart remained a man’s heart, which only conquers after fresh struggles, which relinquishes hope only when the Highest unmistakably strikes through these hopes and uproots the desires of the heart.

3. It was the hour of conquest where joy filled the hearts of the Israelites. Was it not natural, then, that the old desire should awaken amid this outburst of joyful hope? and that his tongue should utter that of which his heart was full? The words of the prayer show that “the goodly mountain and Lebanon” were before his eyes; and it was in view of them that he again prayed and must again submit.

Moses’ reception of the answer to his prayer.

1. We all understand this fluctuating of the human heart. “By the grave we stand in silence and sow the seed of tears.” But the Easter sun rises, and in its brightness flowers bloom on the graves. Easter bells ring. In this Easter gladness sorrow is stilled and the heart finds peace. It conquers through Him who has swallowed up death in victory.

2. Yet does sorrow never return? We must remember that grace leaves the heart a human heart still. “Grace blameth not thy sighing, but makes it still and pure.” The heart still retains its deep emotions, desires, love, hope, longing, and sorrow; and it would be an evil day for men when tears did not bring relief, nor the words of the tongue express the emotion of the heart.

3. When a fervent desire or deep sorrow fills the believing heart it finds relief in prayer--which sometimes bursts forth like a pent-up stream. So it was here with Moses. He entered on this conflict in prayer, and his heart found rest only when the clear answer came.

4. The poet is right when he thinks such conquest impossible on the plane of the world. “The heart that here in sorrow sails by a storm-swept shore gains peace, but on that morrow when it shall beat no more.” But it is otherwise in the kingdom of God. Moses, in his words to the people, showed that he had overcome and attained to rest. In his heart he was victorious when he was led by God in His answer to his prayer to the sepulchre of his earthly hopes. His heart did not break--the foaming waves and jagged rocks did not wreck his faith. We almost hear the words, Not my will, but Throe be done.

Are such decisive and unmistakable answers, such as this given to Moses, given from on high now?

1. Answers in view of which all questionings and grievings cease, all petitions withdrawn, and prayer ends in submission, thanksgiving, and victory.

2. Not precisely as they came to Moses, who lived in such close communion with the Invisible, since only thus in that time could Divine Revelation progress; nor as in later times to the apostle (2 Corinthians 12:9). To the apostles as instruments of revelation the eternal world came nearer than to ordinary men.

3. Yet even to ordinary Christian men there come indications and messages from above which cannot be misunderstood. Not every day--not always when we desire, but in the events of life, in the ordering of circumstances, in the indications of the end of life drawing near, answers are often given as clear and definite as in the words, “Let it suffice thee,” etc. And he who understands God’s Word and has hid it in his heart, like Moses looks steadily towards Pisgah. The spirit overcomes and looks toward the earthly Canaan, but only to leave it. Let the heart turn, let the eye look upward to the Canaan above! (W. Granhoff.)

Unanswered prayers

I remember many years ago one Sunday afternoon I sat in an upper room by the side of a coffin in which lay the body of a dear child--no matter whose child. A small boy came to me with a deep feeling, and, showing how far sometimes children penetrate into the deep mysteries of life and spiritual things, said to me: “Uncle, I want to ask you something.” I said, “Well?” Said he, “Does God always give us what we ask Him for.” And I hardly knew what to answer, and I said. “Why do you ask?” Said he, “Because I asked Him to spare my dear little cousin, and He didn’t do it, and I do not know what to think about it.” The child touched bottom. We have all had the same difficulty. I said to him, “Suppose that your father should send you off to boarding school, and should say to you, as he bade you good-bye, ‘Now, if you want anything, just ask me for it, and I will send it to you.’ You do not suppose that he meant to say that he would send you anything that would not be best for you? Now, God says, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you’; but He does not say that He will give us anything that is not best for us.” And I said, “Does that help you any?” And he said, “I think I see.” Now, that is just as far as I have ever been able to go--“I think I see.” But do you not see that right here is the very privilege of praying to God? Why, if God should give us everything we ask Him for, the very best and wisest of us would almost be afraid to pray. How many times good people have prayed for certain things, and they did not get them. Many years afterwards they saw that it would have been a thousand pities if God had given them what they asked for. When we shall climb the shining steeps of heaven, and from the light of the eternal world look back on this enigma of human life, we shall have nothing for which to praise God more than for not having given us everything for which we asked Him here on earth. He knows how to give. He sees what is best. So what first may seem one of the greatest discouragements may be a blessing in disguise. (J. A. Broadus, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/deuteronomy-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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