In the pale light just before dawn, a woman crept through the tall grasses along the shore of the Nile. She moved almost silently, cradling a heavy basket of tightly woven reeds. Her shoulders trembled at each tiny noise: the tap of her sandals upon the ground, the brush of the basket against the rushes. A young girl followed her; and once, when the girl rustled the grass, the woman looked back and formed a silent word of caution with her lips.
When the woman reached the marshy ground at the edge of the river, she knelt and slipped the basket into the water among the thick reeds. She drew a long, shuddering breath—but the basket did not sink. Her husband had coated the basket with thick pitch, to seal the crevices and keep it afloat.
He had done his job well. This basket would protect its precious cargo, if the God of their fathers so willed.
In the basket, a baby stirred. One of his hands reached up and curled around the rough woven cloth of the womanís sleeve. She bent close to him and gently pried the tiny fingers loose, kissing them one by one. She smoothed the bit of dark hair on his forehead, and he murmured.
Through sleepy, unfocused eyes, the baby saw the face of his mother, the face he had known and trusted all of his short life. And as his eyes drooped and closed, he felt her warm breath and heard her voice above him:
Do not be afraid, my son. You will not cross the river. You will sleep for a while... and if God is merciful, soon you will wake again, safe in my arms.
In the clear light of late afternoon, an old man reached a high vantage point on Mount Nebo above the Plains of Moab. There, on the peak that is called Pisgah, he could look out over all the lands across the river. Only his white hair and white flowing beard betrayed his age. The climb had not winded him, and he carried no walking stick.
His eyes, too, were the eyes of a young man, clear and focused. Yet those eyes had seen much. He had seen—even before he could know or remember—a motherís face bent above his. He had seen the great obelisks and temples and palaces of Egypt, and had imagined for a time that he would live all his life among them. And he had seen the bitter suffering of the people who built those monuments with mud and straw, sweat and blood.
He had trembled at signs and wonders: the burning bush, the fearful plagues, the parting of the waves, the pillar of fire, the bread in the wilderness. He had watched the very finger of Jehovah carve His law upon stone. And he had seen the people of Jehovah defy that law, again and again: disobeying His commandments; rejecting His covenants; murmuring even about His miraculous bread.
But here, in this lonely place upon the mountains, the transgressions of the people did not weigh so heavily upon the old man as did his own sin: the sin of pride, of believing that his own power could bring water from the rock.
The old man sat down on a stone and looked across the Jordan to the lands on the other side. And his vision became like that of an eagle so that he could see all of Canaan, the inheritance that Jehovah had promised to Abraham and his descendants. The promise would be fulfilled, though he would not live to cross the Jordan and dwell in those lands.
O God of my fathers, he prayed, now cleanse my sin and cover it, as the sacrifice of lambs covers the sins of your people, the children of Israel...
And peace enfolded him, a peace like that of a child looking into the face of his mother. The old man's head bowed; his eyes dimmed and closed. But as the light faded, he felt a warm breath and heard a voice above him—the voice he had known and trusted all of his long life:
Do not be afraid, my son, though you will not cross this river. You will sleep for a while... but I am merciful, and soon you will wake again, safe in My arms.
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