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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 34

Verses 1-12

The Death of Moses

In obedience to the divine command (Deuteronomy 32:48-52) Moses ascends to the top of Mt. Nebo, whence he views the Land of Promise. Thereafter he dies and God buries him. No man knows of his sepulcher.

1-4. Dan is used to indicate the extreme N., as in the phrase ’from Dan to Beersheba,’ though it was not till the time of the Judges that the Danites settled in that district: see Judges 18:28, Judges 18:29. The utmost sea (lit. ’hinder, i.e. western, sea’: see on Deuteronomy 11:24) is the Mediterranean. The south is the Negeb: see on Numbers 13:17; Zoar lay at the SE. end of the Dead Sea. There is no need to suppose that there was anything miraculous in this vision of the whole land. From the mountains of Moab travellers tell us that they can see the entire valley of the Jordan with Mt. Hermon at the extreme N. Lebanon and Carmel are visible, and the Mediterranean, 50 m. distant, can be seen like a silver streak in the glittering sunshine. Such extensive views are favoured by the exceptional clearness of the atmosphere in Palestine: see on Deuteronomy 27:11-13.

5. It is implied here that Moses was alone. But Josephus says that he was accompanied to the top of the hill by ’the senate, and Eleazar, and Joshua.’ After viewing the land Moses dismissed the senate, and ’as he was about to embrace Eleazar and Joshua was still discoursing with them a cloud stood over him on a sudden and he disappeared in a certain valley.’ With this compare the departure of Elijah, 2 Kings 2:11. Jewish writers take literally the words at the end of this v., according to the word of the Lord, and say that God ’kissed him and he slept.’

6. He buried him] i.e. God buried him. This probably means no more than what is expressed in the second half of the v. that his sepulchre was never known. God alone knew where His servant was buried. Fuller quaintly says that God not only buried Moses, but buried his sepulchre also lest it should become a shrine of idol-worship to future generations.

Later Jewish legend says that Michael, who Was supposed to be the angel who conducted pious souls to Paradise, came into conflict with Satan as to the disposal of the body of Moses. "Whether Satan was regarded as trying to prevent the body of Moses being honoured, or as seeking to seduce the people into paying too much honour to it, is uncertain. The legend is referred to in the Epistle of Jude, Deuteronomy 34:9, and the quotation there is made from a Jewish history called ’The Assumption of Moses.’ A great many legends about Moses are circulated among the Mohammedans. The words unto this day indicate that the writer of this account of the death of Moses lived long after its occurrence.

7. An hundred and twenty years old] see on Exodus 2:21.

8. The usual period of mourning seems to have been thirty days: see Numbers 20:29; Genesis 50:3, and cp. Deuteronomy 21:13. Of these the first seven were more stringently observed: see Genesis 50:10. In addition to the natural manifestations of grief, mourning in the East was, and still is, accompanied with a great deal of ceremony: see e.g. Jeremiah 9:17-18; Jeremiah 16:6-8; Ezekiel 24:16-17; Matthew 9:23. The mourning for Moses was doubtless very genuine. Like many another great person, he was better appreciated after his death than during his lifetime. In his life he was much tried by the murmuring, disobedience, and jealousy of those for whom he lived, but these same people made great lamentation for him when he was dead.

9. ’God buries the workman but carries on the work.’ See on Numbers 27:18-23.

10-12. R V ’There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses’: cp. Numbers 12:6-8. The words point to a time considerably later than the death of Moses (cp. Deuteronomy 34:6, ’unto this day’), when his real greatness could be appreciated and his superiority to all the great prophets and leaders who succeeded him could be rightly estimated.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.