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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 34

 

 


Introduction

Chapter 34 The Death of Moses.

The book closes with a record of the death of its main source. As has been mentioned previously Moses is unlikely to have recorded it himself. That would have been put into the hand of an experienced scribe. In so far as it is there the impression gathered throughout the Pentateuch is that that was probably Joshua. But what we do have are the words of Moses, with occasional background material put in by the scribe. Here in this final chapter the scribe completes his work.

Analysis using the words of the scribe:

a And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to mount Nebo, to the top of the Pisgah, that is over against Jericho, and Yahweh showed him all the land of Gilead, to Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, to the hinder sea, and the South, and the Plain of the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, to Zoar (Deuteronomy 34:1-3).

b And Yahweh said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your seed.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there” (Deuteronomy 34:4).

c So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 34:5-6 a).

c But no man knows of his sepulchre to this day (Deuteronomy 34:6 b).

b And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated (Deuteronomy 34:7).

a And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. So the days of weeping in the mourning for Moses were ended (Deuteronomy 34:8).

Note that in ‘a’ that Moses goes up and sees the whole land. How his faithful heart must have exalted. He had brought his people to the very verge of this glorious land which he now saw before him. And in the parallel Israel mourn for his loss, as well they might. In ‘b’ he sees the promised land, promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (they had not taken possession of it either, but they had fulfilled their part just as Moses had) and he could die content. And in the parallel Moses died, his task complete, and he was one hundred and twenty years old (he had lived a long life through three generations). And he could see the land clearly for his eyes were not dimmed. And Yahweh had rewarded his faithfulness by allowing him to retain his strength. In ‘c’ Yahweh buried him, and in the parallel no one knew where.


Verses 1-8

Chapter 34 The Death of Moses.

The book closes with a record of the death of its main source. As has been mentioned previously Moses is unlikely to have recorded it himself. That would have been put into the hand of an experienced scribe. In so far as it is there the impression gathered throughout the Pentateuch is that that was probably Joshua. But what we do have are the words of Moses, with occasional background material put in by the scribe. Here in this final chapter the scribe completes his work.

Analysis using the words of the scribe:

a And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to mount Nebo, to the top of the Pisgah, that is over against Jericho, and Yahweh showed him all the land of Gilead, to Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, to the hinder sea, and the South, and the Plain of the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, to Zoar (Deuteronomy 34:1-3).

b And Yahweh said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your seed.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there” (Deuteronomy 34:4).

c So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 34:5-6 a).

c But no man knows of his sepulchre to this day (Deuteronomy 34:6 b).

b And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated (Deuteronomy 34:7).

a And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. So the days of weeping in the mourning for Moses were ended (Deuteronomy 34:8).

Note that in ‘a’ that Moses goes up and sees the whole land. How his faithful heart must have exalted. He had brought his people to the very verge of this glorious land which he now saw before him. And in the parallel Israel mourn for his loss, as well they might. In ‘b’ he sees the promised land, promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (they had not taken possession of it either, but they had fulfilled their part just as Moses had) and he could die content. And in the parallel Moses died, his task complete, and he was one hundred and twenty years old (he had lived a long life through three generations). And he could see the land clearly for his eyes were not dimmed. And Yahweh had rewarded his faithfulness by allowing him to retain his strength. In ‘c’ Yahweh buried him, and in the parallel no one knew where.

Deuteronomy 34:1-3

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to mount Nebo, to the top of the Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And Yahweh showed him all the land of Gilead, to Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, to the hinder sea, and the South, and the Plain of the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, to Zoar.’

Having fulfilled his final responsibilities Moses went up to the high cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea (the Pisgah), to Mount Nebo, a high point in the Pisgah. And from there he surveyed the land on the other side of Jordan as far as the eye could see. We must not take the descriptions too literally. The point is to bring out that he surveyed ‘the whole land’, north towards Gilead, north west towards Dan and Naphtali, west towards Ephraim, Manasseh and Judah, and south towards ‘the South’ and Zoar. The reference to Dan may represent an updating by a later scribe. Dan became the northernmost point of Israel as in ‘from Dan to Beersheba’. But it may be another Dan as in Genesis 14:14.

Deuteronomy 34:4

And Yahweh said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your (thy) seed.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” ’

The surveying of the land was probably intended to represent ownership. On behalf of his people Moses was permitted this first indication of ownership. It was the land which Yahweh had sworn to the patriarchs that He would give them, now it will be possessed, but not by Moses except by faith (Deuteronomy 3:27; Deuteronomy 4:21-22; Deuteronomy 32:52). It was for the children of the patriarchs, for Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:5

So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh.’

And there in that mountain Moses died, just as Yahweh had stated must happen, for he was never seen again. ‘The Servant of Yahweh’ was a title of great honour. It represented one who was directly associated with Yahweh in His purposes, and through whom Yahweh carried out His will on earth, and who was faithful to the end. Joshua would later also be called the Servant of Yahweh at his death (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8).

Deuteronomy 34:6

And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor. But no man knows of his sepulchre to this day.’

This probably simply means that although they went up and searched everywhere they never found his body. ‘Yahweh had buried him’. Thus no one knew where he was buried. Just as he had mysteriously appeared from God, from the wilderness, so he had equally mysteriously returned to God, and no one knew how. He had come from God and now he was in God’s hands. It may be that God did not want any attempt to be made to take Moses’ body with them into the land along with Joseph’s bones. His exclusion would ever be a warning against presumption.

Deuteronomy 34:7

And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.’

He died in full health. The very fact that he had been able to climb the mountain alone and look across the Jordan was proof enough of this. He could still see well and move about with confidence. There may also be the suggestion that he was still sexually active. Today he would have been described as ‘a wonderful man for his age’. And that he certainly was, in more ways than one. The one hundred and twenty years covers three generations, which was the main intent of the number (compare Deuteronomy 31:2).

Deuteronomy 34:8

And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. So the days of weeping in the mourning for Moses were ended.’

The thirty days appears to have been the prescribed period of mourning for a leader in Israel (Numbers 20:29). There can be little doubt that the mourning was genuine. They had not always loved him in life, but he had been their mainstay and their inspiration, their great deliverer, and their constant contact with Yahweh. However, they knew that once the mourning was over they had to move on. Death was no stranger to them and they had been warned in advance that this one was coming.


Verses 9-12

Moses’ Final Accolade (Deuteronomy 34:9-12).

Analysis using the words of the scribe:

a And Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom. For Moses had laid his hands on him. And the children of Israel listened to him, and did as Yahweh commanded Moses (Deuteronomy 34:9).

b And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like to Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10).

b In all the signs and the wonders, which Yahweh sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land (Deuteronomy 34:11).

a And in all the mighty hand, and in all the great terror, which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:12).

Note in ‘a’ that Moses’ first great act was the passing on of the Spirit of Yahweh to Joshua by laying his ‘hands’ on him so that the people would listen to him and do as Yahweh commanded Moses (it was wrought in the sight of all Israel), and in the parallel he used his mighty ‘hand’ and produced great terror in all that he wrought in the sight of all Israel. In ‘b’ his second greatness lay in the fact that he was a prophet of unusual ability and inspiration, and in the parallel he had revealed signs and wonders which Yahweh had sent him to do to Pharaoh, his executive ministers and his land.

Deuteronomy 34:9

And Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom. For Moses had laid his hands on him. And the children of Israel listened to him, and did as Yahweh commanded Moses.’

And for the moving on there was only one man, Joshua the son of Nun, for Moses had appointed him and laid his hands on him. At this time of bereavement that would have carried much force. He was Yahweh’s and Moses’ choice. And as a result he was filled with the Spirit of wisdom. Compare Numbers 27:18-23 where he is described as ‘a man in whom is the spirit’ (see Numbers 11:16-17). He was a man prepared. Yahweh’s work never loses through the death of even so great a man as Moses. No human being is ever indispensable. Yet note what is said about him. Israel listened to him and did what Moses commanded. Even after Moses’ death he was Moses’ mouthpiece. Thus the might that lay behind Joshua was seen as a might passed on by Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:10

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like to Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face,’

Nevertheless no prophet had arisen to replace him who was of his quality, at the time of writing, no prophet who could be seen as strictly fulfilling Deuteronomy 18:18 There is no time limit either short or long to this statement. For the point is not that a prophet had not arisen, (in fact Moses designated the men on whom the Spirit came in Numbers 11:26-29 as prophets) but that such a prophet had not spoken face to face with Yahweh like Moses did (compare Exodus 33:11), and had not performed the signs and wonders that Moses had (Deuteronomy 34:11). Moses was unique.

Certainly we get the impression that Joshua so spoke with Yahweh, but clearly it was to a lesser degree than Moses. Possibly what the writer means is that no one was God’s close friend like Moses was.

Deuteronomy 34:11-12

In all the signs and the wonders, which Yahweh sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all the mighty hand, and in all the great terror, which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.’

And this uniqueness came out in what was accomplished through his life. In the signs and wonders that Yahweh sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, his servants and his land. Compare for this Deuteronomy 4:34 where it was Yahweh Who did the signs and wonders and Deuteronomy 29:2 where it was Yahweh who outfaced Pharaoh, his servants and all the land of Egypt. Moses took on the whole of Egypt singlehanded in Yahweh’s name, and won. And then it was revealed again in God’s mighty hand revealed throughout the wilderness journey, including all the terrible judgments that took place through his ministrations, producing within Israel the fear of Yahweh, so that all Israel feared Him. It was through such that they were now here waiting to cross the Jordan, confident in Yahweh.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-34.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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