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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 34

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 34:1

We belong to two worlds. Neither the one nor the other completes our life. It is the action and reaction of their influences, the intermingling of their currents, which ministers to our vital progress. Man is strongly beset by the temptation to divide himself, and give himself part to one, part to the other, world; to let the daily round, the common task, have the share which they claim of his time and energy, in dull submission to the inevitable, and then to live what he calls his life in another it may be a higher, but, alas! it tends terribly to become a lower world. It is the daily round which makes life, and God will have us live. Therefore He keeps us there. The daily, hourly repetition of heavenly acts and efforts is training us for the life of heaven.

I. To Moses was entrusted the noblest, but at the same time the weariest, life-task ever committed to the hand of man. The burden of his people he bore through life; never for one instant was he permitted to lay it down. And to him were visions vouchsafed of Diviner brightness than meaner men could look upon. For him, as for many a faithful pilgrim, the brightest and most blessed vision was the last, from the last mountain summit which lies on the hither side of the river of death.

II. The visions cluster most thickly around death, because those who know what it is to live must die to realise their dreams. Like Moses, they may see the land, but they must die to inherit it, die with the vision before their spirits, which fades for the moment as they die, but when they pass it is heaven.

J. Baldwin Brown, The Soul's Exodus and Pilgrimage, p. 334.

References: Deuteronomy 34:1 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 274.Deuteronomy 34:1-5 . E. Bersier, Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 1.Deuteronomy 34:1-7 . H. Batchelor, The Incarnation of God, p. 193.Deuteronomy 34:1-8 . H. Allon, The Vision of God, p. 225 (see also Sunday Magazine, 1875, p. 486). Deuteronomy 34:1-12 . W. M. Taylor, Moses the Lawgiver, p. 434.Deuteronomy 34:4 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 293; J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i., p. 160; Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the Old Testament, p. 27; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 339; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 447; Deuteronomy 34:5 . A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 3.

Verses 1-8

Deuteronomy 34:1-8

The death of Moses is a twofold parable:

I. Of the unrealised hopes of human life, the frequent disappointments, the unfulfilled purposes, which so often characterise it, and which to the affections and to the philosophy of life are so mysterious and painful.

Mark the conditions under which death came to Moses. (1) He died while as yet his physical strength was undiminished. "His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." (2) Moses died while as yet there seemed a great work for him to do the Jordan to be passed, Jericho to be conquered, the Canaanites driven out, the tribes led to their inheritance, the social, legislative, and religious organisation of the people to be completed. (3) Moses died just when bright prospects of realisation filled his eye; when all the hope of his life was about to be fulfilled, the cup was dashed from his lips, just as it was lifted that he might drink.

We learn from this: (1) 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, for then he is not ashamed to leave it for completion. (4) The formal denial of our hopes may be the means of perfecting pur character. (5) If in our service we have sinned against right methods and tempers of service, it is well that God's disapproval of our sin should be manifested. (6) The prohibition comes with gracious mitigations. Even though a sentence of death, everything that gives death a sting is extracted. ( a ) What greater grace can be wrought in a man than acquiescence in such a mandate? There is no blessedness like the blessedness of submitting ourselves to the wiser will of the heavenly Father, even though it be to drink a Gethsemane cup or to die upon a bitter cross. ( b ) Moses is permitted to prepare for his departure. ( c ) He is permitted to see his successor. (7) God honoured 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.

II. The second parable is 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 a glorious inspiration and strength, visions of a great faith and of a bright hope, of rest though they toil, of triumph while they fight, of heavenly perfection and blessedness, the failures and disappointments of earthly life notwithstanding. All men have visions, even the meanest and the worst; but there are no visions of life so great and inspiring as those of religious faith.

H. Allon, The Vision of God, p. 207.

References: Deuteronomy 34:2 . Parker, vol. ii., p. 287. Deuteronomy 34:5 , Deuteronomy 34:7 . H. Wonnacott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 107.

Verses 5-6

Deuteronomy 34:5-6

The great feature of the record contained in the words before us is the incompleteness of the life of Moses. He died before the people entered the land. This fact suggests two truths: (1) the meaning of unfulfilled purposes in life, and (2) the encouragement to men who die with their earthly purposes unattained. Moses died with his life's purpose apparently unfulfilled. It is evident that he felt this as one of the saddest aspects of his departure. One thought had given meaning to his history for eighty years the thought of guiding the nation into the land promised to his forefathers. Why must Moses see his own hope fade and vanish, and feel that life had no reward? What was the meaning of his death at that time?

I. The great purpose of the life of Moses was not permitted to be carried out because of his sin. One act of rebellion in striking the rock had prevented its accomplishment. If we ask why that single and apparently trifling act of disobedience unfitted him to lead the people into the land, while men far more rebellious and with less temptation afterwards became their rulers, it is scarcely possible to find an adequate reply. It may be that God would show how one act may darken the whole of man's earthly hopes, how the subtle influence of one act of disobedience because in disobedience lies the germ of all sin may pervade with its gloom the whole of a man's history, and cause his holiest efforts to fail just when they seemed about to succeed.

II. But we want to know more than that. We must ask whether life is really so incomplete as it seems. Is it so profound a failure? The history before us gives the answer. The purpose that Moses might not carry out was to be accomplished by Joshua, his successor. His life therefore had not failed, for his labour had inspired a man who had caught his spirit and was to finish the work he had begun. We see here the universal law that there is a spiritual connection between men. Age is joined by bonds of influence to age. Man is thus bound for ever to future generations.

III. But the question comes, Is that the only manner in which life's highest purposes find their fulfilment? To that the history before us gives no reply, but by looking at the question in the light of Christianity we may confidently answer the inquiry. Christ redeemed all life; He glorified it all: therefore we may believe that no earnest efforts of this life are ever for the man himself really unfulfilled; all great aims are realised in the end.

E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 119.

References: Deuteronomy 34:5 , Deuteronomy 34:6 . C. Kingsley, The Gospel of the Pentateuch, p. 222; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 274.Deuteronomy 34:5-7 . J. Hamilton, Works, vol. v., p. 313.

Verse 6

Deuteronomy 34:6

We shall take the account of the death and burial of Moses, and seek to show how it was fitted to be a source of fruitful reflection to the Old Testament Church.

I. God will have no one, living or dead, to stand between His creatures and Himself. The first great lesson which the Jewish people were to be taught was the supremacy of the one true God. It was the lifelong work of Moses to fix this truth of God's sovereignty on the people's minds. And yet what he had done for them made it not unlikely that their reverence for him might prove their snare, and that they might be tempted to give him the place he desired to secure for God. Moses died apart, and was buried in secret, where his grave could be dishonoured by no pilgrimage and where no false veneration could rear altars to his memory. And this first lesson did not fail. The nation worshipped many strange deities, but it never gave the place of God to His prophets.

II. God wishes men to see something more left of His servants than the outward shrine. In the history of the greatest and best, the tomb is often remembered and the life forgotten. It is an easier thing to revere the dust than to follow the example. God takes away the grave of Moses that the people may have before them, in full and undisturbed relief, the man himself. The sepulchre of the greater Prophet than Moses is equally unknown. God has made the march of armies and the desolation of centuries do for the sepulchre of Christ what His own hand did for the grave of Moses.

III. God takes the honour of His servants into His own keeping. "The Lord buried him." There is a higher honour conferred upon him than if all Israel had met to weep and lament, or the world assembled to his obsequies.

IV. God would teach men that He has a relation to His servants which extends beyond their death. The great truths of life and immortality must surely have begun to stir in the hearts of thoughtful men when they knew this, that "the Lord had buried him."

V. God would teach men from the very first that His regard is not confined to any chosen soil. The death of Christ has consecrated the soil of the world. Wherever men kneel with a pure heart they find God's mercy-seat, and wherever they are buried they are in holy ground.

VI. The seeming failure in a true life may at last have a complete compensation.

J. Ker. Sermons, p. 153.

References: Deuteronomy 34:6 . Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Cambridge Lent Sermons, 1864, p. 253.Deuteronomy 34:7 . G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 58. Deuteronomy 34:9 . S. A. Brooke, The Unity of God and Man, p. 110. Deuteronomy 34:10 . J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, and Other Sermons, p. 77. Deuteronomy 34:10-12 . W. M. Taylor, Moses the Lawgiver, p. 451.Deuteronomy 34:0 Parker, vol. iv., p. 400; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 289.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/deuteronomy-34.html.
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