29 November 2019Deuteronomy 34:1-12
'Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.' (v. 10)
Psalm: Psalm 118:1-18
These verses tell of Moses' final days and his death; and offer a eulogy for him.
Having transferred his "spirit of wisdom" to Joshua by the laying on of hands (verse 9), Moses is portrayed as climbing to the top of Mount Nebo (or Pisgah), to the north-east corner of the Dead Sea. He surveys the whole of the Promised Land: from Zoar (at the southern tip of the Dead Sea), through the regions on the western side of the river Jordan which, from south to north, were Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh and Naphtali (which was west and north-west of the Sea of Galilee), as far as Dan (a city immediately north of the Sea of Galilee); and from the Western (ie Mediterranean) Sea to Gilead (the region to the east of the river Jordan).
Moses' death is recorded so as to underline his exceptional life. He was 120 years old (the full human span, see Genesis 6:3) and without any frailty or impairment linked to old age. His death and burial were mysterious acts of God, inaccessible to human perception. But he merited the full period of mourning which applied to the great ones of Israel and to close family members. However, Moses was so great that he transcended the need for a tomb, a shrine or a place which could become a pilgrimage centre devoted to him.
The eulogy for Moses (verses 10-12) is remarkable and distinctive. His equal has never been seen again – but (according to Deuteronomy 18:18) one day there will be another Moses. God knew him "face to face", meaning that God revealed the divine will and ways to him directly. (This contrasts with a more nuanced view of Moses' relationship with God in Exodus 33:20-23.) Moses' uniqueness and authority resided in his ability to perform miracles ("signs and wonders", "mighty deeds" and "terrifying displays of power" (vs. 11-12)), from the time of enslavement in Egypt to his death.
- There is something deep within us which needs to review and assess the life of a loved one when they die. In your experience, when someone near to you has had time to prepare for death, has it been important to 'sum things up' with the dying person before the death and funeral?
- Martin Luther King famously made much of Moses on the mountain top surveying the long-promised land when he spoke passionately about a new, non-racist society emerging out of the deep divisions in the USA. What contemporary visionary appeals to you and why?
- Christians will notice echoes of the way that Moses' significance is written about in the ways the first Christians attempted to make sense of and to evaluate the life and person of Jesus. How do you, today, express the importance that Jesus has for you and your faith?