If you knew you were dying, what final words would you say to your loved ones? Final words are important, because they are often the most precious memories our loved ones have of us. They might even contain final instructions or words of wisdom. Death is hard to face because it’s hard to see someone go, especially if they are young. We can comfort the grieving by helping them, listening to them or being there for them, just like Moses was there for the Israelites before he died.
Just before the events in the passage we heard from Deuteronomy occurred, Moses gave his final blessings to the Israelites. He knew he was going to die, and he wanted his final words to be remembered. The deathbed statements of a great person are always of interest to his or her followers. As people get older, they gain a sense of what matters or what is significant. In his last speech, Moses tried to get the Israelites to live right after he died.
He climbed the mountain alone so his ministry could end the same way it began-in God’s presence. He saw the Promised Land-a land he would not enter. Then he died. Moses wasn’t kept from leading the Israelites into the Promised Land because of death by natural causes. It was because of his unfaithfulness to the Lord at Meribah, as described in Numbers 20:12. Moses got to see that his life’s work was not in vain. His faith journey was going to bear fruit. The beauty in his death is not in the physical details but in the fact that he died in God’s presence. The God who called him to lead the Israelites was the same God who called him home.
Not many people have the chance to die a good death, but Moses was given that gift. God oversaw Moses’ death to the point of personally taking care of Moses’ burial. Moses was given a rare and remarkable final tribute in the passage from Deuteronomy. Dying a good death didn’t mean covering over his life or pretending that he was perfect. It meant celebrating his very humanity, leadership, commitment to his community and his intimate relationship with God.
What is important is that he was the one whom God knew face to face, and through God performed such signs and wonders. Moses remains the one through whom God became fully known. Though he appears to be excluded because God didn’t allow him to enter the Promised Land, he is the key to the Israelites’ memory of God’s mighty acts of deliverance, and therefore of their ongoing covenantal relationship with God.
The report of Moses’ death kept Moses from being magnified beyond what a man should be. Meanwhile, the title “servant of the Lord” maintained the Lord’s high esteem of Moses in the eyes of the people. Moses may have begun tenuously-killing a man in Egypt, fleeing in fear, living 40 years in anonymity in the desert, and arguing with God about doing His will-but he arrived at the end of his life in faithfulness, having accomplished the job God gave him to do.
Moses brought the people to the frontier of the Promised Land, but he would not bring them over it. Similarly, the Law of God can’t bring us into the Land of Promise, even when the Law is honoured and obeyed. We stand on the height of effort and view it from afar in all its fair expanse, but if we never get further than “Do this and live,” we can never pass into the blessed life of rest and victory represented by Canaan. The Law must be perfectly obeyed and fulfilled, first by Jesus and then by the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
At the time of his death, the natural process of aging had not taken its toll on Moses; he was still a strong, vital man. These words are striking. Moses did not die because he had “worn out”-he had been given strength and longevity by God so that he might lead the people into the land of Canaan despite his advanced age. Yet as strong as he was at his death, God still restrained him from leading the people to their destination.
Moses was so esteemed by the people that, had they known where God buried him, they might have turned his grave into a shrine. Death makes us think of eternity. It gives us hope and comfort if we believe we will see our loved ones again. Moses was unique, but he was just a man in service to God. God didn’t want anyone to remember him as anything but a man. That’s why the exact location of his grave is a mystery today.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12 is Moses’ epitaph. He was a spiritual pioneer. He was the first to proclaim God’s attributes. He was the first to give love as the incentive for the people to obey God. He was the first to give God’s Law. He was the first to give a plan of education in the family. Moses’ character points to his greatness. He enjoyed a unique relationship with God. God’s knowledge of Moses is stressed. God sought him out and chose him for a particular task.
Until Christ, no one ever lived who was greater than Moses. The statement in verses 10-12 is quite remarkable in the context of the entire Word of God: there was no one else whom the Lord knew face to face. Moses’ greatness has stood the test of time. It was in the formation of the new covenant that at last “a prophet like Moses” appeared again, but He was more than a prophet. Moses was a servant in God’s household, but the coming Prophet was a Son, Jesus Christ.
There are three lessons we can learn from Moses’ life and death. They are the secrets of living a good life that is right in God’s sight:
- The secret of fulfillment in life is involvement.
- The secret of reality in life is humility.
- The secret of happiness in life is perspective.
Moses died. The Israelites mourned for him. Even if a good, long life can be celebrated and eulogized, the end of that life marks a loss. Even though Moses could see into the land where he faithfully lead the Israelites, his time was at an end, and he couldn’t finish all that he may have hoped. The brief mention of his successor Joshua reminds us that God’s spirit is what remains constant amidst human transitions, and that is a good thing for us to remember when someone we love dies. Though Moses is described as unequalled among all the prophets and leaders in Old Testament times, we can imitate Moses in his intimacy with God and be people who similarly seek after God’s face.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 270-271)
- Maxwell, J.C. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 5: Deuteronomy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 19897; pp. 324-328)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Moses: Three Secrets.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
- Karla Suomala, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:1-12.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Margaret Odell, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:1-12.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Sara Koenig, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:1-12.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org