The Death of Moses – Deuteronomy 34

Read the Passage: Deuteronomy 34

God’s Declaration (34:1–4)

Since the final chapter of Deuteronomy recounts his death, Moses clearly could not have written this chapter. Moses’ assistant and successor, Joshua, was likely the author of this portion of Deuteronomy. Earlier, after God had declared his impending death, Moses requested that God appoint a capable leader. At Num. 27:18–23 God directed Moses to inaugurate Joshua as his successor. Later, in a meeting at the tabernacle, God himself inaugurated Joshua and charged him with leading Israel into the Promised Land (cf. Deut. 31:14, 23). Observe the death of Moses was repeatedly declared by God, over the course of several months, as Israel neared Canaan (cf. Num. 20:12; 27:12–114; 31:2; Deut. 1:37; 3:23–28; 32:48–52). Scripture reports that Moses’ death was the result of his rebellion, his failure to believe God, and his failure to honor God before the people at Kadesh.

The mountain that Moses ascended, Mount Nebo, was the highest point on the range of mountains in Moses’ vicinity. Yet, we know the panoramic view of the Promised Land that God showed to Moses was supernatural, for it is impossible to see the entire scope of the land from Mount Nebo, or from any other point near Canaan. In Deut. 34:4 God told Moses that His provision of land fulfilled aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant. However, later in Scripture we learn that the physical land itself is not the ultimate fulfillment of God’s vows, for a promise still remains of entering God’s rest (cf. Heb. 4:9). Therefore, in a sense, like the patriarchs who did not receive the land, we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth . . . . [who] desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. . . . For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 11:13, 16; 13:14).

Moses’ Death (34:5–8)

The account of the death of Moses, which occurred in the land of Moab, is recorded in Deut. 34:5–8. Several observations can be made about the brief narrative of Moses’ death. First, note that God is the one who buried Moses. This is interesting, as Jude later teaches that Satan desired to have the body of Moses (cf. Jude 9). Second, note that the exact location of Moses’ grave is unknown. This was likely to thwart Satan and to prevent the nation from making an idol out of the tomb. Third, note that Moses did not die of natural causes, as neither his eyesight nor his physical strength was diminished. Finally, note that the nation observed thirty days of mourning for Moses, which conforms to the mourning for Moses’ brother, Aaron (cf. Num. 20:29). While Moses’ life was over, a Greater Moses had already been promised (cf. Deut. 18:15–20; Acts 3:22–26; 7:37).

Joshua’s Ascension (34:9–12)

As was noted above, Joshua had been inaugurated as Moses’ successor. This had occurred publicly before the nation (cf. Num. 27:18–23) and privately before the Lord (cf. Deut. 31:14, 23). Moreover, God had recently told Moses, “Command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see” (Deut. 3:28). Beyond his inauguration, and the instruction he had received at God’s initiative from Moses, Joshua—who first appears in the biblical record at Exod. 17:9—had spent forty years as Moses’ apprentice. Surely during his time as Moses’ assistant Joshua surely learned many leadership lessons. It is not surprising, then, that Deut. 34:9 records that Joshua “was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him.”

In the Bible there are more than fifty named prophets, seven specific unnamed prophets, and numerous references to unidentified prophets. However, of all these prophets in the Old Testament, Moses was the greatest. Apart from Jesus, in the New Testament John the Baptist was the greatest prophet (cf. Matt. 11:9), even being greater than Moses (cf. Matt. 11:11). While Moses passed away around 1,400 BC, he reappears in the New Testament on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking with Jesus (cf. Matt. 17:3). On this occasion, Moses spoke with the Greater Prophet whom he had written about in Deut. 18:15–20. Note John the Baptist denied being the Greater Prophet (cf. John 1:21, 25); the crowds who saw Jesus’ miracles declared, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14); and Peter identified Jesus as the Greater Prophet (cf. Acts 3:22–26).

Application Question:

  1. Why did God allow Moses to see the Promised Land? Was is not cruel of God to show Moses the land that he would not be allowed to enter?
  2. How does God’s faithfulness to fulfill His past promises encourage you in regard to trusting God today, and for the future?
  3. Why do you think the archangel Michael and the devil had a dispute over the body of Moses (cf. Jude 9)?
  4. What skills are necessary for successful leadership? Can leadership be taught, or is it a genetic character trait?
  5. Given Jesus’ arrival and His identity as the promised Greater Prophet, ought we to expect the presence of prophets in the church today (cf. Heb. 1:1–2)?