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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Deuteronomy 34

 

 


Introduction

CHAP. XXXIV.

Moses, from mount Nebo, takes a view of the land of Canaan: he dies there, aged one hundred and twenty years. The children of Israel mourn for him thirty days: his eulogium.

Before Christ 1451.


Verses 1-3

Ver. 1-3. And Moses went up from the plains of Moab, &c.— As soon as he had taken this solemn leave of his nation, Moses, according to the divine appointment, ch. Deuteronomy 32:49 retired privately to the top of mount Nebo called Pisgah, from whence God enabled him to take a distinct and particular prospect of the land of Canaan. The mention of Dan in the first verse, and the account of Moses's death and burial, and of some particulars which happened after he had left the world, from the fifth verse to the end, shew, that this chapter was not written by Moses. It was probably added either by Samuel, Ezra, or some other of the prophets who succeeded him. It is said, that Moses went up from the plains of Moab, because this was their last station before they entered into Canaan. Dan was the utmost northern border of Canaan, situated at the rise of Jordan, and, at the time of this event, called Laish. The utmost sea, in the second verse, means the Mediterranean sea. The city of palm trees, ver. 3 means the city of Jericho, so called from the multitude of palm trees which grew about it, as Strabo, Pliny, and Josephus, testify.


Verse 4

Ver. 4. And the Lord said—This is the land, &c.— As much as to say, "Let the view I have now given you, fill you with a comfortable sense and assurance how faithful I will be to my promise, in bestowing upon the descendants of Abraham, the people that you have so long had under your care and administration, this fair country which I have caused you to see with your eyes; have, with a supernatural power, strengthened your visual faculty to behold in its full extent. But you shall not go over thither; you shall not enter into this country, but shall die in peace and tranquillity, rejoiced in the full assurance that all the divine promises to the patriarchs shall be fulfilled." Dr. Macknight, in his Harmony, well observes, that it is evident, that this sight was not an imaginary prospect, from Moses's going up into a mountain to take the view: for, had it been either a delineation of these regions in a map; or a visible representation of them in the air; or a vision of them in an extacy; or a sight of them in a dream; or a view of them by being carried round about them, it might have been done any where as well as on a mountain, it is said in the first verse, the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead unto Dan. Gilead was the country beyond Jordan, and Dan (as was before observed) the boundary of it northward. Naphtali was the most northern part on this side Jordan; Ephraim was the middle; and Judah the southernmost tribe. The south was the country between Palestine and Egypt; and the plain of the valley of Jericho to Zoar, was that which extended to Zoar, encompassing the Asphaltic lake, on the southern shore of which Zoar stood. From the top of Nebo, therefore, Moses saw not only the country beyond Jordan, but the whole region on this side the river, from north to south, and westward as far as the Mediterranean sea.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses, having received the divine command to go up to mount Nebo and die, cheerfully addresses himself to the pleasing talk; for, to a believer, death is not his loss, but gain; not his misery, but his privilege. 1. He goes up to the top of Pisgah, the highest summit of the mountain; and, it should seem, alone, without help, though so aged, and without company, that they may not see him die, and superstitiously venerate his bones, or his sepulchre. 2. God shews him from thence, according to his promise, all the inheritance of the tribes of Israel, both on this side Jordan and beyond it. God was then with him, when every other support failed him, and his presence made up for all the rest. It was a large extent of country; but his eye was keen, and assisted now by particular power from God. Note; To God's grace we stand indebted for every pleasing prospect which faith gives us of the glory beyond the grave; and he is often peculiarly kind to his dying saints, making their views of his glory most strong and striking, to support them in that awful hour. God's faithfulness now was evident; and it afforded a support to him, that he had this faithful God to rely upon, who, though he might not enter the earthly Canaan, had provided for him a better country, that is, a heavenly; and having by faith shewed it him afar off, would shortly, through the grave and gate of death, bring him thither, to an everlasting inheritance.


Verse 5

Ver. 5. So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there This is the highest character which can be given to any man, the servant of Jehovah; and it is given by God himself to Moses after his death, Joshua 2:7. It is a remark which naturally offers from these words, that since the most approved servants of God have died, death cannot be an absolute evil, or the God whom they served never would have permitted it to have befallen them. The sacred historian expresses particularly, that Moses died in the land of Moab, to shew the completion of the divine denunciation, that he should not enter into the promised land; and he is said to have died according to the word, or command of the Lord, referring to chap. Deuteronomy 32:50. Get thee up into this mount, and die there. The Jews have a far-fetched conceit from these words, that the Lord drew Moses's soul out of his body with a kiss; i.e. as the more judicious rabbis explain it, He died in an extacy of divine love, overcome with the pleasures he had in the thoughts of God, and future happiness. See Maimon in More Nev. par. iii. c. 51. Houbigant remarks, that by this command, and die in the mount, is signified, that it belonged not to the old law, of which Moses was the promulger, to fulfil the promises made to the fathers; but that this should be the office of Joshua, or of that Saviour whom Joshua prefigured.


Verse 6

Ver. 6. And he buried him, &c.— {And one buried him. / And he was buried.} Houb. All the frivolous conceits of the rabbis and others are entirely overthrown by the translation here given; in which it is barely asserted, that Moses, being dead, was buried in a certain valley, but that no man knoweth of his sepulchre at this day; which is the remark of the writer who made this addition to the Book of Deuteronomy, as was observed on ver. 1. And, as this was written, probably, several hundred years after the death of Moses, the words may be properly understood in this very obvious meaning; that time, which brings all things to decay, had left no foot-steps of the sepulchre of Moses, or had entirely worn out the remembrance of the precise place where his body was laid. If, as some would have us believe, the knowledge of Moses's sepulchre was industriously concealed, it seems extremely strange, that this historian should so exactly particularise the place where he was buried. As to the passage in Jude, ver. 9 we will shew, when we come thither, that it has no sort of reference to the buried body of Moses, as has been generally understood, and strangely misinterpreted. In the mean time, we refer to the Bibliotheque Raisonnee, tom. 31: art. 1. Zach. ch. 3 and Saurin's 70th Dissertation.


Verse 7

Ver. 7. Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died, &c.— The sum of the verse is this: that though Moses lived the full length of human life, and to an age which, in others who attain it, is accompanied with many infirmities, no alteration was made in him; whom, for the support of the great charge committed to him, a special providence preserved in full vigour of every faculty, both of body and mind, to his dying hour. Houbigant, instead of nor his natural force abated, reads, nor had his cheeks lost their floridity. Of these one hundred and twenty years, he had employed a third part, excepting a month, in the government of Israel, as Josephus remarks in his fourth book of the Jewish Antiquities. The Scripture does not precisely point out the day or the month of Moses's death; but the Jews, following Josephus, fix it to the seventh day of the month Adar, which was the last of the fortieth year after the departure from Egypt: however, they are mistaken; for, as Torniel has shewn, Moses was dead at the end of the eleventh, or upon the first day of the twelfth month; and it is to this last date that the learned and exact Archbishop Usher has fixed it. The ideas which the Jews have given us of the dispositions wherewith Moses died, are pleasing. "Acquainted with the time, place, and manner of his death, he was neither surprised when it happened, nor taken from life involuntarily. It was neither age, nor decay, nor any external accident, that determined the moment of his decease; but the mere will of God: that will, in which he acquiesced with a soul tranquil, submissive, and full of ardent desire to possess Him, whom, above all things, it loved." See Huet. Demonst. Evan. prop. iv. c. 1. sect. 57.


Verse 9

Ver. 9. For Moses had laid his hands upon him This is given as a reason why Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom. The imposition of Moses's hands was not the cause, but the sign, of the gift of the Spirit granted to this illustrious successor of the law-giver of Israel. The laying on of hands, as a sign of dedicating a person to an office, was always accompanied with prayer. See Outram de Sacrif. l. i. c. xv. sect. 8. The words, the children of Israel hearkened unto Joshua, mean, that they submitted themselves respectfully to Joshua, as to the supreme governor whom God had given them by the hands of Moses.


Verse 10

Ver. 10. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel It is here said, that none other prophet had ever resembled Moses: and which, indeed, of the prophets ever conversed so frequently and familiarly with God, face to face? Which of them ever wrought so many or so great miracles? Nobody was ever equal or comparable to Moses in these respects, but JESUS THE MESSIAH. Bishop Newton.


Verse 12

Ver. 12. In all the great terror In all the great miracles, Houbigant very properly translates it, after the Samaritan; for terror, as he well observes, does not suit with the miracles in the wilderness.

We have here the praise of the living governor, and a just encomium on the deceased. 1. Joshua was admirably qualified to succeed Moses in his arduous charge, being full of the spirit of wisdom, and skilled alike in the arts of government and of war; God had commanded Moses to lay his hands on him, and while he designed him his successor, communicated to him abilities for the task; and the people acknowledged the appointment, and paid a ready obedience to his orders. Note; (1.) Whom God calls to any charge, he qualifies for the employment. (2.) God will never leave his Israel destitute; but as one faithful minister is taken away, another shall be raised up in his stead. (3.) We must not, through prejudice to the living, exalt too much those who went before them, but submit with the same cheerfulness and love to the younger pastors, as to the more aged ones which are departed. (4.) Joshua is appointed for what Moses could not do. Thus the law of Moses leaves us in the wilderness of conviction; Christ Jesus, the true Joshua, alone can bring us to the true rest of peace of conscience on earth, or eternal bliss in heaven. 2. The encomium on Moses is great, and most deserved. He was, above all other prophets, distinguished by the free and frequent communion he enjoyed with God; others heard from him in dreams and visions, but Moses spake with him face to face, as a man talketh with his friend. None performed the like stupendous miracles, nor did any prophet ever arise in Israel like him. One prophet, however, was predicted to arise, and he has since arisen, more superior to Moses, than he was above his brethren: his gospel surpassing the law in glory, which was a ministration of condemnation; and his covenant established on better promises. Moses was a servant in the house, Christ a son over his own house; one lying buried in the plains of Moab, the other living for ever to bless his people, seated on the throne of eternal glory, and ruling for them, and in them, till all their enemies be put under their feet, and death itself at last be swallowed up in victory.

THOUGHTS ON THE CHARACTER OF MOSES.

PROVIDENCE raised up Moses in a time of oppression, to become an example to the whole world of those virtues which oppression only can cause to shine out. By a series of miracles, he escaped the fatal effects of a bloody edict, which condemned every male of the Hebrews to die as soon as born. What is still more remarkable, and shews how Providence mocks the designs of evil men, he owed, in some measure, his preservation to those very persons who sought his destruction; and they themselves formed that genius, and cultivated those great talents, which qualified him to be the deliverer of that nation which they were labouring to extirpate.

At length he found himself called to a choice on which the ardency of his passions seemed not likely to suffer him to deliberate, no, not for a moment. Pressed to choose between his religion and his fortune, he rose superior to his passions, nay in some sort to human nature itself, and sacrificed his fortune to his religion; resolved to share the miseries of an oppressed people, in order to serve that God who watched over his children, even while he seemed to have forsaken them and abandoned them to oppression. He knew nothing equal to the favour of God: he considered it as infinitely preferable to that of his king; nay, even to the hopes of inheriting the throne and crown; and, according to the expression of St. Paul, he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt.

He was not, however, contented merely to share the fate of an unhappy people; he resolved also to stop the course of their unhappiness: he could not prevail with himself to be a simple spectator of the tyranny exercised upon his brethren; he became their avenger, and thus, by an act of anticipation, commenced the deliverer of his nation.

Prudence obliged him to fly the punishment prepared for him: he fled into the country of Midian, where he experienced the effects of that wonderful providence which accompanied him through the whole course of his life. Unable here to perform the functions of a hero, he exercised those of a philosopher, employing the tranquillity of retirement in meditation on the greatness of God; or rather, Here he enjoyed intimate communications with the Deity, who had inspired him to lay the foundations of revealed religion; and Here, probably, he wrote that book of Genesis, which furnishes mankind with powerful arms against idolatry, combats two of the most extravagant errors ever imbibed (namely, that which affirmed the plurality of gods, and that which ascribed imperfections to the Deity), and opposes thereto the doctrine of the unity of a perfect being.

That God whose existence and attributes he asserted, appeared to him in a manner absolutely miraculous upon mount Horeb: he gave him the glorious but formidable commission, to make head against Pharaoh, to stop the torrent of his tyrannical persecutions, to endeavour to mollify him, and to compel, if he could not persuade him; to support his arguments by prodigies, and to enforce from the whole kingdom of Egypt, a compensation for their barbarities against a people whom God had chosen for the objects of his tenderest love and most alarming miracles.

Moses, rather from humility than obstinacy, declined to accept this commission. He could not persuade himself, having never been able to express his sentiments but with difficulty, that he was a proper person to speak to a king, or to subvert his kingdom. God pressed him; he resisted; at length he yielded, and, full of the spirit which animated him, entered the career of glory now opened before him. The first victory he obtained was over himself; he forced himself away from the calm pleasures which the country of Midian had afforded him, forsook the house of an affectionate father, and immerged into a world of enemies and persecutors.

He arrived in Egypt, presented himself to Pharaoh, prayed and entreated him, then used threatenings, and at length, in sad completion of those threatenings, brought down upon Egypt the most dreadful plagues. He marched out of that kingdom at the head of the people which had there undergone so many vexations: he was pursued by the tyrant, who followed close in the rear; he found himself surrounded by an invincible army, by a chain of impassable mountains, and by the Red Sea. He struck the waters of that sea, which presently obeyed the orders of a man whom God had made as it were the trustee of his power, and became a wall unto the children of Israel, on the right hand and on the left. And then, by another miracle, he saw the same waters which divided to make him a passage, close again to swallow up Pharaoh, his army, and his court.

Thus delivered, to all appearance, from his most dangerous enemies, he found himself engaged with others yet more dangerous; his own people: a people of mean and servile education, of mistaken and absurd minds, of hearts most corrupt; cowardly, ungrateful, perfidious. At the very time that he bore the brunt of their rage and madness, he interceded with God to spare them: at one time he found himself under a necessity of defending the cause of God before them; at another, of pleading their cause before the offended Deity, who declared that he would no longer regard a society of men ever prone to affront him, and ever contaminating his worship with that of the most infamous idols among the Gentiles.

Sometimes Moses prevailed so far as to avert the wrath of God, and quell the extravagancies of the stiff-necked multitude: but more frequently it was impossible to restrain their fury by the bounds of reason, or the anger of God by prayer or supplication. Divine justice would assume its rights; it smote the Israelites with the severest strokes, and caused 23,000 of them to perish by one single plague.

But neither could the most terrible punishments, nor the most tender admonitions, reclaim them to their duty: nay, as if Moses were responsible for the evils incurred by their repeated crimes, they threatened to stone him, and proposed to choose another general, who might lead them back to that Egypt from which God had brought them with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm: basely preferring a shameful slavery, to the miraculous direction which guided them through the wilderness, and to the kingdoms which God had promised them.

In these cruel exercises of his patience, Moses spent forty whole years, and at length brought the remainder of the people even to the borders of the Land of Promise. Did ever any man lead so singular a life? Was ever hero signalized by so many achievements?

If we enter into a detail of his conduct, we shall see all the graces and virtues shine forth in him. Magnanimity, in his command of armies, and his contempt of a crown when it interfered with the good of religion: constancy, in those repeated summonses and ready replies which he addressed to the despotic Pharaoh: Thus said the Lord, Let my people go—we will go with our young—our old—our sons and daughters, flocks and herds—there shall not an hoof be left behind.—Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more. His zeal and fervency appear in his unremitted supplications to heaven, when Israel fought with Amalek, and in his ardent and reiterated prayers in behalf of a sinful nation. Exodus 32:11-12; Exodus 32:35. What love and charity animates those noble expressions,—Oh, this people have sinned—yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin:—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book! His gentleness and sweetness of temper were unparalleled; witness what is said of him in the book of Numbers; The man

Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. How desirous was he to seek for grace and truth at the fountain-head! If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence,—I beseech thee shew me thy glory. How zealous for God's glory! witness the broken tables of the law, and his rigorous order to the Levites, Put every man his sword by his side,—and slay his brother,—companion, and neighbour; and that self-denying answer of his to Joshua, when afraid that Eldad and Medad should eclipse the glory of his master, Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! And what greater instance of perseverance can be given, than that song with which he ended both his ministry and his life?

Where can we find a ministry so arduous, a life so long, and diversified with so many circumstances, attended with so few faults? Nay, his very faults seem in some sort virtues, whose darkness would not strike so much, had not the rest of his life been bright and luminous. His backwardness for a while to go to Egypt at God's command; his unwillingness to administer the sacrament of circumcision to his child, out of humane considerations; his persuasion, that it consisted not with divine justice, for God to cause water miraculously to issue from a rock, to gratify a murmuring people; and his striking that rock with several blows, rather, as it should seem, out of indignation at the rebels, than distrust of a merciful God; these are faults, it is true, and faults deserving death, should God rigorously exact his rights.

Should there be thought any thing hyperbolical or extravagant in this encomium on Moses, we can still add to all the glorious features that we have been pourtraying, one, which is infinitely more glorious than the rest; it is represented by him who is the true distributor of glory; it is a character drawn up by God himself; and which, upon that account, has elevated Moses above all the praise we are able to bestow upon him. There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto MOSES, whom the Lord knew face to face: in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.

It is true, the law which Moses published was not perfect; but it prepared the way for grace; for that GOSPEL which is the law of perfection; for a new covenant which was to be concluded between God and man, by that prophet like unto himself, the Conductor, the Christ; and this Christ is our Jesus; a man approved of by God by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him amidst the Jews, as they themselves know: Jesus, in whom God was, reconciling the world unto himself; Jesus, whom he hath fully declared his Son, with power by the resurrection from the dead, and to whom all the prophets give this witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. This is he of whom Isaiah, or rather the Lord by his mouth, spake, saying, Behold my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high: even the ancient Jews agreed, that this prediction related to that Christ. "It is the king Messiah," they declared in one of their celebrated works, intitled In Tanchuma, "who shall be exalted above Abraham, extolled above Moses, and be made higher than the angels." We conclude this commentary with the words of a divine writer: "Let the Jews tell us who He is that can be exalted above the angels? What other can that character specify, than the WORD, who was in the beginning with God, who was God, by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made; namely, the Lord, the God of angels; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory for ever? Amen."

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/deuteronomy-34.html. 1801-1803.

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Thursday, October 29th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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