About two to three months after he died, when people had started to calm and keep going and the crying wasn't so obvious or often, I was reading my copy of The Picture Bible again* and even though I'd read it before, I came up on the story about Moses going up to the mountain to see the Promised Land, and how he died on the mountain alone with God, and God buried him up there. And then I just started to cry and cry and cry, because God had stayed with him up there until those last moments, and then even when nobody else could see, God had stayed to bury his body. I was overwhelmed (even now I'm fighting tears) and I went downstairs to my mother and I just kept crying and saying, "Mom, God buried Moses..." I knew somewhere in me that this was my way of mourning for my brother, and that God had stayed with him until his last moments, and even though nobody else could see Him, He had buried my brother with the same tenderness and love and care and loss and mourning. I was just so overwhelmed that God would do that for somebody.
So for some reason this morning, I was drawn back to that story, here and here. And as is usual with my experience in interacting with the Bible and its author, I read the same words that I've read before and I saw something entirely new that I'd never noticed before. This time, I realized that at the ripe old age of 120 (but still with full faculties and physical vitality, if you see that line in chapter 34), Moses hiked up a mountain right before he died.
Okay, I've hiked up small mountains before and I'm a young'un. Can you imagine doing that at 120? I just found myself imagining this old man (not decrepit, perhaps, but definitely feeling his years) climbing up a mountain alone. He's used to climbing rocks and being alone (having been a shepherd in the wilderness for many years), but this is his last journey. Every step of the way, he's getting more tired, there are more aches, he has to stop to rest, sometimes he slips and scrapes his hand or his foot. It's not easy, but it's also not something to make a big deal about. Can you imagine the conflicting thoughts and feelings he must be going through? Happy for his people, on some level happy that his job is over, looking forward to being with God, but also sad that he has to stop here, sad that he has to die away from his loved ones, sad that he has to stop, he doesn't know if he's quite ready to die yet, and still he keeps climbing. Fear, hope, weariness, rest...and he gets over the last boulder and through the clearing of the scrub and brush onto the bare open rock face at the top and there is at last nothing to block his view. He's seen glimpses of the land through the rocks and brush as he's climbed, but never the whole view before. He gets to the top--it's late in the day and there's a haze over the hills and valleys as the sun is sinking--and he sees the whole expanse. The whole horizon. The green and verdant valleys, the cities in the distance and the sea sparkling on the edge of the horizon. It's breathtaking. It's everything and more than he'd imagined. He's right on the cusp, on the boundary edge of The Promised Land. If he went down the other side of the mountain, he'd be down in the valley of the city of Jericho. He just stands and takes it in. He's bone-tired but he doesn't want to sit down yet because he doesn't want to lose most of the view.
And as his breathing slows and his gnarled hands stop shaking, he hears the old familiar breath near him say, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.'" As he soaks the realization of this day and feels the joy of this sight being the fulfillment of hundreds of years of promise, he hears more: the reminder of why he is up here. "I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." He is not just here for the view.
He knows the truth of this, and even the strange relief and the peace. His eyes take in the scene for the last time, and then he slowly sits and closes his eyes. The fleeting fear that he felt before is gone and he is grateful, tired, content...and smiling.
When the man's body falls back, someone invisible gently lowers it to the ground. And then there is the quiet, steady sound of the ground opening nearby, and that same invisible hand gently, lovingly, carefully, places the man's body in the ground and heals the wound in the earth without leaving a scar.
Then there is the gentle sigh and whisper and smile, and the place is quiet again.
* I loved The Picture Bible as a kid and I read it over and over until the cover fell off and the binding broke and the thing fell into three pieces. And even then I only reluctantly gave it up. :) If you haven't read it, I HIGHLY recommend it--whether or not you're a kid. Beautiful illustrations, all of the major Bible stories in chronological order, and totally accessible. If you're somebody who's wanted to know what's in the Bible without having to read through the whole tome or deal with translation notes and some random guy's commentary on what it's all supposed to mean, this is probably a good fit for you. And even if you think you know the Bible cover-to-cover, you'll still get something out of reading it like this. Plus, it's less than $10 new! This guy's comments pretty much sum up my experience.:)