Semester #1 is in the books. Classes are done; papers submitted; and finals taken–for better or for worse. It has been an amazing experience. Not only have I learned so much, but I’ve made some great friends along the way too. When living in close proximity to a group of people, community naturally develops. That has been especially true for us first semester students that were required to take the Physical Settings of the Bible course. Over the course of the semester we did seven field studies. Three of them were multi-day trips. We’ve hiked all over and studied all 25 of the geographic regions that make up the land of the Bible and how they influence the Biblical text.
The final stop of our last trip was Mt. Nebo in Jordan. According to Deuteronomy 34, this is where God showed Moses the Promised Land before he died and was buried by God. I’ve decided to share my impression report from that final day as it sums up my feelings on this journey so far.
Impression Report: Mount Nebo
The final day of the final field study. Where has the time gone? I remember thinking to myself at the beginning of the semester that there was no way I could remember all 25 regions in the land. Now, in reviewing my syllabus, I find that I know something about every one of them. When I pick up my Bible and read; the place names pop out at me. I have a real sense of where things took place and can make some educated guesses as to why. All of this in less than 14 weeks.
Perhaps because it was our final site of the semester, Mount Nebo had an impact on me. I saw something in the text I had not noticed before. Deut. 34:1-3 says, “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar.” It had never occurred to me that Moses’ final speech to the Israelites took place on the plains of Moab and then he left them there to climb up Mount Nebo. For some reason, I had always thought that the whole farewell took place before they descended to the plain and that Moses just stayed behind. Yet, the text is clear. Moses had to climb back up the mountain.
I found myself wondering what Moses was thinking about as he hiked back up to Mt. Nebo–A climb of around 3,700 feet in elevation over about 10 miles (as the crow flies). That was no short hike—let alone someone 120 years old! He had been leading Israel for 40+ years. Did he think about how far he had travelled since that day at the burning bush in the Sinai? A day where he had no desire to answer God’s call—where he came up with every excuse he could think of to get out of it. Yet there he was 40 years later leaving them on the plains of Moab. I wonder if he thought about his showdown with Pharaoh and the ten plagues. Or perhaps he thought about that Passover night and the wails of anguish that spread throughout the land as the firstborn in Egypt died. Did he have thoughts of the golden calf and smashing the Covenant tablets or any of the other challenges they had encountered in their 40 years of wandering in the desert? Maybe he thought about striking the rock rather than speaking to it. Had he listened to God, maybe he would still be on the plains of Moab waiting to enter the Promised Land. Maybe he just thought, this is one really long friggin’ hike!
For me, the end of Deuteronomy is bittersweet. Moses gets the Israelites to the doorstep of the Promised land, but doesn’t get to enter it himself. He gets to see it, but not to taste it. God shows him the fruits of his efforts, and then Moses dies at His command. At the same time, there is hope and promise. God is about to do great things with Israel in the Promised Land. Will they live into their calling to be His people or not? Will they receive the blessings or the curses of the covenant? At that point in the story, there is mourning for Moses and hope for the world to come.
In a very small way, standing on Mt. Nebo was also bittersweet for me. It has been fun to watch a community build within this class. Most of us didn’t know each other at the start of the semester. Over the course of these field studies we’ve laughed, learned and struggled together. Although our backgrounds (and ages) are very different, we’ve built a cohesive community. It has been a pleasure to experience that. Even though I will be back next semester, the majority of the class will be heading on to other things. Even though our paths may be different, they are full of optimism (and probably a little uncertainty and anxiety). Yet, standing on Mt. Nebo reminded me that one chapter in this adventure is ending. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and cherish the friendships that have developed. On top of that, I’ve learned a lot. While I am sad to see it end, I look forward to what next semester will bring. But for now, I am anxious to get home to see my wife, Amy. Without her love and support, none of this would be possible. Fourteen weeks is A LONG time to be apart.