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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Deuteronomy 34

Deuteronomy 34:0

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Moses Dies on Mount NeboThe Death of MosesThe Death of MosesThe Death of Moses
Deuteronomy 34:1-8Deuteronomy 34:1-8Deuteronomy 34:1-8Deuteronomy 34:1-4
Deuteronomy 34:5-9
Deuteronomy 34:9-12Deuteronomy 34:9Deuteronomy 34:9
Deuteronomy 34:10-12Deuteronomy 34:10-12Deuteronomy 34:10-12

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 34:1-8 1Now 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, Gilead as far as Dan, 2and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4Then 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.” 5So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 6And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day. 7Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. 8So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.

Deuteronomy 34:1 “the plains of Moab” This is the geographical setting of the conclusion of Numbers (cf. Deut. 36:13), and the entire book of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 4:44-49). It is on the eastern side of Jordan, right across from Jericho (cf. Deuteronomy 34:1).

“to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah” This same mountain is mentioned in Deut. (cf. Deuteronomy 3:17). It is the Hebrew term for “ridge” or “height” (BDB 612 I). It seems that Mount Nebo and Pisgah (BDB 820 “cleft”) refer to the very same mountain peak. God uniquely chose this location to be able to fulfill His word to Moses that He would show him the Promised Land even though Moses would not be able to enter into it. Later, in Deuteronomy 34:5, Mount Nebo will be the place of Moses' death. Also, Jewish tradition says that Jeremiah hid the Ark of the covenant on this mountain.

“And the LORD showed him all the land” There are several passages which record Moses' sin which kept him from entering the promised land (cf. Deuteronomy 3:23-28; Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and Numbers 27:12-14). Moses made several prayers and requests to God about this, yet he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. Although sin always runs its course and has its consequences, the graciousness of God is seen in allowing Moses to see the Promised Land even though he could not enter it.

Deuteronomy 34:2 “the western Sea” This refers to the Mediterranean Sea (cf. Deuteronomy 11:24). The term “western” is literally “the place behind” (BDB 30).

Deuteronomy 34:3 “the Negev” This is the Hebrew word for “south country” (BDB 616) and it refers to the uninhabited desert land which is south of Beersheba.

“the plain” This refers to the depression known as the Rift Valley in which lies the Dead Sea. Jericho is at the northwest and Zoar at the southwest.

“Jericho, the city of palm trees” Jericho is known as the city of palms (cf. Judges 1:16) and is one of the oldest cities in this part of the world. It was right across the Jordan River from the place where Israel camped.

“Zoar” The word (BDB 858) means insignificant (cf. Genesis 19:20-22).

Deuteronomy 34:4 “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” This is the fulfillment of God's promise recorded in Genesis 12:7; Genesis 26:3; Genesis 28:13. The promise to Abraham included both land and seed. The OT emphasizes the land and children while the NT emphasizes the special child (cf. Isa. 7-12). This ancient promise is repeated often. Here are some examples: Exodus 33:1; Numbers 14:23; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 30:20.

“I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there” Apparently the sin of publicly striking the rock instead of speaking to it(cf. Numbers 20:7-12) is the offense for which Moses has been judged. The people witnessed this flagrant disobedient act of Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:5 “So Moses the servant of the LORD” The term “servant of the LORD” is an honorific title given to Moses. It is given to Joshua only after his death. It was conferred upon King David. It later refers to the coming Messiah (cf. the Servant Songs of Isaiah 40-56). It may be the source of the NT Pauline phrase, “slave of God.” The concept of an OT servant is extremely significant. In the OT election or servanthood was to fulfill the purpose of God, not necessarily for salvation. Cyrus is called “God's anointed” (cf. Isaiah 45:1) and Assyria is called “the rod of His anger” (cf. Isaiah 10:5). This cruel nation and pagan king fit into God's plan but were not spiritually related to Him. The terms “election” and “choice” have a spiritual connotation only in the NT.

“died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD” The literal Hebrew here is “by the mouth of the Lord,” (BDB 804), which seems to be a metaphor for the word of God (cf. Genesis 41:40; Genesis 45:21; Exodus 17:1; Exodus 38:21; Numbers 3:16, Numbers 3:39).

However, the rabbis say that this is the “kiss of God.” They say that God kissed Moses on the mouth and took away his breath. This is very similar to our cultural idiom “the kiss of death.” If so, it is a beautiful account of the balance between the justice and mercy of God in the life of Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:6 “And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab” The “He” implies God Himself. This is much like Genesis 7:16, where God closed the door to the ark. One reason for God burying Moses Himself is because God has taken away all of the ancient sites and artifacts that we might worship instead of Him. Notice that Moses was not buried on Mount Nebo itself but down in the valley. The strange NT passage in Jude 1:9 is related to this account, but how is not exactly clear. Jude 1:9 seems to quote an extra-canonical book known as The Assumption of Moses. The exact purpose for the devil wanting the body of Moses is uncertain.

“but no man knows his burial place to this day” This is obviously the work of a later editor. Many assert that Moses could not have written this last chapter which relates to his death. Rashi says that Joshua wrote about Moses' death, while IV Esdras asserts that Moses wrote of his own death. I believe in Mosaic authorship of the Torah, but that does not rule out some editorial comments such as this which appear from time to time. The similarity of the Hebrew between the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua seems to imply that Joshua did have a part in writing Moses' memoirs. However, the significant place of Ezra in rabbinical Judaism as the editor of the entire OT is also a possibility.

Deuteronomy 34:7 “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died” This one hundred and twenty year span is developed in Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:23ff into a threefold division of forty years each: (1) forty years in the educational system of Egypt; (2) forty years in the very desert into which he would later lead the children of Israel; and (3) forty years in the wilderness wandering period. D. L. Moody said, “For 40 years Moses thought he was a somebody. For 40 years he thought he was a nobody. For 40 years he found out what God can do with a nobody.”

“his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated” This seems to refer to the health of Moses, while Deuteronomy 31:2 seems to be an excuse given by Moses for why he cannot enter the Promised Land (that he was too weak and old). This is not a contradiction, but one more attempt by Moses to try to explain away his sin by either blaming the people or his age or other factors.

Deuteronomy 34:8 “So the sons of Israel wept for Moses. . .thirty days” This would be one lunar cycle. This same amount of time was given to the mourning of Aaron (cf. Numbers 20:29). Everyone of the generation who rebelled in the wilderness died there except for Joshua and Caleb.

Verses 9-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 34:9-12 9Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:9 “Now Joshua the son of Nun” The name Joshua means “YHWH saves” (BDB 221). It is the very same name as “Jesus” (cf. Matthew 1:21). It is made up of the Hebrew word, “Hosea,” which means “salvation” and an abbreviation of the Covenant name for God attached to the beginning.

“was filled with the spirit of wisdom” This concept of “filled” (BDB 569, KB 583, Qal PERFECT) should be compared with Numbers 27:18 and a similar concept used of the artisans in Exodus 28:3. Obviously the Spirit of God was involved in the lives of people in the OT as well as the NT.

“wisdom” This seems (BDB 315) to refer to Joshua's ability to guide the people into battle and in administrative justice. Joshua was not from the tribe of Levi and, therefore, could not in any way be a priest, but he was a gifted leader.

“for Moses had laid his hands on him” This concept of laying on of hands is very significant in the OT. We see this very act in Numbers 27:22-23; also note Deuteronomy 31:1-8. It is somehow related to the laying on of hands on the sacrificial victim where somehow the sin is transferred. In some way Moses' leadership was transferred to Joshua.

SPECIAL TOPIC: LAYING ON OF HANDS IN THE BIBLE

Deuteronomy 34:10 “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses” Verses Deuteronomy 34:10-12 are a comment from Moses' scribe or, more probably, a later editor. This apparently refers to the Messianic prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15-22. This theme is developed in Hebrews 3:1-6, where Jesus and Moses are contrasted.

“whom the LORD knew face to face” The term “knew” (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT, see Special Topic: Know) is a Hebrew idiom for “intimate, close fellowship” (cf. Genesis 4:1; Jeremiah 1:5). It does not refer to cognitive knowledge. The phrase “face to face” shows the intimacy with which God spoke to Moses (cf. Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-8).

Deuteronomy 34:11-12 Verse 11 seems to imply that the plagues of Egypt, which took a period of about eighteen months, were meant to judge the gods of Egypt and to try to lead the Egyptians to a place of trust in YHWH. Verse Deuteronomy 34:12 shows us that the miracles that God did against the Egyptian gods were also meant to increase the faith of the Israelites just as Jesus' miracles were to increase the faith of the disciples. It is also possible that Deuteronomy 34:12 relates to the wilderness wandering period.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is the geographical location of the events in the book of Deuteronomy so significant?

2. Why did God hide the grave of Moses?

3. How does Deuteronomy 34:7 seem to contradict Deuteronomy 31:2?

4. What is the significance of Moses laying on of hands on Joshua? How does this relate to modern ordination?

5. Why is Joshua not considered a prophet like Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10)?

6. What is the purpose of miracles (cf. Deuteronomy 34:11-12)?

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-34.html. 2021.