THE DEATH OF MOSES

Pastor James J. Barker

Text: DEUTERONOMY 34:1-12




INTRODUCTION:


1.     One of the highlights of my trip to Italy last year was visiting a church in Rome and seeing Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.

2.     It is an impressive statue – 7 feet, 8 ½ half inches tall.  But there is a glaring peculiarity.  Moses has horns on his head!  The explanation usually given is that the only Bible Michelangelo had was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (cf. Exodus 34:28-35).  Thank God we have the KJV!

3.     Somehow, in Jerome’s version, the “skin of Moses’ face shone” (Ex. 34:35) is portrayed as “rays of light,” and the word for “rays” was mistranslated as “horns.”   In any event, that is the popular explanation for Moses’ strange-looking horns.

4.     Moses is one of the greatest heroes in the Bible.  The Bible records many details concerning his long life (120 years – Deut. 34:7).

5.     His life is sketched from his infancy to his death.  The Lord has not given this much information about any other character in the Bible.

6.     Moses was on such intimate terms with God that the Bible tells us, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10).

7.     In Hebrews 3, Moses is compared to the Lord Jesus Christ.

8.     Six times the Bible refers to Moses as “Moses the man of God  (Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; I Chron. 23:14; II Chron. 30:16; Ezra 3:2; and the introduction to Psalm 90:1).

9.     Deuteronomy 34:5 refers to Moses as “Moses the servant of the LORD” (cf. Joshua 1:1, 2).

10. I mentioned that the Bible gives us many details concerning Moses’ long life, even his death.  And it is his death that we will look at today. 

11. The Lord prepared Moses for his death, and told him when he would die (Deut. 31:14, 16).  Moses, in turn, told the people of Israel (Deut. 31:27-30).

 

I. GOD GAVE MOSES A GOOD VIEW OF THE PROMISED LAND

1.     I heard a preacher ask a trick question, “Did Moses ever step foot in the Promised Land?”  Most people would say, no he did not.  The answer is, yes he did – he was on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30).

2.     But before he died Moses never stepped foot in the Promised Land.   Many times in the Bible we are told that God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land (cf. Deut. 1:37, 38; 3:25, 26; 4:21, 22; 31:1, 2; 32:48-52). 

3.     God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land because of his sin at Kadesh (Numbers 20).  Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock in anger. 

4.     God graciously let water pour out abundantly, but He told Moses he would not have the privilege of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-13).

5.     Moses was a great man of God but at Kadesh he got in the flesh, and we always get in trouble when we act in the flesh (Num. 20:12, 13).

6.     When we are operating in the flesh we take our eyes off the Lord.  That is why Moses said in Numbers 20:10, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?”  It was not Moses and Aaron that provided the water.  It was a miracle from God.

7.     The other day I received “The Ambassador,” a quarterly publication put out by Ambassador Baptist College.  In an article entitled, “Man-Centered or God-Centered,” Dr. Ron Comfort tells how one of the professors at the college read a sermon by a “prominent fundamental Baptist preacher.” 

8.     “A short way into the sermon, the reader decided he would highlight every personal pronoun the preacher used in reference to himself and every reference he made to deity.  Startlingly, he highlighted 400 personal pronouns referring to the preacher.  Two times the name of Jesus was used, and God was referenced four times” (The Ambassador, Vol. 16, Edition 2, 2006). 

9.     The Lord said to Moses, “Because ye believed me not…” (Num. 20:12).  When we acting independently of God, it is a sign of unbelief.  And even Moses the man of God failed at Kadesh.

10. Moses’ punishment may seem severe but not when we consider it carefully.  He disobeyed God.  God said, “Speak ye unto the rock…” (Num. 20:8).  Disobedience is a terrible sin.

11. Furthermore, Moses’ sin was committed publicly, in the sight of the nation.  This is why Moses said in Deuteronomy 1:37, “Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither.”

12. Moses’ loss of privilege was to serve as an example to Israel and to future generations that God always judges disobedience, and that God does deal with sin.

13. Remember what the Bible says in I Peter 4:17 and 18, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

14. Because Moses did not sanctify the Lord in what he did (he smote the rock instead of speaking to it), God punished him.

15. Sometimes God has to punish believers, and even Moses, the great man of God was punished and not allowed into the Promised Land.

16. The Bible indicates that Moses prayed many times about this but God’s decision was final (Deut. 3:25, 26).

17. So the Lord told Moses to climb up Mount Nebo, about six miles or so from the Promised Land.  And from Mount Nebo the Lord gave Moses a panoramic view of the entire Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-5).

18. Mount Nebo is one of the peaks of a mountain range that runs along the eastern side of the Jordan River.  It was just across the Jordan River from the city of Jericho (Deut. 34:1).  Jericho was the first city that Joshua and the Israelites conquered after the death of Moses.

19. What a view Moses must have had!  Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that “his eye was not dim,” so he must have a good look.

 

II. MOSES’ BURIAL

1.     Oftentimes when a man dies, his wife will handle all the funeral arrangements.  Or perhaps a son or brother or other close relative will do it. 

2.     Sometimes the family will ask the funeral home director to take care of everything.

3.     But when Moses died, all the details were carefully arranged by God Himself – the time, the place, and even the burial.  Deuteronomy 34:6 tells us that God buried Moses.

4.     This is an honor and distinction not given to any other man.

5.     There is a mystery surrounding the burial of Moses (cf. Jude 9). On the basis of Jude 9 some people (e.g., Warren Wiersbe) believe that Michael the archangel helped God bury Moses.


THE BURIAL OF MOSES by Cecil Frances Alexander

By Nebo’s lonely mountain,
On this side Jordan’s wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab
There lies a lonely grave;
And no man knows that sepulcher,
And no man saw it e’er;
For the angels of God upturned the sod
And laid the dead man there.
 
That was the grandest funeral
That ever passed on earth;
But no man heard the trampling,
Or saw the train go forth.
 
Perchance the bald old eagle
On gray Beth-peor’s height,
Out of his lonely eyrie
Looked on the wondrous sight;
Perchance the lion stalking,
Still shuns that hallowed spot;
For beast and bird have seen and heard
That which man knoweth not.
 
This was the truest warrior
That ever buckled sword;
This the most gifted poet
That ever breathed a word;
And never earth’s philosopher
Traced with his golden pen
On the deathless page, truths half so sage
As he wrote down for men.
 
And had he not high honor?
The hillside for a pall;
To lie in state while angels wait,
With stars for tapers tall,
And the dark rock pines like tossing plumes,
Over his bier to wave,
And God’s own hand, in that lonely land,
To lay him in the grave!
 
In that strange grave without a name,
Whence his uncoffined clay
Shall break again--O wondrous thought!-
Before the Judgment day,
And stand, with glory wrapped around,
On the hills he never trod,
And speak of the strife that won our life
With the incarnate Son of God.
 
O lonely grave in Moab’s land!
O dark Beth-peor’s hill!
Speak to these curious hearts of ours,
And teach them to be still.
God hath His mysteries of grace,
Ways that we cannot tell,
He hides them deep, like the hidden sleep
Of him He loved so well.


6.     It is a beautiful poem.  One of Mark Twain’s biographers records that it was one of his favorite poems and he would recite it often and with great power.

7.     Moses’ gravesite was not revealed.  All we know is that it is that the Lord buried Moses in a valley in the land of Moab (34:6). 

8.     The gravesite has never been found.   The Lord had a good reason for this secrecy.  Had Moses’ grave been known to the public, it probably would have been turned into a national shrine or tourist attraction.  Perhaps this is what is behind Jude 9.

9.     Perhaps multitudes of superstitious people would make pilgrimages there and worship at the tomb of Moses.  The Lord made sure that this would not happen.

 

III. MOSES’ SUCCESSOR (DEUT. 34:9)

1.     When God wants to get something done, He raises up a leader – Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and Paul are just a few great men that immediately come to mind.

2.     There is a saying that you may have heard before – “God buries His workmen, but carries on His work.”  I have heard it many times but never knew the origin of it.

3.     I read recently that there is a monument in Westminster Abbey dedicated to the memory of John and Charles Wesley with this beautiful inscription. 

4.     This saying certainly applies to Moses.  God buried him in the land of Moab, but He carried on His work.  And God’s chosen leader to succeed Moses was Joshua (Deut. 34:9; Joshua 1:1, 2).

5.     God’s work must go forward and even Moses was not indispensable.  The Lord prepared Joshua to pick up where Moses left off (Deut. 34:9; Joshua 1:2).

6.     Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, what we commonly refer to as the “Pentateuch.”  Perhaps Moses did not write some of the information in Deuteronomy 34.  Or perhaps he did, since the Lord told him ahead of time what to expect.

7.     Jewish tradition ascribes Deuteronomy 34 to Joshua. It is likely that Joshua wrote these words (cf. Deut. 34:10-12).

8.     But whether or not Joshua was the human instrument, the real author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit.  Deuteronomy 34 has been called “an inspired postscript” to the book of Deuteronomy. 

9.     “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16, 17).

10. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21).

11. The book of Deuteronomy closes with a final tribute to Moses (34:10-12; cf. Exodus 33:11; Num. 12:6-8).

12. No mortal man ever had a closer fellowship with God than Moses

 

CONCLUSION:

1.     It is interesting to note that when Elijah and Moses spoke to our Lord up on the Mount of Transfiguration, they talked about the cross (Luke 9:28-31).

2.     There is no subject more important.



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