Deuteronomy 34


‘Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.’ Deuteronomy 34:1-8

The Death Of Moses

After completing the three sermons, his song, and blessing the people, Moses now follows God’s instructions and ascends mount Nebo.

Nebo was a mountain range that included a peak called Pisgah and it’s here that Moses would have a dynamic view of the land which Israel are about to possess.

Moses, now 120 years old, after struggling for 40 years, finally led God’s people to the Promised Land and although he wasn’t allowed to enter the land, because of his sin, Numbers 20:1-12, he was blessed to see it, Luke 4:5.

The land of Canaan was the land that God had previously swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Genesis 12:1-3, and Israel would continue to be blessed in Canaan as long as they continued to obey God’s word, Deuteronomy 1:19-30.

The text tells us that God Himself buried Moses, what a privilege that must have been and no one knows where Moses’ grave is located, even to this day.

In versions such as the A.V., the Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, and certain other translations, Deuteronomy 34:6 reads as though God personally buried Moses, but the verse ceases to be a problem if we understand that an action performed at the command of a person, is sometimes described as having been performed by that person. God caused Moses to die and to be buried, therefore He ‘buried’ Moses.

In fact, later translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, clarify the verse by giving us, ‘and he was buried in a valley’, without revealing who was responsible for the burial. But, of course, we’re tempted to speculate!

Was Moses buried by Joshua, his divinely appointed successor? Or was he, as a Jewish tradition claims, buried, by Michael the archangel himself?

The fact is that we don’t know, we’re not meant to know, nor is it important that we should know. The probable reason for keeping the location hidden is that, if it had become revealed, it may well have become a shrine and a place of pilgrimage for the Israelites.

Remember that the ‘serpent of bronze’, which Moses erected in the wilderness, Numbers 21:9-10, centuries later had actually become an object of worship, and which had to be destroyed by Nehemiah, the reformer, who scornfully described it exactly when he said I was ‘Nehushtan’, ‘a piece of brass’, 2 Kings 18:4.

What is important is that we should understand that the death and burial of this great servant of God were at God’s command, and the only truly sad aspect of the event is that, after a wearisome journey lasting for almost forty years, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land, not allowed to enter because of an act of disobedience, Numbers 20:8-12 / Numbers 27:12-14.

Why does Jude mention the dispute about the body of Moses?

Jude 9. Jude had intended to write a letter concerning basic Christian doctrine, Jude 3, but, as the result of information that had reached him, he felt it necessary, instead, to deal with problems created by false teachers who had succeeded in entering the fellowship by stealth, and who were undermining the faith of others.

He describes the character of these interlopers and exposes both their motives and methods in very vivid and uncompromising language. They are arrogant, rebellious, disrespectful and thoroughly ungodly people, whose conduct, he declares, stands in stark contrast with that of Michael the archangel in his confrontation with the devil.

Jude says that, out of respect for the position of honour once occupied by the now-fallen Satan, or to give him his original name, Lucifer, Isaiah 14:12, Michael refrained from pronouncing a reproachful judgment on him, but simply said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ Jude 9.

The form of this reproach is significant, because the word ‘rebuke’ is a verb in the ‘optative mode’, that is, in the form used to express a wish, and as used here, it means, ‘may the Lord rebuke you’! Michael leaves the passing of judgment on Satan to God Himself. This is a lesson we all may learn from Jude 6.

But is there evidence that a dispute about the body of Moses actually occurred? The Bible itself doesn’t contain anything that corroborates the story. A single verse, here in Jude’s letter, is the only place in the Scriptures that mentions it. So, where did the story originate?

It’s found in one of the ‘apocryphal’ books, these are books that were written mainly during the Inter-Testamental Period, that is, in the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments.

This was the period during which prophetic witness was silent, and when, as a result, literature appeared claiming to be inspired, often under the name of some genuinely inspired and well-known servant of God.

This particular book is known as ‘The Assumption of Moses’, and, in common with all the other ‘apocryphal’ writings, it has never been regarded as inspired or authoritative by either Jews or Christians, and was never accepted as the Word of God, and never included in the ‘canon’ of either Old or New Testament Scriptures.

Indeed, the word ‘apocryphal’ itself, means ‘of questionable or doubtful authenticity’. The document was probably produced early in the Inter-Testamental Period by an unidentified Jewish writer.

Among his other ‘revelations’ is the claim that, like Elijah, Moses was translated directly into heaven, and it’s this assertion that gives the book its name, ‘The Assumption of Moses’. The word ‘assumption’ in the title means ‘ascension’.

You perhaps already know that the ‘Church of Rome’ makes the same claim for Mary, the Lord’s mother and speaks of ‘The Assumption of Mary’. This doctrine states that, when she died, ‘her body was preserved from corruption and shortly afterword it was assumed.’ The Latin word, ‘assumere’ means ‘to take to’, in this case, to Heaven!

The odd thing is that, according to Catholic teaching, to believe that Mary was taken bodily to Heaven isn’t an article of faith, but it’s said to be ‘impious and blasphemous’ to deny it! Of course, we know from Matthew 17:3, that more than 1500 years later, Moses appeared with Elijah when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain.

The difference between the two, Moses and Elijah, is that the Scriptures tell us plainly that Moses ‘died and was buried’, Deuteronomy 34:5-6, whilst Elijah, like Enoch before him, was ‘taken from this life so that he did not experience death’, Genesis 5:24 / 2 Kings 2:11 / Hebrews 11:5.

However, considering what we read in Hebrews 11:23-27, where Moses is honoured as a man of faith if at the end of his life he had indeed been taken up into heaven, we might have expected such an important fact to have been mentioned in those verses.

Probably because Daniel 12:1 seems to suggest that the archangel Michael was appointed by God to be the ‘Guardian of Israel’, the writer of ‘The Assumption of Moses’, also states that Michael was also commissioned to bury the body of Moses, and to be the guardian of his grave.

But, the book declares that Satan opposed the burial of the patriarch, and claimed that the body belonged to him, on the grounds that he claims to be the ‘lord of matter’, to this Michael is said to have replied, ‘the Lord rebuke thee, for it was God’s Spirit who created the world and all mankind’.

There is no doubt that this piece of ‘primitive Jewish tradition’, as Dean Alford, the very highly respected theological scholar described it, was known to those to whom Jude sent his letter.

It ranks with other stories of a similar nature, such as the claim that, after predicting the Fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity, the prophet Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle and the Altar of Incense, and hid them in a cave on Mount Nebo, intending, after the ‘Return from the Babylonian captivity’, to retrieve and restore them.

Tradition said that, after the return from captivity, Jeremiah lived on in Jerusalem for another three hundred years, and that he even appeared to Judas Maccabees, another two centuries later, as ‘a man with grey hairs and exceeding glorious’.

It seems, then, that, in exposing those who were troubling the church with their false teaching, their denial of the Lord Jesus and their rejection of authority, Jude makes use of a story that, even though it lacks Scriptural endorsement, was familiar to his readers.

He used the story in order to encourage them to remember that the apostles of the Lord had warned that such men would arise, and being aware of the danger, they should build themselves up in their faith, keeping themselves in the love of God, waiting for the eternal life that comes through the mercy of the Lord Jesus.

Despite being 120 years of age, Moses’ eyes remained good and His physical strength never failed. This indicates that God was miraculously keeping Moses in good physical condition throughout his years and because he was in good condition physically, indicates that he didn’t have a natural death.

Keil, in his commentary, says the following.

‘After the justice of God had been satisfied by this punishment, he was to be distinguished in death before all the people and glorified as the servant who had been found faithful in all the house of God, whom the Lord had known face to face, Deuteronomy 34:10, and to whom he had spoken mouth to mouth, Numbers 12:7-8.’

Israel mourned the death of Moses for thirty days, which demonstrates their love and respect for him, Genesis 50:1-10. We must remember that although Moses was gone physically, he certainly wasn’t gone spiritually, Matthew 17:1-10.

‘Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.’ Deuteronomy 34:9-12

Joshua was picked as Moses’ successor to lead Israel into Canaan, Deuteronomy 3:28 / Deuteronomy 31:3.

Moses had ‘laid his hands upon’ Joshua and so, he was ‘full of the spirit of wisdom.’ The spirit of wisdom enabled Joshua to speak and lead Israel, Numbers 11:26-29 / Numbers 27:18-23.

Notice how highly the Lord thought of Moses, He says that ‘no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses’, although there would come another prophet greater than Moses, that is Jesus, the Christ, Deuteronomy 18:15-19 / Numbers 12:6-8 / Acts 3:22 / Hebrews 3:2-6. These words from the Lord speak volumes about Moses’ character and leadership skills.

The Lord knew and spoke with Moses ‘face to face’, which was also a privilege. The Lord declares that Moses did everything He wanted him to do whilst in Egypt. The uniqueness of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt will always stand as evidence of God’s work among men, and specifically, in the life of Moses.

These final words of Moses conclude the Pentateuch and they were written to preserve Israel until the coming of the Messiah.