The Death of Moses, Part 1
Sep 12, 2013
When Eleazar finished compiling the words of Moses, he added an addendum in Deuteronomy 34 to tell us how Moses died. In verse 1 Eleazar says,
1 Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land….
This is a record about Moses, not by Moses himself, as it is written in the third person. No doubt Moses told Eleazar that God had instructed him to go up Mount Nebo to die and had left final instructions to both Eleazar and Joshua. It appears that Moses also told them that God had planned to show him the land so that he would “see the kingdom,” even if he could not go into the kingdom.
Perhaps this gave rise to the idea expressed in John 3:3, saying,
3 … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [anothen, “from above, from a higher place”], he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Moses was brought to a high mountain so that he could “see the kingdom of God.” But Jesus also added in John 3:5,
5 … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Moses’ name literally means “born of water,” because Pharaoh’s daughter had drawn him out of the water (Exodus 2:10). This had a double meaning, of course, because babies are also drawn from the water when they are born. Hence, being “born of water” became a symbol of natural birth. Jesus was thus telling us two things about the Kingdom of God: (1) the Kingdom of God was more than just a spiritual matter, but also physical; and (2) one had to be identified with both Moses and the Spirit to enter the Kingdom.
The first matter goes back to Genesis 1:26, which stipulates that man was given authority in the earth. In other words, God (or heaven) delegated authority over the earth to man, making human flesh a requirement for rulership under God. This is why Jesus Christ had to come to earth in a flesh body in order to qualify for rulership in the Kingdom. And when we study the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles, we see too that it is fulfilled when we receive our second set of garments by which we are “clothed” with immortality (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). The priests had two sets of clothing, linen to minister to God, and wool to minister to the people. The feast of Tabernacles gives us the ability to minister in both realms.
The second matter shows that angels do not “enter the Kingdom” as citizens, for they remain in the spiritual realm; and if they are called upon to minister to people on earth, they appear as men, taking on the requirement of a fleshly body to “enter the Kingdom.” This is also why the resurrection of the dead is important, not merely as a spiritual resurrection (which we now possess, being identified in His resurrection), but also as a physical resurrection (as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14).
Hence, we must be born not only of the spirit but also of the water; and we must be born not only of Christ but of Moses. By extension, Moses speaks of obedience, while Christ speaks of grace and the Holy Spirit. Both are important in their own way.
The description of the land itself, beginning with the end of Deuteronomy 34:1 and going through verse 3, appears to be the addition of Ezra in later years as he compiled the canon of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
1 … Gilead as far as Dan, 2 and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar."
Ferrar Fenton tells us,
Vv. 2, 3. The above words in brackets are not part of the original text, but the note of an ancient editor, probably Ezra, when he edited the Books of Moses after the return from the Babylonian captivity, as the geographical indications are clearly from the standpoint of Jerusalem, not like the rest of the chapter, from the Plain of Moab, east of the Jordan.
In other words, this description points first to the north of Jerusalem toward “Gilead as far as Dan.” Since Gilead was located on the east side of Jordan to the north near the Sea of Galilee, it is obvious that “Dan” is the city to the north at the base of Mount Hermon. This city was originally called Laish until the tribe of Dan conquered it in Judges 18:29. It is plain, then, that since the city of Dan was not known to either Moses or Eleazar at the time, this was a later addition to clarify what Eleazar meant by “all the land.”
The southern portion of the country was the Negev, which was the valley between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.
Eleazar’s record continues in Deuteronomy 34:4, 5, 6,
4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor….
Ezra adds: “but no man knows his burial place to this day.” The term “to this day” shows that some time had passed between Moses’ death and the time these words were penned.
7 Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.
In other words, Moses did not die of old age. He died when God removed the spirit of life from his body. Perhaps we could attribute this vigor to the lingering effects of his Tabernacles experience on the mount, when his face glowed with the presence of God (Exodus 34:29). The feast of Tabernacles promises us the immortal, glorified body.
We may also mention another detail not recorded here but mentioned in Jude 9,
9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
It appears that some sort of dispute over Moses’ body occurred at the time of his death. Some later church officials (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus) claimed that this was a quotation from a book called The Assumption of Moses, which was thought to have been written in the century before Christ’s birth. No copy exists today.
However, if it did appear in such a book, it appears to have been a direct quotation from Zechariah 3:2, though inserted into the story of Moses’ death. Zechariah 3:1, 2 says,
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord [Michael?], and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse [“satan”] him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan!” Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
In this scene, Joshua the high priest stood before God in the divine court. On the one hand, Satan was accusing him, while the angel of the Lord seems to have been speaking the word of the Lord, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan.” The term “Satan” literally means “accuser,” and so the Hebrew text tells us that Satan was “standing at his right hand to satan him.”
No mention is made here of the precise nature of the dispute, nor is there any mention of the body of Moses. However, it is interesting that the one being accused was named Joshua. He carries the same name as Moses’ successor, and both were types of Christ. In fact, Moses himself was a type of Christ in His first appearance.
It appears, then, that this prophesied of a dispute between Satan and Michael over the body of Christ in both of His appearances (i.e., the first and second coming of Christ). The dispute over the body of “Moses” can refer to Christ’s body and the spiritual struggle over the possibility of His resurrection. By extension, the outcome of this dispute had a direct effect upon the body of Christ. Apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection, we ourselves would be without hope of a bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:13, 14).
The second dispute over Joshua, then, seems to refer to the body of Christ in His second appearance. In that Joshua the son of Nun was an Ephraimite, and the successor to Moses, it stands to reason that the story of the high priest in Zechariah foreshadowed a similar dispute in our own time over the body of the overcomers.
Thus, the story speaks of Joshua being “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). This was a Hebrew expression denoting one who was saved from sure destruction, as in Amos 4:11. But in this instance, the idiom prophesies of being raised from the dead, where death and the grave is pictured as the "fire."
Verse 3 then says “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments,” showing that he was primarily a type of the body of Christ, rather than of Christ Himself, who was perfect. These “filthy garments” were no doubt the occasion of Satan’s accusation, for no man can minister to God in such garments. But verse 4 gives Joshua a change of clothing with the words, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
Does this not speak of the body of Christ? We are imperfect and unqualified while clothed with flesh, but yet by the first work of Christ on the cross, we are imputed righteous (Romans 4:17, KJV), and by the second work of Christ, we are “clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2). The angel, Jude tells us, is Michael, who is the angel of resurrection, for Daniel 12:1, 2, 3 says that when Michael stands up, those who sleep in the ground will follow his example: “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake.” Michael’s job is to facilitate the resurrection by disputing with Satan over the body of Christ.
There is much that is unsaid in these passages, but enough is revealed to piece together a picture of resurrection. The body of Moses was Israel itself, i.e., the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38, KJV), led by Joshua into the Promised Land. In the first coming of Christ, He played the role of Moses in this scene through His death, but His body was more than just the Head. Michael rebuked Satan for the second time in order for Christ to be raised from the dead, and then he claimed the whole church body for resurrection.
Finally, in the second coming of Christ, this is replayed for the third time in a new context, for the church is now coming out of the wilderness, this time after forty Jubilees of church history. Moses is dead, and Joshua the Ephraimite is leading the body of Moses-Christ into the promised inheritance. Once again, the ancient dispute has been raised by the accuser, but once again, Michael says, “The Lord rebuke you.”
There will indeed be a resurrection of the dead.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Death of Moses." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones