Moses and the Promised Land
When the LORD heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: “Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to the LORD.” Even with me the LORD was angry on your account, saying, “You also shall not enter there. Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel's possession of it. And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it. But as for you, journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea.”
How unfair! You’ve just put 40 years of your life into a project, sacrificing your own desires and ambitions for the sake of a collective dream. You’ve left a comfortable home—the only home you’ve ever known—choosing instead to move from place to place, never really settling down.
Moreover, you’ve spent much of your adult life among people who have no confidence in your ability to lead, and even less gratitude for your efforts to keep them motivated and on task. Then, just when it seems that you’re going to see the payoff for all this work, you learn that you've been replaced: Someone new, someone younger is coming in to finish the job.
What sounds like the plot of a modern-day film depicting the whims of corporate life is, in reality, the story of Moses and his successor, Joshua.
For various reasons—not the least of which is his anger and impatience with God—Moses, along with most of the older Israelites, is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Instead, this privilege falls to Joshua, Caleb, and the rest of the younger generation. From a purely practical sense, of course, they are the ones who have the physical wherewithal to fight “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” But they also have the spiritual energy that such a battle will take.
In his theory of socioemotional development—also known as the “eight stages of man”—Erik Erikson describes the principal challenge of middle age as the choice between “ generativity and stagnation/ self-absorption.” Put another way, if we are living as healthy adults, we will find ourselves wanting to pass on responsibilities and roles to those who come behind us. We will want to be their mentors, to help them see and nurture their gifts, to celebrate when they succeed.
It’s impossible to know how Moses felt about being upstaged by a younger man, but his experience is one we’re all going to face. When we do, we can respond with bitterness or, one would hope, with a renewed sense of creativity and joy, conscious that we are participating in a life that will far extend our own.
O God, when I am tempted to turn in on myself, to mourn what I imagine I have lost, give me the grace and strength to give my gifts to others, to nurture them on their journeys, to celebrate unending life in you.