34 The Death of Moses

<< Deuteronomy 34: The Death and Burial of Moses >>

So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-Peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.–Deuteronomy xxxiv. 5, 6.

THE last chapter of Deuteronomy was certainly not written by Moses. The account among the Jews is, That the seventy elders who are spoken of at different times as accompanying Moses and Aaron formed a great sacred council to preserve the inspired records, and aid in the conduct of divine things in the establishment of the nation. To some hand, which they would regard as inspired, we owe probably this finishing chapter of Deuteronomy, which though obviously not written by Moses, since it contains the account of his death and burial, yet is undoubtedly inspired, for it contains the, inner spirit and life which can be brought out by the divine law of correspondence, and which are the result and the proof of inspiration from the Lord. The human body is a divine work, proved by the surpassing wonders it contains, no matter who was its earthly parent. So the Divine Books prove their own inspiration, by the spiritual wisdom they contain in a series, no matter whether, in part or in whole, some of them were written by authors different from those to whom they are ordinarily attributed. The Word is the Word of the Lord, and it is because it is inspired from Him that it is divine, not because of the dignity of the pen of the human authority to which it has been attributed, or whose name it hears.

The departure of Moses from the people, after the sublime blessing he pronounced over them as the last expressions of his love, must have been a solemn sight, and one most affecting to the people. Their eyes would follow their heroic, glorious, venerable leader as he ascended the side of Nebo, until his and form was no longer visible, as the eyes of children giving a long, last look after a vanishing parent. On Pisgah, Nebos highest summit, he was to have a full view of the promised land, and then be removed to a still better country–a lovelier, higher Canaan. He descended the mountain, but to die, and be buried by Divine Providence, in a sepulcher that no man knoweth even unto this day.

The children of Israel wept for Moses thirty days, and well they might. He had led them bravely, faithfully, gloriously, in storm and triumph, for forty years. He was visibly the servant of God. His wonderful career had been a constant protection to them. He was the instrument of raising them from being a multitude of slaves to be a nation, not only illustrious in its own annals, but the type of the Church of God in every age and in every land.

Moses had no fear of death no sigh, no murmur escaped him. He knew that a better world was near, although unseen. He had heard a voice proclaiming, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and he felt that God was not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.Luke xx. 37, 35. His life had been consecrated to God, and his departure to a higher life was an illustration of the Saviors meaning in a, still brighter, better time, which ought to be realized by every Christian. Whosoever liveth and believeth in ME shall NEVER die.–John xi. 26.

But now from the personal let us ascend to the spiritual Moses. The Death of Moses, equally with his life, is intended to portray the progress of the law of the Lord in the human soul.

Moses, we have often seen, was the symbol of the law given by him, and is thus used constantly in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the New Testament. Those who hear the law are regarded as still hearing Moses. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, said our Lord, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. When the whole Word was represented, as testifying to Him as its soul and center, in the wondrous scene of the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elias talking to Jesus. In heaven they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, because every song of angelic joy is expressive of obedience to precept, from a spirit of love to the Divine Lamb.

Religion must be felt first as a, law, a law strict and severe, but which must be obeyed, ere we can be delivered from our mental bondage, or spiritual Egypt. He who will not obey the law will make no progress. The law, said the Apostle, was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.–Gal. iii. 24. And the law must be obeyed by self-denial, and a life of order. It has been said that he who has never been well drilled to obedience will never make a good ruler. A bad soldier will not make a good general.

So is it in eternal things. We must first commandments, and because they are divinely commanded. We must learn obedience. Our Lord said to the young man who came to Him and said, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? If thou wouldst enter into life keep the commandments. Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and no not the things that I say? And again, They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life. And ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unpro6table servants.

The reason why the Christianity of many is of so imperfect a character is that believing in a gospel fact has been substituted for believing in the laws, which must be obeyed. They want Canaan, but without being led by Moses. They adopt faith in the fancy of their teachers, instead of faith in the commandments of God. Yet the latter is the only safe, the only divine rule. O that there were such a heart in them that they would fear me, and keep my commandments always, that it might be well with them and with their children for ever.–Deut. v. 29. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.Deut. vi. 24, 25. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of his commandments.–Rev. xxii. 14. Circumcision is nothing, said the apostle Paul, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.–1 Cor. vii. 19. The law and the prophets, the gospel and the apostles really teach all the same thing–obedience to the divine commandments as the first great step in true religion. The Divine Physician has laid down this regimen as the way to spiritual health and it is the only way. He who will not learn to walk will never be able to run.

When the commandments are a cross, it is an evidence to us how much our nature has been contorted, and how difficult it is to get us right. But we must bear out cross resolutely, and follow the Lord, or we cannot be His disciples (Luke xiv. 27).

There are those who represent Moses and the Gospel as opposites, the one proclaiming condemnation, and the other salvation. But it is not so they are only the court end the temple of the same glorious edifice.

When we, reject Moses, we reject the Lord who inspired him. The same Lord, even the Lord Jesus, who gave the New Testament, gave the Old. The essence is the same in both, but they differ in form, because applying to man in different stages of his mental career. Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, the Lord said, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?–John v. 46, 47. We must all believe Moses first; or, in other words, we must take religion as a law for our lives, as a leader to heavenly virtues, as a power to combat against our evils. We must follow it as something extraneous to ourselves, directing us to higher and holier states, speaking of the kingdom of God as yet far off, but in the direction in which are now marching.

If we follow this Moses in the full assurance that God is speaking to us by him, we shall cross the Red Sea, and leave Pharaoh and his host, or our old evils, behind us. We shall sing our song of triumph. We shall march on and find perils, but also succors; struggles, but also victories; threatened famine, hot also manna for supply; devious wanderings, but the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by might; there will be great discouragements, but also great consolations; and at length Moses will bring us to the very verge of Canaan, but there he gives us over to Joshua, and he himself dies and is buried.

But what is meant by the law, or the spiritual Moses, dying and being buried? Our Lord said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John xii. 24. Unless the outer die, the inner does not live. When death occurs at the outside, resurrection occurs within. There is a time when religion ceases to be a law, and becomes a life. It is this process in our spiritual history, which is represented by the Death of Moses and his Burial. When a man dies, he dies only to the sight of men, he lives to the experience of angels. Though seen no more below, he has risen to higher life. So when the law of God has entered into our spiritual being, and we no longer talk of it, end look at it, as something external to ourselves, it has vanished from sight, but it is a greater power than ever.

Something like this spiritual change takes place in many operations of our lives. In the early days of childhood we learn to walk; we are taught how to point our feet; we are shewn, we are aided, and rules are laid down for us, by which we are trained to the really wonderful achievement of standing in a way no artificial statue can stand, and are enabled to execute the highly complicated movements which constitute walking.

But after a few months we can walk so perfectly, and run so well, that we forget we ever had any rules, or any training at all. The laws have entered into our life. They have become habits, and we have ceased to think about them.

It is the same with the rules of language. When we are learning to speak and write a language correctly, we think much of the rules, and make them often the object of conversation with others. The rules act as leaders, and we proceed step by step under their guidance. But when we have acquired a full and familiar use of language, so that the rules have sunk as it were, into our very being, we cease to notice their outward form and gradually forget them. Their spirit and their principles we never forget.

These illustrations will give us a conception of the spiritual truth involved in the Death of Moses.

While we keep the law before us, while it is the object of thought and concern lest we offend in ally point, while we frequently fail through weakness or perversity, and conscience chides and condemns us, it is our spiritual Moses leading us on and dealing with us as Moses dealt with Israel. When, however, the time has come that the Lord sees religion may take in us a deeper and more interior form, then Moses vanishes from sight, not to be less influential, but more. Moses when invisible ruled more completely than ever. Being dead he yet spake. He was more really alive in himself, and in the ordinances of Israel, than in his earthly lifetime. So is it with the law to each of us. When it has become our life, when as a matter of course we are devout, sincere, truthful, chaste, unselfish; when we live on innocently, cheerfully, purely, lovingly, we have not to consider what the law is, we have the law in ourselves. The Lord has made us a law, in the new nature he has given us. Moses who was with us, is now in us. He has died, and the Lord has buried him, and no man knows his sepulcher even to this day. The interiors of man are known to the Lord alone. The good man is wiser than he knows. The Lord has buried in him myriads of things, from childhood to youth and manhood, whose sepulcher He knows, but no one else. They form part of our very nature, and if something occurs which calls them forth, they are found, and come to light, if not in form, yet in strength and influence. They are written in the book of our lives. They are inscribed upon our hearts, our minds, our brains, our hands.

And if anything come across us which is contrary to these laws of heaven which constitute our second nature, we resist and revolt against it at once. When the letter of religion has thus become spirit in us, it might be supposed by a casual observer that we are less concerned about it because we talk less of it, but no mistake could be greater. It rules in us now unquestioned and supreme. Religion thus absorbed into our being is in far greater strength than when it was more frequently in conversation. We have arrived at that stage in which we can truly declare, like the old Greek, We do not say great things, we do them.

The truth we are endeavoring to exhibit, in considering the particulars spiritually shadowed forth in the Death of Moses, is illustrated by our daily treatment of food. However agreeable to the eye, or solid to the touch our viands may be, they impart no strength until they become invisible. So long as they are in the mouth, or their existence can be recognized in the stomach, they convey no strength to the system. But when they are no longer sensibly experienced, then they have passed into our general constitution, and are felt as strength and stimulant in every part.

So with that righteousness, after which we should hunger and thirst. When the Word of the Lord is placed before us by the Book, or by the preacher, we should handle it, look upon it, taste it, and eat it. Thy words were found, the Prophet said, and I did eat them, and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart. But good as spiritual eating is, and better as is spiritual digestion, which is the attendant on the exercise of doing good, yet the best of all is that vigor in the ways of holiness, that doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord, which constitutes the Christians daily life. When the precept is hidden within, the principle is felt with greatest power. All the great powers in nature are invisible. And when religion becomes an inward, holy force, a still small voice, a secret impulse to do whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, then may it indeed be said, The kingdom of God is within you.

But it is written that Moses was buried in a valley over against. Baal-Peor. A valley, in spiritual language, means the natural mind: for this in relation to the exalted principles of the spiritual mind is as a valley in relation to mountains. The unregenerate condition of the sensual man was represented in vision to the Prophet by a valley which was full of bones,–Ezek. xxxvii. 1.

Of a better state it is said, Blessed are they who passing through the valley of Baca [weeping], make it a well they go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.—Ps. lxxxiv. 4, 6, 7.

The same signification is doubtless implied in that beautiful passage in Hosea, I will give her the valley of Acher [trouble] for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.–Chap. ii. 15. For when earthly sorrows lead us to humility, trustfulness, and love, the valley of Achor does indeed become a door of hope. Tribulation leads to spiritual victory, and we sing there as in the day of our first conversion, when we came up out of the land of Egypt. Moses, then, being buried in the valley, represents the divine law absorbed, and become supreme in the natural mind.

But we must not forget the significance of the expression, over against Baal-Peor. Baal seems to have been the general name for the idolatrous emblems of the Sun-god, which were set up in different localities, and whose worship, with one variety in one place, and another variety in another place, was diffused over Canaan, and probably over the whole East. At first, there can be little doubt, Sun-worship was the worship of the Heavenly Sun, the Sun of Righteousness. Degeneracy, however, darkened the human mind, and lowered the ideas of men from heaven to earth, substituting the Sun of nature for their homage, instead of the worship of that everlasting Light which the angels adore. Thus arose the service of Baal.

Just as now in papal lands, there is the worship of our Lady of this place, and our Lady of that, each image of the Virgin being supposed to be potent for some particular cure, or some particular blessing, so that in the minds of the ignorant there are many Virgins, with varied and peculiar powers; so was it in olden time, with Baals. Baal-Peor, from the varied notices in the Word, seems to have been the Baal of impurity, worshiped with disgusting rites, the place Peor, deriving its name from a temple for such worship. Baal-Peor, then, would represent in the human soul, combined selfishness and sensuality. A soul that worshipped its own will, and carried out its impure wishes, would have in it a spiritual Baal-Peor; and its unhallowed states would be as loathsome in the sight of heaven as the impure scenes which polluted Baal-Peor. But when the law of the Lord has been received within and written on the tablets of the heart, a holy watchfulness takes place over against Baal-Peor. The powers of the regenerate life close down all the tendencies to wrong.

The body of Moses, like a spiritual fragrance, purifies the place. The Lord has buried Moses there, and though no man knows the place of his sepulcher, yet he is a spiritual power that forbids Baal-Peor to be desecrated tiny more. The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my help mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Such are some of the lessons which are suggested by the spiritual consideration of the Death and Burial of Moses. Let us lay them well to heart. Let us follow our Moses, the divine law, until it has led us from Egypt, and disciplined us in the wilderness; until we are prepared to exchange outward law for inward love. Then the Lord will bury him in the valley over against Baal-Peor; and see, surely, that though he is dead to outward sight, he is alive and can never die.

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)