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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Deuteronomy Chapter 34

Deuteronomy 34:1

deu 34:1

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, After blessing the people, Moses ascended Mount Nebo, according to the command of God (Deu 32:48-51), and there the Lord showed him, in all its length and breadth, that promised land into which he was not to enter. From Nebo, a peak of Pisgah, which affords a very extensive prospect on all sides, he saw the land of Gilead, the land to the east of the Jordan as far as Dan, i.e., not Laish-Dan near the central source of the Jordan (Jdg 18:27), which did not belong to Gilead, but a Dan in northern Peraea, which has not yet been discovered (see at Gen 14:14); and the whole of the land on the west of the Jordan, Canaan proper, in all its different districts, namely, "the whole of Naphtali," i.e., the later Galilee on the north, "the land of Ephraim and Manasseh" in the centre, and "the whole of the land of Judah," the southern portion of Canaan, in all its breadth, "to the hinder (Mediterranean) sea" (see Deu 11:24); also "the south land" (Negeb: see at Num 13:17), the southern land of steppe towards the Arabian desert, and "the valley of the Jordan" (see Gen 13:10), i.e., the deep valley from Jericho the palm-city (so called from the palms which grew there, in the valley of the Jordan: Jdg 1:16; Jdg 3:13; Ch2 28:15) "to Zoar" at the southern extremity of the Dead Sea (see at Gen 19:22). This sight of every part of the land on the east and west was not an ecstatic vision, but a sight with the bodily eyes, whose natural power of vision was miraculously increased by God, to give Moses a glimpse at least of the glorious land which he was not to tread, and delight his eye with a view of the inheritance intended for his people.

Deuteronomy 34:5

deu 34:5

After this favour had been granted him, the aged servant of the Lord was to taste death as the ages of sin. There, i.e., upon Mount Nebo, he died, "at the mouth," i.e., according to the commandment, "of the Lord" (not "by a kiss of the Lord," as the Rabbins interpret it), in the land of Moab, not in Canaan (see at Num 27:12-14). "And He buried him in the land of Moab, over against Beth Peor." The subject in this sentence is Jehovah. Though the third person singular would allow of the verb being taken as impersonal (ἔθαψαν αὐτόν, lxx: they buried him), such a rendering is precluded by the statement which follows, "no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." "The valley" where the Lord buried Moses was certainly not the Jordan valley, as in Deu 3:29, but most probably "the valley in the field of Moab, upon the top of Pisgah," mentioned in Num 21:20, near to Nebo; in any case, a valley on the mountain, not far from the top of Nebo. - The Israelites inferred what is related in Deu 34:1-6 respecting the end of Moses' life, from the promise of God in Deu 32:49, and Num 27:12-13, which was communicated to them by Moses himself (Deu 3:27), and from the fact that Moses went up Mount Nebo, from which he never returned. On his ascending the mountain, the eyes of the people would certainly follow him as far as they possibly could. It is also very possible that there were many parts of the Israelitish camp from which the top of Nebo was visible, so that the eyes of his people could not only accompany him thither, but could also see that when the Lord had shown him the promised land, He went down with him into the neighbouring valley, where Moses was taken for ever out of their sight. There is not a word in the text about God having brought the body of Moses down from the mountain and buried it in the valley. This "romantic idea" is invented by Knobel, for the purpose of throwing suspicion upon the historical truth of a fact which is offensive to him. The fact itself that the Lord buried His servant Moses, and no man knows of his sepulchre, is in perfect keeping with the relation in which Moses stood to the Lord while he was alive. Even if his sin at the water of strife rendered it necessary that he should suffer the punishment of death, as a memorable example of the terrible severity of the holy God against sin, even in the case of His faithful servant; yet after the justice of God had been satisfied by this punishment, he was to be distinguished in death before all the people, and glorified as the servant who had been found faithful in all the house of God, whom the Lord had known face to face (Deu 34:10), and to whom He had spoken mouth to mouth (Num 12:7-8). The burial of Moses by the hand of Jehovah was not intended to conceal his grave, for the purpose of guarding against a superstitious and idolatrous reverence for his grave; for which the opinion held by the Israelites, that corpses and graves defiled, there was but little fear of this; but, as we may infer from the account of the transfiguration of Jesus, the intention was to place him in the same category with Enoch and Elijah. As Kurtz observes, "The purpose of God was to prepare for him a condition, both of body and soul, resembling that of these two men of God. Men bury a corpse that it may pass into corruption. If Jehovah, therefore, would not suffer the body of Moses to be buried by men, it is but natural to seek for the reason in the fact that He did not intend to leave him to corruption, but, when burying it with His own hand, imparted a power to it which preserved it from corruption, and prepared the way for it to pass into the same form of existence to which Enoch and Elijah were taken, without either death or burial." - There can be no doubt that this truth lies at the foundation of the Jewish theologoumenon mentioned in the Epistle of Judge, concerning the contest between Michael the archangel and the devil for the body of Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:7

deu 34:7

Though he died at the age of one hundred and twenty (see at Deu 31:2), Moses' eyes had not become dim, and his freshness had not abated (לח ב̔́נ. כוד., connected with לח in Gen 30:37, signifies freshness). Thus had the Lord preserved the full vital energy of His servant, even till the time of his death. The mourning of the people lasted thirty days, as in the case of Aaron (Num 20:29).

Deuteronomy 34:9

deu 34:9

Joshua now took Moses' place as the leader of the people, filled with the spirit of wisdom (practical wisdom, manifesting itself in action), because Moses had ordained him to his office by the laying on of hands (Num 27:18). And the people obeyed him; but he was not like Moses. "There arose no more a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face," i.e., so far as the miracles and signs were concerned which Moses did, by virtue of his divine mission, upon Pharaoh, his servants, and his land, and the terrible acts which he performed before the eyes of Israel (Deu 34:11 and Deu 34:12; vid., Deu 26:8, and Deu 4:34). "Whom Jehovah knew:" not who knew Him, the Lord. "To know," like γινώσκειν in Co1 8:3, relates to the divine knowledge, which not only involves a careful observance (Deu 2:7), but is also a manifestation of Himself to man, a penetration of man with the spiritual power of God. Because he was thus known by the Lord, Moses was able to perform signs and wonders, and mighty, terrible acts, such as no other performed either before or after him. In this respect Joshua stood far below Moses, and no prophet arose in Israel like unto Moses. - This remark concerning Moses does not presuppose that a long series of prophets had already risen up since the time of Moses. When Joshua had defeated the Canaanites, and conquered their land with the powerful help of the Lord, which was still manifested in signs and wonders, and had divided it among the children of Israel, and when the tribes had settled down in their inheritance, so that the different portions of the land began to be called by the names of Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah, as is the case in Deu 34:2; the conviction might already have become established in Israel, that no other prophet would arise like Moses, to whom the Lord had manifested Himself with such signs and wonders before the Egyptians and the eyes of Israel. The position occupied by Joshua in relation to this his predecessor, as the continuer of his work, would necessarily awaken and confirm this conviction, in connection with what the Lord had said as to the superiority of Moses to all the prophets (Num 12:6.). Moses was the founder and mediator of the old covenant. As long as this covenant was to last, no prophet could arise in Israel like unto Moses. There is but One who is worthy of greater honour than Moses, namely, the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, who is placed as the Son over all the house of God, in which Moses was found faithful as a servant (compare Heb 3:2-6 with Num 12:7), Jesus Christ, the founder and mediator of the new and everlasting covenant.

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