Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Death and Burial of Moses
Moses ascends Nebo and the Lord shows him the Land—from Dan to Zoar—promised to the Patriarchs, which he is not to enter (Deuteronomy 34:1-4). So he dies, and God buries him, in the land of Moab, no man knowing his grave (Deuteronomy 34:5 f.)—his age 120 years, reached with unabated strength. He is mourned by Israel 30 days, and Joshua, whom he consecrated, succeeds him in the people’s obedience (Deuteronomy 34:7-9). The Book closes with homage to his incomparable rank as a prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).—As the varied phraseology reveals, the passage is a compilation from the main sources of the Pent., each of which must have contained some account of the death of the great leader. For details see the notes. An exact analysis is hardly possible, but ‘the only uncertainty is in one or two places where the phraseology displays so little that is characteristic that it might have been used by any narrator’ (Driver).
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 shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,1. Moses went up] As commanded, Deuteronomy 3:27, Deuteronomy 32:49.
plains of Moab] Heb. ‘arbôth Mo’ab, the parts of the ‘Arabah (see on Deuteronomy 1:1) reckoned as Moabite. The designation is peculiar to P, who gives it as Israel’s last camp before crossing Jordan, Numbers 33:48-50, cp. Numbers 22:1; Numbers 26:3; Numbers 26:63; Numbers 31:12; Numbers 35:1; Numbers 36:13, Joshua 13:32, which place these ‘steppes’ on Jordan and opposite Jericho. According to Deuteronomy 3:24-29 Moses ascended Nebo from Israel’s immediately previous camp in the glen over against Beth-Pe‘or, which is above the Jordan valley. But ‘arbôth Mo’ab may have been loosely held to cover this higher hollow that debouches on the ‘Arabah.
unto mount Nebo, the headland of the Pisgah] The former is P’s name for the mount (Deuteronomy 32:49), the latter that of E (Numbers 21:20; Numbers 23:14) and deuteron. writers, see on Deuteronomy 3:17. It is the headland which breaks from the plateau of Moab between Heshbon and Medaba under the name en-Nebâ (= ‘mountain-back,’ Dalman MNPDV, 1900, p. 23) or en-Nebâ, and runs out to the S. of the W. ‘Uyûn Musa upon the N. end of the Dead Sea. From the high edge of the Plateau it dips a little, and so loses the view to the E.—Israel’s desert horizons for 40 years—but the bulk of W. Palestine is in sight; only at first the nearer side of the Jordan valley is invisible, and N. and S. the view is hampered by the parallel headlands. Further W. however it rises somewhat into the Ras Siaghah, a promontory which, though lower than the Ras en-Nebâ, stands freer of the hills to N. and S. The whole of the ‘Arabah is now open from at least Engedi, and if the mist allows from still farther S., to where on the N. the hills of Gilead appear to meet those of Ephraim. The Jordan flows below, with Jericho visible beyond it. Over Gilead Hermon has been seen in fine weather. See further HGHL, 562 ff.
over against Jericho] Lit. against the face of, i.e. (by Semitic orientation) to the E. of.
all the Land—Gilead unto Dan, etc.] Not as in EVV. the land of Gilead. Dan itself, either Tell-el-Ḳadi, on one of the sources of Jordan, or more probably on the neighbouring spur of Ḥermon above Banias (see above Deuteronomy 33:22, and HGHL, 473, 481), is not visible, but Ḥermon above it is sometimes seen; and Dan is mentioned as the N. limit of the land.
And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,2. all Naphtali] The lofty country N. and N.W. of the Lake of Galilee, some of whose hills, over 2,500 feet, may (as Dri. says) be visible from Nebo, as the lower Mt Tabor to the S. of them is.
and all the land of Ephraim and Manasseh] So LXX. These certainly are in sight with Ebal and Gerizim and the intervening valley particularly distinct.
all the land of Judah, unto the hinder sea] A natural hyperbole; the hinder or Western Sea (Deuteronomy 11:24). The Mediterranean is hidden by the hills of Judah. But again the bulk of Judah is in sight, and the Sea is mentioned as its W. boundary.
And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.3. the South] Heb. the Negeb, see on Deuteronomy 1:7.
the Plain] Heb. kikkar, the root meaning of which, to judge from its use alike for a district, a loaf and a weight, must be round or oval. Render the Round: here in apposition (delete of) to the Biḳ‘ah (lit. space cleft or laid open between hills, HGHL 385, 654 f.), or Valley, of Jericho; called also the kikkar of Jordan, Genesis 13:10 f., 1 Kings 7:46. If (as the present writer still holds, cp. HGHL 505 ff.) the overwhelmed Cities of the Kikkar (Genesis 13:12; Genesis 19:29) lay not at the N., but at the S., end of the Dead Sea, the name the Kikkar, like the Ar. ghor to-day, was applied to the ‘Arabah at both ends of that sea.
the city of palm trees] Jdg 1:16; Jdg 3:13; 2 Chronicles 28:15. The district of Jericho was celebrated for its palms from a remote antiquity down to Roman times, and even to those of the Crusades. See for details HGHL 266 and note 4.
unto Zoar] The position of this town, S. of the Dead Sea, is strongly attested, HGHL 506 f. The present passage is not decisive, for it is uncertain whether unto Zoar refers only to the Valley of Jericho, or to the whole of the southern regions included in the v.
The originality of this geographical list is doubtful. Sam. has instead the ideal description of the Promised Land, from the River of Egypt unto the Great River, the River Euphrates, and unto the Western Sea.
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.4. the land which I sware, etc.] As Exodus 33:1, see above on Deuteronomy 1:8.
thou shalt not go over thither] Deuteronomy 1:37, Deuteronomy 3:27, Deuteronomy 4:21 f., and in P, Deuteronomy 32:52, Numbers 20:12.
So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.5. the servant of Jehovah] So JE, Numbers 12:7 f., my servant, and as here, Joshua 1:1 f., Joshua 1:7; Jos 1:13; Jos 1:15, etc.
according to the word of, etc.] Lit. mouth of, frequent in P.
And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.6. he buried] He can only be Jehovah, for no man knew the grave; hence the rendering they buried, though possible, so far as the grammar goes, is contrary to the sense.
the valley … Beth-peor] See on Deuteronomy 3:29.
And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.7. an hundred and twenty years] Dates, we have seen, are characteristic of P; this one is a round number = three full generations (see on Deuteronomy 2:7); cp. Exodus 7:7.
nor his natural force abated] Lit. nor had his sap fled or ebbed. The phrase cannot be assigned to one source more than another.
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.8. the children of Israel wept … thirty days] So P, Numbers 20:29, of Aaron; plains of Moab again ‘arbôth Mo’ab, see Deuteronomy 34:1.
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses.9. was full of the spirit of wisdom] Cp. P in Exodus 28:3, where the wisdom is of a different kind.
laid his hands upon him] So P, Numbers 27:18-23.
And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,10. The phraseology now becomes deuteronomic. See on Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18.
In all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land,11, 12. These vv. are irrelevant to the more spiritual estimate of Moses’ prophetic rank in Deuteronomy 34:10, and therefore may be due to a later hand. On the deuteronomic phrases signs and wonders, mighty hand, great terror, see Deuteronomy 4:34, and on all Israel (not P’s children of Israel), see Deuteronomy 4:44, Deuteronomy 31:23. Thus the Book closes in characteristically deuteronomic style.
And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.