The Death of Moses.
B. C. 1451.
5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. 7 And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. 8 And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
Here is, I. The death of Moses (v. 5): Moses the servant of the Lord died. God told him he must not go over Jordan, and, though at first he prayed earnestly for the reversing of the sentence yet God’s answer to his prayer sufficed him, and now he spoke no more of that matter, ch. 3:26. Thus our blessed Saviour prayed that the cup might pass from him, yet, since it might not, he acquiesced with, Father, thy will be done. Moses had reason to desire to live a while longer in the world. He was old, it is true, but he had not yet attained to the years of the life of his fathers; his father Amram lived to be 137; his grandfather Kohath 133; his great grandfather Levi 137; Exod. 6:16-20. And why must Moses, whose life was more serviceable than any of theirs, die at 120, especially since he felt not the decays of age, but was as fit for service as ever? Israel could ill spare him at this time; his conduct and his converse with God would be as great a happiness to them in the conquest of Canaan as the courage of Joshua. It bore hard upon Moses himself, when he had gone through all the fatigues of the wilderness, to be prevented from enjoying the pleasures of Canaan; when he had borne the burden and heat of the day, to resign the honour of finishing the work to another, and that not his son, but his servant, who must enter into his labours. We may suppose that this was not pleasant to flesh and blood. But the man Moses was very meek; God will have it so, and he cheerfully submits.
1. He is here called the servant of the Lord, not only as a good man (all the saints are God’s servants), but as a useful man, eminently useful, who had served God’s counsels in bringing Israel out of Egypt, and leading them through the wilderness. It was more his honour to be the servant of the Lord. than to be king in Jeshurun.
2. Yet he dies. Neither his piety nor his usefulness would exempt him from the stroke of death. God’s servants must die that they may rest from their labours, receive their recompense, and make room for others. When God’s servants are removed, and must serve him no longer on earth, they go to serve him better, to serve him day and night in his temple.
3. He dies in the land of Moab, short of Canaan, while as yet he and his people were in an unsettled condition and had not entered into their rest. In the heavenly Canaan there will be no more death.
4. He dies according to the word of the Lord. At the mouth of the Lord; so the word is. The Jews say, “with a kiss from the mouth of God.” No doubt, he died very easily (it was an euthanasia—a delightful death), there were no bands in his death; and he had in his death a most pleasing taste of the love of God to him: but that he died at the mouth of the Lord means no more but that he died in compliance with the will of God. Note, The servants of the Lord, when they have done all their other work, must die at last, in obedience to their Master, and be freely willing to go home whenever he sends for them, Acts 21:13.
II. His burial, v. 6. It is a groundless conceit of some of the Jews that Moses was translated to heaven as Elijah was, for it is expressly said that he died and was buried; yet probably he was raised to meet Elias, to grace the solemnity of Christ’s transfiguration. 1. God himself buried him, namely, by the ministry of angels, which made this funeral, though very private, yet very magnificent. Note, God takes care of the dead bodies of his servants; as their death is precious, so is their dust, not a grain of it shall be lost, but the covenant with it shall be remembered. When Moses was dead, God buried him; when Christ was dead, God raised him, for the law of Moses was to have an end, but not the gospel of Christ. Believers are dead to the law that they might be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, Rom. 7:4. It should seem Michael, that is, Christ (as some think), had the burying of Moses, for by him the Mosaical ordinances were abolished and taken out of the way, nailed to his cross, and buried in his grave, Col. 2:14.
2. He was buried in a valley over against Beth-peor. How easily could the angels that buried him have conveyed him over Jordan and buried him with the patriarchs in the cave of Machpelah! But we must learn not be over-solicitous about the place of our burial. If the soul be at rest with God, the matter is not great where the body rests. One of the Chaldee paraphrasts says, “He was buried over against Beth-peor, that, whenever Baal-peor boasted of the Israelites being joined to him, the grave of Moses over against his temple might be a check to him.”
3. The particular place was not known, lest the children of Israel, who were so very prone to idolatry, should have enshrined and worshipped the dead body of Moses, that great founder and benefactor of their nation. It is true that we read not, among all the instances of their idolatry, that they worshipped relics, the reason of which perhaps was because they were thus prevented from worshipping Moses, and so could not for shame worship any other. Some of the Jewish writers say that the body of Moses was concealed, that necromancers, who enquired of the dead, might not disquiet him, as the witch of Endor did Samuel, to bring him up. God would not have the name and memory of his servant Moses thus abused. Many think this was the contest between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses, mentioned Jude 9. The devil would make the place known that it might be a snare to the people, and Michael would not let him. Those therefore who are for giving divine honours to the relics of departed saints side with the devil against Michael our prince.
III. His age, v. 7. His life was prolonged, 1. To old age. He was 120 years old, which, though far short of the years of the patriarchs, yet much exceeded the years of most of his contemporaries, for the ordinary age of man had been lately reduced to seventy, Ps. 90:10. The years of the life of Moses were three forties. The first forty he lived a courtier, at ease and in honour in Pharaoh’s court; the second forty he lived a poor desolate shepherd in Midian; the third forty he lived a king in Jeshurun, in honour and power, but encumbered with a great deal of care and toil: so changeable is the world we live in, and alloyed with such mixtures; but the world before us is unmixed and unchangeable.
2. To a good old age: His eye was not dim (as Isaac’s, Gen. 27:1, and Jacob’s, Gen. 48:10), nor was his natural force abated; there was no decay either of the strength of his body or of the vigour and activity of his mind, but he could still speak, and write, and walk as well as ever. His understanding was as clear, and his memory as strong, as ever. “His visage was not wrinkled,” say some of the Jewish writers; “he had lost never a tooth,” say others; and many of them expound it of the shining of his face (Exod. 34:30), that that continued to the last. This was the general reward of his services; and it was in particular the effect of his extraordinary meekness, for that is a grace which is, as much as any other, health to the navel and marrow to the bones. Of the moral law which was given by Moses, though the condemning power be vacated to true believers, yet the commands are still binding, and will be to the end of the world; the eye of them is not waxen dim, for they shall discern the thoughts and intents of the heart, nor is their natural force or obligation abated but still we are under the law to Christ.
IV. The solemn mourning that there was for him, v. 8. It is a debt owing to the surviving honour of deceased worthies to follow them with our tears, as those who loved and valued them, are sensible of our loss of them, and are truly humbled for those sins which have provoked God to deprive us of them; for penitential tears very fitly mix with these. Observe,
1. Who the mourners were: The children of Israel. They all conformed to the ceremony, whatever it was, though some of them perhaps, who were ill-affected to his government, were but mock-mourners; yet we may suppose there were those among them who had formerly quarrelled with him and his government, and perhaps had been of those who spoke of stoning him, who now were sensible of their loss, and heartily lamented him when he was removed from them, though they knew not how to value him when he was with them. Thus those who had murmured were made to learn doctrine, Isa. 29:24. Note, The loss of good men, especially good governors, is to be much lamented and laid to heart: those are stupid who do not consider it.
2. How long they mourned: Thirty days. So long the formality lasted, and we may suppose there were some in whom the mourning continued much longer. Yet the ending of the days of weeping and mourning for Moses is an intimation that, how great soever our losses have been, we must not abandon ourselves to perpetual grief; we must suffer the wound at least to heal up in time. If we hope to go to heaven rejoicing, why should we resolve to go to the grave mourning? The ceremonial law of Moses is dead and buried in the grave of Christ; but the Jews have not yet ended the days of their mourning for it.
– Matthew Henry Commentary