Summary: The Death of Moses ...
“There has never arisen another prophet in Israel like Moses - one whom the LORD knew face to face.” (Deuteronomy 34:10)
So read the concluding verses of the book of Deuteronomy, bringing to a close the saga of one of the Bible’s greatest heroes.
I know that all of us want to be more like Jesus, but I can tell you that, as a younger man especially, being more like Moses would have done me just fine.
Moses is an awesome figure. No doubt my perception has been influenced by Charlton Heston’s immortal portrayal in the Hollywood classic, “The Ten Commandments”. Even so, however you look at Moses, he was a giant of a man.
Moses parted the red sea. He brought the plagues upon Egypt. He challenged kings and he spoke with God ‘as a man speaks to his friend’. He is an awesome figure.
And, we’re told here, that not only was he was an awesome figure in his youth, but he remained an astonishing specimen of humanity in his old age! Indeed, the writer says that at age 120, Moses’ eyes had not dimmed (ie. he didn’t need glasses) and that his ‘vigour had not abated’.
That’s my translation. The original Hebrew word for vigour, ‘lahor’, actually means that, at 120, Moses was … well … still quite capable of fathering children!
Oh, to be like Moses - to have that sort of vitality and health! I’m only half his age and, as much as I hate to admit it, my eyes are deteriorating rapidly!
Moses is an awesome figure. He was also a very human figure. He gets angry - so angry in fact that he beats one Egyptian slave-driver to death. He gets depressed too, and his confidence fails him to the point where he has to plead with God to let Aaron speak on his behalf, as he just doesn’t feel capable of dialoguing directly with Pharaoh.
And he sins! Indeed, we’re told that he commits a very grievous sin (recorded in Numbers 20) when he makes out as if it is he and Aaron who are responsible for magically producing water from a rock to satisfy the thirst of the people.
That sad event is indeed the backdrop to this death scene here in Deuteronomy 34, as Moses’ death at this point in the Biblical drama is a part of God’s judgement on him, as he is dying before realising his dream, to reach the Promised Land!
In Deuteronomy chapter 34, the people of Israel are on the edge of seeing all their dreams fulfilled . They are on the border of the Promised Land, and they are lined up and ready to move in. But Moses has not been invited to join them. Why not? Apparently because of that grievous event that happened years earlier!
It’s an odd point for Moses’ story to end. Moreover it’s an odd spot for the book of Deuteronomy to end. For the end of the book of Deuteronomy is sort of like the end of the first part of the great Biblical trilogy, and it ends with everything unresolved!
I’d like to suggest to you that the Bible as a whole is like a sort of trilogy.
Part 3 of the trilogy is the one we are most familiar with - the story of Jesus and the Apostles, as presented in the New Testament.
Parts 1 and 2 of the trilogy are found in our Old Testament, with part one covering the first five books of the Bible - Genesis to Deuteronomy - and Part 2, the rest.
The technical name for these first five books of the Bible is the ‘Pentateuch’ (from the Greek word for ‘five’) though Jews refer to this collection as ‘the law’ or ‘Torah’.
Whatever we call them, it has long been recognised that these five books form a sort of unified whole, and it is likely that these five books were originally published together as the first edition of the Bible!
In the second book of Kings, chapter 22, there is recorded a story of how Hilkiah the high priest ‘found the book of the law’ in the temple, and presumably the book he finds is this collection - that which we now call ‘the Torah’ or ‘the Pentateuch’. It is this collection of the first five books - the Bible in its first installment.
Now, once we understand this though, does it not seem all the more odd, that the book of Deuteronomy should conclude here, one step short of the Promised Land?
The river has not been crossed. The promised land has not been entered, and Moses is dead. What an odd place to end a Biblical book, let alone the Bible as a whole, even if it is only in its first edition! Why didn’t the writer include the happy ending to this saga?