“Love Never Fails” – Deuteronomy 34:1-12

June 10th, 2018

Dt. 34:1-12

“Love Never Fails”

Aux. Text: Galatians 3:10-29.

Call to Worship: Selected verses from Psalm 105


Service Orientation:  God’s faithfulness to keep His promises encourages us to be a servant of the Lord.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  —Colossians 3:23-24


Background Information:

  • The opening sentence and structural and lexical links between this text and 32:49-52 suggest this chapter continues that narrative (cf. 34:5), which was interrupted by the inserted poem blessing the tribes (33:1-29). The benediction may have fit more naturally after 32:47, suggesting the editor of the book intentionally created a buffer between Yahweh’s negative assessment of Moses (32:48-52) and his own much more positive eulogy.  The present location of the blessing also creates the impression that as Moses climbed Mount Nebo, he turned around, saw the Israelites below him, and pronounced these blessings.{ch 33}  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 807)
  • Most commentators, Jewish and Christian, agree that Joshua wrote this chapter and added it as a sort of postscript to the five books of Moses. (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 345)
  • By this point in the drama, Moses has done all he could do to set his house in order. He has commissioned a successor (31:1-8, 23), provided a written transcript of his farewell pastoral sermons and arranged for the regular reading of this Torah in the future (31:9-13, 24-29), taught the people a national anthem (31:14-22, 30; 32:47), and pronounced his benediction on the tribes (33:1-29).  All that remains is the report of his death and the people’s response to his passing.  This is the function of chapter 34.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 806)
  • (v. 1) The mountain traditionally identified as Mount Nebo is located about twelve miles east of where the Jordan river enters the Dead Sea, and rises more than 2,600 feet above sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world, 1,300 feet below sea level.  What a dramatic view of this land that Moses longed to see all his life!  Some suggest that Pisgah is an alternate name for the same peak; others say Pisgah is a separate peak, a bit west of Nebo and is a little higher; still others identify Nebo as the mountain range, and Pisgah as its highest point.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 342)
  • (v. 1) If Moses stood on Pisgah, his view to the north and the west was superb, although from there one can’t see farther north than Mount Gilboa, farther east than the Gilead highlands, or farther west than the Judean foothills. To see as far north as Dan or as far west as the Mediterranean would have required a supernatural gift from the Lord.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 342)
  • (v. 5) This phrase has been interpreted by the rabbis to mean that “he died by the kiss of the Lord.” This interpretation comes from the literal meaning of this phrase, which is “he died at the mouth of the Lord.”  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 326)
  • (v. 6) It’s not clear whether we should read, “He buried him” or “He was buried.” Some have proposed that the Lord himself buried Moses; that’s possible, but it can’t be proved by the text.  There’s an additional air of mystery in the words, “to this day no one knows where his grave is.”  If the Lord buried Moses, some also have suggested that his body may not have suffered the physical decay that unavoidably follows death.  In his epistle, Jude makes passing reference to a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over Moses’ body (Jude 9).  According to legend, when Moses died (by the kiss of God), the Lord delegated Michael to bury his body, but the devil tried to claim the body for himself.  At least one version of the legend adds that Moses’ body was later “assumed” into heaven, accompanied by angels.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 344)
  • (v. 9) The expression “spirit of wisdom” occurs elsewhere in the OT in Ex 28:3 and Isa 11:1-2. In both, it represents a special divine endowment for the fulfillment of a divinely ordained role.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 810)
  • (v. 9) Rituals involving both hands result in the transference of something from one object to another (cf. Lv 16:21). While not explicitly declared, the present statement assumes that Moses possessed the same spirit of wisdom, and that when he laid his hands on Joshua, that divine spirit passed from him to Joshua.  Recognizing the significance of this liturgical act and undoubtedly the evidence of the spirit in Joshua, the people responded to him with loyalty and obedience.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 810-1)
  • 34:9. This editorial note paves the way for the opening of the next book in the canon, Joshua, though sadly the people listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses only for a short time after the generation of Joshua himself (cf. Josh 24:31; Jdg 2:7-13).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 313)
  • The opening chapters of Judges show how short-lived Israel’s fidelity to the instruction of their beloved pastor would be. Indeed, the identification of Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, as the priest of the aberrant cult at Dan in Jdg 18:30 suggests that the recidivism infected Moses’ own family within two generations.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 814)


The question to be answered is . . . Why does Deuteronomy end this way?


Answer:  God wants us to never forget that we have hope in the promises of God, not based on our keeping the Law; but on God’s grace, mercy, love and faithfulness.  Those promises are made possible by the Servant of the Lord.


The Word for the Day is . . . Faithful


What does God want us to see in Deuteronomy 34?:

I-  No one, not even Moses, is perfectly faithful to earn what our faithful, covenant God has promised.  (Dt 34:1-4; see also: Gn 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:18; 17:8; 26:3; 28:3-4; Nm 20:1-13; Dt 1:8; Rom 3:9-23; Eph 2:8-10; 2 Tm 2:13; Heb 10:23)


34:4.  The promised land was not mere geography, however.  It was the fulfillment of an oath that Yahweh had made beginning six centuries before to Abraham, then Isaac, and finally Jacob.  This promise testified of God’s faithfulness, and the importance of faithfulness on the part of those who claim allegiance to him.  As one who had violated his commission to sanctify Yahweh in the eyes of the covenant community, Moses was able to see the land but not to cross over into it.  Although many in the valley below him had done far worse, Moses was a leader, and God’s standards for him were higher.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 376)


Since it was a mark of ignominy to die without the borders of the Holy Land, Moses is honored with high eulogy, in order that the Israelites might learn the more to tremble at the judgment of God, who did not spare even His most illustrious servant.  And it is expressly added, “according to the word (or mouth) of the Lord,” lest they should despise the threatenings which were accomplished in so memorable a manner.  For, if God spared not His own distinguished Prophet, but at length executed upon him what He had threatened, how should the ordinary multitude escape?  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 405)


Biblical precept, as well as later Roman law, let a man “view” land he was about to possess.  Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of giving Moses a legal guarantee that the men and women he led for so long would really inherit the land, though he would die before it happened.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 342)


The account of the death and burial of Moses on the mountain forces the reader to ask, “Now what?”  The answer lies in the recognition that in the end, Israel’s fate is not in the hands of Moses.  He is not the one who actually brought them out of Egypt and sustained them through the desert wanderings, and he will not complete the mission by delivering the Promised Land into their hands.  The rest of the Scriptures are commentary not only on how Israel responded, but also on the fidelity of Yahweh, who will complete the present mission without Moses and who will patiently work with his people.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 815)


Two great themes of Deuteronomy converge in this narrative and tribute:  the gift of the land and the sacrificial life of God’s prophet and servant Moses.  Moses’ view of the land is a symbolic fulfillment of the promise, the naming of the regions in Israelite terms signifying ownership.  The scope of this goes far beyond Deuteronomy itself, reaching back to the beginning of the Pentateuchal narrative (Gn 12:3; 15:1-6, 7; 17:3-8).  The ending of Deuteronomy, therefore, is in an important way the ending of the Pentateuch also.  Even that is only a relative ending, however, since the land has not actually been entered at this point.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 478)


As Moses viewed Canaan from the top of Mount Nebo, the Lord told him that this was the land he had promised to Abraham’s descendants (see Gn 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:18; 17:8; 26:3; 28:4, 13, where the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is recorded).  “I will give it to your descendants” (v. 4) is exactly as the promise is given in Ex 33:1; its substance is in Dt 1:8.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 233)


No deathbed requiem for Moses!  He is last seen climbing.  The purpose of this final ascent is not just to admire the view.  Although he is not permitted to set foot in the land, he is granted a formal viewing that may have been perceived as declaring possession in advance for his people.  This ties in with the words of God to Moses in verse 4.  Moses will not enter the land of promise, but in his viewing of it the promise is as good as fulfilled.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 312)


The land has everywhere dominated Moses’ own discourse in Deuteronomy, yet it was always future and unknown, a land rich only to the eye of faith.  Now he sees it for the first time.  It is a poignant moment, at the same time fulfilling the ancient promise of which he has been the bearer, and forbidding him to have what is given.  A circle has come round fully, from the first intimation of the patriarchal promise (1:8) and the first embargo on Moses’ entry (1:37), to this point of near fulfillment.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 477)


It would probably not have been possible for Moses to see the full extent of the land from the point where he was.  But as J. A. Thompson explains, it could be that “the portion that was visible symbolized the whole.”  As Telford Work explains, God “must be showing him a vision perceptible only with the eyes of hope.”  Work explains that it was necessary for him to go up to the mountain “because hope sees through the visible to the invisible.  It is not blind faith or obvious inference but insight grounded in experience.”  Moses had walked with God for several decades; he knew that God would keep his word to give Israel the full land, though God had told him that he himself would not enter the land.  However, the faithful God lets him see enough of the land, a significantly vast extent, to enable him to, in a sense, experience the whole.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 694-5)


II-  There was no one like Moses . . . until Jesus.  (Dt 34:5-12; see also: Ex 33:11; 34:33-35; Nm 12:6-8;  Dt 18:15-22; Ps 106:23; Mt 12:6, 41-42; 17:3-4; Mk 9:4-5; Lk 9:30-35; 11:31-32; Jn 1:17, 21, 45; 5:45-46; Acts 3:22; 7:20-44; bk of Heb 3:1-6; Jude 1:9)


While Moses was unique in the OT, he looked forward to the coming of a Prophet like him (Dt 18:15-18).  The Jews had this hope during the times of Jesus, as is evidenced by the question asked of John the Baptist, “Are you the Prophet?” (Jn 1:21).  Philip told Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (Jn 1:45).  The NT presents Jesus as superior to Moses in every way.  Heb 3:3 says, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses–as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.”  He, too, did great miracles.  Moses only mediated the Word of God, but Jesus was the Word (Jn 1:1).  Jesus was to go through an exodus greater than that of Moses, one to which the revelation through Moses looked forward.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 703)


Two reasons are given for his uniqueness.  First, he was one “whom the LORD knew face to face” (34:10b).  Others could not stand the sight of God, but Moses could.  In fact, when Moses came from meeting God he had to wear a veil, because the people could not bear the sight of God’s glory that he reflected (Ex 34:33-35). . . . Second, we are told that Moses was unique in the way God used him to express God’s power through signs and wonders among the Egyptians.  Dt 34:11 says there were “. . . none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land.”  This would refer to the story of the exodus from Egypt and the plagues connected with it and to the events that took place in connection with the crossing of the Red Sea.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 702-703)


Although Elijah heard the “gentle whisper” of the Lord (1 Kgs 19:12-18) and Ezekiel saw the indescribable majesty of the Lord (Ezek 1:4-28), no other prophet could claim what Moses claimed:  “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 33:11).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 346)


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 Jude, concerning the contest between Michael the archangel and the devil for the body of Moses.–Verse 7, 8.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 3, 516)


Not until the Lord Jesus Christ came (the one whom Moses spoke about, Jn 5:46) was there anyone greater than Moses, the emancipator, prophet, lawgiver, and father of his country.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 234)


10-12.  The book closes with an affirmation of Moses’ incomparability as a prophet.  “Prophet” thus becomes the most characteristic description of him.  The saying should be set alongside 18:15, which promised that “one like him” would be raised up afterwards.  The incomparability clause has something conventional about it (notice how similar clauses are applied to both Hezekiah and Josiah [2 Kgs 18:5; 23:25] in a way that is strictly inconsistent).  However, Moses remains the ultimate measure of faithfulness to Yahweh (as in the last-named text).  His relationship with him was uniquely intimate (cf. Ex 33:11).  And remarkably, the language typically used of Yahweh himself in Deuteronomy to describe the defeat of Pharaoh and the powerful feats of the exodus from Egypt (4:34) is now used of Moses, in this last extravagant tribute.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 477-8)


III-  Moses died securing the greatest legacy He could leave in light of his sin – Trusting in God’s grace as the servant of the Lord.  (Dt 34:5-12 see also: Nm 27:18-23; Josh 1:1, 13, 15; 8:31, 33; 11:12; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2, 4-5; 24:29; Jdg 2:8; 2 Chr 24:6; Psa 18:1; 36:1; Isa 42:9; Mt 20:20-28; Mk 10:35-45; Rom 4:13-21; 9:8-9; Phil 2:1-11; 4:12, 19; Heb 11)


The final measure of Moses’ long life was that he was the Lord’s servant.  Moses was in good company.  Abraham (Gn 26:24), Joshua (Josh 24:29), David (2 Sm 7:5), the prophets (2 Kgs 9:7), and Paul (Rom 1:1) were also called the Lord’s servants.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 343)


The death of Moses is therefore an essential theme of the book.  The challenge to Israel is to live in the land without him, but with the statutes and laws that he has given, which are able to lead to life (30:11-20; see also Olson 1994).  His greatness lies in the fact that he has brought them to this point.  In doing so, he has exhibited the great prophetic characteristics, not only of faithfully proclaiming the word of God, but of investing his own life totally in the servant role.  This is why he is the servant par excellence.  His life is lived on behalf of others; he himself is denied precisely that which is promised to them, into which he has led them.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 478)


The wisdom of the secret depositing of the lawgiver’s body is apparent.  No shrine covers it and no pilgrimages are made to it.  That would have pleased Moses, who lived not for the exaltation of himself but for the glorification of the one he served.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 377)


The greatness of Moses lay not just in his noble character or in his astounding human achievements.  He, not Abraham or Jacob, was the one who truly made his people a nation.  Almost singlehanded he took a group of self-willed, stiff-necked people, loosely knit together by religion and blood, and welded them into a nation.  With a love for his people which burned like a consuming fire, he was willing to be blotted out for their sakes.  This passion won their confidence and solidified them under his leadership.  His enthusiasm, his self-effacement, his keen judgment, his complete dedication to Yahweh, inspired them to deeds they never would have deemed possible.  His very temper and impetuosity, while they were a weakness, did not hurt his standing.  He could woo as well as rebuke, and the difficulties of fashioning a nation under the adversities of desert life revealed his almost unparalleled courage and his confidence in God.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 536)


Now, the ascent of Moses was equivalent to a voluntary going forth to death:  for he was not ignorant of what was to happen, but being called by God to die, he went to meet death of his own accord.  Such willing submission proceeded from no other source than faith in God’s grace, whereby alone all terror is mitigated, and set at rest, and the bitterness of death is sweetened.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 404)


When Moses was told to lay his hand upon Joshua, it was to give him the authority that Moses had, so the people would obey him (Nm 27:18-20).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 947)


  1. The death of Moses is closely connected with the theme of Joshua’s succession, which was prominent also in the Song of Moses section (31:14, 23; 32:44). The reference here is to the narrative in Nm 27:18-23, where Moses commissioned Joshua by laying hands on him.  That commissioning had the effect of transferring Moses’ wisdom to him, as well as his authority among the people.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 477)


Laying on of hands when inducting people to new roles was a common practice both in OT and NT times (Nm 8:10; 27:18-23; Acts 6:6; 13:3).  Timothy was told that his gift was “in [him] through the laying on of [Paul’s] hands” (2 Tm 1:6).  We do not need to be superstitious about the practice of laying on hands and conclude that if people were not properly inducted by the leaders they cannot fulfill their tasks properly.  God can compensate if a sincere Christian misses something needed for his or her work because of the negligence of others.  Yet the Bible teaches that when leaders induct people to do a work through the laying on of hands, anointing for that work is passed on to that person.  So we should do this when we appoint people to different tasks.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 701)


Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe Who loves us so much that, in light of our faith; He grants an inheritance and blessing even in light of our sins and failures.


Gospel Application:  Look to Jesus, the Greatest Prophet and Servant of the Lord ever (Rom 15:4-8; Phil 2:1-11); for He not only perfectly showed us the way but He is Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; 2 Cor 5:21)  It is through Jesus we are children of God and co-heirs of the Universe.  (Mt 19:29; 25:34; Acts 3:25; 20:32; Rom 4:13-25; 8:17; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 3:10-29; 4:1-7; 5:21; Eph 1:14-18; 3:6; 5:5; Col 1:12; 3:23-25; Ti 3:7; Heb 6:12; 9:15; Jam 2:5; 1 Pt 1:3-9)


The Law could not bring Moses into the land, but the Lord Jesus Christ brought him in.  (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: Dt, 207)


As Peter, James, and John looked on, Jesus was transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah “spoke with him about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31).  Moses the great lawgiver and Elijah the bold prophet voiced their approval of Jesus’ important mission at Calvary’s cross.  Sinners can’t save themselves by obeying laws.  They can be saved only because a perfect Substitute traded places with us, who obeyed every law we failed to keep, and who died to atone for every time we’ve failed.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 347)


Spiritual Challenge:  Commit yourself to leaving a legacy for those you love after you die.  The greatest legacy you can leave is to be a servant of the Lord for your God, your family, your church, your workplace, and your community.


So What?:  God is Love and His promises never fail.  But we do.  Trust in the Lord.  Become a servant of the Lord and learn how to love . . . even if it is imperfect. 



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