So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.
"We must needs die." So spake the widow of Tekoah. But why must we needs die? Why is it that after so many years of healthy, vigorous life the signs of feebleness, decay, and coming dissolution show themselves? There is, so far as we know, only one satisfactory answer: it is God's will." "It IS" appointed unto men once to die." The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." But the death of Moses was not the result of decayed powers and the infirmities of old age. He was equal to his work, and if spared, would soon have completed it, for the people, whose leader the Lord had appointed him, were now on the borders of the promised land. There was only the Jordan to cross. Why, then, should God, just at this point, have taken him away?
I. IN THE DEATH OF MOSES WE HAVE WITNESS TO THE SEVERITY OF GOD. "God is love." That is His nature, but it is qualified by justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. "Behold," says Paul, "the goodness and severity of God." He is Father, and in all His ways most fatherly. But He is also King, and IS most kingly too. God is not to be trifled with. His laws cannot be disregarded with impunity. Sin ever is, and must be, punished. Bless His name, there is forgiveness with Him. Our sins may not shut us out of heaven. They may not prevent us from enjoying the life to be, with its unsullied glory. But they do hinder the enjoyment of the present. They haunt us like an ugly dream. The scars they have left are ever painful. You cannot sin with impunity. Sin is what clings to a man and curses him. It is not like a coat you can put on and take off at your pleasure. It is poison which, if it don't kill, will pain you for years. Or it will act in the same way in which it acted in relation to Moses. It prevented him from entering Canaan, and so there is many a sweet land, many a happy experience we might enter upon, but our sin — in imprudent act or speech — prevents.
II. IN THE DEATH OF MOSES THERE IS WITNESS TO GOD'S DESIRE THAT MEN SHOULD PUT THEIR TRUST, NOT IN MAN, BUT IN HIM. The book from which our text is taken ends as no other does, either in the Old Testament or in the New. It closes with a high eulogium upon Moses. We do not know whose hand wrote the eulogium; but we doubt not it expressed the universal feeling of Israel after his death. If he had been spared to bring them into the land, there might have been the temptation to enthrone the creature in place of the Creator, and to their great peril they might have placed in the man that trust which ought to be put in God and in Him alone. This they could not do without inflicting great self-injury. Let them do it, and they would be sure to reap vexation, disappointment, and misery. But by the removal of Moses just at the very time when they probably felt they could so ill spare him, they were taught the salutary lesson that their trust should not be put in man, but in God. It is only the confidence that clings to God which is, without fail, rewarded. The mind of God is set upon men finding this out for themselves, and as it is for their eternal interest so to do, by many a painful providence He works out His will.
III. IN THE DEATH OF MOSES THERE IS WITNESS TO THE KINDNESS OF GOD. The Lord declared that Moses should not enter the land, and He strictly kept His word. But He tempered His severity with kindness. He would not tread the land, but he would be permitted to see it. How very fatherly this was. Your child forfeits a certain privilege. You won't break your word and give it him. But in your fatherly relentings you substitute some other privilege for it. Thus in His kindness dealt the Lord with Moses. And if we project our minds into the future, his removal seems to be all of kindness. He was now an old man, and his life bad been hard, disappointing, and sad. Surely it was kind to call him home, to rest and to blessedness beyond his utmost hopes, and to joys unspeakable and full of glory. Death was to him not the call to destruction, but to a higher and better life. As his Lord the Most High declared, he must die; as his Father, He "gathered" him unto his people. There was another thing in connection with his death that expressed the kindness, or the kindliness, of the Lord. We know we must die, and, knowing this, we have the wish to die among our own; to be tended in our last moments by our dearest ones on earth; and when all is over to be laid beside our kindred.
"As if the quiet bones were blest
Among familiar names to rest."
And whilst this is true, it is also as true we have a wish that, should any of out household be "sick unto death," they should die with us. If you should hear of your absent child being dangerously ill, your first thought would be to get him home, and if too ill to be removed, you would then arrange to go to him and nurse him, wherever he might be, until death relieved you of your sad but loved charge. I heard a daughter say, not long since, speaking of her mother's long and fatal illness, "I am so thankful I was able to nurse her, and do everything for her with my own hands all the way through to the end." And when she spoke the words it was quite evident the facts she stated gave her the deepest satisfaction and joy. So Moses was well eared for in his death, for God, as a comforting mother, took him into His own care, and laid him down to rest.
IV. IN THE DEATH OF MOSES WE HAVE WITNESS TO THE GLORY OF THE GRACE OF GOD. Shakespeare says of one of his characters: —
"Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it";
and with truth we might say the same of Moses. At the last he was at his best. The forty years in Midian were doubtless all needed to prepare him for his work on earth; the forty years of hard service and discipline in the wilderness were as surely necessary to meeten him for the higher life and service of heaven. But now, when they had come and gone, he was quite ready, through God's grace, and thus his death, so beautiful in its spirit of entire self-abnegation, was a witness to the glory of that wonder-working grace. This morning I went into my garden. The seeds sown a few weeks ago were showing themselves in new life and form above the ground, "This," said I, "is the sun's doing. How wonderful is the power of the sun! But I looked forward. There should come a day when the plants around me should be ripe and ready for the use of my family. The sun should thus do greater things — by augmented heat and power it should perfect the life it had quickened. So is it with the grace of God. It diminishes not, but increases as it shines upon the heart it has quickened until perfection is reached; and so the end is better than the beginning.
Parallel VersesKJV: So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.