The Death of Moses

A Blessed Reward Pending

“And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10, texts from ASV).

The Death of Moses

Moses had served Jehovah faithfully for more than 40 years. His leadership of the nation was almost an impossible task. Yet he persevered through the people’s complaints, murmurings, and unbelief. Very few others could have borne the weight. For good reason, Jehovah chose the “meekest” man on the face of the earth! (Numbers 12:3).

Truly, Moses is an outstanding character. This noble man had many roles in his life. These roles include a general of Egypt,1 shepherd in Midian, father and husband, as well as a judge and leader of the nation. His wonderful relationship with Jehovah God, on a personal level, was unseen again until the appearance of Jesus. There is a clear prophetic connection to Jesus given in Deuteronomy 18:15. “Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.”

(1) Exodus contains no mention of Moses’ military career in Egypt. However, Josephus writes that he was a general in Egypt. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 10, Section 1 (translation by William Whiston).

Sadly, Moses made a critical error in not obeying God’s direction in connection with the water of Meribah, and was told that he and Aaron would not enter into the Land of Promise. The book of Deuteronomy is an account of Moses’ final words to Israel, given just one month before the nation, under the leadership of Joshua, entered the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 1:1‑3, “These are the words which Moses spake unto all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea. And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that Jehovah had given him in commandment unto them.”

In all, Moses gave four addresses to Israel, evidently just days before his death. Here is a summary overview of Moses’ messages in the book of Deuteronomy.

● The first address recaps their history and runs from Chapter 1:6 to Chapter 4:40.
● The second address rehearses the Law and runs from Chapter 5 through Chapter 26.
● The third address includes comments from Moses and the elders, Chapters 27 and 28.
● The fourth address is the Ratification of the Covenant, Chapters 29 and 30.
● In Chapter 31:1‑8 Joshua is appointed to be the successor of Moses.
● Chapter 32 is the poetic Song of Moses, “The Rock of Israel.”
● Lastly, Chapter 33 is Moses’ Blessing of the Tribes.

We can imagine the great emotion with which Moses spoke to the nation. His heart was dedicated to caring for and advising Israel in worshipping Jehovah. The assembled host likely received with tears his encouragements and warnings.

Moses began by reviewing the history of Israel’s challenges and mistakes and how marvelously God led them through the varied experiences. He included a very poignant and honest report of his request to Jehovah to let him enter the Promised Land.

“I besought Jehovah at that time, saying, O Lord Jehovah, thou hast begun to show thy servant thy greatness, and thy strong hand: for what god is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy mighty acts? Let me go over, I pray thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But Jehovah was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and Jehovah said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:23-26).

Sharing this personal and private exchange with the people of Israel must have elicited a great deal of sympathy for Moses. After all, they had failed many times, but Moses failed only once. The stern answer of Jehovah, saying “No” and “Don’t ask again,” must have reverberated with the people. This wonderful man was one of them!

The Law

In the second part of Moses’ exhortation to Israel, he recited and reviewed the Law. This takes most of the book of Deuteronomy. One gem in this recitation of the Law illustrates the role of a mediator. Deuteronomy 5:5, “I stood between Jehovah and you at that time, to show you the word of Jehovah: for ye were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into the mount.”

This comment from Moses beautifully defines the role and function of a Mediator between God and man. The Mediator “stands between” God and man. This permits a level of communication between God and those with whom He has a covenant. Moses foreshadowed the role that the antitypical Moses, Christ and the church, will have with Israel in God’s Kingdom. Like Moses, they will mediate the New Covenant between God and Israel.

We mark the beginning of the third address by noting that Moses is joined by others in speaking to Israel. Deuteronomy 27:1, “And Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people.” Deuteronomy 27:9, “And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel.”

As this was the “passing of the torch,” so to speak, Moses wanted to be sure the people saw the unanimity of purpose in all of their leadership. The authority after Moses, who would be Joshua and Eleazar, is with the agreement of all of the elders and priests.

This agreement with the obligations to their God is further emphasized in the same chapter. Moses restated a number of the laws of proper behavior and paused as all of the people said, “Amen,” i.e., I agree (Deuteronomy 27:11‑26).

Deuteronomy 28 continues with Moses charging the people further. This whole chapter is about consequences. Verses 1 to 14 describe the wonderful blessings Israel may expect from Jehovah if they obey His law and carry out His commandments. These are the blessed consequences of a nation with God’s favor.

By contrast, Moses lays out the dreadful consequences of disobedience to God’s law. Verses 15 to 68 list a series of terrible things that will befall an unfaithful Israel. They are awful to read. These consequences should have stricken fear into the hearts of the Israelites and served as a terrifying warning against deviating from Jehovah’s commandments.

But these chilling verses, sadly, turned out to be prophetic. As we read them today, we can identify in the history of Israel how they fell into the very consequences there listed.

In his fourth address, Moses concludes his words to the people with a call to renew in their hearts the words and spirit of the Law which God gave to them. There are several gems in this portion.

● In Deuteronomy 29:5, Moses reminds the people of a 40-year miracle. “I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxed old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxed old upon thy foot.”

● In Deuteronomy 29:14‑15, Moses wants the people to remember that the Law Covenant they made with Jehovah, they made for their posterity also. It was a commitment by the actual nation, made in perpetuity. “Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him that standeth here with us this day before Jehovah our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.”

● Moses also wanted to remind them of the exceptional position they had with their God. This special relationship permitted the secret things of Jehovah to be revealed to them forever. Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Love Jehovah Thy God

The last thing he says to the people is to stir them not only to obey their God, but also to love him! “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Joshua Appointed

After finishing his long dissertation and encouragement to the nation, Moses then turned to the next steps for Israel. With all of the turmoil about Moses’ leadership at the beginning of the 40 years, he felt it necessary to clearly authorize Joshua as the next leader of the people.

Moses starts with a rather personal admission. “Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. And he said unto them, I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: and Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan” (Deuteronomy 31:1, 2).

You can almost hear Moses’ weariness in these words. While he reminds the people of his age, we have confirmed later that there was no physical weakness. But the emotional toll of his years was significant. Likewise, when he says he can no longer go out and come in, he is not speaking of his physical strength, but rather of the decree of Jehovah that he would not go into the Promised Land.

Then he brings up Joshua and gives him his commission, witnessed by the whole nation. This is the public and formal transfer of divine authority to Joshua. “Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of good courage: for thou shalt go with this people into the land which Jehovah hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And Jehovah, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

Moses delivered two more messages to the nation. He spoke what has come to be known as The Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1‑43). We wonder if he sang these words since it is called a “song!” (Deuteronomy 31:30) Then comes Moses’ final blessing, enumerating each tribe of the nation, one by one, with a prophetic message.

Moses Departs

This brings us to the final scene of Moses’ life. “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And Jehovah showed him all the land” (Deuteronomy 34:1).

This must have been a bittersweet moment for Moses. At the end of the 40th year of wandering, he could see this wonderful land of Promise with his own eyes, the land which had been the hope of all Israel. They were about to enter in! But it would be without Moses. Certainly, the flow of mixed emotions in Moses’ heart must have been powerful.

Then, he died. Amazingly, he was just as robust then as in his earlier life! “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Jehovah preserved his physical strength and mental clarity throughout the entire 40 years. This was most certainly appropriate, given the heavy weight of responsibilities he was asked to bear.

We are told that the burial place of Moses was in an unknown location in the land of Moab. There is a curious and interesting side plot regarding the body of Moses. “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).

Presumably, God buried the body of Moses in a hidden place to prevent the Israelites from mummifying the body. Coming from Egypt, they would have known how to do this. Having the body would be a temptation to idolatry. The text in Jude suggests this. Why would Satan want the body? Clearly, it would be for deceptive purposes against the people of Israel.

The hidden earthly grave is also appropriate, considering that Moses frequently is a type of Jesus and the Church. Their hope and inheritance are heavenly, not earthly. Consequently, it is consistent that the prophetic type not show an earthly grave since the antitype is heavenly.2

(2) See Question Book, Q806, for a more detailed explanation.

We might wonder why God showed Moses the land he could not enter. From one standpoint. it might be seen as cruel. But surely, if God had asked Moses if he wanted to see the Promised Land from the summit of Mount Nebo before he died, he would have said “yes.” We should also remember that there is no sense of time passing in death. So, from Moses’ standpoint, the moment his life ended and he closed his eyes, the next moment he will be back in Israel as part of the resurrection of the Ancient Worthies. What joy will surely fill his heart in that moment!

“The children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping in the mourning for Moses were ended” (Deuteronomy 34:8). The life of Moses concludes with a beautiful and inspiring epitaph written under divine inspiration:

“There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which Jehovah sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all the mighty hand, and in all the great terror, which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

%d bloggers like this: