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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Deuteronomy 34

Introduction

VII. MOSES’ LAST ACTS CHS. 31-34

Having completed the major addresses to the Israelites recorded to this point in Deuteronomy, Moses needed only to make a few final arrangements before Israel was ready to enter the land. The record of these events concludes the book. Chapters 31-34 constitute several appendices to the main body of Deuteronomy (cf. Judges 17-21; 2 Samuel 21-24).

"This final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. Of special importance is the subject of the royal succession, which is also prominent in the extra-biblical suzerainty treaties . . . This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as dynastic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). The testamentary assignment of kingdom inheritance to the several tribes of Israel (ch. 33) reckons with the status of all God’s people as royal heirs. Included also are two other standard elements in the international treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the directions for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34)." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 197.]

Verses 1-12

E. Moses’ death and burial: narrative epilogue ch. 34

"A testament is of force only after the death of the testator [cf. Hebrews 9:16-17]. So the Deuteronomic Covenant in its testamentary aspect . . . would not become operative until after the death of Moses. Only then would Joshua succeed to the role of vicegerent of God over Israel, and only then under the leadership of Joshua could the tribes, according to the declarations of the Lord, enter into their inheritance in Canaan. It was, therefore, appropriate that the Deuteronomic treaty should close with the record of Moses’ death, which in effect notarizes the treaty. That the testamentary significance of Moses’ death is in view is evidenced by the accompanying attention given to the land of Israel’s inheritance and to Joshua’s accession to the royal mediatorship of the covenant." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 203.]

Moses proceeded up Mt. Nebo as God had instructed him (Deuteronomy 32:48-52) and viewed the land across the Jordan River that God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants. What Moses saw was not all that God had promised Abraham (Deuteronomy 34:4; cf. Genesis 15:18) but the part that Israel was about to enter and hopefully possess.

"It was necessary for Jesus to die before entering his rest, because he was the true Mediator who came to reconcile his sinful people unto God; Moses must die without entering the typical rest because as the OT mediator he had by official transgression disqualified himself for [sic] completing the mission which prefigured that of the sinless Son of God. Unlike Moses, who after his death was succeeded by Joshua (Deuteronomy 33 [sic 34]:9), the Messianic Mediator would succeed himself after his death because it was not possible that death should hold him." [Note: Ibid.]

"The fact . . . that the Lord buried His servant Moses [Deuteronomy 34:6], and no man knows of his sepulchre, is in perfect keeping with the relation in which Moses stood to the Lord while he was alive. . . . ’If Jehovah . . . would not suffer the body of Moses to be buried by man, it is but natural to seek for the reason in the fact that He did not intend to leave him to corruption, but, when burying it with His own hand, imparted a power to it which preserved it from corruption, and prepared the way for it to pass into the same form of existence to which Enoch and Elijah were taken, without either death or burial.’" [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:515-16. Their quotation is from Kurtz.]

Another explanation for Moses’ unusual burial is simply that God chose to bury His faithful servant rather than allowing the Israelites to do so. Such a burial is a testimony to the greatness of Moses.

"Most likely the sepulchre remained hidden precisely to prevent the Israelites from taking Moses’ body with them to Canaan, thus violating the divine command to disallow Moses entry there." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 453.]

Another view follows.

"By the time this last chapter was written, the burial of Moses was so far in the past that the location of his grave was uncertain to the writer." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 478.]

This statement rests on the assumption that this account of Moses’ death was written long after the event. Moses was 120 years old when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7). He had begun his ministry of covenant mediator on one mountain (i.e., Sinai), and now he ended that ministry on another. The Israelites mourned for him for 30 days (Deuteronomy 34:8) as they had done for Aaron (Numbers 20:29). This long a period of mourning was evidently conventional for a great person, [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p. 405.] though the normal time of mourning a loved one was apparently seven days (Genesis 50:10).

"The chapter provides the final statement regarding the Lord’s refusal to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. It thus links up with an important theme in the Pentateuch: Moses, who lived under the Law, was not allowed to enter into God’s blessings because he failed ’to believe’ (Numbers 20:12). According to this chapter, Moses did not die of old age-’his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone’ (Deuteronomy 34:7). His death was punishment, just as the generation that died in the wilderness during the forty years was punished (Numbers 14:22-23). . . . From the perspective of the Pentateuch as a whole, Moses died young. He did not live the many centuries of the early patriarchs before the Flood. Thus at the close of the Pentateuch the life of Moses becomes the last example of the consequences of the Fall of the first man and woman. Like them, he was not allowed to enjoy the blessing of God’s good land." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 478. Cf. Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 453-54.]

Many students of Moses’ life have noticed similarities to Christ’s and regard him as a type of Christ. Both men were divinely chosen deliverers (Exodus 3:7-10; John 3:16; Acts 7:25). Both experienced rejection by Israel and so turned to the Gentiles (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:23-29; Acts 18:5-6; cf. Acts 28:17-28). Both gained a bride during their rejection by Israel (Exodus 2:16-21; Matthew 12:14-21; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:30-32). Following his period of rejection, Moses again appeared as Israel’s deliverer and was accepted, as Jesus will be (Exodus 4:29-31; Romans 11:24-26; cf. Acts 15:14-17). Both were prophets (Acts 3:22-23), advocates (Exodus 32:31-35; 1 John 2:1-2), intercessors (Exodus 17:1-6; Hebrews 7:25), and leaders or kings (Deuteronomy 33:4-5; Isaiah 55:4; Hebrews 2:10; Revelation 19). Moses was faithful as a servant over another’s house whereas Christ is faithful as a Son over His own house (Hebrews 3:5-6).

When Moses was dead, Joshua picked up the reins of leadership with the support of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 34:9). God gave him special wisdom for his responsibilities.

"What is stressed here is that Joshua was ’filled with the spirit of wisdom’ (Deuteronomy 34:9) and thus able to do the work of God. Like Joseph (Genesis 41:37 [sic 38]) and Bezalel (Exodus 31:3), who were filled with ’the Spirit of God,’ Joshua was able to do God’s work successfully. Thus this last chapter of the Pentateuch returns to a central theme, begun already in the first chapter of Genesis: ’and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep’ (Genesis 1:2). It is the Spirit of God that is the means of doing the work of God [cf. Ezekiel 36:26]." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 478.]

The final verses in the book (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) and the Pentateuch give an evaluation of Moses’ ministry. They are his literary epitaph (cf. 2 Samuel 23:1-7). Someone other than Moses probably added them after his death. Moses was remarkable in several respects that the writer identified. His intimate relationship with God was unique (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Numbers 12:6-8). The miracles God did through him in Egypt and the powerful acts he performed in the Israelites’ sight were also noteworthy. He performed many of these signs when God gave the Mosaic Covenant at Mt. Sinai.

". . . Moses was never equaled by any subsequent prophet until the coming of Jesus Christ." [Note: Schultz, p. 123. Cf. Hebrews 3:1-6.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-34.html. 2012.