The Death of Moses
Moses on Mount Nebo. (1-3) The vision of the Promised Land.
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.
- Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo: As Israel camped on the plains of Moab, Moses climbed the heights of Mount Nebo – from which he could see the Promised Land, as far as the Western Sea.
- And the Lord showed him all the land: This was God’s sweet grace to Moses. Though he could not set foot in the Promised Land, God allowed him to see it. Standing on the peak of Nebo on the collection of Mountains called Pisgah, Moses stood on what is the modern nation of Jordan, looking towards the Promised Land.
(4) God’s last words to Moses: This is the land…
Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”
- This is the land of which I swore to give: These words, being in the present tense, were spoken to Moses at the summit of Mount Nebo as he looked westward and saw the Promised Land.
- The list of places here follows a large counter-clockwise circle from the north to the south. In this sweeping panorama, Moses saw the scope of the entire Promised Land.
- “The invitation to Moses to view the land was not merely a kindly provision of God to allow His servant to view Israel’s inheritance. It may have had some legal significance. There is some evidence that this was part of a legal process. A man ‘viewed’ what he was to possess.” (Thompson)
- I will give it to your descendants: God swore to give it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now the promise was going to be fulfilled. Moses was allowed to take the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob up to the threshold of the Promised Land, but no further.
- I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there: What a bitter-sweet moment! Moses saw this, and his heart was thrilled at being able to see the Promised Land as never before. Yet, there no doubt a sadness in His heart, knowing that it was his own sin – his own misrepresentation of God (Numbers 20:7-12) – which led to his not being able to set foot in the Promised Land himself. Here he stood so close, yet so far away.
- “What drama! What pathos! What inward pain! What sense of accomplishment mixed with disappointment must have been in Moses’ mind as he looked over the land the Lord had promised to Israel!” (Kalland)
- Looking out over the vast panorama, on what must have been a crystal clear day, Moses saw the end result of his life’s work – leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land – and heard God say, as clearly as he had ever heard God speak, “this is the land.”
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended.
- So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab: Moses’ epitaph – what we might call the line on his tombstone, though he actually had none – was simple.
- It was not “Moses, Prince of Egypt.”
- It was not “Moses, Murderer of an Egyptian.”
- It was not “Moses, Shepherd in the Wilderness.”
- It was not “Moses, Spokesman for a Nation.”
- It was not “Moses, Miracle Worker.”
- It was not “Moses, Prophet.”
- It was not “Moses, the Man Who Saw a Piece of God’s Glory.”
- It was not “Moses, Who Never Entered the Promised Land.”
- At the end of it all, the title was simple: Moses the servant of the Lord.
- This should be enough for us. We often say it, and it sounds humble to say it, but it is more difficult to really live it. To be satisfied with simply being the servant of the Lord is a precious thing indeed. It is the happiest of all stations in life, for when the Master is glorified, the servants are satisfied.
- If one is truly a servant of the Lord, it can be demonstrated by a simple test: by how they react when someone treats them as a servant. Many are pleased to be servants for people of our own choosing or in circumstances of our own choosing. But that isn’t really being the servant of the Lord.
- Moses the servant of the Lord died: Moses died just as God promised. The promises of God are sure, including His more severe promises. It all happened according to the word of the Lord.
- Literally, the phrase according to the word of the Lord means upon the mouth of the Lord. From this, ancient Jewish traditions say that Moses died as God took away his soul with a kiss. The medieval Jewish rabbi Maimonides wrote that of the 903 different ways to die, this was the best.
- According to ancient Jewish legends – which should be regarded only as legends – the death of Moses was tender and full of God’s compassion.
“In the meanwhile, Moses’ time was at an end. A voice from heaven resounded, saying: ‘Why, Moses, dost thou strive in vain? Thy last second is at hand.’ Moses instantly stood up for prayer, and said: ‘Lord of the world! Be mindful of the day on which Thou didst reveal Thyself to me in the bush of thorns, and be mindful also of the day when I ascended into heaven and during forty days partook of neither food nor drink. Thou, Gracious and Merciful, deliver me not into the hand of [Satan].’ God replied: ‘I have heard thy prayer. I Myself shall attend to thee and bury thee.’ Moses now sanctified himself as do the Seraphim that surround the Divine Majesty, whereupon God from the highest heavens revealed Himself to receive Moses’ soul. When Moses beheld the Holy One, blessed be His Name, he fell upon his face and said: ‘Lord of the world! In love didst Thou create the world, and in love Thou guidest it. Treat me also with love, and deliver me not into the hands of the Angel of Death.’ A heavenly voice sounded and said: ‘Moses, be not afraid. “Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.”‘”
“With God descended from heaven three angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Zagzagel. Gabriel arranged Moses’ couch, Michael spread upon it a purple garment, and Zagzagel laid down a woolen pillow. God stationed Himself over Moses’ head, Michael to his right, Gabriel to his left, and Zagzagel at his feet, whereupon God addressed Moses: ‘Cross thy feet,’ and Moses did so. He then said, ‘Fold thy hands and lay them upon thy breast,’ and Moses did so. Then God said, ‘Close thine eyes,’ and Moses did so. Then God spake to Moses’ soul: ‘My daughter, one hundred and twenty years had I decreed that thou shouldst dwell in this righteous man’s body, but hesitate not now to leave it, for thy time has run….I Myself shall take thee to the highest heavens and let thee dwell under the Throne of My Glory’….When Moses heard these words, he permitted his soul to leave him, saying to her: ‘Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.’ God thereupon took Moses’ soul by kissing him on the mouth.” (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews)
“As a mother takes her child and kisses it, and then lays it down to sleep in its own bed; so did the Lord kiss the soul of Moses away to be with him for ever, and then he hid is body we know not where.” (Spurgeon)
- And He buried him in a valley: Notably, the Lord buried Moses. This was more complicated than it sounds, because the devil contended with God over the body of Moses.
- Jude 9 speaks of an occasion when Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses. Apparently, there was a contention over the body of Moses, and according to Jude Michael the archangel won this contest as he appealed to the Lord’s authority: “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet why Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses is less clear.
- Some say that the devil wanted to use Moses’ body as an object of worship to lead Israel astray into idolatry. Others think that Satan wanted to desecrate the body of Moses, and claimed a right to it because Moses had murdered an Egyptian.
But consider that God had another purpose for Moses’ body, which Satan wanted to defeat: Moses appears in bodily form with Elijah (whose body was caught up to heaven [2 Kings 2]) at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3); and perhaps Moses and Elijah are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
- Apparently, God had a purpose to fulfill with the body of Moses before the time of general resurrection, so God made special provision to bury the body of Moses Himself. And, perhaps, God preserved the body of Moses in some way. God wanted to protect the body of Moses, so no one knows his grave to this day. Seemingly, they searched for it (as would be expected) out of a desire to memorialize this great leader of the nation.
- Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died: Moses’ life was neatly divided into thirds. He spent 40 years as the crown prince of Egypt, 40 years as a humble shepherd in the wilderness, and 40 years leading the children of Israel to their destiny in the Promised Land. The first two-thirds were in preparation for the last one third. Moses was willing to let God prepare him for 80 years.
- His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor abated: This confirmed what was observed at Deuteronomy 31:1 (I can no longer go out and come in). Moses was not hindered by physical infirmity, but by the command of God.
- The children of Israel wept…the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended. As great as Moses was, the days of mourning for him ended. It was time to move on. God’s program did not end with Moses, nor does it end with any man. The torch is passed and God’s work goes on.
The legacy of Moses. (9) Joshua’s leadership in Israel.
Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
- For Moses had laid his hands on him: Moses’ prayer for Joshua was answered. Joshua was indeed full of the spirit of wisdom. Best of all, the children of Israel heeded him. The real test of leadership is to see if people actually follow you.
(10-12) The unique legacy of Moses.
But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
- Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses: Joshua was a capable leader for Israel, and God’s work went on, but that did not diminish Moses’ unique legacy.
- Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses: Several things made Moses unique.
- Whom the Lord knew face to face: Moses was unique because of his personal intimacy with God. The term face to face does not literally mean “physical face to physical face,” but it has the idea of free and unhindered communication. Moses had a remarkably intimate relationship with God.
- All the signs and wonders with the Lord sent him to do: Moses was unique in the number and kind of miraculous works he was associated with.
- Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses: There were greater rulers over Israel than Moses, greater leaders, greater prophets, and greater priests. But before the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah, there was never one man who held all offices so gloriously as Moses did.
- “In him were concentrated all the great offices of Israel – prophet, ruler, judge and priest. If some who held these offices were great, Moses was the greatest of them all.” (Thompson)
Moses obeyed this command of God as willingly as any other, though it seemed harder. In this he resembled our Lord Jesus Christ. But he died in honour, in peace, and in the most easy manner; the Saviour died upon the disgraceful and torturing cross. Moses died very easily; he died at the mouth of the Lord, according to the will of God. The servants of the Lord, when they have done all their other work, must die at last, and be willing to go home, whenever their Master sends for them, Ac 21:13. The place of his burial was not known. If the soul be at rest with God, it is of little consequence where the body rests. There was no decay in the strength of his body, nor in the vigour and activity of his mind; his understanding was as clear, and his memory as strong as ever. This was the reward of his services, the effect of his extraordinary meekness. There was solemn mourning for him. Yet how great soever our losses have been, we must not give ourselves up to sorrow. If we hope to go to heaven rejoicing, why should we go to the grave mourning?