The Death of Moses

As we come to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we see the final blessing given to Moses—a glorious view of the promised land. And we are invited to look at God’s larger purposes, as Moses did, by faith. “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho . . .” (Dt. 34:1-12).

Moses ascended from the plains of Moab to the mountains of Moab. From that vantage, the Lord showed him all the land which Israel was to inherit, from the north to the south (vv. 1-3). God reiterated that this was the land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v. 4). But God had also promised that Moses would not enter it. And so Moses died there (v. 5), and God Himself buried the man of God (v. 6), and so no man knows the place. Moses died a vigorous man (v. 7), and Israel mourned for him for thirty days (v. 8). When the mourning was over, Joshua was filled with the wisdom necessary to lead (v. 9).

Moses was a unique prophet in two ways—first, in how he knew the Lord, which was face to face (v. 10). The second mark of his uniqueness was the power and strength of the miracles that he had done to devastate Egypt (vv. 11-12).

We see first that God gave Moses more than just a glimpse—north, south and west were all open before him (vv. 1-3). God then emphatically stated that this was the same land that had been promised to the patriarchs and their seed (v. 4). But God’s word is sharp in its sovereignty, and it cuts both ways. God had also said that Moses would not enter the land, and He kept this promise as well. Nevertheless, God in His kindness showed Moses the land that was a type of the paradise where Moses was about to go (v. 4). Moreover, the land was the same land where Moses and Elijah would commune with the Lord Jesus on the mount of transfiguration after Moses had died.

When this was done, Moses the servant of the Lord died in the land of Moab (v. 5). He had been a true servant, faithful in all God’s house (Heb. 3:1-3). God Himself undertook the burial of Moses, and apparently built a sepulchre, and no man knows the place of it (v. 6). Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died (v. 7). He had spent forty years in Egypt, forty years in Midian, and forty years leading the Israelites. When he died, he was still vigorous, and his eye was not dim—he had just seen the Mediterranean from Pisgah. The Israelites, as was their custom, mourned for Moses for thirty days (v. 8).

God had graciously arranged for more than a transfer of power. There was a transfer of authority. Moses had laid his hands on Joshua, and he was consequently filled with the spirit of wisdom. Because this anointing was upon him, the children of Israel listened to him, and followed as they had been commanded (v. 9).

When God removes this great blessing, cultures, kingdoms, and dynasties unravel. God had given His Spirit to enable David to rule, and when he sinned he knew that he had forfeited this great blessing, as Saul had, so he prayed “take not your Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). God gave majesty to Solomon (1 Chron. 29:25). Godly leadership is a gift, not a technique. Joshua and Israel were together given that gift.

There was no one like Moses, before or since. The one exception of course, was the Lord Jesus, who was the ultimate Moses. The other prophets of Israel were unlike Moses in that they knew the Lord through voices and visions. Moses knew God face to face (v. 10), meaning of course that when this happened he was dealing with a theophany of the Word of God, and not with God the Father. The other difference was that no other prophet had ever destroyed a world superpower the way Moses and his staff had (v. 11). He had held the course of human history in his mighty hand (v. 12).

What should we take away from the book of Deuteronomy? What must we remember? Love needs the law—love wants to do right, and law informs love. We are the congregation of the covenant—and this means blessings and curses. One greater than Moses is here—all these events and words are glorious. But we have far more.

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