Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. -Deuteronomy 34:4-5
There was a time when I struggled to understand why God didn’t allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. Moses didn't ask to lead Israel. Moses didn't ask to deal with God's rebellious and idolatrous people. He was perfectly happy tending sheep and being a husband and father. God signed him up for these other things. If one person had earned the right to enter the promised land, it was Moses. So why after 40 years of leading God’s people and dealing with all their craziness did God not let Moses at least die in the land He had promised?
The answer is a matter of law and gospel. You cannot earn the promise. God gave the law to Moses thus making him a representation of the law. The law is good. It is from God. But it could never get the people of God to the promised land. It only revealed how unworthy any of them were for such a promise.
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory”? -2 Corinthians 3:6-8
The Apostle Paul refers to the law as a ministry of death. That doesn't mean it is a bad ministry. It means it is not intended to bring life. It is supposed to kill you. And you need to be killed. You need to die to the idea that you are righteous, holy or acceptable apart from the grace of God. You need to die so you can be raised to new life. It's a good ministry of death.
The promised land foreshadows the new heavens and new earth. It represents everything God has promised His children. Life, salvation, and blessedness. There is no room or need for a ministry of death there. The promises of God are not obtained by law or obedience. They are gifts given by a gracious God.
The man Moses will indeed enter the true and greater promised land, but as a representative of the law, he must die and be buried outside of everything God has promised. We do not know where his grave is. It has been lost forever. The law is a ministry of death, but those who have been slain by it will rise again. They will enter the promised land of God by grace and grace alone. On that day, the law switches places with them and enters the grave, never to be heard from again.
One day all rebellious and wretched children of God will enter the gates of heaven and I expect Moses to be there saying: We are not here by the law I brought down from Sinai but by the grace of the God who gave me that law and by the blood of His son shed on our behalf on Calvary.
Moses is no Jesus but he, like us, is saved by Him. The law cannot enter the promised land, and yet the true and greater promised land is occupied by nothing but lawbreakers. This is the scandal of the gospel. You, me and Moses will all dine the marriage supper of the Lamb, all because of grace.
“Paul separates Christ far from Moses… Christ bids us who labor and are oppressed with all sorts of evils to come to Him. When we flee to Him, Moses with his law vanishes. His grave can no longer be seen, and sin and death can no longer harm us.” -Martin Luther
Daniel is the Director of Christ Hold Fast, an author, church and conference speaker and co-host of the podcasts 40 Minutes in the Old Testament and 30 Minutes in the New Testament. He has served as a church planter, pastor and worship leader and currently lives in Bentonville Arkansas with his wife Jessica and daughter Anna.