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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Deuteronomy 34

Verses 1-2

XXXIV.
DEATH OF MOSES.

(1) Pisgah.—See Numbers 21:20. The word seems to mean a height.

(1, 2) The Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali . . . unto the utmost sea—that is, He showed him all the land which was to be given to these several tribes. Whether He then showed it to him under the names which are given here or not is a question we cannot answer. Many deeply interesting queries suggest themselves here. Did Moses go up alone? or did Joshua accompany him? Who wrote these particulars of what was shown to him, and how were the particulars known? I am disposed to believe that as Elijah and Elisha “still went on and talked,” until that chariot of fire appeared which “parted them both asunder,” so it was with Moses and Joshua—that Moses’ minister attended him until Jehovah withdrew him from his sight. But it speaks well for Joshua’s character—in fact, it is altogether characteristic of the man—that in this record of the death of the great lawgiver he should have concealed himself and every other figure from sight except Jehovah and His servant Moses. Rashi, in his comment on this scene, says that the Lord showed Moses not only the land, but what should happen therein, in every part. But of this we know nothing. We know that the spectacle was complete. Probably “the eye that was not dim” was enabled to see farther than human eye ever saw from such a height before. “The utmost sea” is full fifty miles away from that spot.

Verse 3

(3) And the southi.e., the Negeb.

And the plaini.e., the plain of Jordan.

The valley of Jericho.—The city of palm trees may or may not be identical with that place.

Verse 4

(4) This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it.—“That thou mayest go and say to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, The oath which He sware to you, the Holy One, blessed be He! hath performed it,” is Raehi’s comment. But in Paradise they scarcely needed Moses to tell them of His faithfulness.

Verse 5

(5) So (better, and) Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.—Literally, upon the mouth of the Lord, and hence the Jewish interpretation that he died by a kiss! But the language of the sacred narrative is too simple to need even this interpretation. For many years it had been the habit of Moses to do everything “at the mouth of the Lord.” Only one fatal mistake mars the record of obedience. It was but one last act of obedience to lie down and die at the word of Jehovah. It is extraordinary, when we consider the story of Moses’ last days, how wholly self is cast aside. There is no anxiety about the unseen world, and no positive expression of hope. St. Paul says far more than Moses about his prospects in the life to come. To Moses, death is a source of anxiety on account of his people, and a source of pain to himself, because he cannot go over Jordan and see the works of Jehovah on the other side. Beyond this, his reticence is absolute, and his calm silence is sublime. But he died in the company of Jehovah, and may well have felt that he would not lose His presence in the other world. “Underneath were the everlasting arms,” as he had said but just before. Jehovah was with him, and he feared no evil. He was so fearless, that it does not seem to have occurred to him to say that he did not fear.

Verse 6

(6) And he buried him.—Moses is alone in this honour. The Son of God was buried by sinful men. Moses was buried by Jehovah.

But no man knoweth of his sepulchre.—I have always believed that the contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9) was in fact, a struggle for his body—that Moses was to be raised from the dead, and that Satan resisted his resurrection. When the contest took place we cannot say. But Moses, who died and was buried, and Elijah, who was translated, “appeared in glory” on the holy mount, and the New Testament gives no hint of difference between them. We do not know how Moses could have appeared as a disembodied spirit so as to be seen of men.

Verse 8

(8) The children of Israel wept for Moses . . . thirty days . . .—As they did for Aaron, his brother (Numbers 20:29). It is remarkable that the burial and the tomb of Aaron are only alluded to in Deuteronomy 10:6. (See Note and Excursus on that passage.) Miriam was buried in Kadesh (Numbers 20:1).

Verse 9

(9) And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom.—Probably we should connect this with the preceding verse, “The days of mourning for Moses were ended,” and ended more naturally because Joshua proved so well able to meet the wants of the people.

Moses had laid his hands upon him.—See Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23. It is the first example of “ordination” in Holy Scripture.

And did as the Lord commanded Moses.—Not “commanded Joshua.” Joshua would not separate himself from the law given by his Master. Is it not true that when the Israel of God hearken to the true Joshua, they must needs do as the Lord commanded Moses?[11]

[11] It may be worth while to remark that nowhere does this phrase occur so often as in the record of the setting up of the tabernacle in the last chapter of Exodus. Seven times it is written there that all was done as the Lord commanded Moses. Is it not a figure of the “true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man”—the temple of His Body, which was prepared “to do Thy will, O God”?

Verse 10

(10) And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.—Probably these words are later than the time of Joshua, when longer experience gave men the power to see how far inferior the prophets were to their great predecessor in this respect. The difference is most clearly set forth in Numbers 12:7-4.12.8. (See Notes on that passage.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/deuteronomy-34.html. 1905.