Moses is renowned in the Bible for his encounter with God at the burning bush, his leadership during the crossing of the Red Sea, and his receipt of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. He is also remembered for composing the first five books of the Bible, including the Law. Because of Moses’ significance, many are curious in his life and passing.
Moses lived to be 120 years old, as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. But his body showed no indications of old age, such as weakening eyesight or diminishing strength. Israel was on the verge of entering the Promised Land when Moses died. The location of Moses’ grave is a mystery.
Moses’ death: from old age? Why didn’t God let him cross across into the Land of Promise? Who put Moses to rest? Does the Bible have a good or bad obituary for him? Where does Moses’ legacy stand in the New Testament? Read on for explanations to these and other questions.
Moses Died Prematurely At 120 Years Old
The Israelites were at the border of Canaan, the Promised Land, when Moses was 120 (cf. Deuteronomy 31:2). He had no intention of seeing the country that God had promised to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Even yet, he was eager to finally see it after spending the last third of his life guiding his people there.
When they got close to Canaan, Moses climbed Mount Nebo to have a bird’s-eye view of the region. His vision was unimpaired (more on this later) and he could make out big cities (Deuteronomy 34:2-3). His goal throughout those forty years of wilderness wandering with his people was to finally reach the land.
God was kind enough to let him visit the land, but not stay there. The high point of his preaching was a peak view of Canaan. Then, after seeing it, Moses took his own life. The Bible says that God buried Moses’ body, although no one knew the site of his burial (Deut. 34:6).
What Caused Moses’ Death and Why?
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert after God delivered them from Egypt via Moses. Only then were they able to access the land God had promised them. Significant difficulties were encountered over the 40 years of roaming. Some were due to Israel’s mistakes, while others were unavoidable catastrophes.
Both great acts of faith, like leading Israel through the parting of the Red Sea, and regrettable frailties were displayed by Moses. Though God had appointed him to a unique position in Israel, he was still only human. God punished his error in judgment by keeping him out of the Promised Land.
Anger was Moses’ worst flaw. God instructed him to get water by breaking a rock. But in his frustration, Moses hit it twice. He disregarded God’s commands. And the Lord said to Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12, ESV).
The Obituary of Moses: A Devoted and Sacred Heritage
The verses in Deuteronomy 34:9-12 read like an obituary from today. It highlights the many ways in which Moses served God and Israel. His narrative did not finish happily ever after, though, so readers are reminded that Moses was not a mythical being.
The final chapter of Moses’ story is hopeful, even though readers know he will never reach the Promised Land because of his transgression. Merrill says, “The final narrative of the book is overwhelmingly commendatory of Moses: there was no point in underscoring the sin that precluded his entry into Canaan, for this would work against the otherwise positive portrayal.”
This final chapter highlights some of Moses’ legacy’s bright spots:
- Israel’s future leader would be Joshua, Moses’s assistant. Israel’s new leader will carry on Moses’ legacy of faith, knowledge, and leadership long after Moses was gone (Deuteronomy 34:9).
- God’s judgment on Moses was not a reflection of his effectiveness as a leader. Moses’ legacy was his identification and position as God’s prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10a), notwithstanding his flaws.
- Specifically, Moses saw God “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). Having a personal relationship with God was the cornerstone of living a life of service.
- Through Moses, God showed His strength and holiness in ways He seldom shows through anyone else in history (Deuteronomy 34:11-12). Israel would carry on Moses’ heritage of freedom from Egyptian enslavement.
- Despite God’s decision to restrict Moses from accessing the Promised Land, Moses was nevertheless able to reach heaven. This is made very obvious in the New Testament when he appears at Jesus Christ’s transfiguration alongside Elijah (Matthew 17:3).
The Hebrews book describes Moses’ legacy as one of unwavering devotion to God. Heb. 11:24-25 (ESV) says, “By faith, when Moses was a man, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing instead to suffer insult and abuse with God’s people rather than enjoy the transient pleasures of sin.”
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