The Death of Moses
June 14th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE DEATH OF MOSES, THE MAN OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled, The Death of Moses, The Man of God. This is the last in a long series following the life of the great legislator and lawgiver. In the thirty-fourth, the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 34]:
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan.
And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea.
And the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.
And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
And God buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day.
And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.
And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: and the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.
And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,
In all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land,
And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel.
And that closes the life of the servant of the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 34:5, “So Moses the servant of the Lord”; and in Deuteronomy 33:1, “Moses the man of God,” Moses the servant of the Lord; he was that by choice. He was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter [Exodus 2:1-10]. He was the heir apparent to the throne of Egypt. He had opportunity to lead the life and destiny of the greatest nation in that ancient world, but he chose rather to be the servant of the Lord [Hebrews 11:23-27]. And he was that all the days of his life.
He followed the commandments of the Lord according to the pattern showed unto him on the mount [Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrews 8:5]. And he was faithful to the Lord in all of his house. His reverence for the name of God was deep. His devotion to the cause of God was constant. And the pouring out his life in behalf of the Lord was unwearying and unfailing; Moses the servant of the Lord. From the time of his commission at the burning bush [Exodus 3:1-10] until the day when he turned over the keys of office to his successor [Numbers 27:12-23; Deuteronomy 31:1-2, 7-8; Joshua 1:1-9] and climbed to the top of Mount Nebo where God took his soul away, he was truly the servant of the Lord [Deuteronomy 34:1-6].
There would be an impossible entrance of us into the feeling of the Hebrew people in their reverence and devotion to the name, and memory, and works of this man of God. And as the years pass, then as the centuries multiplied, the reverence of the Jewish people for the man Moses grew deeper, and broader, and higher, and more significant.
Moses was to them the founder of their national literature. Moses was the founder of their national religious institutions. And his life was filled with every burning romance from the day of his birth [Exodus 2:1-9, Acts 7:20]; through the days of his training and education in Egypt [Exodus 2:10-11, Acts 7:21-22]; through the days of the solemnity and solitude of his communion with God in the desert [Exodus 2:15-3:1, Acts 7:29-34]; then the remarkable God-honored, glorified, marvelous, incomparably unusually blessed days of the contest with Pharaoh, the exodus [Exodus 3:9-14:31]; the manna from heaven [Exodus 16:12-17]; the water from the rock [Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:7-11]; the giving of the law [Exodus 20-23, Acts 7:38] and the guiding of the people through the wilderness [Exodus 14:26-31; Numbers 32:11-13, Acts 7:35-36].
All of it brought indescribable pride and gratitude to the heart of the Jewish nation. There is no name that could strike fire in the heart of any people like the name of Moses could strike fire in the heart of his nation. Not Luther in Germany, not Alfred or Cromwell, or Churchill in England, not Washington or Lincoln in America, could be comparable to it as the name of Moses brought reverence and devoted memory in the heart of the people of God.
And yet he must die, great man as he was. “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” [Deuteronomy 34:10]. And yet he must die. He is not a third with the two men who never crossed those cold waters of death. He is not a third with Enoch [Genesis 5:24] or Elijah [2 Kings 2:11]. He must die [Deuteronomy 31:14].
That hard traveled, hard packed road over which the enumerable company of all the family of mankind has gone, Moses also must go that way. Moses must die. And he must die without seeing the full result of his work [Deuteronomy 34:1-5]. How oft times is that true? Somebody else must take his place and lead the people into Canaan.
David will gather the material for the temple [1 Chronicles 22:14-19] but Solomon is commissioned to build it [2 Samuel 7:13]. Reformers arise and overwhelm tremendous, colossal systems of error, but others come and carry on their work. Moses will lead in the Exodus [Exodus 3:2-10] but a Joshua will carry the people across into Canaan [Joshua 1:1-2]. Somebody plants and somebody else waters [1 Corinthians 3:6]. God buries His workman and carries on His work. It is ever thus. It is the story of all mankind. We begin, and we labor, and we further, then we die and our work lies in other hands and others must carry it on.
This word, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of [Moab], according to the word of the Lord” [Deuteronomy 34:5]. So Moses died according to the word of the Lord. It was not an unforeseen thing that he was to die without seeing the land [Deuteronomy 1:34-38]. In the first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy as he makes his first address to the people before God took him away, he goes back in memory to almost forty years before. And he tells again the story to the people how the Lord brought them up to the border of the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 1:19-21].
And because of unbelief they turned back [Deuteronomy 1:26-33]. And the Lord God said, “Surely of the men of this generation, which I sware to give unto your fathers, there shall not one enter save Caleb and Joshua” [Deuteronomy 1:35-38]. And then three times does Moses repeat this word, “The Lord was angry with me for your sakes” [Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21]. In those long; more than thirty-eight years before, somehow God had intimated that Moses would not enter into the Promised Land, no one but Caleb and Joshua and Moses is not a third [Deuteronomy 1:35-38].
Then forty years later they are at the waters of Meribah, and in disobedience Moses strikes the rock [Numbers 20:11]. When God said to him, “Speak to the rock” [Numbers 20:8], the rock is to be struck but once and out of it flows all the waters of life [Exodus 17:6]. “Speak to it once,” and that Rock was Christ [1 Corinthians 10:4] and He died but once. He was stricken but once. He did not die twice [John 17:4; 19:30]. There is not a second atonement. “Strike the rock once” [Exodus 17:6].
“Then God commanded Moses to speak to the rock” [Numbers 20:8], but in his anger and in his unbelief—as though to speak were not enough, somehow human ingenuity also must have a part—so the unbelief of Moses led him to do, and in disobedience to God he struck the rock twice [Numbers 20:11]. And then came the interdiction, “Thou shalt not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” [Numbers 20:12], according to the word of the Lord.
So first in this chapter, Numbers 20, first Miriam died [Numbers 20:1]. She was a first of the trio to die. Miriam dies. Then in the same chapter Moses is commanded to take Aaron up to the top of Mount Hor. And there strips his brother of his high priestly robes, and he places the robes upon Eleazar, his son. And on the top of Mount Hor, Aaron dies [Numbers 20:23-28]. And now the commandment is to Moses, “Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” [Numbers 20:12]. So Moses died according to the commandment of the Lord [Deuteronomy 34:5].
To some extent that is true, or maybe I should say to every extent that is true with all of us. We die according to the commandment of the Lord. The appointment is of God; Moses, up this mount, at that place, at this time [Deuteronomy 34:1-5]. There is a Pisgah for you at this place, at this time, according to the commandment of the Lord. God knows the hour. God knows the time. God knows the place. God knows the moment. There is a commandment for you.
This is not kismet—blind faith—this is the providential, elective purpose of God for our lives. It is known to heaven and God sees it. “And Moses died according to the commandment of the Lord” [Deuteronomy 34:5]. It may seem to us an accident; it may seem to us a fortuitous circumstance. It just happened to be that way, that’s the way it may seem to us, but actually our lives are in His hands. And the day of our death is according to the commandment of the Lord. There is a time for you to die. And you will not die until that ordered time. We are immortal until our work is done, and when God says, “It is enough, the task is finished; the allotted portion has run out for you,” then you will die. We die according to the commandment of the Lord.
All of that generation died according to the commandment of the Lord. Not a one of them, save Caleb and Joshua, shall enter into the land [Numbers 14:20-35, 26:64-65, 32:11-13]. And there followed for thirty-eight years in the wilderness wanderings, there followed that track of endless, endless graves. That is why the ninetieth Psalm is so plaintively sad [Psalm 90:1-17]. Not a one, not a one, shall enter the land save Caleb and Joshua. And throughout that camp for the next thirty-eight years there was nothing heard but the weeping, and the wailing, and the mourning of the burial of the dead. And Moses somehow was identified with his people.
In the type, he could not enter into rest, lead his people into rest. He was identified with the law and the law never gives us rest. It is Christ that leads us into rest. It is Joshua, it is Jesus that leads us into rest; and Moses died with his people. As Ruth said, “Where thou diest, I will die” [Ruth 1:17]. And there on the other side of the Jordan River where the people died, Moses died, according to the commandment of the Lord [Deuteronomy 34:5].
And it is thus with our lives. We die according to the commandment of the Lord. It is in His will. It is not something for me to worry about. It is not something for me to dread. It is not something for me to look upon with foreboding and anxiety. It is in God’s hands. Prayer does not dissuade God from it [Deuteronomy 3:24-25]. It did not here, in the case of Moses [Deuteronomy 34:5].
And I besought the Lord at that time, saying,
O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy mighty hand: for what god is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy might.
I pray Thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.
But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: And the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee, speak no more unto Me of this matter.
Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes; for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.
On bended knee, Moses had asked of God and God had given him so much in answered prayer. One time Moses said, “Show me Thy glory” [Exodus 33:18]; and the Lord showed him His glory. Put Moses in a cleft of the rock and hid him there with His hands. And then took away the hand and he looked upon the glory of God [Exodus 33:19-23]. All heaven is open to us on bended knee, except some things in the elective purpose of the Lord. The thorn was not removed, but God gave to his servant Paul all sufficient grace [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. And God denied to Moses entrance into the land of Canaan [Deuteronomy 3:25-29; 34:1-6]; though in so many ways and places did God answer his requests on bended knee.
And when God said, “No,” to Moses, he never sought. He was not bitter. He never asked again. “Let it suffice thee, speak no more unto Me of this matter” [Deuteronomy 3:26]. And Moses left it in the hands of God. Wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing if we could arrive at that place of trust, and committal, and confidence? The Lord said, “It is not to be,” and Moses bowed his head in acquiescence, not fighting against God, not warring against heaven, not bitter against the elective purpose known but to Him; when God said, “Thus it is to be,” Moses bowed and thus it was.
He wasn’t bitter. He didn’t sulk. He never found fault. He wasn’t estranged. There wasn’t a breech. No gulf separated between him and the Lord. But after the pronouncement of that sentence after forty years guiding the people; now on the edge of the Promised Land after the pronouncement of that sentence when the land was within a day’s journey; when it was just reaching out the hands to take it; when that was pronounced, Moses gave himself to the intensest ministry of his life. He redoubled his efforts in serving the Lord. First of all he exhorted Gad, and Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh to be faithful in helping their brethren to make conquest of the land [Numbers 32:6-33].
Then Moses delivered these last sermons, the most incomparable part of the Old Testament, what you call the Book of Deuteronomy. There on the plains of Moab he delivered these sermons. And there is no literature in the world that is more filled with the inspiration of God than these sermons of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy; making these last appeals and these last exhortations to his people before he was taken from them:
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldst say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it… ?
Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldst say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.
I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
[Deuteronomy 30:11-15, 19]
I’ve just chosen at random a verse or two out of that last sermon of Moses, as he pled with his people to be true to God. Then in the next chapter, the thirty-first chapter of Deuteronomy, after the preaching of his sermons, we have his charge to Joshua:
And Moses called unto Joshua and said unto him, Today I am a hundred twenty years old, this is my birthday.
Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit.
And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee: fear not, nor be dismayed.
[Deuteronomy 31:1-2, 7-8]
His last charge to Joshua. Then he placed in the ark of the covenant the Book of the law of the Lord [Deuteronomy 31:24-26]. Then he sings his song; he bursts into singing, isn’t that unusual? The song of Moses; the swan in fable sings just one time before he dies and that’s just before his death—the swan’s song in the fable. When Moses has done his last sermon, he breaks into this song, the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 32]. And I thought, that next Sunday morning, I would preach a sermon from this song. There is not again in any literature, an ode equal to the song of Moses. Oh, how beautiful and how meaningful!
Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
My doctrine, my teaching, shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew…
Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:
So the Lord alone did lead him.
That’s going to be my text next Sunday morning from this song of Moses, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord does His people” [Deuteronomy 32:11-12]. Oh, when you get to heaven, what is the song you’re going to sing? The song of Moses and the Lamb; this song, this hymn, this ode, this adoration, might as well learn it now, learn it now. Get acquainted with it now. So when whoever leads the choir, will it be Rafael? Whoever leads the choir, you Jack? Whoever leads the choir, we’re going to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb [Revelation 15:3].
Then in the thirty-third chapter he blesses the people, tribe by tribe, the prophetic words of his blessing [Deuteronomy 33:1-29]. Then in the thirty-fourth chapter, he climbs the mount, to the top of Pisgah and there God shows him the land [Deuteronomy 34:1-4]. I have been there. Oh, what memories, just to name it, just to think of it! And God showed him the land.
Standing on a high plateau over the Jordan Valley, up to the north where Hermon is snow-capped, down to the plains of the Negev, Beersheba, God showed him the land. His eye was like a falcon’s, his natural force unabated [Deuteronomy 34:7]. His step was light and elastic. He was in the very prime of his life. All of his forbearers had lived longer than that; his father and his grandfather. In the very prime of his life God showed him the length and the breadth of the land [Deuteronomy 34:1-4].
And then God made the place, the vestibule to heaven. God met him at the gates of Paradise from this earthly Canaan before him, to the heavenly Canaan above him; from the sight of the city of Jerusalem, to the joy of the city of the true peace in heaven. And the Lord took Moses and kissed his soul away. Like a mother will take her child, and kiss the precious little baby, and lay it in the bed to rest.
Moses may lead to Jordan’s [tide],
But there surrenders his command;
Our Joshua must the waves divide,
And bring us to the Promised Land:
Train’d by the law, we learn our place,
But gain the inheritance by loving grace.
[“Joshua,” Charles Wesley, 1762]
Sweet was the journey to the sky,
The wondrous prophet tried;
“Climb up the mount,” says God, “and die;
The prophet climbed—and died
Softly his fainting head he lay
Upon his Master’s breast;
His Maker kissed his soul away,
And laid his flesh to rest.
[“The Death of Moses,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
“So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord,” as God said. “And God buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day” [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. He died alone. Somehow all of us die alone. Nobody goes with us. We leave the rest behind. We die alone. Mother can’t do that for me. Father can’t do that for me. Those who might love me most and best can’t do that for me. We die alone for ourselves. And God’s eye marks the place.
Oh, they will forget, yes! Time wears even the headstone away. And the passing of the years levels the mound. And that one ever lived is forgot, but God remembers. This dust is precious. God’s eye is upon it. And the angels of heaven watch over it. For some day, out of the dust of the ground, out of the heart of the earth, out of the depths of the sea, God shall speak life and resurrection to His people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And God buried Moses [Deuteronomy 34:6]. And His eye knows the place. And His angels for the centuries since have carefully guarded it and watched over it. So God will remember you. And the angels will watch over you. And in God’s time and in God’s day at the voice of the trumpet, at the call of the archangel, these who have been laid in the dust of the ground shall live again in His sight according to the word of the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17].
Now in this little moment that remains while we sing this song, “In the Sweet By and By,” someone in this balcony round to come, someone on this lower floor to come, into this aisle and down to the front, somebody you taking Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:8-13] or putting your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], while we sing the song, would you come? Would you make it now, this morning? “Today I give my heart in trust to the Lord” [Matthew 11:28-29]. Or, “Today we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church.” One somebody you, or a family you, while we sing, would you make it now; while we stand and sing?
THE DEATH OF MOSES, THE MAN OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. Servant of the
Lord by choice, Deuteronomy 34:5
2. Failure at
Meribah-did not go into the land.
3. Died according
to the commandment of the Lord
Moses’ final words
1. Deuteronomy 30-“therefore
2. Deuteronomy 32-
song of Moses
33-Moses’ blessing on Israel