So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel. And he said to them, “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God Himself will go over before you; He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them; and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them: for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua, and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them; and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Moses was called by God to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was nearly eighty years old when he was called to this task. Moses also had a stuttering problem, he was not an eloquent speaker. He hadn’t had any leadership training either. He stood in the face of opposition as he told Pharaoh that God wanted His people freed from Egypt. He had to organize hundreds of thousands of people. He was God’s messenger in the revealing of ten plagues. Each time a plague was about to happen, Moses would warn Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s heart would harden against Moses. Then the plague would happen. Then Pharaoh would summon Moses and tell him the people could go. And then his heart would harden again, and he would change his mind. This would happen ten times, until the tenth plague, the death of the first-born of Egypt. Then Pharaoh finally let the people go.

This “victory” was short lived as Moses had to lead 600,000 Israelite men, plus women and children, a number some Bible scholars believe to have exceeded two million people. They didn’t have order and structure to their number. I know how hard it is sometimes to get one person to do something. And how hard it is to get ten people going in the same direction at the same time with clear instructions. I can’t imagine doing it with two million people. These people didn’t reside in a city, they were all nomads.

They crossed the Red Sea which God parted, fleeing from the Egyptians who now decided to pursue after them. Three months later, Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law and the Ten Commandments. Then he had to teach all of these things to the people. Again, it is hard to teach one person, ten is harder and two million I can’t even conceive of that. Every time that the people would move, it was essentially moving a city of two million people. The people complained about lack of food and water. I’m sure hygiene was a concern. Interpersonal conflicts. Disobedience to God’s Law. Losing faith. Attacks from the Amalekites and others. And probably a good bit of doubt over his own ability to lead and doubt whether they’d ever reach the Promised Land of Canaan. Forty years of this, from age eighty to age 120.

Moses is another one of these figures many of us can identify with. Which is why I feel sad for Moses when he got to the border of the promised land and God told him that he would go no further, that Joshua would be the one to lead the people of Israel into the promised land. If this was a football team, one might say that Moses was the one who led the drive down the field for 99 yards and Joshua got to be the one to carry the ball over the goal line. Many of us have had the situation where we do the work and someone else gets the reward. To Moses’s credit, he was gracious in endorsing Joshua, at least publicly, as God’s designated leader for the conquest of Canaan. He encouraged Joshua, he encouraged the people, and inside he probably felt very conflicted about this. I’m sure many of us would feel conflicted if we were in the shoes of Moses. I know I would.

Here’s the saving grace to this story—who do we remember more, Moses or Joshua? We all know who Moses is. Many of us do not know who Joshua is. When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, the two most prominent figures of the Old Testament appeared with Him in His glory. One of them was Moses. The other wasn’t Joshua. It was Elijah. It is Moses we remember and Moses that we celebrate. It is Moses that we remember as the leader of the children of Israel. More important than our memory, however, is the memory of God. Christ referred many times to the “law of Moses,” not the “law of Joshua.”

Moses didn’t get the earthly reward. He didn’t close the deal. He didn’t get the earthly satisfaction of completing the journey. He got the heavenly reward. He is remembered by God in His Kingdom, and by Christ in His speaking about the Kingdom of God. If you feel like Moses, and many of us do, we have to focus on fulfilling our call. It wasn’t in God’s plan for Moses to enter into the Land of Canaan. Moses wasn’t perfect, but he fulfilled God’s call for his life as best as he could. This is why we remember him so prominently.

Many of us will relate to Moses. We will work and someone else will get the reward. We will set the table and others will sit at it. We will run the ball 99 yards and have someone else carry it for the last one. We will do all the work and someone else will close the deal. Such is life, at least on this earth. The most important thing is to be remembered by God in His Kingdom. This is why we pray that the Lord will remember us in His Kingdom. Whether we remember people or forget them, we pray that the Lord will remember all of us.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  We might not always get the earthly reward. In fact, someone else may get it ahead of us and not even deserve it. But God sees and knows all and rewards each according to his works. God has rewarded Moses, because He recognized the perseverance and ultimately faithfulness of Moses. Sure, he had his moments of doubt and frustration, but he didn’t quit. Whether you are a “Moses” or a “Joshua,” focus on what God has placed in front of you. It might be the “work without reward” of Moses. Just be patient and know that God knows what you are doing. And it might be the “reward without as much work” as Joshua. Honor God for your good fortune by being an effective witness of him. That’s what Joshua did. We recognize both men as righteous figures of the Old Testament. But today we put Moses ahead of Joshua, based on the 99 yards he covered, and not the one that eluded him, that Joshua closed the deal on.

Early in the morning when I rise from night, give me Your light, I pray, and direct me in the way of Your divine commandments, and teach me always to do Your will, O gracious Master.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Five, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Don’t worry about whether you will get the earthly reward. Work for the heavenly one. And remember that millennia later, we are talking more about Moses than Joshua. May the Lord our God remember each of us in His Kingdom!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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