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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 34

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-12

(See the Deuteronomy Book Comments for Introductory content and Homiletic suggestions).



Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Deuteronomy 34 consists of the following parts:

1. The vision of the Promised Land accorded to Moses from the summit of Pisgah; his eyes enabled him to see all the land that God originally promised to Abraham.

2. The unique death and burial of Moses. No other man in human history died this way or was buried this way. He was not sick, though one hundred and twenty years old, his eye not dim, his strength unabated. He died not from any natural causes. In Geikie’s Hours with the Bible there are several very touching legends, mythical of course, concerning the death of Aaron and Moses, and the one concerning Moses is that after he was stretched out on the place where God told him to lie down, Jehovah called to the soul to come out of the body, but the soul would not come. He spake to the soul again, but the soul would not leave the body. Then God leaned over and kissed him and the soul went up to heaven on the wings of that kiss. It was God who buried him, and no man was ever able to find the place, the reason of which is obvious, viz.: the Israelites would have deified the sepulchre of Moses; would have made pilgrimages to it and made it a shrine of worship. The New Testament gives us an additional particular concerning the body of Moses, that you do not find anywhere in the Old Testament, concerning a contest over that body between the Devil and Michael. The interpretation of that remarkable New Testament passage we must reserve until we come to study the book in which it is given.

The next thing set forth in this chapter is the mourning for thirty days, then after a reference to Joshua comes this encomium which is our text: "There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face, in all the signs and 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." That places Moses in a unique position. Special stress is laid upon his miracle-working power. In fact, in teaching the Bible I do not so much discuss miracles when I come to them in the life of Christ as I discuss them in the life of Moses. The miracles by Moses constitute the first great group and are surpassed in wonder by no miracles ever wrought on the face of the earth by anybody, Christ and the apostles not excepted. In studying the Bible this is the place to study miracles as they are set forth in the life of Moses.

Now from the text, "There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses," I want to discuss his character and his greatness. In our studies in Exodus we considered the materials for the life of Moses; biblical, Jewish, Mohammedan, heathen, modern, archaeological, and legendary.

We found the biblical material gathered mainly from the Pentateuch, but somewhat from the other Old Testament books, and somewhat from the New Testament references, to be really the only reliable historical material, except that the results of modern archaeological research, fairly interpreted, confirm the Mosaic history. This is one of the most important contributions of archaeology. For quite a while it was claimed that the Mosaic period was a period of ignorance, that the people could neither read nor write, but what a revelation archaeology has flashed upon that false contention, showing that it was an intensely literary period, and demonstrating that Moses made no such mistakes as the higher critics a long time ago were accustomed to attribute to him. So that with this amount of material it is not difficult to construct a connected history of this, the greatest man from Adam to the New Testament time. No other man in all that vast period of time has left such an impress on the human race. The most illustrious heroes of antiquity in profane stories are, when compared to Moses, as the stars in the solar system to the sun.

He was the youngest child of Arnram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron became illustrious through association with him. He was born during the period of Egyptian bondage during the oppression of the Israelites under the dynasty that "knew not Joseph." We find a gracious providence protecting his infancy, and your attention in studying Exodus was called to the following elements of preparation, which account for his greatness. I have been compelled on suitable occasions to remark that only prepared men ever accomplished great things. The elements of his preparation were as follows:

1. The faith of his parents trained his early years so effectually that he never in the marvellous vicissitudes of after life forgot that he was a child of Abraham and bore on his body the mark of the covenant which isolated him from all other nations.

2. His training in the Egyptian court. This is a very great element of his preparation for his life work, for according to Stephen he became learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds. So far, therefore, as this court training and opportunity could afford, he was an expert in literature, war, agriculture, legislation, jurisprudence, medicine, organization, and comparative religions.

3. The third element of his preparation consisted of the crisis that came in his life when forty years old, through a revelation that was made to him by Jehovah that he was destined to deliver his people from bondage. The fact of such a revelation is evident form Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:23-25. The entrance into his heart of a desire to visit his brethren and to defend them from oppression, and the supposition on his part that they would know that God by his hand was giving deliverance to Israel, all abundantly show that God had appeared unto him and commissioned him. It was this revelation that necessitated the great life decision recorded in Hebrews 11:24-26: "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked unto the recompense of reward." But as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, there must have been a revelation to him which, coupled with his training in the promises and prophecies vouchsafed to his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, impelled him to the decisive step which he took. Revelation touching both time and eternity is the basis of his faith. He made no mistake in his call to be a deliverer, nor in the choice following the call. But he did make a mistake in not leaving it to God to determine the time of the deliverance and its method for accomplishment. When he was forty years old, he presumptuously and rashly "butted in," as one might say, Pharaoh not ready, not sufficiently prepared, his people not ready and Canaan not ready to be occupied. In rashness and presumption he struck too soon. So we find the next element of his preparation:

4. Forty years of retirement and meditation in Midian. Forty years more of preparation were needed all around. The meekness and patience of subsequent years could not fruit from his prosperity in Egypt. "Tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, and experience hope." There must be in preparation for great things a time for meditation and reflection, when the mind turns over and assimilates the knowledge acquired. Christ was retired until thirty, John the Baptist until thirty and Paul for three years in Arabia. We are so busy in modern times and want to rush out so speedily into life that we are not willing to take time to reflect or meditate. Moses needed a greater knowledge of that Sinaitic peninsula to be the scene of another forty years of activity. In the quiet pastoral life in Midian it is very probable that Moses wrote first the book of Job. When we come to that book, I think I can give you an unanswerable argument in proof that Moses was its author and that it was the first book of the Bible written, and that it was suggested by the undeserved affliction of his people over in Egypt. Job’s case was another burning bush case. And it is almost certain, indeed it is morally certain, that he wrote the book of Genesis in that period of retirement, because when we commence to read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, there is always a presupposition that the people are familiar with the facts of Genesis.

5. The last element of his preparation comes with the miracle of the burning bush and all the attendant history.

Now, as we have just finished our study of the Pentateuch written by Moses, let us fix our minds upon the forces from which character resulted and the elements of his greatness. Character is not an accident. Character cannot be improvised. Character is a result, a crystallization of preceding causes. We find that the great character of Moses is the result,

1. Of faithful family training. Oliver Wendell Holmes, as I have told you before, when asked when you should commence the education of a child, said, "Commence with its grandmother," and in another instance says that "man is an omnibus in which all of his ancestors ride." The reason why so many men of genius are never great is the lack of family training.

2. It was the result of personal faith in God and a sense of personal responsibility to God. "What a man thinks, that he is." There can be no greater mistake than the hasty, ill-considered statement, "It makes no difference what a man believes." His character was the result of his faith.

3. It was the result of his conviction concerning the future life. It is a slander upon the Old Testament to say that it discovers nothing of future life. To Moses’ mind the world to come was as clear as it is to your mind, and he had "respect unto the recompense of reward." No man could deliberately turn from earthly power, position, honor, riches, pleasures, and take the position which he took of reproach and toil and poverty unless prompted by a thought of the life to come.

4. His character was the result of marvelous secular education. Our Lord has not made great learning a condition of the ministerial office, but it is a fact that the wider your range of general information, the more you are acquainted with affairs, the more your mind is disciplined in the study of the things taught in colleges and universities, certainly the greater your power will be as a preacher. Moses had a secular education ahead of any other man of his time.

5. It was the result of great personal trials and long continued discipline. Character comes out of a furnace and no man can lay any very loud claims to character who has not been tried. He does not know what he will be when he passes through the fire.

6. It was the result of long continued service and labor. Moses was a worker, and the man who works develops character. How can an idle person have character?

7. It was the result of profound meditation and reflection. We may know a lot, just keep on knowing, knowing and knowing, but if we do not assimilate that knowledge, the mind becomes an old garret full of odds and ends and scraps, none available when needed. It is not the quantity you eat but what you digest that builds up your body, and you cannot assimilate mind food without meditation. The Duchess DeBerri once said, "If associating with the twelve apostles kept me from solitary meditative thoughts of God, and prayer, I would give up the company of the twelve apostles."

8. His character was the result of great opportunities and high positions carefully utilized.

Now, looking at the result of such forces, what do we discover in Moses?

1. He was a man of piety. Nothing on earth can make up for the lack of personal piety. Gifts cannot do it.

2. A man of wisdom. Somebody – and a schoolteacher – recently asked me to give a synopsis of a lecture delivered before his school on the distinction between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. "Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers."

3. He was a man of decision, as is evident by the choice he made. Many a poor fellow spends his life astraddle of the fence, like Mr. Lincoln’s ox that jumped half-way over the fence and then could not butt the dogs that were baying him in front nor kick the dogs that were biting him behind.

4. He was a man of great organizing capacity, or great administrative ability.

5. A faithful man in all offices of trust. That is one of the tributes borne to him in the letter to the Hebrews.

6. He was a man of surpassing meekness and patience. He did fly off the handle one time, but some of us stay off the handle.

7. He was a man of sublime courage. And what a high quality of courage!

8. He was an intensely patriotic man: "If thou wilt not forgive their sin; blot my name out of thy book."

9. He was an intensely unselfish man. I remember once when I was a boy being much impressed with this: A newly elected representative of Drew County, Arkansas, was approached to know if he was going to obey what his constituents would tell him to do. He said, "First, I am God’s man. I will do nothing that violates my idea of personal responsibility to God. Second, I am my nation’s man. I will do nothing that will tend to disrupt the whole country. Third,. I am my State’s man. I will do nothing for this particular county that is prejudicial to the interests of the whole State. Fourth, I am my own man. I will do nothing that will destroy my own individuality. And now, if a man who is God’s man, his Nation’s man, his State’s man, and his own man, is allowed to represent your people, I will represent you." It made a very great impression on my mind.

Now, having such a character, in what phases did his greatness display itself?

First of all, as a historian. Common custom calls Herodotus the father of history) but what is Herodotus compared to Moses? Moses gives us the only history of a third part of the time so far allotted to this world.

He was a great legislator. All civilization to-day is bottomed on the Mosaic legislation. He was a great jurist; the principles of law and equity are better set forth by Moses than in all the publications of the chancellors of England and the Supreme Court of the United States.

He was a great poet, as we have found in considering the song of the Red Sea, the song just before he passed away, Psalm 90, written in his old age, the benediction which he pronounced upon his people, and his high thought in the book of Job, illustrative of the great problem, the undeserved afflictions of his people.

He was a great orator. Whoever can read and study Deuteronomy intelligently and then deny that Moses was a master orator) is not intelligent, if you will permit such a statement. He was a great prophet. Take the prophecies of his Levitical legislation, the types. Who can understand Christ who has not understood the paschal Lamb, the two goats on the day of atonement, the red heifer, the brazen serpent, and multitudinous others? Then the prophecy concerning Christ and his great prophecies in Deuteronomy concerning his people that have been fulfilling ever since his time, and some yet to be fulfilled. In every land on the earth today there stand living monuments to attest the accuracy of the forecasts of his prophetic mind.

He was a great mediator between God and man. God selected him to mediate, and the people selected him to mediate. In a sense, with one hand he touched divinity and with the other he touched humanity.

He was a type of Christ. He represents the people before God and represents God before the people, and in a most remarkable way. His mediation appears in his powerful intercession when the people sin; he would come to God, state the sin, then plead for its pardon.

Now let us look at his faults. Ingersoll was accustomed to speak of the mistakes of Moses. The first one that we are able to discover comes after God said to him, "You shall deliver Israel." He rushed at it, not leaving to God to determine when and how, and started a plan of his own by killing that Egyptian, and that fault, as is usually the case, became the father of the next fault. You know when a man "butts in" prematurely and gets "sawed off," his pride is so wounded that the next time he will "sulk in his tent."

When God came to him at the burning bush, he was still so sore that God almost had to drag him by the hair of his head to make him try again. That was his second fault.

The third fault was neglecting to circumcise his children, and he came within an inch of losing his life by it. His wife was the cause of this, but a man must not let his wife keep him from obeying God.

The fourth sin that he committed was when he spoke ill-advisedly with his lips at Kadesh, and forgetting that the rock must be smitten but once, and forgetting that the waters flowed afterwards by petition and not by smiting, he violated God’s word and struck the rock. For 120 years he had carried this burden, like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders; he had been nagged, he had been misunderstood, slandered and misrepresented, and just then his superb patience gave away. When I look at it, I feel that I want to lift my hat to the man whose patience gave way just one time.


1. Who probably wrote Deuteronomy 34?

2. State the items of its contents.

3. What constitutes the death of Moses the most unique death of history?

4. Give a legend concerning his death.

5. What additional particular concerning Moses’ body found in the New Testament?

6. What his encomium in this chapter?

7. Upon what is special stress laid in the life of Moses, and why?

8. What the materials for a life of Moses?

9. What his impress on the ages, and how does he compare with the men of profane history?

10. What the circumstances of his birth and childhood, his parentage and the other members of his family?

11. What the elements of preparation for his life work?

12. What three great periods of his life?

13. What did the faith of his parents do for him?

14. Of what did his learning at the Egyptian court consist?

15. What the great crisis of his life, and what mistake did he make relative to it?

16. Why the forty years in Midian and what other Bible examples?

17. What the last element of his preparation?

18. What the forces which contributed to the formation of his character?

19. What does Oliver Wendell Holmes say of family training?

20. What the relation of his faith to his character?

21. Did Moses know of the future life? What the evidence?

22. What the importance of secular education?

23. What the importance of trials in relation to character?

24. What the relation of labor to character?

25. What the importance of meditation and reflection in relation to character?

26. What the importance of utilizing opportunities in relation to character?

27. What the resultant character?

28. In what phases did his greatness display itself?

29. What his antitype?

30. What his faults?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/deuteronomy-34.html.
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