In an age that’s saturated with information about people’s lives—available for the world to peruse via Facebook, Twitter, and the like— it is still possible for some to live under the radar— their lives a mystery to all but themselves.
And it’s that mystery that intrigues many of us—we want to know what happened to someone.
Fortunately, if your wonderings are about long lost celebrities, there’s a website called “What Ever Happened To?”
The site is dedicated to tracking down the fate of celebs who have faded from the public eye—although I checked out the site, and it left me rather disappointed.
But despite wanting to know what happened to someone, and the vast capacity we have to find out, some folks just seem to disappear off the map.
We still don’t know where Jimmy Hoffa is who disappeared in 1975, or what happened to D.B. Cooper after he parachuted out of an airliner in 1971.
And then there is the one most Americans have been wondering about for decades— Amelia Earhart, whose small plane disappeared in the South Pacific in 1937.
The questions and wonderings about whatever happened to certain people can spill beyond the confines of popular culture and seep into our biblical world as well.
Last week we talked about Moses leading the people of God toward the Promise Land—a forty year long story that we all know about.
We even know how the story ends—that the people eventually make it to the Promise Land.
But do we know that Moses actually doesn’t make it. He fades away, and dies off, with his people left in the hands of someone else—Joshua.
You might say Moses is the Amelia Earhart of the Bible.
He goes flying up to Mt. Nebo and goes completely off radar. No one hears from him again, except for that little “Transfiguration” conference mentioned in the gospels.
His epic life story comes up short of all its intended and even expected glory.
How does such a thing happen?
But more so, what should we take from this story? Because on the surface, how this story ends is unexpected, sad, and even tragic.
But while the ending of Moses life and story may seem unexpected, unfair, even tragic, something else happened—something just as unexpected. And it can be a lesson for us to hold onto as we strive to live a life of faithfulness.
If you’re thinking in terms of a “where are they now” retrospective about Israel’s most famous Old Testament figure, most casual observers would wonder first what happened to Moses after that climactic moment when he brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai.
After all, that’s pretty much where Cecil B. DeMille left a long-bearded and fabulously handsome Moses, played by Charlton Heston, standing at the end of his epic 1956 film.
Moses had facilitated all the plagues in Egypt, led the people out of slavery, held up his staff and made the Red Sea part—with God’s help, of course.
But after getting those commandments, Moses becomes to many people, a kind of wandering executive trying to keep the Israelite company afloat for 40 years until the payoff of the Promised Land would come.
But there’s a lot more to his story.
Moses does more than just administer; he’s the one who largely keeps the Israelites from becoming a thirsty, wandering mob.
Deuteronomy ends with a capsulated description of Moses’ career that indicates that he was more than just the guy with the tablets.
Moses knew God “face to face” and was “unequaled for all the signs and wonders” that God had sent him to perform not only in Egypt, but among his own people out there in the desert.
Later, when the spies came back with a distressing report of what awaited the people across the Jordan River in the Promised Land, Moses was the one with courage among a people of cowards.
Without Moses and his leadership, you have to wonder whether or not the Israelites could have held together for 40 years.
But admittedly, like most great people, Moses was not without his flaws.
In Numbers 20:1-13, Moses is again dealing with the grumbling of the people, who want water. God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will come out, but in his anger Moses wants to prove to the people that he is a powerful leader and thus strikes the rock instead.
Moses, in effect, commandeers God’s authority.
As a result God tells him, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore, you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).
Just like those in powerful position today, like those who are cast into the limelight, one wrong move, as little and as insignificant as it might be, as much of a simple “in the moment” kind of reaction as it was, it can turn your world completely upside down.
This is true of politicians, celebrities, and even God’s chosen.
Fortunately, for God’s faithful, that doesn’t mean all is lost forever.
While a new generation of Israelites is preparing to cross over the river into the long-awaited Promised Land, Moses is preparing to step off the stage.
While he won’t put his toes in the water of the Jordan or on the land of Canaan, God does give him one look, one panoramic view of all that the old man had been longing and struggling for all those years.
Moses was able to see all the places where the tribes of Israel would settle, and would hear God’s covenant promise echoing once again.
God says, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.”
This is where we last encounter the living Moses. In a much understated fashion, Moses simply dies there in Moab and was buried in a valley.
No whirlwind like Elijah. No grandstanding pageantry like Saul. No political upheaval like John. Moses just eventually dies, leaving no famous last words, not even a grave marker for future generations to flock to.
And so ends, rather unceremoniously, the life of Moses—one of God’s most famous and iconic servants. It seems rather sad. It seems even tragic.
Instead of an inspiring story of achievement, accomplishment, and glory—we are left with, “But no one knows his burial place to this day.”
Imagine working for something the vast majority of your life, suffering for it, enduring for it, but then never seeing the work to completion.
Take for instance a medieval stone-mason working on a cathedral who dies before his decades-long work is completed. Seems tragic in so many ways—if that was the only way you looked at it.
What if, instead of looking at a life that doesn’t see its life work come to fruition, it was looked at as a life that was an investment that outlives the person.
Now that’s something different because a life investment that out lives a person—even if the person never sees the goal achieved isn’t’ called a tragedy—it’s called a legacy. And legacy is immortal.
We don’t know what exactly happens to Moses there in Moab, but we do know that his legacy echoes way beyond the Promised Land.
He never got to set foot in it, but his legacy, his life and his inspiration, continued to lead others into promised lands of their own.
And truthfully, the legacy of Moses continues on still today.
Bruce Feiler, in his book “America’s Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America”, writes about how Moses’ legacy became a foundational narrative for the American story.
Feiler cites numerous examples:
Christopher Columbus compared himself to Moses when he sailed in 1492.
Thomas Paine, in his pamphlet “Common Sense”, compared King George to Pharaoh.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, in the summer of 1776, proposed that Moses be on the seal of the United States.
Harriet Tubman adopted Moses’ name on the Underground Railroad.
Abraham Lincoln was eulogized as Moses’ incarnation.
Martin Luther King Jr., likened himself to Moses, saying that he may not get there with those he struggled beside—saying such on the eve of his assignation.
Feiler’s point of his book is to show that for hundreds of years, one figure stands out as the surprising symbol of America. And no doubt the same can be said of many others throughout history.
The ending of his life may seem tragic—but when we look at how God truly used Moses life, we see that his unexpected ending wasn’t tragic. Moses’ life is truly a legacy.
It wasn’t tragic because Moses lived a life of faithfulness.
And when a life of faithfulness is lived—it never ends in tragedy. It lives on as a legacy.
For most of us, our lives may not be the most biography-worthy, nor will we likely turn up on one of those “Where are they now?” sites after we’re gone.
But better than any of those kind of things— when we invest our lives, as Moses did, in being faithful to what God would have us be and do, in the present, then we can rest assured that we are working to create a future for others that will live long past us, even if our names are one day forgotten.
Such an opportunity happens each year, each month, each week, each day, right here in our church.
The people we are, the things we do, the visions we strive to bring into reality, the ministries we support and are a part of—they all are building a legacy.
Just as we stand within the legacy of faithfulness that began over 180 years ago, future generations, because of us, will continue to grow, thrive, and be built.
So whatever happens to us, may we know that what we do for God lasts way beyond us.
No, we may never see our own self-proclaimed promised land, but the promise of the Kingdom of God is that our end is never the end because faithfulness in God, and to God, will always result in a legacy of faith. And a legacy of faith will always last for eternity. Amen.