New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Deu 34:1 Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, opposite from Jericho. Yahweh showed him all the land of Gilead to Dan,

Deu 34:2 and all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah to the hinder sea,
Deu 34:3 and the South and the Plain of the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees to Zoar.
Deu 34:4 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.
Deu 34:5 So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh-
Moses died "by the mouth of the Lord (Heb.). "By the mouth of the Lord" can imply a kiss; as if the Angel kissed Moses, and this resulted in his death. Remember, the Angel was Moses friend (Ex. 33:11). It was a reversal of how the Angel created Adam and breathed into his nose the Spirit; now the Angel kisses Moses and takes it away. And then he buried him, laying him in the grave in hope of better days, when Christ would come and raise his people, when God's people would at last be obedient. What an end. Moses seems to have foreseen this when he said that “We bring our years to an end with a sigh”, a final outbreathing (Ps. 90:9 RVmg.). And then the Angel built a sepulchre. Just picture that Angel perhaps digging, yes digging the grave, building the sepulchre of the rocks laying around in that cleft in the mountain. In the context of Moses leading Israel, we are told: "As a beast goeth down into the valley (tired at the end of a day, led there to drink by a loving owner), the Spirit (Angel) of the Lord caused him to rest" (Is. 63:14). Remember how Moses was buried by the Angel in a valley in the mountain (Dt. 34:6). The Hebrew translated " rest" means both to physically lay down and to comfort. So we have the picture of the Angel comforting Moses with the hope of resurrection, kissing him goodnight as it were, and then laying him down in the grave. The softness of God at the death of Moses, the gentleness, prefigured above all the gentleness, in a sense, of the Father with His Son at the cross; and His gentleness with each of us in out time of dying. Let's remember this idea. For short of the second coming, we're all mortal. There's something wondrous about the death of Moses. It's as if God took Moses' funeral- and said in truth 'This is the best man I've yet known', as a man might say at the funeral of his best friend.  

Deu 34:6 He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor, but no man knows of his tomb to this day-
Is. 63:14 says that the Spirit [the Angel] caused Moses to rest as a man leads his animal to water in a valley. The way the Angel buried Moses is very touching. “According to the word of Yahweh” (:5) can bear the translation “By the kiss of  Yahweh”, as if the Angel with whom Moses was used to speaking face to face, as a man speaks with his friend, kissed him and as it were reversed the kiss of life, took his breath / spirit away, and laid him down to rest there on the mountain, then carried the body down to the valley and buried him there, to rest until the resurrection. The softness, respect and gentleness of God with His beloved in their time of dying comes over very strongly here.

An alternative reconstruction of the death of Moses is possible. Rabbinical commentators claim that "he buried him" (Dt. 34:6) is reflexive; it means that Moses buried himself. For confirmation of this, see S.R.Hirsch, The Pentateuch, Vol. 5 p.685 (New York: Judaica Press, 1971). It is the same Hebrew construction as in Lev. 22:16 and Num. 6:13. In this case, the description of Christ as 'making his own grave' (Is. 53:9) could be read as an allusion to the death of Moses. Therefore the pattern of events was perhaps something like this: The Angel showed Moses the land;  Moses, in the presence of the Angel, dug his own grave and lowered himself into it, as a conscious act of the will, in obedience to God's command (as the prototype of the Lord Jesus). The prophesy that Moses would lie down in death takes on a literal sense in this case (Dt. 31:16). Then the Angel kissed him, and he died. The Angel then built up the sepulchre over his body. Personally I feel this was what happened, but I am cautious to strongly push  ideas which rely on a fine point of Hebrew grammar.

Deu 34:7 Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his youth abated-
Moses was one of those old people who still had a ‘young’ attitude to life; not for him the cynicism which comes with old age; hence Deuteronomy is at times optimistic about people with what could be seen as an almost naive youthful optimism. One wonders whether he was therefore right to accept Jethro’s advice that he needed to arrange helpers lest he wear out (Ex. 18:18), seeing that God had kept him so physically strong, and continued to do so.

Moses accepted Jethro's advice on the basis that he will "surely wear away" (Ex. 18:18); even though his natural strength never abated (Dt. 34:7), and God surely would not have asked him to do the impossible. Jethro at this time seems to have seen Yahweh as only one of many gods; he was a pagan priest. He prophesied that if Moses followed his advice, " all this people shall go to their place in peace" - which they didn't. Num. 10:31 suggests Moses saw Jethro's knowledge of the desert as better than the Angelic "eyes" of Yahweh (2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 15:3) who were going ahead of the camp to find a resting place (Num. 10:33 cp. Ex. 33:14 cp. Is. 63:9). It seems Moses recognized his error on the last day of his life, when he admits Yahweh, not Jethro's wisdom, had led them (Dt. 1:33). Likewise Paul in his final communication comments on the way that Mark with whom he had once quarelled was profitable to him (2 Tim. 4:11).

Deu 34:8 The children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
Deu 34:9 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.
Deu 34:10 There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face-

Gideon was bidden rise up to the example of Moses- for there were many similarities between his call by the Angel, and the Angelic calling which Moses received at the burning bush. Thus Gideon was called to follow the Angel in faith, "because Ehyeh is with you" (Jud. 6:16)- a direct quotation from the Angelic manifestation to Moses in Ex. 3:12. And yet he responds: "Alas! For I have seen Yahweh's envoy face to face!" (Jud. 6:22). Gideon knew full well that Moses had seen the Angel "face to face" (Dt. 34:10). Gideon's fear is therefore rooted in a sense that "No! I'm simply not Moses!". And it's the same with us. We can read of all these reasons to believe that Moses is really our pattern, and respond that "No! This ain't me...". But there, in the record of Gideon and his success, lies our challenge to rise up to the spirit of Moses.

Deu 34:11 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
Deu 34:12 and in all the mighty hand and in all the great terror, which Moses worked in the sight of all Israel.