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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 34

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-4

Deuteronomy 34:1-4

The Lord shewed him all the land.

Unrealised visions

The great parable of Israel’s wanderings has one of its profoundest applications in the death of its two great leaders: 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.

The unrealised hope of human life. Every life is a pilgrimage seeking its goal in some Canaan of rest. We picture it, struggle for it, and sometimes seem on the verge of realising it. We “see it with our eyes”; but, in the mysterious providence of life, are “forbidden to go over.” Our purposes are broken off, we are disappointed, and resent if faith prevent not. Learn--

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; so that he is not ashamed to leave it for completion; so that his friends are proud of its unfinished fragments.

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 manifested.

6. The prohibition comes with manifest mitigations.

(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.

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 inspirations 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 his lofty soul 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 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. (H. Allon, D. D.)

Pisgah; or, a picture of a life

Life ending in the midst of labour. The farmer leaves his field half ploughed; the artist dies with unformed figures on the canvas; the tradesman is cut down in the midst of his merchandise; the statesman is arrested with great political measures on his hand; and ministers depart with many schemes of instructive thought and plans of spiritual usefulness undeveloped.

1. There should be cautiousness as to the work pursued. A sad thing to die in the midst of unholy labour.

2. Earnestness in the prosecution of our calling. Time short.

3. Attention to the moral influence of our labour, both on ourselves and others. We should make our daily labour a means of grace; every secular act should express and strengthen those moral principles over which death has no power. All labour should have but one spirit--the spirit of goodness.

Life ending in the midst of earthly prospects. If men die amidst prospects of good they never realise, then--

1. Human aspirations after the earthly should be moderated.

2. Human aspirations after the spiritual should be supreme.

Life ending in the midst of physical strength.

1. Death at any time is painful--painful when the physical machinery has worn itself out; when the senses are deadened, the limbs palsied, and the current of life flows coldly and tardily in the veins. But far more so, when it comes in the midst of manly vigour and a strong zest for a prolonged existence.

2. Does not this view of life--ending in the midst of important labour, bright earthly prospects, and manly strength--predict a higher state of being for humanity beyond the grave? (H. P. Bowen.)

The top of Pisgah

Moses, the servant of the Lord, now takes his last journey. He has been more or less a pilgrim all his life, and his last journey is in perfect harmony with all his previous ones, for it is taken “at the commandment of the Lord.” Throughout his life the society of his God had been his delight. To dwell with God had been the refreshment of his life; and God seems to say to him, “That which has been your joy and refreshment in life, shall be your peculiar privilege in death. I have known you face to face in life; and now you shall die alone with Me, face to face with your God.” This thought holds good in another respect. Everything in the career of Moses had been done in absolute obedience to God. The whole life of Moses was a carrying out of the Divine commands. So is it now. God says to him, “Go up and die”; so, characteristically, he went up and died. His act of dying was one of intentional obedience. But before he died God granted him a marvellous sight. “The Lord showed him.” His eye had not become dim, but, may be, God gave extra power to the old eye that had been looking for one hundred and twenty years, and such power that he could look north, south, east, and west, and view the whole land. And what a panorama stretched out before him. “He saw the smiling green meadows at his feet, between which the Jordan swiftly flowed, and to the right his eye glanced along the valleys and woods, and the bright waving cornfields, that stretched away into the dim distance where rose the purple snow-crowned hills of Lebanon. To his left he saw the mountains swelling like mighty billows of the sea all struck into stillness. And perhaps, as he looked upon them, some angel voice whispered in his ear, ‘There will stand Jerusalem the city of peace. There shall be the temple where, for ages and ages, Jehovah shall be worshipped. And see, yonder among the hills on that little speck in the landscape, a Cross shall one day stand, and the Son of God shall die to save the world.’ And across the beautiful land he might perhaps catch some dim sight of the blue Mediterranean, or at least have discovered where the white mists hung above its waters.” And then, sweetly emblematical as it seems to me, beneath were the sullen waters of the Dead Sea. Oh, when God takes a man to the top of Pisgah he looks down upon the waters of death. This was the vision that greeted the eyes that had not yet become dim. Then, having had this view of the land, Moses the servant of the Lord “died according to the word of the Lord,” or, as the Rabbis say, “at His mouth.” God took the old man, wrinkled with age but simple in spirit as a child, and sang his lullaby and kissed him to sleep. What followed has never yet been fully revealed. A veil hangs thickly over the scene of the burial of Moses, but there is the fact recorded that God buried him. “Oh,” you say, “what a quiet funeral.” Yes, the more the honour of it. I believe that, as the vision of Canaan melted away, the vision of God’s face appeared, and he who had known his Lord face to face now knows what it is to behold His glory without a veil between. There you have the setting of our little text. Pisgah was at once the climax and the close of a character and a career. In one sense it is terribly sad, and concerning Pisgah’s top it may be said, “Behold the severity of God.” He who has high honour put on him by God shall find that there is something in the other scale. Just because of the perilous position of honour to which God had raised Moses, that sin of his, when, in a moment of impatience, he struck the rock twice, is visited with the severe sentence, “Thou Moses, shalt not pass over the Jordan into the land.” Pisgah’s top has also, I believe, dispensational teaching in it. It was absolutely necessary that Moses should not cross over Jordan. Had he done so the whole allegory of Scripture would have broken down.

Pisgah’s top makes a beautiful illustration of spiritual life. What was Pisgah? It was an eminence in the wilderness from which might be seen the full extent of the salvation of God. When God brought His people out of Egypt, He did so in order to bring them into Canaan; and I believe that Canaan is intended to represent the life of the believer on earth, with all its privileges and all its joys and all its combats too. It is for the child of God to get a full view of the good land into which God brings him, a bird’s-eye view of the whole of God’s grand salvation. But how is this to be done? This is a most important question. I believe that there are two absolute essentials, and the first is this: if you would see the whole of the land you must get up on to the heights of Scripture. If your Bible is a neglected book you cannot see the whole length and breadth of the land. It is God’s Pisgah, and you must get up to the top. One half hour with God and His Book, and the power of the Holy Ghost will give you a grander view of God’s salvation than all the experience that you can hear. And the second absolute necessity is solitude with God. Moses did not get the vision when he was in a mob. He got it when he was alone. It is not enough for us to have a critical knowledge of Scripture. “Spiritual wisdom “is needed. I would sooner accept the interpretation of some pauper woman in the workhouse, if she is full of the Holy Ghost, than the interpretation of the ablest critic who has not the “spiritual” wisdom. We need revelation as well as elevation. It is not enough for us simply to be on Pisgah’s top. God must do for us what He did for Moses. “And the Lord showed him.

Do you not also think that Pisgah may serve as a prophecy of the dying hour? Moses was lost to the camp. I hear them say one to another, “He is going; he is going. He has got beyond our reach now.” They cannot see him. He is high up there. Have you known what it is to stand by the side of a dying one who has got so far that he cannot speak to you? He has become unconscious of all surroundings. As far as you are concerned, he has gone. Yes, and perhaps Israel was saying, “Poor Moses! We pity him in having thus to die”; and whilst they were pitying him he was seeing visions of God. I dare not speak dogmatically, but I do say that there is a consensus of evidence that cannot be put on one side that the dying very often do see far more than the living. We often say of a departing one, “Oh, he is practically dead now, for he is unconscious.” Yes, he may be unconscious to those standing round the bedside, but oh, how conscious of God. Oh, how conscious of a spiritual environment! I do not know whether Moses had a thought about the camp which he had left. I do not suppose that he had. He was looking at that which God showed him. The spiritual world is not a mere unsubstantial dream. No, it is real, and round about us all are the hosts of heaven. After all, Pisgah’s top was only the starting point for the upward flight. It seems high up to us because we are dwelling down in the plain of Moab. But when Moses was on the top of Pisgah he was only just on the “departure” platform, not the “arrival.” From Pisgah’s top I view my home, then take my flight. The sight of Canaan did not long linger on his eyes. Lebanon melts away. The Dead Sea becomes a mist. The rolling fields of golden corn become indistinct. Canaan vanishes. Another vision comes; and the man of God is face to face with his Lord. O child of God, so shall it be with thee. If thou diest in the Lord’s embrace, thy head on His breast, thou mayest see much in that dying hour. But thou shalt see more afterwards. (A. G. Brown.)

The frontier of the promised land

Each of us is a Moses, not as regards mission, glory, or virtue, but as regards this last feature of his career. We are all standing on the frontier of a promised land which we shall not enter.

Yes; we are on the frontier, on the threshold, at the very door of a land of promise, and we shall die before entering it. Reason is made for truth, and seeks it; but who is there that knows all he would know? Ignorance has reached this point: in its instinctive regrets it stands still, gazing mournfully upon mysteries which it cannot penetrate, upon depths of knowledge of which it has an instinctive perception, but which it cannot fathom. Science has reached this point: all science ends in a final effort which it fails to accomplish, in a final secret which it is inefficient to discover, in a final word which it is unable to utter. Unbelief has reached this point. Remember the sceptical astronomer who endeavoured daily to explain the first movement of the planets without admitting that they had been set in motion by a Divine hand, and, who dismissed his pupils day after day, bidding them “come again tomorrow”! Faith, too, has reached this point. Faith which knows that it cannot be changed into sight, and that “no man hath seen God,” that “none knoweth the Father but the Son,” that “great is the mystery of godliness,” that even the angels tremble as they look into it. Yes; reason and faith behold a promised, land stretching out before their eyes, but ever do they hear the stern and mighty voice saying, Thou shalt not go over thither.

And what of happiness? Is it not true that we are always on its limits? The desire for happiness is natural; more than this, it is lawful, it is religious. Every individual entertains it, notwithstanding his experience of life. We see it sometimes near, oftener at a distance; but this world is so fashioned that we are unable to cross the border and enter it.

Without peace there can be no true happiness. Who is there that has not dreamed of a life of peace, harmony, and love? But no; the machinery of life seizes upon us; competition lays a barrier across our path; we have rights which we must defend, for the sake of those we love, if not for our own; we must adopt as ours the maxim of Paul: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” In the very domain of religion, we are called to defend our faith, to stand out against the calumnies of intolerance; we would gladly pray and communicate with all, but we are repulsed; we long for an asylum of peace and rest, and the terrible voice is heard, “Thou shalt not enter into it!”

This state of things influences the whole of our existence, the progress of our soul, the entire labour of our life. Where is the man who brings all his enterprises to a successful issue, or realists all his plans? Where is the man who attains a perfect equilibrium in his desires, faculties, sentiments, and duties? Where is the man who, in a moral and Christian sense, realises his ideal? How many unfinished tasks! The world is full of them. Death comes and prevents their completion. When we examine ourselves, how far we are from sanctification! Alas! the perfect fulfilment of the plans of life, and of the progress of the soul, is a promised land, concerning which each of us is told, “Thou shalt not go over thither!” Who is He that, of all the human race, alone has entered His promised land? Who? Jesus. In Jesus Christ we are enabled to march towards the goal, to increase in knowledge and faith, in happiness and peace, to achieve greater works, and to progress on our way until the last stage of the journey be reached--eternity. (A. Coquerel.)

I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.

Comfort amid failure of hopes

There must have been in Moses’ mind, when he thought over his life, a strong consciousness of the opportunities of inward and spiritual culture which God had opened to him even in and through the failure of his plan of life. In his repentance and confession of personal sin he had come nearer to Jehovah than ever before, and now, as the result of all, a patient, loving confidence in God; a deep distrust of himself; a craving for inner purity more than for any outward glory; a pure, deep love overrunning with gratitude for forgiveness, which had deepened with every deepening appreciation of the sin,--all this was filling his heart as he went forth with God, pondering the failure of his life. And this same richness of comfort has come to many a man out of the failure of his hopes. You come up to the certainty that you are not going to accomplish that which you once meant to do, that you might have done if you had not wilfully sinned. You take your last fond look on the Canaan of accomplishment which you are not to enter. You say, “I shall never do what I dreamed of doing,” but at the same time there rises up in you another strong assurance,--“God has done In me what I do not see how He could have done except out of my broken hopes and foiled endeavours.” You are not glad that you have sinned; you are sure all the time that, if you could have stood sinless, some nobler character would have been trained in you, but you never can think of your sin without feeling alongside of it all that God has done for you through it. The culture of penitence is there, the dearer, nearer sense of God, which has come from so often going to Him with a broken heart, the yearning for an hourly dependence on Him, the craving, almost agonising knowledge of the goodness of holiness, which only came to you when you lost it, the value of spiritual life above all visible and physical delight or comfort, and a gratitude for forgiveness which has turned the whole life into a psalm of praise or a labour of consecration,--these are the cultures by which God bears witness of Himself to numberless lives that have failed of their full achievement. But take another thought. The whole question of how much Moses knew of immortality is very indistinct, but it is impossible to think that in this supreme moment his great soul did not attain to the great universal human hope. It must have come to him that this which seemed like an end was not an end; that while the current of the Jewish history swept on without him, for him, too, there was a future, a life to live, a work to do somewhere, with the God who took him by the hand and led him away. And here must always be the final explanation, the complete and satisfying explanation of human failures. Without this truth of another life there can be no clearness; all is dreary darkness. A man has failed in all the purposes of his life. What is there left for him? He dwells upon the culture which has come to him in and from his failure; but what of him,--this precious human being, this single personal existence, the soul, with all its life and loves? Is that indeed, just thrown aside like a dead cinder, out of which all the power has been burnt? Then comes Christ’s troth of immortality. Not so! This failure is not final. The life that has so fallen short is not yet done. It has been tried and found wanting. But by its own consciousness of weakness it is made ready for a new trial in a higher strength. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

Moses and the promised land

There are in history few characters whose grandeur equals that of Moses, and I know not whether the Old Testament contains an account more sublime or more touching than that of his death. Nearly a century had passed since, in the palace of Pharaoh, where he had grown up in the midst of the delights of Egypt and of royal splendour, the thought of the oppression of his people had seized upon his soul to give him no more repose. At last he reached the goal, so long desired, of all his thoughts. The promised land was there before him, and the waves of Jordan alone separated him from it. The promised land! Oh, how often he called for and contemplated it beforehand in his solitary dreams during the long nights of the desert, when, under the starry heaven, he conversed with Jehovah! From the silent summit of Mount Nebo the overworked old man directs his eager looks before him and in every direction: he sees all the country from Gilead to Dan; there stretches out Jericho, the city of palm trees; there the rich palms of Naphtali, of Ephraim, and of Manasseh; there Judah; there, beyond, towards the distant horizon, the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, it is certainly the Promised Land; but--he is forbidden to enter it! For a moment his heart bends under its load of anguish; but, losing sight of himself, he thinks of the future of Israel; he contemplates with emotion those places in which God will establish His sanctuary, those valleys from whence there will issue one day the salvation of the world; on the north the distant mountains of Galilee; on the south, Bethlehem, Moriah, and the hill where the Cross in which we glory was to be erected. Then, having embraced with one last look that land, so long desired, Moses bows his head and dies. From this grand scene there flows for us a grand lesson. Whoever you may be, have you not dreamed here below of a promised land; have you not desired it, have you not thought to reach it, and has not a voice been heard telling you also: “Thou shalt not enter it at all!” I want to inquire today why God refuses us what we ask on earth; I want to plead His cause, and justify His ways. Yes, we all dream here below of a promised land. There is not one of us who has not expected much of life, and not one whom life has satisfied. Do not trust appearance, do not depend on the outward joy, the absence of care painted on so many countenances. All that is the mask--underneath is the real being, who, if he is sincere, will tell you what he seeks and what he suffers. Is the promised land which you seek that renewed earth where righteousness will dwell? Is it the reign of the Lord realised among men? Is it God loved, adored, holding the first place in hearts and minds? Is it the Gospel accepted, the Church raised up again, souls converted, the Cross victorious? Well! need I say it to you? You will not possess that promised land here below, although in the ardour of your faith you had thought to enter it. You had thought by some certain signs to discover in our epoch a time of renovation; you had seen the shaken nations throw off their sleep of death, the Church rise up at the voice of God, and awake to the feeling of its magnificent destinies; you had seen the Holy Spirit descending, as on the day of Pentecost, and inflaming hearts. Thus, in the primitive Church, believers expected on the ruins of the heathen world the triumphant return of Christ. Yes, it was there that the promised land was. Alas! the world has continued its progress, the kingdom of God does not come with show, the work of the Spirit proceeds mysteriously and in secret, and, whilst that brilliant vision of a renewed earth moves before your troubled eyes, a voice murmurs in your ear: “Thou shalt not enter it!” Yes, let us not flatter ourselves. Those are seldom met with in our days who, devoured by hungering for truth and righteousness, long ardently after the reign of God. You had dreamed of a grand and beautiful existence on earth, for it was not towards vile pleasures that your nature carried you. God had given you talents, brilliant faculties, the knowledge of everything that is noble and fair. With what joy you bounded forth on your career! How all good causes appealed to you! Every day was to render you both better and stronger. To know, to love, to act, was your aim. All those enchanted ways opened before you, covered with that haze of the morning through which one predicts in spring the serene clearness and the heat of a fine day. The promised land was there in your eyes; you contemplated it with eager looks, you were going to enter it. All at once misfortune came, disease broke your strength, your property vanished from you, you were obliged to begin to gain by the sweat of your brow your daily bread; crushing cares have come to overwhelm your heart and blight your hopes; selfishness and the harshness of men have given you bitter and cruel surprises, and whilst others got before you in the race and ran towards the prospects of happiness which remained closed to you, the austere voice of trial murmured in your ear: “Thou shalt not enter it!” You had, my sister, dreamed on earth of the happiness of shared affections; the course of life appeared to you pleasant to follow, supported on a manly arm and a loyal heart. What joy to be able every day to pour your thoughts and your affections into a soul which would comprehend yours! The promised land was there to you; and now, you are widowed, and you go, a solitary one, in that path, the asperities of which no one smooths in your case. Or, what is much worse still, you have seen infidelity, falseness, and, perhaps, a cold indifference penetrate between you and the heart of him whose name you bear. To others God has spared that trial. You have seen a joyous family circle form around you--you have prepared for life the children whom God gave you. With what happiness have you followed the first intimations of intelligence in them, with what anxiety their temptations and their sufferings, with what gratitude their victories and their progress! At last you had almost attained your object. They were ready for the struggles of life; all that a vigilant love could sow in their hearts you had shed abroad. It was to you the promised land. Alas! how lately was it true. But a day came--a day of anxiety and fearful forebodings, ending in a reality still more frightful. From your desolated abode a funeral procession has passed, and today it is in Heaven that your wavering faith has to seek an image which floats before your troubled eyes. Shall I remind you of those works--long pursued with self-denial, with love--at the end of which you gathered unsuccess and ingratitude, and have seen your best intentions misunderstood and calumniated? Vain desires! barren illusions! the world cries to us, and in the name of its selfish philosophy it preaches to us forgetfulness and dissipation. But do you desire that forgetfulness? No, it is better still to suffer and to have known these desires, these affections, these hopes; it is better to bear about with one these holy images and sacred recollections; the torment of a soul which believes, and of a heart which loves, is better than the stupid and base frivolity of the world. It is better, O Moses! after forty years of fatigue and of suffering, to die in view of the coasts of Canaan than to lead in the palaces of Egypt the stupid and shameful servitude of pleasure and of sin! And yet before that rigorous law, which closes to us here below the promised land, our troubled heart turns trembling to God; we ask Him, that God of love, the secret of His ways which astonish us and now and then confound us. “Why?” we say to Him, “why?” We shall never here below fully know the cause of the ways of God. There are, particularly in suffering, mysteries which go beyond all our explanations. Nevertheless it is written that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. Let us try then to explain something of it. If Moses does not enter into the promised land, it is certainly, in the first place, because Moses sinned. What! you will tell me, could God not forget the faults of His servant? So long as Moses remains on earth he will undergo the visible consequences of his transgression in former times. As he sinned in presence of the people, it is in presence also of the people that he will be smitten. Now, that is what we have a difficulty in comprehending today. Today the sentiment of God’s holiness is effaced. God is love, we say with the Gospel, and forget that the Gospel never separates His love and His holiness! We forget it in face of Gethsemane, in face of Calvary, in face of those sorrows, without name, which remind us that pardon does not annihilate justice, and that Divine righteousness demands an expiation. Yes, God is love; but have you reflected on this, that what God loves before everything else is that which is good? Can God love His creatures more than He loves goodness? That is the question. Our age resolves it in the sense which pleases its feebleness. God, it tells us, loves before everything His creatures; and saying that, the whole Gospel is reversed; for it is evident that if God loves His creatures more than He loves what is good, He will save them, be their corruption and their incredulity what they may. Then heaven is assured to all--to the impenitent, to the proud, to the rebellious, as well as to penitent and broken hearts. This is not all. If God can thus place what is good in the second rank, can He not put it there always? What becomes, then, of holiness? What are we told of His law, since that law gives way when He chooses? I go further. What are we told of redemption, and what does the Cross of Calvary say to us, if you efface the idea of a sacrifice demanded by Divine justice? But admit, on the contrary, with Scripture, that God loves what is good before everything; that holiness is His very essence; and you will see that, if face to face with sinners, His name is love, face to face with sin, His name is justice; that suffering willed by Him is inseparably united with evil. You asked why life did not keep its promises to you--why your dreams, your plans of happiness were pitilessly destroyed--why, in presence of the promised land, an inexorable voice came to you: “Thou shalt not enter it!” Scripture answers you--because you are sinners; because this earth, which evil has defiled, cannot be for you the land of repose and of happiness; because God would warn you and prepare you to meet Him. You asked, O ye redeemed by the Gospel, why after having believed the pardon of God, His love, and His promises, you were treated by Him with rigour which confounds you? Ah it is because God, who made you His children, would further make you partakers of His holiness; it is because He would that the suffering attached to your earthly life should remind you every day of what you formerly were, and of what you would be without Him. Thus, at all times, God acts towards those very ones who have most loved Him. Ask Moses why he does not enter Canaan. Does he murmur? does he complain? does he accuse Divine justice? No; he bows his head and adores. Ask Jacob why his hoary hairs go down with sorrow to the grave. Does he accuse God? No; he remember, his deceits of a former time, his conduct towards Isaac, his perfidy towards Esau. Thus He accomplishes the word, that judgment commences at His own house. Thus God reminds those whom He has pardoned and saved, that if they are the children of a God of love, they ought to become the children of a holy God. But in refusing us, as Moses, admission here to the promised land, God has yet another aim--that of strengthening our faith. Let us suppose that it had been given us to realise our desires on earth, to see our designs accomplished, our sacrifices recompensed, to gather here, in a word, all that we have sowed. What would soon happen? That we should walk by sight and no longer by faith--pleasant and easy course, where every effort would be followed with its result, every sacrifice with its recompense. Who would not like to be a Christian at that price? Who would not seek that near and visible blessing? Ah! do you not see that the selfish spirit of the mercenary would come, like a cold poison, to mingle with our obedience? Do you not see that our hearts, drawn to earth by all the weight of our happiness, would soon forget the invisible world and their true, their eternal destiny? What would the life of faith then become; that heroic struggle of the soul which tears itself from the world of sight in order to attach itself to God? What would that noble heritage become, which all believers of the past have transmitted to us? Now, God expects from us better things. That is why He refuses you here below the repose, and the peace, and the sweet security of heart, and those joys in which you would like to rest; and why, when the world has caused to pass before you that promised land of happiness which enchants and attracts you, His inexorable voice says to you: “Thou shalt not enter it.” But, know well, He does not deceive you, for true repose and true happiness still await you. Ah! better to die on Mount Nebo, for God has reserved for thee a better heritage, a promised land into which thou shalt enter in peace. There, sin is no more; there, pure voices proclaim the glory of the Lord; there, His sanctuary is reared in light ineffable and in an ideal beauty; there, repose on the bosom of Infinite Love all those who, like thyself, have combated for righteousness; there, God reigns, surrounded with the multitude without number of His worshippers. Close thine eyes, O wearied pilgrim, thou wilt open them again in light, in the celestial Canaan, on the holy Sion, in the heavenly Jerusalem! Lastly, if God refuse us, as He did Moses, what we should have liked to possess on earth, it is that our heart may belong to Him, and be given to Hint forever. I think I hear your protestations. You answer me: “Yes, faith and holiness can be taught in that rude school; but is it right that God should obtain love in this way?” And you add: “Should we have loved Him less if He had left us those treasures which His jealous hand so soon carried off from us Should we have loved less if our heart, instead of falling back sadly upon itself, had been able to bloom and breathe freely in all the confidence of happiness?” Less! ah, we are witnesses to it. Today, if what we have lost could be returned to us; if our youth, our life, our hopes could be born again today, there would not be words in the language of men to testify to Him our gratitude and our love. I understand you; but take care, you have said, “today,” and you are right; for yesterday, alas!--for formerly--when you possessed those treasures, when your life was happy, where was that gratitude, that love, which should have overflowed? On that earth, blessed and decked with all your joys, did you think God Himself was misunderstood and treated as a stranger? Did you reflect that His cause was forgotten, His Gospel attacked, His Church feeble and divided? Did you think of those thousands of souls groaning under the burden of ignorance, of misery, and of Sin Did you ask for the earth where righteousness dwells? No; in order to reveal all that to you there was need of sorrow. We have seen how God educates us; we have seen how He prepares us for the promised land, which is not here below but in heaven. Happy the one who does not wait for the blows of trial in order to steer his course to it; but, happy, also, the one whose bonds trial has broken, and who has entered upon the journey home. (E. Bersier, D. D.)

Verse 5

Deuteronomy 34:5

So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died.


The death of Moses

the greatest of men are but instruments in God’s hands, and He can afford to lay them aside when He chooses. Let this thought--

1. Dispel fears for future of Church of God.

2. Abate personal pride.

3. Calm fears for loved ones.

The time and manner of each man’s removal from earth are fixed by God.

When God removes His servants from earth it is that He may take them to heaven.

Until God calls us away, let us be diligent in doing good.

God frequently gives intimation to men that He is about to call them to Himself.

God will remove all difficulties in our heavenward journey. (Preachers Monthly.)

The death of Moses

The best must die.

The best may die in the zenith of their greatness.

The best may die when apparently indispensable.

The best may die where they little expect.

But all die when and where God decrees. (R. A. Griffin.)

The death of Moses

There is nothing more sublime in the history of Moses than the story of his death. Tried by a worldly standard, it seems a poor and shameful ending of such a life. Who so fit, we might ask, to lead the children of Israel into the promised land as he who had, for their sakes, defied the wrath of Pharaoh, who led them out of Egypt, and shared with them the wanderings of the wilderness? Who is the nobler man? he who rejoices in the fulfilment of his hopes, or he who knows how to endure, and see the fruit of, disappointment?

The perils of a call to service.

1. There are perils in its graces. Godly men will transgress just where they seem most secure, will yield to the temptations against which they seem to be best armed. In a moment the old nature flashes up; the sin of a moment startles out of the self-complacency of many years.

2. There are perils belonging to the gifts of a high calling. Those are not to be envied who are most richly endowed, and can do most for men. They have to be constantly warned against pride and self-sufficiency; to be often chastened and humiliated for relying on their gifts instead of on the Giver.

3. There are perils incident to the fulfilment of a high calling.

God’s earnestness in the accomplishment of His will. Was Moses startled after he had spoken his rash words to the people, and smitten the rock in his anger? shocked to think that he had been so easily led into sin, and that his sin was great in that he had not sanctified God in the eyes of the children of Israel? If so, the words in which the Lord rebuked him must have fallen blessedly upon his ears. Our first foolish thought is the wish to bide our sin from God; our second wiser thought is to rejoice that He has seen and marked it, for He alone can put our sins away. Our first foolish impulse is to offer our excuses and plead that we be not chastised; our second wiser impulse is that of the spiritual man within us, which welcomes all the fatherly discipline by which we may be purged. Our first foolish thought is to blame the responsibilities of our position, and even to desire to be relieved of them; our second wiser persuasion is that responsibilities are the honours of heaven, and that it is cause of gratitude when God will make us worthy to fulfil them. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The death of Moses: what do we think about it

“We must needs die.” So spake the widow of Tekoah. But why must we needs die? Why is it that after so many years of healthy, vigorous life the signs of feebleness, decay, and coming dissolution show themselves? There is, so far as we know, only one satisfactory answer: it is God’s will.” “It is” appointed unto men once to die.” The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” But the death of Moses was not the result of decayed powers and the infirmities of old age. He was equal to his work, and if spared, would soon have completed it, for the people, whose leader the Lord had appointed him, were now on the borders of the promised land. There was only the Jordan to cross. Why, then, should God, just at this point, have taken him away?

In the death of moses we have witness to the severity of God. “God is love.” That is His nature, but it is qualified by justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. “Behold,” says Paul, “the goodness and severity of God.” He is Father, and in all His ways most fatherly. But He is also King, and is most kingly too. God is not to be trifled with. His laws cannot be disregarded with impunity. Sin ever is, and must be, punished. Bless His name, there is forgiveness with Him. Our sins may not shut us out of heaven. They may not prevent us from enjoying the life to be, with its unsullied glory. But they do hinder the enjoyment of the present. They haunt us like an ugly dream. The scars they have left are ever painful. You cannot sin with impunity. Sin is what clings to a man and curses him. It is not like a coat you can put on and take off at your pleasure. It is poison which, if it don’t kill, will pain you for years. Or it will act in the same way in which it acted in relation to Moses. It prevented him from entering Canaan, and so there is many a sweet land, many a happy experience we might enter upon, but our sin--in imprudent act or speech--prevents.

In the death of Moses there is witness to God’s desire that men should put their trust, not in man, but in Him. The book from which our text is taken ends as no other does, either in the Old Testament or in the New. It closes with a high eulogium upon Moses. We do not know whose hand wrote the eulogium; but we doubt not it expressed the universal feeling of Israel after his death. If he had been spared to bring them into the land, there might have been the temptation to enthrone the creature in place of the Creator, and to their great peril they might have placed in the man that trust which ought to be put in God and in Him alone. This they could not do without inflicting great self-injury. Let them do it, and they would be sure to reap vexation, disappointment, and misery. But by the removal of Moses just at the very time when they probably felt they could so ill spare him, they were taught the salutary lesson that their trust should not be put in man, but in God. It is only the confidence that clings to God which is, without fail, rewarded. The mind of God is set upon men finding this out for themselves, and as it is for their eternal interest so to do, by many a painful providence He works out His will.

In the death of Moses there is witness to the kindness of God. The Lord declared that Moses should not enter the land, and He strictly kept His word. But He tempered His severity with kindness. He would not tread the land, but he would be permitted to see it. How very fatherly this was. Your child forfeits a certain privilege. You won’t break your word and give it him. But in your fatherly relentings you substitute some other privilege for it. Thus in His kindness dealt the Lord with Moses. And if we project our minds into the future, his removal seems to be all of kindness. He was now an old man, and his life bad been hard, disappointing, and sad. Surely it was kind to call him home, to rest and to blessedness beyond his utmost hopes, and to joys unspeakable and full of glory. Death was to him not the call to destruction, but to a higher and better life. As his Lord the Most High declared, he must die; as his Father, He “gathered” him unto his people. There was another thing in connection with his death that expressed the kindness, or the kindliness, of the Lord. We know we must die, and, knowing this, we have the wish to die among our own; to be tended in our last moments by our dearest ones on earth; and when all is over to be laid beside our kindred.

“As if the quiet bones were blest

Among familiar names to rest.”

And whilst this is true, it is also as true we have a wish that, should any of out household be “sick unto death,” they should die with us. If you should hear of your absent child being dangerously ill, your first thought would be to get him home, and if too ill to be removed, you would then arrange to go to him and nurse him, wherever he might be, until death relieved you of your sad but loved charge. I heard a daughter say, not long since, speaking of her mother’s long and fatal illness, “I am so thankful I was able to nurse her, and do everything for her with my own hands all the way through to the end.” And when she spoke the words it was quite evident the facts she stated gave her the deepest satisfaction and joy. So Moses was well eared for in his death, for God, as a comforting mother, took him into His own care, and laid him down to rest.

In the death of Moses we have witness to the glory of the grace of God. Shakespeare says of one of his characters:--

“Nothing in his life

Became him like the leaving it”;

and with truth we might say the same of Moses. At the last he was at his best. The forty years in Midian were doubtless all needed to prepare him for his work on earth; the forty years of hard service and discipline in the wilderness were as surely necessary to meeten him for the higher life and service of heaven. But now, when they had come and gone, he was quite ready, through God’s grace, and thus his death, so beautiful in its spirit of entire self-abnegation, was a witness to the glory of that wonder-working grace. This morning I went into my garden. The seeds sown a few weeks ago were showing themselves in new life and form above the ground, “This,” said I, “is the sun’s doing. How wonderful is the power of the sun! But I looked forward. There should come a day when the plants around me should be ripe and ready for the use of my family. The sun should thus do greater things--by augmented heat and power it should perfect the life it had quickened. So is it with the grace of God. It diminishes not, but increases as it shines upon the heart it has quickened until perfection is reached; and so the end is better than the beginning. (Adam Scott.)

The death of good men

The honourable character here given to Moses is equal to that of angels, the highest order of creatures. As a servant he was faithful in all the house of God (Hebrews 3:5). Having been faithful to the death, he went to receive the crown of life. The memory of the just is blessed.

How the will of God is concerned in our death.

1. The general sentence of mortality is fixed by God (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Hebrews 9:27). It is the common lot of all men.

2. Death receives its peculiar commission from God. It cannot strike but by His order or permission. Life and death are in His hand.

3. The time is fixed by His will. All the care and skill of man cannot prolong life for a moment.

4. The place where is fixed by His will. Some die by sea, others on land; everyone in his place according to the will of God.

5. The means of death, natural, violent, or casual, are all under His direction. What appears chance or accident to us is all certain and determined with Him.

6. The manner and circumstances of our death are all determined by the will of God. Some are taken away suddenly, and by surprise, others slowly and by degrees; some with strong pain, others with great ease.

What sort of obedience we ought to yield to the will of God in dying.

1. There are many things not inconsistent with this obedience to the will of God.

(1) Everyone’s life is a charge committed by God to him, and he must account for his care in preserving it. Therefore he is bound by all lawful means to cherish and support it.

(2) Conditional requests for sparing mercy are not inconsistent with obedience to the will of God (Luke 22:42; Psalms 39:13).

(3) A due care in settling our worldly affairs before we die is consistent with our obedience to the will of God in taking us away. It was the command of God Himself to Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1).

(4) A zealous pursuit of religious concerns to the last well consists with our obedience to the will of God in dying.

(5) The strugglings of nature against the bitterness of death may consist with our obedience in dying.

2. Having seen what is not inconsistent with the obedience here exemplified, let us next consider what it implies--

(1) A quiet expecting and waiting for God’s call. The circumstances of a person’s life may be so tormenting that he would be glad to find the grave and seek refuge in death. Here God cuts out work for patience, and this being the last trial patience may here find its perfect work.

(2) An humble bearing of God’s fatherly displeasure, if there should be any tokens of it upon us in our death.

(3) A final farewell to the world, and particularly to those things that render a stay in it most desirable.

(4) A quitting this mortal flesh in hopes of a happy resurrection.

(5) A willing surrender of our soul into His hands from whom it originally came.

(6) An awful and serious preparation to give an account of ourselves unto God.

(7) A thankful entertainment Of our dismission from the body as a real privilege.

(8) A vigorous exercise of faith with respect to an unseen state, when God is leading us on to it (Hebrews 11:8).

Why we ought to yield the obedience that has been explained.

1. God is our supreme and absolute Lord, who hath an indisputable right to our obedience, and we hold our life by no other tenure but His will.

2. Consider we are His servants, and contradict our own profession if we die not according to His will.

3. Consider the example that our Lord hath given us in this. Should a believer in Christ be backward to follow Him, or seek another road to heaven than that which He hath taken?

4. Another reason why we should yield obedience to the will of God in dying is, that God’s time is the fittest and best.

5. This is the finishing act of our obedience to God in this world; it is but holding out a little longer, and then our work goes with us, and our reward is before us (Revelation 14:13).

6. Dying with resignation to the good will of God will have the greatest influence on those we leave behind us.

7. This is an act of obedience from which the chiefest favourites of heaven are not exempted. Abraham is dead. Moses and the prophets are dead. We are not better than our fathers who are dead.


1. If it be our duty to be obedient even unto death, how much more to submit to all those evils that precede it!

2. If dying according to the will of God is so necessary an act of obedience, it is an act of great goodness in God to spare us; to allow time to prepare those who are not ready.

3. Here we may see that they finish a good life with an honourable death who die in obedience to the will of God, and leave a grateful remembrance behind them. Let us then be exhorted--

(1) To make death familiar to our minds by frequent forethought.

(2) To look upon all the enjoyments of life with a holy indifference, and respect them no further than as mere conveniences appointed by God to help us on in our work and way to a better world.

(3) To live upon the death of Christ as the only foundation of our hope. (W. Beat.)

The death of Moses

The sovereign of the world can carry on His purposes in it without the help of man. Moses was taken away from Israel just at the time when he seemed most necessary to them. How mysterious was this dispensation! And yet the occurrences of every day are involved in almost equal mystery. Do we ask why He acts thus? To teach us our nothingness and His greatness; to show the world that although He is pleased to employ human instruments, He does not need them; to let His creatures see that, even if the hosts of heaven should cease to obey His word, He could form other hands to do His work, or accomplish His purposes without any instrument at all.

Sin is exceedingly hateful in the sight of God, and He will mark it with his displeasure even in His most beloved servants. Remember that one transgression excluded the faithful Moses from Canaan; what then will be your doom, laden as you are with so many sins, and so hardened in guilt?

The afflicted servant of God is generally enabled to submit with resignation to the chastisements of his heavenly Father. It is not indeed wrong to feel the smart of afflictions. Insensibility under them is not only unnatural, but sinful, for it subverts the purposes for which they were sent to us. Moses felt sorrow and pain when he was forbidden to enter Canaan; and a greater than Moses had His soul troubled at the thought of approaching suffering. Neither is it wrong to beseech the Almighty to withdraw from us the chastisements with which He has visited us. Moses besought the Lord that he might be allowed to go over Jordan; and what was the language of the suffering Jesus? (Matthew 26:39.) We see no insensibility here, no despising of the chastening of the Lord. We see, on the contrary, the liveliest, the deepest feeling. But then this feeling is attended with a spirit of entire submission.

The death of the servants of God, with all the circumstances connected with it, is ordered by the Lord. Our Bibles tell us that He disposes of the meanest and smallest concerns of our life; how much more then of life itself!

The people of God may confidently expect from Him support and comfort in the hour of death. In such an hour, flesh and heart must fail; the soul must need support; and they who fear the Lord shall find all the grace and help they need. He who was with Moses will be with them, as “the strength of their heart and their portion forever.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The death of Moses

A cloud of mystery and awe envelops the death of this great prophet and lawgiver. No other death recorded in Scripture approaches it or is parallel to it. Through the mystery we feel that no other death would have been so fitting; and why?

1. All his life Moses had been a solitary man, alone in the world, with no one to share his great thought and responsibilities. He had lived alone with God; it was fitting that he should die alone with God.

2. His had been an utterly humble, unselfish life; he had always sacrificed himself for the good of the people; he left his greatness to join his countrymen in their degrading servitude; he forgot himself to avenge their wrongs.

3. Of every other great leader of Israel we read that “he was buried with his fathers”--with loving, reverent hands laid in the sepulchre of his fathers--and that a tomb was raised over him which recalled the memory of his greatness through long generations. Moses, the greatest of them all--warrior, statesman, poet--was buried far away from his brethren. No loving human hands laid him in his last abode; the very place of it was unknown.

4. Moses is the noblest example of unselfish religion--of unselfish love to God and man--to be found in the Bible, nay, I believe, in the whole history of man. Such self-forgetfulness and unselfishness is never sad and disappointed. Such a soul does not seek happiness; it finds happiness. It is morbidness, it is self-introspection, which makes men melancholy and disappointed. God and love are heaven. (E. J. Rose, M. A.)

The death of Moses

His thoughts would naturally be of two kinds. One class of them would make him reluctant to die; the other would tend to reconcile him to death.

He would be unwilling to die because--

1. He had nearly, but not quite, accomplished a great work. Many a patriot, many a philanthropist, many a leader of thought, has felt that life was of value to him only as it enabled him to carry to completion, or to place on a secure footing, the one work of his life.

2. He was still in the possession of health and vigour. The work he had in hand was of the noblest order. He seemed to be the only man capable of doing it. And he felt himself still adequate to its demands.

3. Think, too, of the prospect that lay stretched out before him, and judge what death must have seemed to him at such a moment. Never had he seen this earth so fair or so glorious. After all the toils and perils of the wilderness, is he not to grasp the prize, the hope of which had so much strengthened him to bear them?

4. Still more unwelcome would the summons be to quit the world thus early, because it was a sign of God’s displeasure with him (Numbers 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 32:48-52). “The sting of death is sin.” Moses knew that but for the displeasure of God he might have continued to live, and might have died long hence under happier auspices.

5. He had to die alone.

Things that would go far to reconcile him to death.

1. He had the favour and presence of God. His fault was forgiven. Moreover, the presence of God was granted him.

2. His work, unfinished as it seemed, was really done. His successor was already named and consecrated.

3. He is leaving all sorrow, especially all sin, behind him. To die was, to him, gain.

4. He is about to enter a brighter world than that which he is leaving. (B. P. Pratten, B. A.)

The death of Moses

A lonely death. All death to a great extent must necessarily be so. There is only one Friend who can go through the death valley, and if He is with us we may make it ring with the voice of triumph.

A peaceful death. Death always may be encountered without dread when heaven can be anticipated without fear.

Probably a sudden death. To the worldly man there is something peculiarly shocking in sudden death; to the Christian it is often the reverse. How much is he spared! Korniloff, the Russian general, who fell at the capture of Sebastopol, said it was a pleasant thing to die when the conscience was quiet. But that can alone be through the blood of Jesus.

A death preceded by pisgah glances. This is often the case with the truly good man. Says Dr. Payson, when approaching the end of life: “The celestial city is full in view. Its glories beam upon me; its breezes fan me; its odours are wafted to me; its sounds strike upon my ears; and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears as an insignificant rill that may be crossed at a single step when God gives permission. The Sun of Righteousness is gradually drawing nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He approaches; and now He fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory in which I seem to float like an insect in His beams; exulting, yet almost trembling whilst I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wonder with unutterable wonder why God should thus deign to shine on a sinful worm.” (G. Short, B. A.)

The death of Moses

According to the warning of the Lord.

1. His death was long foreseen. Have not we also had many warnings?

2. It was exceedingly disappointing. Are we ready to say as to our most cherished hope, “Thy will be done”? Are we holding our life’s dearest purpose with a loose hand? It will be our wisdom so to do.

3. Apparently it was a severe chastisement. God will be sanctified in them that come near to Him.

4. It seemed a great calamity. He had been tutored by a long experience, chastened by a marvellous discipline, and elevated by a sublime intercourse with God; and yet must he die.

5. It was a sentence not to be averted by prayer.

According to the Divine appointment.

1. All the details of the death of Moses had been ordered by the Lord.

2. According to an appointment which is very general amongst God’s people. Most men have to sow that others may reap. Let us be content to do our part in laying the foundation.

3. For a deep dispensational reason. The law may bring us to the borders of the promise, but only Joshua or Jesus can bring us into grace and truth. We also shall in life and death answer some gracious purpose of the Lord. Are we not glad to have it so?

According to the loving wisdom of the Lord.

1. By so doing he preserved his identity with the people for whom he had cared. For their sakes he had forsaken a princedom in Egypt, and now for their sakes he loses a home in Palestine are not we satisfied to take our lot with the holy men and women who already sleep in Jesus?

2. He was thus released from all further trial. Do you grieve that the battle is fought, and the victory is won forever? We also in our deaths shall find the end of toil and labour, and the rest will be glorious.

3. He was relieved from a fresh strain upon him, which would have been involved in the conquest of Canaan. He would have crossed the Jordan not to enjoy the country but to fight for it: was he not well out of so severe a struggle? You think of the clusters of Eshcol, but I am thinking of the sieges and the battles. Was it so very desirable to be there? Would Moses really have desired that dreadful fray

The way in which he died abundantly displays the grace of God.

1. After Moses had been well assured that he must die, you never hear a complaint of it, nor even a prayer against it.

2. Most fitly the old man called forth all his energies to finish his work. Is not this a fine fruit of grace? Oh, that we may bear it!

3. He did all that remained to be done, and then went willingly to his end. As flowers before they shed their leaves pour out all their perfumes, so let us pour out our souls unto the Lord.

According to the divine favour. His death leaves nothing to regret; neither is any desirable thing lacking. Failing to pass over Jordan seems a mere pin’s prick, in presence of the honours which surrounded his departing hours. He now saw that he had fulfilled his destiny, and was not as a pillar broken short. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The death of Moses

Entire resignation to the will of God. We are making the voyage of life like passengers in a ship Sleeping or waking, they are proceeding towards their destined port; and will soon reach it, whether they shall have crossed a calm or a stormy ocean. The zealous servant of his God and Saviour will be occupied in his post of duty, committing the period of his removal to the appointment of that providence which allows not a hair of his head to fall unnoticed to the ground.

The full exercise of faith and hope. Sinking nature, indeed, will tremble at the prospect of dissolution, although faith may feel the support of the everlasting arms: as he who stands upon a lofty tower may shudder at the depths below him, although the battlements effectually prevent his fall. But if that God and Saviour, whom by a deliberate act of faith he has chosen as his heritage, be with him, he will feel no evil, though he walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The higher the sun rises above the earth the more perfectly does it scatter the clouds and darkness which have usurped the sky. And the more firmly the hope of the Gospel is established within the soul, the more surely will it be submissive to that decree which comes to remove it into the awful realities of the invisible world--the more effectually will it triumph over the last assault, in that confidence of hope which the grace of faith can alone bestow.

A resignation thus arising from faith and hope enabled Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, and to die in peace and comfort. He who passes a life of faith, and usefulness, and holiness, like Hooker, will usually be permitted to adopt his language at the approach of death. “I have long been preparing to leave this world, and gathering comfort for the dreadful hour of making my account with God, which I now apprehend to be near, and though I have by His grace loved Him in my youth, and feared Him in my age, and laboured to have a conscience void of offence to Him and to all men, yet, if Thou, O Lord, be extreme to mark what I have done amiss, who can abide it? And therefore where I have failed, Lord show mercy unto me; for I plead not my righteousness, but the forgiveness of my unrighteousness, for His merits who died to purchase a pardon for penitent sinners. I am at peace with all men, and God is at peace with me; from which blessed assurance I feel an inward joy which this world can neither give nor take away.”

The dying moments of Moses were distinguished by earnest zeal for the welfare of Israel and the glory of God. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

Loneliness in death

Moses had often been above before, and alone with God; so was prepared for this loneliness in facing eternity. A mountain is at once a natural scene and fit emblem of solitude.

His absolute solitude in death. He dies in the very midst of robustness and vigour, and so consciously feels the ties of life all breaking; and, with the sense of separation from all that was seen and familiar, steps consciously into the unseen and the unknown.

The real solitariness in every death. In death men are, and ever must be, alone; because of--

1. The senses that are lost. Dim eye, dull car, numbed touch, inarticulate tongue, distance the dying from all around, however faithful and loving.

2. The faculties gained keenness of intuition. There is an elevation in the death of many a Christly one that as much separates them from the living, as does the dimming of the senses by which they were wont to commune with them.


1. Learn in life by occasional solitude to be independent of men. Then, when in dying, human help is gone, there will be no sudden terrible surprise.

2. Seek in life companionship with God in solitude. Then, having often been alone with God before, loneliness with Him in death will be no terrifying experience, but the repetition and consummation of some of the best experiences of life. (U. R. Thomas.)

Saintset on Nebo

We have here a picture of how good men die.

1. They go to death. Not driven or dragged. Feel it to be a call from God to go and meet Him, and, being prepared, go forth willingly and with joy.

2. They go up to death. Not a leap in the dark. They spring up into life and light, holiness and heaven.

3. They go up alone to death. Have to leave nearest and dearest earthly friends behind.

What would the closing scene in the life of Moses teach him?

1. That his life, though faulty, had not been a failure. God accepted it, and admitted him to the rest and recompense of the skies.

2. That though he had incurred the Divine displeasure, yet he had not forfeited the Divine favour. We may suffer disadvantage all through life, and loss at close of it by wrong-doing; but if we repent of the wrong, and are restored to God’s favour, and retained in His service, He will still lead us on, and take us by the hand at last, and give us an abundant entrance into His everlasting joy.

3. That amid all his fears and anxieties he need not dread entering upon the solemn and nearing future.

What does the closing scene in the life of Moses teach us?

1. The incompleteness of human life.

2. The illusiveness of human life. We go in quest of rest and reward, and we know we shall secure them if we are firm and faithful; but how the goal we are seeking seems frequently to recede from us, and the prize we would secure seems to elude our grasp!

3. The inscrutableness of human life. The unexpected and apparently untimely departure of good and useful men fills us with wonder and dismay. We looked for continuation and completion of service; but lo, we have seen, instead, the deserted post and the vacant chair. (F. W. Brown.)

The last stage era long journey

Climbing the mountain. Slowly he ascends the mountain, climbing alone, while the tear-dimmed eyes of Israel watch his ascent. Up! Up! Up! he goes. Every step takes him from those he loves. Every step carries him into a region of divinest mysteries. But what thoughts surge and rush in his mind as he upward toils? He is leaving Israel, the nation whose cradle he has tended, whose ill-humours and impetuosities he has borne. Only God knows what he has suffered for those people through these forty long years. If I ask any mother or father here about the children they have lost, I shall be told that the child for whom they lost most rest--the child for whom they sacrificed the most--was the one that got most about their heart strings. So Moses finds, it is awful to tear himself away at that Divine behest and leave them there, while he goes up yonder to die. He is leaving his life work. It is an awful thing to feel that your life work is done! How does Moses feel as he climbs those slopes? Someone else is stepping into his place that now is his no more. God has superannuated him! Of course, there are people who are not concerned about all this. They belong to the regiment of the lazies! and a tremendously strong regiment it is. They know nothing about these troubles. They know not the agony of leaving a Sunday school class, or of being compelled to abandon preaching. Such people cannot enter into the feelings of Moses at this time.

Viewing the land.

The opened eyes. Instead of dusky Arabs, he sees a company of white-robed angels, and his ear begins to catch the music of their song. And old Jericho, which had seemed common place enough, now seems larger, brighter than before. Its walls are sparkling with jewels; its gates gleam pearly white; and the amethystine glory comes streaming over its turrets. The land seems full of light, and joy, and bliss. The angel band is swelling in numbers. The distant hills are radiant with eternal light. The glory heightens. God is opening his eyes, and the transient things of earth are giving way to the things which are eternal. There stands the “city whose Builder and Maker is God.” His soul flutters as a caged bird that struggles to get flee. And God is releasing that noble soul. The physical senses are being supported by the spiritual. Insensibly God carries him over the border. He knows not the moment when he ceases to be mortal, and becomes like the angels of God. All the horror of the thing, which makes the heart sick, he misses. He enters, at God’s bidding, a larger and more satisfying life, by a path that is glorious with the Divine presence. With Him conversing, he forgets that this is death.

In memoriam. Moses has gone, but in every generation God keeps up the succession of His saints, who minister to Him here awhile in our sight, and then pass to the higher ministries of Jerusalem above. (F. Denton.)

The death of Moses

Moses had endured to the full the loneliness which is the penalty of greatness. His lofty spirit, austere and firm, like the granite peak of Sinai, rose solitary, like it, above the lower heights, and was often swathed, like it, in the separating cloud, the symbol of a present God. Now Miriam was gone, and Aaron slept on Her, and all the old familiar faces were memories. The summons to come up to Pisgah and die would not be unwelcome. He had lived alone; alone he climbed the mountain, with natural force unabated, the people watching him as he went up; alone he is to die,--a fitting close to such a life. He had lived on the heights, he shall not die on the plain. He had lived leaning on God only; God only shall be with him at last.

1. Note, then, the vision to the dying leader of the unattained country, which had been his goal in all his work. How wistful and long would be the gaze! The sublime and rigid self-repression of his life would not desert him at the last; and we may well believe that regret at his own exclusion would be swallowed up in thankfulness that the prize was so near and so rich. “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” would be the voice of his heart. God did not show him the land to tantalise him with the vision of what he had missed for himself, but to cheer him with the assurance of what he had won for his people. Moses had his portion when he saw the land, and was satisfied. That Pisgah sight has become the type of the large visions of the future which God often gives to solace His faithful servants at last. “There must be wisdom with great death,” and when the dust of conflict is laid the prospect widens, and the cleared eye sees the goodly land to which the devious marches have been leading more hopefully and truly than while yet busied in looking to the dangers of the present, and picking firm ground for the next step. All epoch-making men have the fate of Moses. They spend their lives in leading rebellious and reluctant feet towards some fair ideal, and die when apparently on the verge of realising it. In our own little lives the same law holds good. “One soweth, and another reapeth.” Rarely does any man complete his life’s purpose.

2. Note the solitary death and hidden grave. The lawgiver, whose message was “The wages of sin are death,” does himself, in the very manner of his own death, exemplify its two characteristics which smite most upon the heart,--its mystery and its solitude. And the same lessons are taught by that hidden grave. As, Thomas Fuller says somewhere, “God first buried him, and then buried his grave.” Some say that the intention was to prevent idolatrous reverence by the Israelites; but there is no sign that, amid all their aberrations, they ever had any tendency that way. The graves of the patriarchs at Hebron and of the kings at Jerusalem were left undistinguished, and apparently little regarded. Some have thought that the mystery of his sepulchre points to his resurrection, or translation, and have found confirmation in the story of his appearance with Elijah at the transfiguration. But that is pure imagination. Was the hiding of the grave a purpose of God’s, or simply a result of his being laid to rest outside the promised land, which had no further intention? He was not to enter it, not even in death. The bones of Joseph were carried up thither, but Moses was to lie where he died, amid foreigners, of course; then, years passed before Israel could again venture into Moab; and even if any had ever known the spot, the knowledge would not be transmitted. That lonely and forgotten grave among the savage cliffs was in keeping with the whole character and work of him who lay there. Contrast that grave with the sepulchre in the garden where Jesus lay, close by a city wall, guarded by foes, haunted by troops of weeping friends, visited by a great light of angel faces. The one was hidden and solitary, as teaching the loneliness of death; the other revealed light in the darkness, and companionship in the loneliness. The one faded from men’s memory because it was nothing to any man; no impulses, nor hopes, nor gifts could come from it. The other forever draws hearts and memories, because in it was wrought out the victory in which all our hopes are rooted.

3. Note how soon the place of the leader is filled. A month finishes the mourning. The new generation could not be expected to feel to him as to men of their own time. To them his death would seem natural, and not difficult to bear. He had lingered long, like some harder peak which survives the weathering that crumbles softer rock around. But, none the less, the young life round him would feel that he belonged to the past. It is the fate of all who outlast their generation. New work called for new men. We cannot fancy the, lawgiver wielding the commander’s sword, any more than Joshua grasping Moses rod. Smaller, rougher instruments were best for the fresh phase of service. A plain soldier, true and keen as his own sword, but incapable of the large revelations which the spirit of the legislator had been capacious enough to receive, was the man wanted now. So Moses goes home and takes his wages, and Joshua steps into his place. The smaller man completes the mighty torso which the greater man left half hewn. God has all sorts of tools in His great tool chest. Each is good for one bit of the work, and is put away when that is done, and all are wanted before it is finished. The greatest has his limitations and his period of service. There is but one name which endures forever. Moses dies on Pisgah, and Aaron on Her; but Christ lives forever, and is able to lead all generations, and finish God’s work.

4. Note that, after all, the place of the great leader remains empty. We do not know when the last words of Deuteronomy were written; but the lower down they are brought, the more significant is their witness to the unapproachable superiority of Moses. After-ages looked back to him as the high-water mark of God’s communications to men, and found none in all the long series of kings, priests, psalmists, or even prophets who had stood so close to God, or heard such messages from Him, or wrought such deeds by Him. Others had but developed his teachings or restored his law. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 6-12

Deuteronomy 34:6-12

He buried him, but no man knoweth of his sepulchre.

The burial of Moses

God will have no one, living or dead, to stand between His creatures and Himself.

God wishes men to see something more left of His servants than the outward shrine.

God takes the honour of His servants into His own keeping.

God would teach men that he has a relation to His servants which extends beyond their death.

God would teach men from the very first that His regard is not confined to any chosen soil.

The seeming failure in a true life may have at last a complete compensation. (John Ker, D. D.)

Divine burial

The same God that, by the hands of His angels, carried up the soul of Moses to his glory, doth also, by the hand of His angels, carry his body down into the valley of Moab to his sepulchre. Those hands which had taken the law from Him, those eyes that had seen His presence, those lips that had conferred so oft with Him, that face that did so shine with the beams of His glory, may not be neglected when the soul is gone. He that took charge of his birth, and preservation in the reeds, takes charge of his carriage out of the world. The care of God ceaseth not over His own, either in death, or after it. How justly do we take care of the comely burials of our friends, when God Himself gives us this example! (Bp. Joseph Hall.)

The burial of Moses

Never had any man a more wonderful burial. No human hands assisted at it. It was not left for the winds to cover with the dust of the mountain the stalwart form of the eagle-eyed leader; nor for the dew and the rain to moisten it; nor for the sunshine to waste and bleach it. It was not left unburied. Moses died, according to the word of the Lord, and He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab. (Alexander R. Thompson, D. D.)

So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses wore ended.

The worker removed-the work continued

And when these days were ended, straightway the career of Joshua opens, the tide of things rolls forward, and the march of events sweeps on. And is this the end of it all so far as Moses is concerned? We cannot think it. In some churchyards we see the broken column, and that we always understand as the emblem of a broken life. Where are the lives which are not broken? And over what graves shall the broken column not be raised? “Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there,” etc. That life falls; but the thread of its conjunction with the eternal purpose is not broken; that does not fall with the life. The streamlet fails, but the mighty river rolls on. Moses dies, and is buried, but Joshua takes up the staff and stretches forth the hand. What is the life of Moses, or any other life? It is safe with God, if in purpose, at least, and intention and drift it be lived in Him and for Him--safe with God while its mortal courses are running, and safe with Him when they are stayed. But while they are running He works by them, and when they are stayed He works without them, and by other lives. And it is when the soul of the man is in harmony with this fact, and governs itself by it, as the soul of Moses was in harmony with it--it is then that the true life will be lived, and no shadow of fear will rest upon the future. But indeed it is a great thing of which we speak, this harmony of mind with the purpose of God. It is the highest life of man. It is the fruit of long patience and much strife, and the triumph of the grace of the Almighty Spirit within the human soul. (D. Wright, M. A.)

Joshua . . . was full of the spirit of wisdom.--

Joshua and Moses

We have here a very honourable encomium both of Moses and Joshua; each has his praise, and should have. It is ungrateful so to magnify our living friends as to forget the merits of those that are gone, to whose memories there is a debt of honour due. All the respects must not be paid to the rising sun; and on the other hand, it is unjust so to cry up the merits of those that are gone, as to despise the benefit we have in those that survive and succeed them. Let God be glorified in both as here.

1. Joshua is praised as a man admirably well qualified for the work to which he was called.

(1) God fitted him for it. Herein he was a type of Christ, in whom are hid the treasures of wisdom.

(2) Moses by the Divine appointment had ordained him to it; he had laid his hands upon him, so substituting him to be his successor, and praying to God to qualify him for the service to which He had called him. And this comes in as a reason why God gave him a more than ordinary spirit of wisdom, because his designation to the government was God’s own act; and those whom God employs, He will in some measure make fit for the employment. When the bodily presence of Christ withdrew from His Church, He prayed the Father to send another Comforter; and obtained what He prayed for.

(3) The people cheerfully owned him, and submitted to him. An interest in the affections of the people is a great advantage, and a great encouragement to those that are called to public trusts of what kind soever. It was also a great mercy to the people, that when Moses was dead they were not as sheep having no shepherd. Moses is praised (verses 10, 11, 12), and with good reason.

(1) He was indeed a very great man upon two accounts among others--

(a) His intimacy with the God of nature; God knew him face to face, and so he knew God (Numbers 12:8). He saw more of the glory of God than any (at least) of the Old Testament saints ever did; he had more free and frequent access to God; and was spoken to, not in dreams and visions and slumberings on the bed, but when he was awake, and standing before the cherubims.

(b) His interest and power in the kingdom of nature. He was greater than any other of the prophets of the Old Testament; though they were men of great interest in heaven, and great influence upon earth, yet they were none of them to be compared with this great man; none of them either evidenced or executed a commission from heaven so as Moses did. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/deuteronomy-34.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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