The time has finally come. The children of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and now, finally, they are on the cusp of the Promised Land. Moses, over a century old, is giving his farewell address to the nation he has led for a third of his life. We know this address as the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. In his final words to God’s chosen people, God’s chosen leader will revisit their fathers’ unfaithfulness in the wilderness, recount the allotment of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan, recap the Law, and remind them of the blessings that await if they obey—and the curse that will befall them when they disobey. Moses has seen it all and put up with it all, and now he’s ready to die.
As he finishes the first portion of his discourse to Israel, he includes a prayer in which he beseeches God to allow him to enter the Promised Land. He begins this prayer with an amazing statement. “O, LORD GOD,” he says, “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand” (Deut. 3:24). Did you catch it? He says, “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness.” What an amazing statement coming from a man like Moses! Just think about the greatness of God that Moses has seen firsthand. Though he probably doesn’t remember it, his life began with the greatness of God on display as he was providentially spared from the infanticidal edict of the Pharaoh and adopted by an Egyptian princess (Ex. 2). After leaving Egypt and having his own 40-year wilderness experience as a shepherd, Moses met God in the burning bush (Ex. 3). In this encounter with God, he not only heard the Lord speak audibly for the first time, and learned the name of God which was too holy even to be spelled out entirely by Israel (v. 14); but his hand was instantly turned leprous (vv. 6-7), and his staff became a snake (vv. 2-5) before his very eyes! He then saw each of the ten plagues, from frogs to locusts to blood to darkness (Ex. 8-11). Of course he also witnessed the Passover–thousands of firstborn children and livestock dead in a single night (Ex. 12). He watched as Yahweh parted the waters of the Red Sea, and the people walked across to safety on dry ground (Ex. 14:10-30). He was fed manna every day for forty years (Ex. 16); he saw water spring out of a rock not once but twice (Ex. 17; Num. 20:11). He also had a front-row seat to some awesome displays of God’s holy wrath: Korah, Dathan, and Abiram swallowed up by the ground (Num. 16:10-35); and Nadab and Abihu consumed by fire from the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2).
Believe it or not, it gets better. On Mt. Sinai, Moses had the boldness to ask God to show him His glory, which the Almighty Creator allowed Moses to glimpse as He passed by (Ex. 33:18-23). Finally, Moses is the only man ever to have known God “face to face” (Deut. 34:10). In fact, he had to cover his face after speaking with the Lord because it shone—and Moses didn’t even realize it! (Ex. 34:29-35). The words “The LORD spoke to Moses” are used 93 times in the NASB, and Exodus 33:11 says that God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to a friend.” Moses had an intimate, personal relationship with his God. This man knew God in a way that no other human being ever has. And yet he, at the end of this life of literal friendship with the Most High, says, “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness.” Wow.
I think I find this statement by Moses so amazing because of my own quickness to think, “Yeah, I know,” when it comes to the attributes of God. I know what immutable means and the distinction between God’s imminence and His transcendence; I can list the omni’s and tell you the difference between communicable and incommunicable attributes. A study on the attributes of God can, at least to me, seem almost blasé. Familiarity, after all, breeds contempt. But it didn’t for Moses (and it shouldn’t for me).
Moses’ statement echoes the words of Job that we know just the “fringes” of God’s ways and hear but an “echo” of Him (Job 26:14). Because I tend to be much too enamored with myself, I think that I have a grip on who God is. Instead, I should be enamored with God and realize that anything I have a “grip” on is just a fringe of the character of God. He is so much more than I will ever be able to comprehend, and that’s just as it should be.
A god that I can wrap my hands around and truly understand is no god at all. Any god like that is a god made in my own finite, comprehensible image. The ways of God are past finding out, and that’s part of the beauty of who He is. I can spend my life—on earth and in eternity—getting to know Him, and still after 10,000 (or 10 million) years in heaven, say with Moses, “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness.” Getting to know God is never boring, blasé, or trite; it is an unending adventure of joy, and the deeper I go the more I will realize that I have so much more to learn. It’s not primarily a theological or intellectual pursuit at all. It’s not about spouting facts and 50-cent words. Yes, Moses knew God in a way that I won’t here on earth, yet I still know Him in a profoundly personal manner. Yahweh gave His Son on my behalf to make relationship with Him possible. He has revealed Himself through His Word and through Christ, and has given me His Spirit so that I can know Him not academically, but relationally. While theological categories and facts are both helpful and necessary, they do not themselves equal “knowing God.” Knowing God happens over the course of a lifetime (and beyond!) in the valley, on the mountaintop, and on the flat path of wilderness in between—just as Moses did. It will take eternity to find out all that “I AM” means; just how “good” a Shepherd the Lord is; and the stretches of His sovereignty, wisdom, and power. These are not things learned in a classroom, but over the course of a life spent in fellowship with the One who calls Himself Yahweh, El Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh, Elohim, Lord Sabaoth, the Holy One of Israel, Father.