Deuteronomy 34 recounts the final days of Moses’ life and the unusual circumstances of his death. The chapter provides us with three key lessons along with a fitting summary and epitaph.
Moses died the way he lived (1-5). The last thing Moses did on earth was climb a mountain. The summit of Mt. Pisgah reaches a height of 4,500 feet above the Dead Sea. Not too many 120 year old men can climb a mountain almost a mile high and live to tell the story. Many of us huff and puff just going up the stairs. We take the elevator. Yet here was Moses, 120 years old, scaling the heights. Maybe climbing Mt. Pisgah was part of Moses’ bucket list.
Verse one is a fitting metaphor for Moses’ life. Moses was continually climbing. He wanted to change things for the better. He wasn’t content with his people being slaves in Egypt. He wanted to deliver them from bondage and bring them back to the Promised Land.
During his lifetime, Moses lived by the promises of God. He died believing those same promises. From the top of Mt. Pisgah, Moses could see all the land God had promised to give the people. Though Moses would not set foot in the land, he saw it as a real destination, a real possession. He was confident that God would keep his promises and bring Israel into the Promised Land.
Moses lived in God’s presence and he died in God’s presence. Moses’ last moments on earth were spent in intimate fellowship with God. At some point during the panoramic tour of the Promised Land, perhaps God said, “It’s time, Moses. Come on home.”
Moses died at the right time (5-7). My aunt, Charity, taught second grade Sunday School into her mid-80’s. She had to stop when she was losing her hearing and couldn’t hear the children say their memory verses. That wasn’t the case with Moses. For a man his age, he was unusually healthy. He had no outward signs of disease. By all normal indications of health and fitness, Moses’ death was untimely.
From our perspective, Moses died too young. He still had work to do. Israel had not yet entered the Promised Land. Moses was still needed. Yet we know that Moses died according to God’s plan. Everything ended just as God arranged it. We can take comfort in the fact that God not only knows our times, he knows the end of our times. God has arranged the details of our lives, and even the day of our death.
My mother, father, and brother are all buried in Southern California, but in three different cemeteries. When Carol and I were in Southern California three years ago, we visited each one of their graves so that I could pay my respects, and reflect on their lives. You cannot do that with Moses. He died in an unknown way and was buried in an unknown grave. Only God knows the location. That is probably a good thing, because we would have turned it into a shrine, another Mecca.
No one is indispensable (8-9). When the time of mourning was complete, the people of Israel needed to get moving again. Moses’ life may have ended, but God’s plan did not. God had promises to keep and Israel had places to go.
Moses knew he was expendable. Based on the instructions he had received, Moses knew that God’s plan would continue. So, according to Numbers 27:12-23, Moses trained his successor, Joshua.
God’s plan does not depend on anyone for all time, but for all to serve him at a certain time. God gave Moses a task to accomplish. He was faithful to carry it out.
Epitaph & legacy (10-12). Moses was unique among all the prophets of Israel. No one enjoyed a relationship with God like Moses did. He introduced a new era into the history of God’s people, the Age of the Law. As impressive as his accomplishments are, the most important thing about him was his relationship with God. He. Knew. God. And he wanted others to know him as well.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 15, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Click on the link to download a copy of this week’s bulletin which contains an outline of the message.