Maybe you remember this primary school song, sung to the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”:

“The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see.
And all that he could see, and all that he could see
Was the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain, was all that he could see.”

The song’s message seems to be that there’s not much to see on the other side of the mountain.  I guess that was our teachers’ way of preparing us for all of life’s disappointments to come.  How uplifting and inspiring!

Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through forty years of wilderness wanderings.  Near the end of his life, the Lord brought him to the top of Mount Nebo in Jordan, from which he could view the panorama of Israel, the Promised Land:

“The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.'”  (Deuteronomy 34:4)

It was not in God’s will for Moses to lead the Israelites any further, and he died on the mountain.

Dr. Martin Luther King identified with Moses.  Sometimes the burden of leadership seemed very heavy to him.  In his last speech, April 4, 1968, in a Memphis church, King said:

“I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not         fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
King had vision.  He didn’t just see “the other side of the mountain.”  He saw on the far horizon a new life for African-Americans, with new opportunities and room for great hopes and dreams.  He saw the Promised Land.  But that vision is hard to maintain, and one day later Dr. King was shot and killed outside of his Memphis motel room.

The harsh reality is that no important positive change in society comes easily. The truth about the struggle is better expressed in the version of the song my weird friends and I sang during the long bus ride to youth camp:

 “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain, and what do you think he saw?
He saw another mountain, he saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain, and what do you think he did?
He climbed that other mountain, he climbed that other mountain,
 He climbed that other mountain, and what do you think he saw?
He saw another mountain . . . .  etc. etc.”

You’d be amazed how this song made the minutes and miles fly by for antsy young-teen boys.  The lyrics could outlast any trip.

And that’s the way it is.  In this life, there’s always another mountain.  It’s been true for the Civil Rights struggle; the victories are only partial and usually short-lived.  It’s true also in the life journey for each one of us individually; get the kids successfully through school and married off, and you’ve got to deal with long-ignored marriage issues; resolve some of these in time for a relaxed retirement, and the seemingly non-stop health issues of old age start confronting you — one mountain at a time, a whole range of them.

It’s also true of your spiritual life.  Some popular teachers and preachers promise nothing but prosperity and happiness as you move forward in your faith and Christian growth.  Just wait, they say, until you look over the top of this mountain you’re currently climbing.  Let me save you from the suspense — you’ll see another mountain.

But if you have the gift of spiritual vision, as Moses did, as Dr. King did, you’ll be able to lift your eyes from your mountaintop vista and look beyond the seemingly endless ranges to see the Promised Land.   Jesus called it Eternal Life.  And he taught that we can begin to experience it right here and now, in the middle of our uphill struggle.

— Pastor George Van Alstine