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D'varim/Deuteronomy 31:14 Behold, your days to die have come near
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These words, spoken byHaShem to Moshe, must have been both unwelcome and chilling. At the same time, they were not unexpected for Moshe knew that his time was short; HaShem had told him clearly that he would not be entering the Promised Land, and the people were very nearly ready to go. On the other hand, knowing something is coming and having it arrive are quite different! The Baal HaTurim provides an interesting insight by planting this conversation in the mouths of HaShem and Moshe: Moshe said to G-d, "Master of the Universe, with this word I have praised you, for I said, ' Behold! To Adonai your G-d are the heavens' (D'varim 10:14); how can You use this word to tell me that I must die?" The Holy One, Blessed be He, answered him, "Did you not also say, ' Behold, they will not believe me' (Shemot 4:1)? So also it is written, 'Because you did not believe in Me ... you shall not bring this assembly into the land' (B'Midbar 20:12)." No playing with words, the time had come.
The subject of death is not a popular topic for after-dinner conversations these days. Death is hidden away and only professionals like ministers, undertakers and hospice workers are involved on a regular basis. Apart from attending funerals, the rest of society simply pretends that death doesn't exist, is shocked when someone dies early or unexpectedly, and is tongue-tied when trying to talk to someone who has been recently bereaved. Yet the Scriptures make no bones about the fact that life and death - so to speak - go hand in hand. Kohelet, the writer of wisdom, tells us that "there is a time for every event under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die ..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, NASB). People joke that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, but the prophet says, "All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the L-rd blows upon it; surely the people are grass" (Isaiah 40:6-7, NASB). Moreover, this life is a strictly one-time affair: "It is appointed for man to die once then after this comes judgement" (Hebrews 9:27, NASB).
If death, then, is so certain, how should we prepare for it? Society seems to bury its head in the sand and hope that it won't happen to them, or at least, not too soon. As believers, of course, we can see death as only the doorway to our life with Messiah; life that has already started, from the time we entered the Kingdom of G-d by saying 'Yes' to Yeshua, and life with Him in the presence of G-d forever. At the same time, we need to be aware that death is a transition that marks the end of our physical life here on earth and that we will have to give an account of our time here in this life, not in the same way as those who will stand before the "great white throne and Him who sat upon it" (Revelation 20:11, NASB), but as Rav Sha'ul writes, "we must all appear before the Messiah's court of judgement, where everyone will receive the good or bad consequences of what he did while he was in the body" (2 Corinthians 5:10, CJB). This surely is the moment for which we prepare, the examination where we want to do well - not to pass or fail, for those who know Messiah are guaranteed passage even if "it will be like escaping through a fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15, CJB) - but because we want to please our Master, we want to hear Him say, "Excellent! You are a good and trustworthy servant" (Matthew 25:21, CJB).
Hirsch gives us a clue to this in his comment on our text. Again putting words in G-d's mouth, he posits HaShem saying to Moshe, "Your feeling was correct and what you did was quite the right thing to have done, your time to die has arrived." In other words, Moshe was ready for G-d to call him home because he knew the time was coming and had made the necessary preparation. Many people who have received a terminal diagnosis for cancer and been given only a short time to live, have reported how liberating and concentrating that message can be. It releases them from other obligations and expectations and allows them to focus on setting their affairs in order, saying "goodbye" to friends and family and making sure that everything is tidy, that they won't leave nasty messes or relationships behind for other people to try and resolve. Clearly, this is also the theme of the story that Yeshua told about the wise and foolish virgins, the servants and the talents, and others: be ready to go at a moment's notice.
There is a problem, however. Most is us have not been given a terminal diagnosis and have no idea when we will die, beyond some vague ideas based on average life expectancies. The Psalms show evidence that their writer(s) struggled with this issue: "L-rd, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days, let me know how transient I am" (Psalm 39:4, NASB). It is as if he is saying - without wanting to die any sooner that he must - if I had a clear end-point then I could plan accordingly and make sure that everything was done. G-d knows, on the contrary, that it is not good for man - in general - to have this knowledge; many people would be completely demoralised or be unable to function in any meaningful way.
Another psalm gives us the answer: "Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12, NASB). When we realise that every day is unique and full of the opportunities that G-d has given for that day alone, we are released to live that day well. When we number our days before G-d, to ensure that we have accomplished the individual tasks that He has given us, then we will have the freedom and time to achieve our targets. As we count each day as precious, a resource to be spent wisely or lost forever, then we consult with G-d as to what we should do and and are able to be intentional, pro-active rather than reactive, making the most of the day. Of course, G-d knows that we need both physical and spiritual rest and relaxation, and it is His purpose that we should have off-duty time with family and each other; we should value this time also as a part of G-d's plan for our lives. But let us number our days and use our time wisely for "the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16, NASB) and much remains to be done.
Further Study: Romans 14:10-12; Jeremiah 6:16
Application: Consider how you might better number your days and account for your time. Examine diaries and day-timers, but seek G-d's face above all that He may direct your feet in "the paths of peace" (Luke 1:79), "where the good way is" (Jeremiah 6:16) that we may walk before Him all our days.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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