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Deuteronomy 34:1 . Moses went up to the top of Pisgah. The Jews with general consent admit, that this chapter was written or copied into the text by Ezra, the ready scribe, a prophet and doctor of the Law.
Deuteronomy 34:4 . This is the land. If Moses could see Dan Laish, and the utmost sea, the Mediterranean, he could clearly see Lebanon, for the border of Naphtali reached to the foot of that mountain; so he could at one commanding view, see nearly the whole of the promised land. Oh christian! May thine eyes see, and thine ears hear repeated those welcome words, “This is the land;” a better country than that which Moses saw.
Deuteronomy 34:6 . No man knoweth of his sepulchre. The reason commonly assigned is, lest the Hebrews should be seduced to idolatry, which was much practised at the sepulchres of holy men. Jude affirms on tradition, that Satan contended about the body of Moses, to have his grave known, with a view to corrupt the people.
Deuteronomy 34:10 . There arose not a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. For this reason Maimonides, after the elder rabbins, calls him the prince of prophets. They had visions and revelations; Moses had open visions. His work was great, and grace was equal to his day.
Having followed the prophet through the weary steps of life, we are now come to the closing scene. It corresponds with all the grace of former years: and the most exemplary piety which had distinguished his character through a long and laborious pilgrimage, we may consider as the foundation of his triumphant death. When called of God to emancipate the people, he renounced the pleasures of the Egyptian court. Forgetful of his princely hopes, he claimed kindred with a people poor and oppressed, and esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of reward. During his forty years of exile in Midian, poor as a shepherd, he was content and happy with his lot. Surrounded with peaceful flocks, and far from the intrigues of a court, he tasted all the charms of solitude, and an intercourse with heaven undisturbed. These habits, never failing sources of divine repose, had so possessed his soul, that it was with difficulty the God of his fathers could force him away to emancipate his people. Passing at once from the cares of a shepherd to the duties of a king, though he had to form a brutish people to all the habits of civil and religious society; though his kindness was requited with provocations and insults beyond example; yet he never forsook his charge. Israel was to him as his own bowels: he led them through the desert to the borders of the promised land. In the awful revolt, when they worshipped the calf; when Israel stood on the brink, the very brink of destruction; when God himself, all indignant with his people, tempted Moses not to pray, he redoubled all the efforts of intercession, and interposed his own life between the vengeance and the people. And when heaven signified its pleasure that he should see the land and die, all his solicitude was still for the people. He besought the Lord for a successor, and resigned his charge with a cheerfulness exceeding the reluctance with which it was assumed. He spent his remaining time wholly in divine affairs. He recited the law, and renewed the covenant. The last day he wholly spent in reciting psalms, and in shedding benedictions on all the tribes. Thus he travelled through life with equal steps, and finished his course with encreasing strength. He approached eternity like the rich sheaves of the harvest, and clusters of the vintage, full of all wisdom, and mature in every virtue.
But all these shining graces seemed to derive a lustre from the shade of a single fault; and all his elevating honours found a ballast in the sentence, not to enter the promised land. At Meribah, when the people fainted for water, the elders presented their complaints with a menacing insolence which led to an open rupture. Anger kindled anger, and the violence of the strife was little less than war. But the Lord pitying his people, bade him take his rod, and speak to the adjacent rock. The elders accompanied him, accusing him all the way of infatuation, and he in return accusing them of revolt. In this sad spirit he addressed the flinty granite, but it was deaf to his voice; he smote it with his rod, but it yielded no water. Standing thus appalled before the people, and apparently deceived in his mission, or forsaken of his God, he saw the greatness of his sin; for the Lord will not own his servants when they do his work in a wrong spirit. But though the rock had derided the stroke of Moses, yet grace, in that moment, caused the waters of repentance to flow from his heart. The man of sin was smitten within him; every vestige of indwelling corruption seemed to vanish away, and he became the meekest man on the face of the earth. On this awful occasion, had it not been for the return of grace, he had fallen a victim to the revolt. He stood alarmed before the angry elders, as the disciples before the faithless multitude, when they had tried in vain to heal the demoniac. But the same Lord who appeased their fears by healing the lad, coming to the aid of Moses, covered his soul with a cloud of compassion and grace. All renovated by the return of the divine presence, he ventured with a trembling hand to strike the rock a second time; and behold, it burst with a torrent of life on the people. But the Lord, whose grace is always guarded with justice, sentenced his servant not to enter the promised land. St. Paul also had a thorn in the flesh given him, lest he should glory in the abundance of his revelations. The apostle in vain besought the Lord thrice for its removal. Moses only once, nor even that till he approached the land, saying, Let me pass over, and behold the goodly mountain and Lebanon; yet he could not prevail for more than a mitigation, a gracious one indeed, to see the land and die.
Reader, fix your eye on this divine character. Wearied with giving a glorious finish to the duties of life, behold he sleeps secure at night. Dreams of past toils and of future hopes delight his soul. The serenity of heaven rests on his countenance, while a host of angels guard his pavilion, and await the glories of the approaching day. See, he rises with the earliest dawn, nor lingers on his couch till the orient brightness had gilded the chambers of the west. He kneels a moment to adore, and smiling bids adieu to a tent so often hallowed by the presence of God. Impatient of delay, and full of immortal hope, he steals away from the camp, leaving a thousand blessings behind. With all the agility of youth he ascends the ridge of Abarim, aiming directly at Nebo, and the summit of Pisgah. On his arrival, nature had made her arrangements for vision. The clouds had thrown a gentle curtain over the higher heavens; the sun just risen with a full beam, had bespangled all the plains, and gilded the declivities of the western hills. The whole face of nature, divested of the garb of winter, had just assumed the charms of spring. The rapid Jordan, sporting in the plains, and winding in the mountains, discovered its silver streams from Gilead to Dan; southwards he traced the swelling flood, as far as the Lake of Sodom. An infinitude of cattle just risen from their grassy couch, were fattening in the verdant meads. The timid flocks, cautiously venturing from their pens, had begun to crop the herbage of the rising grounds. Lebanon in the north, and all his neighbouring hills were crowned with cedars. All the rugged places, barren in other countries, were here adorned with the mantling vine. The fields of barley, changing to a golden hue, invited by their abundance. The walled cities, every where raising their bold towers above the surrounding gardens, gave a finish to the charms of landscape. What a contrast between Canaan, and the weary desert. What a country: delightful as the garden of the Lord! But ah, its inhabitants were not worthy. Effeminate by habit, they were yet asleep secure in their sins; nor did they dream that the vengeance, long reproached with supineness, was just at the door. Their priests, infatuated as themselves, saw not the danger, nor sounded the alarm: and their divinities were the work of their own hands. Ah, so it shall be in the latter day, when the Son of Man shall suddenly come to surprise and punish the wicked and infidel world.
But the sanctified soul of Moses ascended from the aspects of nature to the contemplation of grace. A voice saying to him, this is the land I gave to thy fathers, he traced the footsteps of Abraham, from Haran to the oak of Mamre. He beheld Moriah, where an oblation was made of Isaac, and where JEHOVAH sware to a worm. Not far distant he beheld Bethel, where Jacob, exiled with his staff in his hand, saw the vision, and received the promise; where he again built an altar and paid his vows, after returning with a patriarch’s train. He saw the vale of Jabbok, in which the same patriarch, just escaped the fury of Laban, and now menaced with Esau, wrestled with God till he obtained the blessing, and till the heart of his brother was softened. He saw more: he saw the faithfulness and mercy of God displayed on the broad scale of four hundred and thirty years. He saw the goodly tents of Jacob, numerous as the sands on the briny beach, ready to receive the promise. He saw all this Canaan, the covenant inheritance, inviting them to purge its crimes with the sword, and once more to hallow it with the ark and altar of the Lord. Here the perfections of his God shone too bright for frail humanity. His soul was overpowered with vision, and his body seized with sensations never known before. Nature, vanquished with the weight of grace, implored deliverance, in language like that of Simeon: Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. His strength which had never failed before, now forsook him. His eyes which had never been dim, were now veiled with a cloud. But as the traveller, stretching his weary limbs at night on a couch, quickly passes from reflection to dream, so Moses opened his eyes, and the light shone brighter than before. He saw the Canaan, and in charms which cannot be described. Having fainted in the contemplation of God and his works, he saw the throne of JEHOVAH right before him. He saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a crowd of holy patriarchs surrounding him with looks and greetings all divine. Leaving the body in undistinguished dust, he knew not that this was dying till he had more than passed the vale of death.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26