And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho…
We have in this concluding chapter the remarkable account of the death and burial of Moses. He had, as we have seen, blessed the tribes; he had laid his hands on Joshua (ver. 9), and thus ordained him, so to speak, to the leadership; he had given his manuscripts to the priests to be deposited in the ark; and now all that remains for him to do is to take the course God indicated to the mountain-top, see the Promised Land, and die. It has suggested some noble sermons, to which we would at once refer before proceeding with a few observations suggested by the history.
I. LET US NOTICE THE VIEW OF CANAAN AND OF LIFE FROM THE MOUNTAIN-TOP. It is evident, we think, that Moses went up the mountain without an escort. He was going up to hold high communion with God, as he had done on Sinai. Mountain-tops are favorite places for communion with God in the case of busy men like Moses and our Savior (cf. Luke 9:28). It was a sublime solitude, filled with the presence of God. Sooner or later, God draws his servants upwards out of the bustle of life to have special communion with him and finish their course with joy. Moses, moreover, had an undimmed eye at this time, and his natural force was in no wise abated. His outlook was consequently clear. The land of promise lay out before him in all its attractiveness, and he could have wished to cross the Jordan and see it, and the goodly mountain, Lebanon. But the view of it, clear and glorious, is all that in the present life he is to receive. Now, it is sometimes insinuated that saintly, self-denying men, whose lives according to worldly notions have been incomplete and unsuccessful, are unable to form a proper judgment about their careers, and must regret them. But as a rule, God gives in life's last hours the "undimmed eye," and his servants are enabled to see life's relations clearly, and the land of promise under the sunset glow. They regret their incomplete lives as little as Moses did his from the mountain-top. Jonathan Edwards notices, in his 'Notes on the Bible,' that "God ordered that Aaron and Moses should go up to the tops of mountains to die, to signify that the death of godly men is but an entrance into a heavenly state;" and Baumgarten has made a similar remark regarding the death of Aaron. "The circumstance that it was expressly fixed that Aaron should die upon a mountain, and so upon a place which through its very nature points to heaven, the seat of Jehovah, throws into the darkness of his death a ray (Strahl) of hope." The mountain-tops to these great brothers were indeed the gate of heaven, whence clear views of life and of the hereafter were obtained.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANTIALS OF THE DEATH OF MOSES ARE UNIQUE IN THEIR SIMPLE MAJESTY. It has been said that the presence of Moses on the mount of Transfiguration must have suggested a contrast between his death on the top of Pisgah and our Lord's approaching death amid the mocking crowds at Jerusalem. And what a contrast there is between the two departures! In the one case, the servant of God dies amid the solemn grandeur of the hills, with the sunset glow around him - dies, as some Jewish doctors say, "of the kiss of the Eternal;" in the other case, our Lord dies amid the ribaldry and scoffing of overcrowded Jerusalem. There may have been an clement of sadness in Moses dying on the threshold of the Promised Land; but there was an element of glory in the death-bed among the mountains.
III. GOD IN HIS LOVE NOT ONLY TOOK CHARGE OF THE DYING BUT ALSO OF THE DEAD. He died with God; and God buried him. No wonder the poetess calls it "the grandest funeral that ever passed on earth."
"And had he not high honor? -
The hill-side for his 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!" This disposal of the body, as well as of the departed spirit, was surely a significant act on the part of God. He took the matter as completely out of the hands of Israel, as in the Resurrection our Lord's body was taken out of the keeping of the Roman guard. Was it not to indicate that the body as well as the soul is to share in the redeeming care of God, and so far an earnest of the resurrection?
IV. THE PRIVACY OF THE TOMB IS ALSO INSTRUCTIVE. Manifestly all Israel saw was the retirement of Moses to the mount; for the rest, his death and his Divine burial, they were dependent upon faith - they believed him when he told them he was going away by death, and that they need make no preparations for him, as God would bury him. Had it not been for his prophetic notice, they might have concluded he was translated. It was a matter of faith entirely, and no searching could bring it within the range of sight. The privacy of the tomb compelled them to take the funeral and burial on trust. The mourning and weeping for a month arose really from faith; Moses was not - God took him; but they had only Moses' word for it that he was to die with God, and be buried by him. And God's dealing with our dead must remain still a matter of faith to us, though of fruition unto them. We believe the very dust of the saints is dear to God, but we have to put their remains in a coffin, and deposit them amid common clay. We believe their spirits are in his safekeeping, but they send no messages and make no sign. If sense is the measure of our knowledge, then assuredly we may put Christian hope into the realm of beautiful dreams, of which there is as little sensible evidence as of Moses' tomb. But there are "foundations of faith" as strong as those of sense and sight. In such assurance, we believe that God took charge of Moses, body and soul, and will take as real and as faithful charge of us. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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,