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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 34

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-12

CRITICAL NOTES.—This chapter, written after death of Moses, once formed an introduction to book of Joshua.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4. Hoses ascends Nebo. Pisgah height, of which Nebo a peak; from which extensive prospect of land east of Jordan to Dan. Not Laish-Dan (Judges 18:27) which was not in Gilead. Probably a town in north of Peræa. Utmost sea, Mediterranean, beyond which no land. Zoar, southern extremity of Dead sea (cf. Genesis 19:22). See, really with the naked eyes miraculously strengthened.

Deuteronomy 34:5-6. Death and Burial of Moses. Word, lit. at the mouth of the Lord. “The sense clear from Genesis 45:21. Vu’g. correctly “jubente Domino.” It denotes that Moses died, not because his vital powers were exhausted, but at the sentence of God, and as a punishment for his sin, of Deuteronomy 32:51.—(Speak. Com.) Buried. God buried him, an honour perhaps designed to sustain the authority of Moses, which might have been impaired through punishment. Sepulchre. Not merely lest he should become an object of superstitious honour, for Jews not prone to this particular form of error. But, bearing in mind the appearance at Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-10) and what is said by Luke 5:9, we may conjecture that Moses after death passed into same state with Enoch and Elijah; and that his sepulchre could not be found, because shortly translated from it (Speak. Com.)

Deuteronomy 34:10-12. The character of Moses. Joshua filled with the spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9) of practical wisdom in manifold action (Isaiah 11:2); but not like Moses, gifted with power to work signs and miracles, to found a kingdom and create a nation. None equalled him (except Jesus) in official dignity, holy character and intimate friendship with God Knew God freely and familiarly conversed with him. This made him eminent above all prophets (cf. Numbers 12:8).

UNREALISED VISIONS.—Deuteronomy 34:1-8

The great parable of the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness has one of its profoundest applications in the death of the two great leaders, Moses and Aaron. Men above all others entitled to enter the land of promise; neither falling in battle nor dying a natural death, both doomed to die by the sentence of Jehovah whom they served, and under whom they were leading the people. This startles into a recognition of the tragedy of life and the impress of reality. Aaron, the high priest of God, though infirm, a noble and saintly man; in character and service second only to his brother, led by Moses and his son out of the midst of the wondering, weeping people to die in priestly robes, on the lonely summit of the Mount in Edom. Moses must die on Nebo, but die alone; neither son nor brother to close his dying eyes or receive his last words. Yet in its romantic incidents and tragic crisis, his death a fitting close of his great heroic life. The command to climb Nebo and die after such a vision, seems a penal infliction wantonly aggravated. Imagination can scarcely enhance the mystery and the awe, terrible in deliberateness and conditions. Only sublimest faith could implicitly obey such a mandate. It is a twofold parable. First, of the unrealised hope of human life.

1. The unrealised hopes of human life; the frequent disappointments, the unfulfilled purposes which so often characterise it; and which, to the affections and the philosophy of life, are so mysterious and painful. Every life a pilgrimage seeking its goal in some Canaan of rest. We picture it, struggle for it and sometimes on verge of realizing it. We “see it with our eyes;” but in mysterious providence of life, forbidden “to go over.” “Our purposes are broken off,” we are disappointed, and resent if faith prevent not. Mark conditions under which Moses died.
(1) While as yet his physical strength was undiminished, “His eye not dim,” etc.
(2) While as yet there seemed a great work for him to do, Jordan to cross, Jericho to conquer, Canaanites to drive out, etc.
(3) He died just when bright prospects filled his eye, when all the hope of his life was about to be fulfilled. What explains this mystery or justifies the ways of God to man? Cannot always judge, but learn: Success is not the chief nobility of life.
2. The chief blessedness of life is capability of service.
3. It is a blessed thing to die when the work has been so far done that it justifies the worker, demonstrates his character, vindicates his nobleness; so that he is not ashamed to leave it for completion; so that his friends are proud of its unfinished fragments. This not always given, but the faithful servants accepts the conditions.
4. The formal denial of our hopes may be the means of perfecting our character.
5. If in our service we have sinned against right methods and tempers of service, sinned against Him whom we serve, it is well that his disapproval of our sin should be manifest.
6. The prohibition comes with gracious mitigations. The sting of death extracted.
(1) What greater grace wrought in a man than acquiescence in such a mandate.
(2) Moses is permitted to prepare for departure.
3. He is permitted to see his successor.
7. God honours his faithful servant by Himself preparing his sepulchre.
8. God fulfilled His promises and the hopes of his servant in a deeper and higher way than he anticipated.

Second, of the visions which may inspire human life, its unrealised hopes notwithstanding. To men who live greatly God gives visions through this very idealism of life, which are glorious inspiration and strength; visions of a great faith and a bright hope; of rest through the toil, of triumph while they fight, of heavenly perfection and blessedness. Many glorious visions had been given to Moses. Who knows but to the lofty soul of this man of God, Canaan would have been a disenchantment. Many of our realised hopes are. In the better country no shortcoming, no disappointment. Canaan may suffice for a suggestive prophecy; only God’s heaven can be a satisfactory fulfilment. A great thing for faith to climb and stand on heights to survey the heritage of God. And the nearer Jordan, the more glorious the prospect. The goodly land is revealed. All earthly lights pale before the great glory, all things here seem little and unimportant in that great blessedness. “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared, etc.” Thus Moses disappears from sight and God buries him. One more glimpse of him vouchsafed on “the Holy Mount.” The prayer, “show me thy glory,” was finally answered. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also shall appear with Him in glory.” “Such honour have all the saints.”—Dr. Allon’s Vision of God.


Strange and singular that the greatest of all Old Testament prophets should find a resting place in the earth and no man able to point it out. Sepulchres of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob among the groves of Hebron, Joseph’s bones rest in Shechem, sepulchre of David by Jerusalem, the home of his heart. Neglect of the people did not leave the spot unmarked. Not what a Jew wished or what popular history would have framed, this death and burial, fitted to be a source of fruitful reflection.
I. God will have no one, living or dead, to stand between His creatures and Himself. II. God wishes men to see something more left of His servants than the outward shrine. III. God takes the honour of His servants into His own keeping. IV. God would teach men that He has a relation to His servants which extends beyond their death. V. God would teach men from the very first that His regard is not confined to any chosen soil. VI. There is one concluding lesson which has been reserved for us in its fulness, and which could be seen only partially by the Jews—that the seeming failure in a true life may have at least a complete compensation. Under the gospel this view clear. As God forgave the sin we see that long since he made up the loss. This a comfort to many who feel immeasurably distant from Moses, as if our nature were all broken by failure and flaw. A true purpose in life shall reach a perfect close one day, its shortcomings completed, its errors rectified, its visions realised. One greater than Moses ended life in what appeared utter failure, with His followers scattered, His mission rejected and He Himself betrayed to a death of agony and shame. But He cried, “It is finished,” achieved success and secured it for all who take up the cross and follow Him. There is full compensation for failure in every true life, and the highest where struggle and loss have been deepest. Most comforting of all these is reversal of consequences of sin in contrition and faith. The shadow on earth’s dial-plate is turned back when eternal life is gained and the sun no more goes down. Like Moses we shall rise to have heart’s desire, to look on the land and on Him who is the glory of it.

Rev. John Ker.


I. The greatest of men are but instruments in God’s hands, and He can afford to lay them aside when He chooses. Moses seemed indispensable. None of similar ability and character to carry on work, yet God determined to move him. Paul, Luther, Wesley, and great reformers removed, yet truth survives, progresses and triumphs.

1. Let this dispel fears for future of the Church of God.
2. Abate personal pride, and—
3. Calm our fears for loved ones. “God, the husband of the widow,” etc. II. The time and the manner of each man’s removal from earth are fixed by God. III. When God removes His servants from earth, it is that He may take them to Heaven. IV. Until God calls us away, let us be diligent in doing good. V. God frequently gives intimation that He is about to call them to Himself. VI. God will remove all difficulties away in our heavenward journey. Adapted from Vol. II. Preachers’ Monthly.

“In His bless’d life,

I see the path, and, in His death, the price,
And in His great ascent, the proof supreme
Of immortality.”—Young.

THE CHARMING PROSPECT.—Deuteronomy 34:1-4

“The plains of Moab,” the last station before entrance to Canaan (Numbers 33:48). The prospect from Pisgah, charming in beauty and extent. About 160 miles in length and 50 or 60 in breadth. We borrow many of the following hints from an American Sunday School Journal.

I. The method of discerning it. He glanced before, not below him. In clear atmosphere, he saw verdure, sunshine and “the glory of all lands.” How?

1. With the naked eye. “His eye not dim.” Beauty everywhere if only an eye to see. An artist’s eye; a poet’s eye. Culture and communion with God help to discern and appreciate landscapes.

2. With the help of God. “The Lord showed him.” Indicated direction, gave supernatural strength to follow it. The eye and the object from God. To him are we indebted for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Natural and spiritual vision, “the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord hath made.”

II. The summit from which it was viewed. Moses went up from the plains to the mount. Clouds and conflict below. We must rise higher and higher for rest, intercourse with God and heaven. The celestial city viewed from the delectable mountains. On the Mount of Transfiguration we see the glory of Christ. From Pisgah we discern Canaan. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.”

III. The hopes which were realised by it. Moses had written of places which he had never seen. Memory would sweeten this prospect.

1. The land was secured to the people. Promised and were about to possess it.

2. “He was reaping the recompense of reward.” Not overwhelmed with grief, because excluded from earthly inheritance. “He desired a better country, that is a heavenly.” He saw the type, but taken up to the reality. “In the death of a good man eternity is seen looking through time.”—Goethe. When we see the salvation of God we may pray, “Lord now let thy servant depart in peace.”

THE SLEEPING SAINT.—Deuteronomy 34:5-7

“Moses, the servant of the Lord, died,” and rests from his labours.

I. Moses died by command of God. But his change more like sleep than death. Lazarus slept. Believers “fall asleep in Christ.” God put him to rest as you gently lay a child to sleep. “The Jewish doctors so expound this text, as though God did indeed take away his soul with a kiss (the loving mother is seen to kiss the child and then lay it down to sleep); and so of their 903 kinds of death, this they say is the easiest. God bade Moses go lie down and sleep (Deuteronomy 31:16), and he accordingly went to bed when his Father bade”—Trapp. “Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers.”

II. Moses was buried by the hand of God. God himself, or Michael at command of God “buried him.” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” He cares for soul and body. “No man knoweth of His sepulchre unto this day.” We shall not speculate or discuss about it. “The grave is not deep; it is the shining tread of an angel that seeks us.”—Richter.

O, lonely tomb in Moab’s land!

O, dark Bethpeor’s hill!

Speak to these anxious hearts of ours

And teach them to be still.

God hath his mysteries of grace,

Ways that we cannot tell;

He hides them deep like the sacred sleep

Of him he loved so well.

D. M. Moir.


Deuteronomy 34:1. Moses went up. Climbing mountains. An address for children.

1. It is itself a picture: the old, clearvisioned, vigorous man, climbing the rugged and lofty mountains east of Canaan. His life a series of historical pictures the most impressive and instructive. The lesson is a picture of Canaan the most beautiful.
2. Climbing mountains! What boy or girl will not be interested in that?
3. The thoughts that may have entered Moses’ mind as he looked out on hills, plains, valleys, and river below, and the sea beyond!

Moses a Man of Mountains.

1. Mountain of conflict (Exodus 17:10).

2. Of the law (Exodus 19:20).

3. Of communion with God (Exodus 24:15-18).

4. Of bereavement (Numbers 20:23-29).

5. Of vision and of death (Deuteronomy 34:6).

6. Of transfiguration (Matthew 17:7). Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24).—S. S. Journal.

Went up.

1. A good man’s life an ascent. At God’s command, and by God’s help, in knowledge, strength, and meetness for heaven.
2. A good man’s death an ascent. May be in the valley, but guided through and lifted up. “God ordered that Aaron and Moses should go up to the tops of mountains to die,” says J. Edwards, “to signify that the death of a godly man is but an entrance into a heavenly state.” “Death is to the good an ascension.”

Deuteronomy 34:4. The Lord showed him. God gave Moses that day

(1) a lesson in eye-teaching.

2. A lesson in geography.

3. A lesson in prophecy—tribes not yet located. God showed him where He would locate them.

4. A lesson in history. “I sware unto Abraham,” etc. Deuteronomy 34:4.—S. S. Journal.

Deuteronomy 34:5-6. “Moses died according to the word of the Lord.” What occurred in this case, occurs in that of every Christian. All three—time, place, and manner—are fixed in the word of the Lord. Here a higher power interposes and disposes of man’s existence upon earth. The death of Moses was solemn, sudden, and though a chastisement—a public visitation for sin in the eye of all the hosts of Israel—yet in some respect an honourable one.—Dr. cumming.

Thoughts on the death of Moses. I. The best must die: “the servant of the Lord.” II. The best may die in the zenith of their greatness. III. The best may die when apparently indispensible. IV. The best may die where they little expect. V. But all die when and where God decrees.—R. A. Griffin.

A WEEPING PEOPLE.—Deuteronomy 34:8

Seven days the usual time of mourning, for persons of rank and eminence, thirty (Genesis 50:3; Genesis 50:10; Numbers 20:29). Moses absent when he died, was not carried in public procession, hence hitter mourning (see Josephus Ant. Bk. iv. chap. 8, sect. 48). I. Bereaved by a mysterious event. Families robbed of heads, Christian churches of best workers, nations of leaders. We lose their counsels, influence and prayers, “the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” We cry at the departure of every leader, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” II. Punished for strange ingratitude. Israel often complained and rebelled against Moses, did not treat him kindly. Now missed, and murmurers are mourners. “It is infamy to die and not be missed.”—(Wilcox). III. Taught by a wise providence. The justice, truth and firmness of God must be known (Deuteronomy 32:49-52). They must be taught that God depends not upon any of his creatures, and that the best, most holy and most useful must die. “The fathers where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever!”

When some men die, a nation feels;
When others fall, the world is moved.

A WORTHY SUCCESSOR.—Deuteronomy 34:9

Anxiety of parents to be succeeded in business and profession by children, of noblemen by heirs, of monarchs by princes. Joshua a worthy successor.

I. He was introduced by Moses. “Moses had laid his hands upon him,” and thus designated the person and conferred the power (Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23). No breaks, no vacancies in God’s service. One goes, another comes; one finishes what another leaves incomplete. A leader succeeds a lawgiver. “The law,” says Bp. Wordsworth, “led men to see the promises afar off, and to embrace them (rather to see and greet the promises from afar, Hebrews 11:13), and it brought them to the borders of Canaan, but could not bring them into it; that was reserved for Joshua, the type of Jesus.”

II. He was qualified by special endowments. “Full of the spirit of wisdom.” Intimacy with Moses and training under his care not enough. He had faith (Numbers 14:6-9), and experience (Exodus 17:8-13); but required Divine gifts and graces to fit him to govern. The disciples had been with Jesus, but not equipped until the spirit given. Friendship and education, patronage and office, were shreds of honour. “The Spirit needed” as a spirit of wisdom, counsel, and might (Isaiah 2:2).

III. He was successful in his work. “The children of Israel hearkened unto him,” etc. Gifted men admired. The presence and authority of God with His servants will secure the affection and obedience of the people. Joshua owned as leader and prosperous in undertaking. By strength of character, and superlative wisdom, men rise to honour and success; wield an influence after death, and become saviours and kings in society. “On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life” (Joshua 4:14; Joshua 3:7; Joshua 1:5).

THE INFLUENCE OF A HOLT LIFE.—Deuteronomy 34:10-12

Moses here commended for character official position and privilege. Unique in greatness and honour. “There arose not a prophet,” etc.

I. The source from which the influence came. Fellowship with God,” whom the Lord knew,” conversed with “face to face” (Numbers 12:8). Intercourse with God gives power with man. None great and successful without this (Jacob, Joshua, Daniel and Luther). Retirement most requisite, most seasonable in our pressing and incessant duties. Moses in Midian (Exodus 2:15; Exodus 3:1); John the Baptist in the desert (Luke 1:30); Jesus in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). “Learn to live alone,” said Dr. Paley, when recommending to the younger clergy, communion with God. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place.”

II. The method by which the influence was acquired. “The Lord sent” him and he went “in the land of Egypt” to deliver the people. Obedient to God he was endowed with the power of God. Entire consecration of time and talents brings its reward. In the words of the apostle, we have the influence of devout life upon ministerial success. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). “The hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.”

III. The ages through which the influence lasted. None like Moses in the days of Israel, and after intervening centuries he was still considered “Mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22. The power of such a life not destroyed by one failure. Memory survives death, and deeds never pass into o livion and the tomb. Myriads crowd the lower walks of life, removed and no more missed than atoms from the base of a lofty pyramid. But men conspicuous for virtues and holy deeds will live in name and influence and act upon the race till the end of time. “The righteous had in everlasting remembrance.”

“To hew his name out upon time

As on a rock; there in immortalness
To stand on time as on A pedestal.”


Deuteronomy 34:9. Joshua chosen. All spiritual endowments from the Holy Ghost. The spirit of wisdom, courage and the fear of God specially needed for well-qualified leaders of men. Admire the goodness of God in raising up such men. If one burning and shining light is extinguished “the Father of lights” can kindle another.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12. Not a prophet like Moses. Unequalled.

1. In rank.

2. In faithfulness to duty (Numbers 12:7; Hebrews 3:1-6).

3. In legislative Wisdom ,
4. In divine authority, displayed (a.) in signs to the enemy (b) in terror to Israel. Moses was warrior, states-man, poet, philosoper, hero and saint. No man has rivalled him, nor robbed him of his honour. “A prophet who stood by himself in his greatness in relation to men and to God. To be the leader of a nation in such peculiar circumstances for 40 years was in itself a position without a parallel; but to have led them out of Egypt against the will of their enslavers, to have been at their head during a whole generation of which every day witnessed a stupendous miracle, to have been the founder of their laws and their religion, was a work such as far outshone the deeds of any one man from the beginning of history, and such as still remains unique.”—Blunt.


Deuteronomy 34:1-4. Showed. “My work is done; I have nothing to do but to go to my Father;” said the Countess of Huntingdon. “I am on the bright side of seventy—bright side, because nearer to the everlasting glory.” Top of Pisgah. The loneliness of death. Ordinarily when men die, there are friends to gather round their bed, with tender ministries of love and prayer. Sometimes in the case of men like Moses, a nation will hush its footsteps and wait the issue with agonising suspense. Shut us up to die alone, with no hand that our weakness may clasp, no tear that may soothe our love, no prayer that may wing our hope, and how appalling death becomes. What pathos there is in the shrinking wail of Pascal—“I shall die alone!”—Dr. Allon.

Went up. What a contrast to a former Divine summons, to ascend Sinai to commune with Jehovah, to receive from Him comfort and strength and a renewed commission of service! Yet he evinces none of the trembling awe with which he ascended Sinai. Without remonstrance, without hesitancy save for a moment, he calmly obeys the stern injunction. “A good man knows how to die” (Dr. Allon). “Death cannot come to him untimely who is fit to die” (Milman).

Climb the ascent of being
And approach for ever nearer to the life divine.

Deuteronomy 34:5. The servant of the Lord died. A man of God has fallen to-day.

Deuteronomy 34:8. Weeping. When Augustus died the Romans wished that either he had never been born or had never died.

Deuteronomy 34:10. Not a prophet since. Moses was one that exceeded all men that ever were in understanding, and made the best use of what that understanding suggested to him.—Josephus.

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime, etc.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/deuteronomy-34.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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