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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Deuteronomy 34

Verses 1-12

The Death Itself (34:1-12)

The story of Moses’ death is constructed out of pieces contributed by several writers. These are now woven together into an effective narrative concerning the great leader’s last moments and an estimate of his importance in the purpose of God and the life of Israel.

First is recorded his viewing of the land from the top of Pisgah. This has been described in detail twice already (see the comment on 3:23-29; see also 32:48-52). One can stand at this spot today and confirm the general accuracy of the description of the view. Gilead lies to the north in Transjordan. Dan and Naphtali are the northernmost areas of the territory better known as Galilee. Ephraim and Manasseh constitute the territory later known as Samaria. Judah lies straight to the west (although one cannot see "as far as the Western Sea" because the mountain range at Jerusalem is about the same height as the Abarim Mountains at Pisgah). The Negeb is the southern area, from Beer-sheba to Kadesh-barnea (which is, strictly speaking, not visible from Pisgah because of the rising vapor of the Dead Sea and the height of the mountains around Hebron). The Plain is defined here as the Jordan Valley from around Jericho to Zoar (the southern shore of the Dead Sea).

The circumstances of Moses’ death are not recorded. He is said to have been 120 years old—clear-eyed and vigorous. The figure is probably a round number, signifying three generations of 40 years each. "Natural force," an unusual word in Hebrew, means apparently "life-force." As an adjective, it means "moist" or "fresh" and is used in connection with growing or freshly cut wood (Genesis 30:37; Ezekiel 17:24). The writer wants to say that Moses did not die as a result of sickness or old age; he died because God willed it so—because his work was done, his service fulfilled.

The burial place is said to be unknown, but it is located generally as "in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor" (vs. 6). This valley is probably one of the ravines below Nebo and Pisgah, leading down into the Plain of the Jordan. It was here that Israel was camped when Moses addressed the nation in the sermons recorded in Deuteronomy (3:29; 4:45-46). It was appropriate that the great leader should be laid to rest where an important phase of his life’s work was accomplished.

The leadership now passes to Joshua, a man commissioned by Moses (Numbers 27:18-23) and "full of the spirit of wisdom"; that is, of practical sagacity and administrative ability as requisites to the carrying out of the divine will.

The book ends with a glowing estimate of Moses’ significance: he was the greatest of the prophets, for—unlike all others—he stood in face-to-face relationship with God and learned his will for the life of Israel; and his mighty deeds as God’s deliverer from the bondage of Egypt eclipse the accomplishments of any other servant of God.

However, it was given to another writer centuries later to see, after a yet greater Exodus had occurred (Luke 9:31), that "Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant . . . but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son" (Hebrews 3:5-6).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/deuteronomy-34.html.