“Ah, every pier is a longing in stone!” says a line in Fernando Pessoa’s Portuguese poem “Ode Marítima.” Pessoa’s pier represents the emotions we feel as a ship moves slowly away from us. The vessel departs but the pier remains, an enduring monument to hopes and dreams, partings and yearnings. We ache for what’s lost, and for what we can’t quite reach.
The Portuguese word translated “longing” (saudade) refers to a nostalgic yearning we feel—a deep ache that defies definition. The poet is describing the indescribable.
We might say that Mount Nebo was Moses’s “longing in stone.” From Nebo he gazed into the promised land—a land he would never reach. God’s words to Moses—“I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deuteronomy 34:4)—might seem harsh. But if that’s all we see, we miss the heart of what’s happening. God is speaking immense comfort to Moses: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (v. 4). Very soon, Moses would leave Nebo for a land far better than Canaan (v. 5).
Life often finds us standing on the pier. Loved ones depart; hopes fade; dreams die. Amid it all we sense echoes of Eden and hints of heaven. Our longings point us to God. He is the fulfillment we yearn for.
What are your unfulfilled longings? What places in life are you trying to satisfy with wrong things? How can you find true fulfillment in God alone?
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all beauty came from. C. S. Lewis
The final chapter of Deuteronomy recounts how Moses wouldn’t be allowed to enter the promised land because of his disobedience to God at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:1–13; Psalm 106:32–33). However, he was permitted to see it from the vantage point of Mount Nebo in Moab (modern-day Jordan), east of the River Jordan (Deuteronomy 34:1–4).
The first generation of Israelites aged twenty and over had all died in the wilderness, except for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb (Numbers 32:11–12). Moses was preparing the second generation to enter Canaan when the Israelites complained against Moses because they had no water to drink (20:1–13). God told Moses to “speak to that rock . . . and it will pour out its water” (v. 8). But instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice (v. 11). By doing so, he publicly demonstrated his lack of faith in God to provide for His people and thus dishonored Him (v. 12).