D E U T E R O N O M Y
Having read how Moses finished his testimony, we are told here how he immediately after finished his life. This chapter could not be written by Moses himself, but was added by Joshua or Eleazar, or, as bishop Patrick conjectures, by Samuel, who was a prophet, and wrote by divine authority what he found in the records of Joshua, and his successors the judges. We have had an account of his dying words, here we have an account of his dying work, and that is work we must all do shortly, and it had need be well done. Here is, I. The view Moses had of the land of Canaan just before he died, ver. 1-4. II. His death and burial, ver. 5, 6. III. His age, ver. 7. IV. Israel’s mourning for him, ver. 8. V. His successor, ver. 9. VI. His character, ver. 10, &c.
B. C. 1451.
1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. 4 And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.
Here is, I. Moses climbing upwards towards heaven, as high as the top of Pisgah, there to die; for that was the place appointed, ch. 32:49, 50. Israel lay encamped upon the flat grounds in the plains of Moab, and thence he went up, according to order, to the mountain of Nebo, to the highest point or ridge of that mountain, which was called Pisgah, v. 1. Pisgah is an appellative name for all such eminences. It should seem, Moses went up alone to the top of Pisgah, alone without help–a sign that his natural force was not abated when on the last day of his life he could walk up to the top of a high hill without such supporters as once he had when his hands were heavy (Exod. 17:12), alone without company. When he had made an end of blessing Israel, we may suppose, he solemnly took leave of Joshua, and Eleazar, and the rest of his friends, who probably brought him to the foot of the hill; but then he gave them such a charge as Abraham gave to his servants at the foot of another hill: Tarry you here while I go yonder and die: they must not see him die, because they must not know of his sepulchre. But, whether this were so or not, he went up to the top of Pisgah,
1. To show that he was willing to die. When he knew the place of his death, he was so far from avoiding it that he cheerfully mounted a steep hill to come at it. Note, Those that through grace are well acquainted with another world, and have been much conversant with it, need not be afraid to leave this.
2. To show that he looked upon death as his ascension. The soul of a man, of a good man, when it leaves the body, goes upwards (Eccl. 3:21), in conformity to which motion of the soul, the body of Moses shall go along with it as far upwards as its earth will carry it. When God’s servants are sent for out of the world, the summons runs thus, Go up and die.
II. Moses looking downward again towards this earth, to see the earthly Canaan into which he must never enter, but therein by faith looking forwards to the heavenly Canaan into which he should now immediately enter. God had threatened that he should not come into the possession of Canaan, and the threatening is fulfilled. But he had also promised that he should have a prospect of it, and the promise is here performed: The Lord showed him all that good land, v. 1.
1. If he went up alone to the top of Pisgah, yet he was not alone, for the Father was with him, John 16:32. If a man has any friends, he will have them about him when he lies a dying. But if, either through God’s providence or their unkindness, it should so happen that we should then be alone, we need fear no evil if the great and good Shepherd be with us, Ps. 23:4.
2. Though his sight was very good, and he had all the advantage of high ground that he could desire for the prospect, yet he could not have seen what he now saw, all Canaan from end to end (reckoned about fifty or sixty miles), if his sight had not been miraculously assisted and enlarged, and therefore it is said, The Lord showed it to him. Note, All the pleasant prospects we have of the better country we are beholden to the grace of God for; it is he that gives the spirit of wisdom as well as the spirit of revelation, the eye as well as the object. This sight which God here gave Moses of Canaan, probably, the devil designed to mimic, and pretended to out-do, when in an airy phantom he showed to our Saviour, whom he had placed like Moses upon an exceedingly high mountain, all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, not gradually, as here, first one country and then another, but all in a moment of time.
3. He saw it at a distance. Such a sight the Old-Testament saints had of the kingdom of the Messiah; they saw it afar off. Thus Abraham, long before this, saw Christ’s day; and, being fully persuaded of it, embraced it in the promise, leaving others to embrace it in the performance, Heb. 11:13. Such a sight believers now have, through grace, of the bliss and glory of their future state. The word and ordinances are to them what Mount Pisgah was to Moses; from them they have comfortable prospects of the glory to be revealed, and rejoice in hope of it.
4. He saw it, but must never enjoy it. As God sometimes takes his people away from the evil to come, so at other times he takes them away from the good to come, that is, the good which shall be enjoyed by the church in the present world. Glorious things are spoken of the kingdom of Christ in the latter days, its advancement, enlargement, and flourishing state; we foresee it, but we are not likely to live to see it. Those that shall come after us, we hope will enter that promised land, which is a comfort to us when we find our own carcases falling in this wilderness. See 2 Kings 7:2.
5. He saw all this just before his death. Sometimes God reserves the brightest discoveries of his grace to his people to be the support of their dying moments. Canaan was Immanuel’s land (Isa. 8:8), so that in viewing it he had a view of the blessings we enjoy by Christ. It was a type of heaven (Heb. 11:16), which faith is the substance and evidence of. Note, Those may leave this world with a great deal of cheerfulness that die in the faith of Christ, and in the hope of heaven, and with Canaan in their eye. Having thus seen the salvation of God, we may well say, Lord, now let thou thy servant depart in peace.
– Matthew Henry Commentary