So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.
Moses had endured to the full the loneliness which is the penalty of greatness. His lofty spirit, austere and firm, like the granite peak of Sinai, rose solitary, like it, above the lower heights, and was often swathed, like it, in the separating cloud, the symbol of a present God. Now Miriam was gone, and Aaron slept on Her, and all the old familiar faces were memories. The summons to come up to Pisgah and die would not be unwelcome. He had lived alone; alone he climbed the mountain, with natural force unabated, the people watching him as he went up; alone he is to die, — a fitting close to such a life. He had lived on the heights, he shall not die on the plain. He had lived leaning on God only; God only shall be with him at last.
1. Note, then, the vision to the dying leader of the unattained country, which had been his goal in all his work. How wistful and long would be the gaze! The sublime and rigid self-repression of his life would not desert him at the last; and we may well believe that regret at his own exclusion would be swallowed up in thankfulness that the prize was so near and so rich. "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation," would be the voice of his heart. God did not show him the land to tantalise him with the vision of what he had missed for himself, but to cheer him with the assurance of what he had won for his people. Moses had his portion when he saw the land, and was satisfied. That Pisgah sight has become the type of the large visions of the future which God often gives to solace His faithful servants at last. "There must be wisdom with great death," and when the dust of conflict is laid the prospect widens, and the cleared eye sees the goodly land to which the devious marches have been leading more hopefully and truly than while yet busied in looking to the dangers of the present, and picking firm ground for the next step. All epoch-making men have the fate of Moses. They spend their lives in leading rebellious and reluctant feet towards some fair ideal, and die when apparently on the verge of realising it. In our own little lives the same law holds good. "One soweth, and another reapeth." Rarely does any man complete his life's purpose.
2. Note the solitary death and hidden grave. The lawgiver, whose message was "The wages of sin are death," does himself, in the very manner of his own death, exemplify its two characteristics which smite most upon the heart, — its mystery and its solitude. And the same lessons are taught by that hidden grave. As, Thomas Fuller says somewhere, "God first buried him, and then buried his grave." Some say that the intention was to prevent idolatrous reverence by the Israelites; but there is no sign that, amid all their aberrations, they ever had any tendency that way. The graves of the patriarchs at Hebron and of the kings at Jerusalem were left undistinguished, and apparently little regarded. Some have thought that the mystery of his sepulchre points to his resurrection, or translation, and have found confirmation in the story of his appearance with Elijah at the transfiguration. But that is pure imagination. Was the hiding of the grave a purpose of God's, or simply a result of his being laid to rest outside the promised land, which had no further intention? He was not to enter it, not even in death. The bones of Joseph were carried up thither, but Moses was to lie where he died, amid foreigners, of course; then, years passed before Israel could again venture into Moab; and even if any had ever known the spot, the knowledge would not be transmitted. That lonely and forgotten grave among the savage cliffs was in keeping with the whole character and work of him who lay there. Contrast that grave with the sepulchre in the garden where Jesus lay, close by a city wall, guarded by foes, haunted by troops of weeping friends, visited by a great light of angel faces. The one was hidden and solitary, as teaching the loneliness of death; the other revealed light in the darkness, and companionship in the loneliness. The one faded from men's memory because it was nothing to any man; no impulses, nor hopes, nor gifts could come from it. The other forever draws hearts and memories, because in it was wrought out the victory in which all our hopes are rooted.
3. Note how soon the place of the leader is filled. A month finishes the mourning. The new generation could not be expected to feel to him as to men of their own time. To them his death would seem natural, and not difficult to bear. He had lingered long, like some harder peak which survives the weathering that crumbles softer rock around. But, none the less, the young life round him would feel that he belonged to the past. It is the fate of all who outlast their generation. New work called for new men. We cannot fancy the, lawgiver wielding the commander's sword, any more than Joshua grasping Moses rod. Smaller, rougher instruments were best for the fresh phase of service. A plain soldier, true and keen as his own sword, but incapable of the large revelations which the spirit of the legislator had been capacious enough to receive, was the man wanted now. So Moses goes home and takes his wages, and Joshua steps into his place. The smaller man completes the mighty torso which the greater man left half hewn. God has all sorts of tools in His great tool chest. Each is good for one bit of the work, and is put away when that is done, and all are wanted before it is finished. The greatest has his limitations and his period of service. There is but one name which endures forever. Moses dies on Pisgah, and Aaron on Her; but Christ lives forever, and is able to lead all generations, and finish God's work.
4. Note that, after all, the place of the great leader remains empty. We do not know when the last words of Deuteronomy were written; but the lower down they are brought, the more significant is their witness to the unapproachable superiority of Moses. After-ages looked back to him as the high-water mark of God's communications to men, and found none in all the long series of kings, priests, psalmists, or even prophets who had stood so close to God, or heard such messages from Him, or wrought such deeds by Him. Others had but developed his teachings or restored his law.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.