Relevant Verses: Num 20:1–13; Deut 34:1–12; Jude 9
Leading Question: Why is the resurrection so central to the Christian faith?
“So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab according to the word of the LORD. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day” (Deut 34:5–6).
“What an extraordinary way to end a book: not just any book but the Book of books – with Moses seeing the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, tantalisingly near, yet so far away that he knows he will never reach it in his lifetime. This is an ending to defy all narrative expectations. A story about a journey should end at journey’s end, with arrival at the destination. But the Torah terminates before the terminus. It concludes in medias res. It ends in the middle. It is constructed as an unfinished symphony.”1Jonathan Sacks, retrieved 13 September 2021, https://rabbisacks.org/end-without-an-ending/
Question: How do you explain this record in the only book of the Pentateuch that is attributed to Moses by the words, “the book of the Law of the Lord by the hand of Moses”(2 Chron 34:14)?
Read Numbers 20:1-13.
Question: How can we read the story without making it into an arbitrary divine punishment of Moses? How is this story connected with a similar story in Exod 15:22-26? What was Moses’ own understanding of what happened (Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21)? How does God correct Moses’ understanding (32:48-52)?
Question: Why is Moses’ death described in such a mysterious way, “he died there . . . but no man knows his burial place to this day” (Deut 34:5–6)?
Moses dies, alone on a mountain with God as he had been all those years ago when, as a shepherd in Midian, he caught sight of a bush in flames and heard the call that changed his life. “It is a scene affecting in its simplicity. There are no crowds. There is no weeping. The sense of closeness yet distance is almost overwhelming. He sees the land from afar but has known for some time that he will never reach it. Neither his wife nor his children are there to say goodbye. They disappeared from the narrative long before. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron, with whom he shared the burdens of leadership for so long, have predeceased him. His disciple Joshua has become his successor. Moses has become the lonely man of faith, except that with God no man, or woman, is lonely even if they are alone.”
The obituary given to him is equally unsurpassed in the biblical record: “Never again did there arise a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land, and for all the mighty acts and awesome sights that Moses displayed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10–12).
In the last month of his life, he challenged the people with vigor dor. At the very moment that they were getting ready to cross the Jordan and enter the land, Moses warned them of the challenges ahead. The greatest trial, he said, would not be poverty but wealth, not slavery but freedom, not homelessness in the desert but the comfort of home. Until the very end he challenged the people and pleaded with God for them.
Question: What do we learn from the life and death of Moses?
- For each of us, there is a Jordan we will not cross, a promised land we will not enter, a destination we will not reach. What we began, others will continue.
- “No man knows his burial place” (Deut 34:6). What a contrast between Moses and the heroes of other civilizations whose burial places become monuments, pyramids, shrines, and places of pilgrimage. The greatest sin is to worship human beings as if they were gods.
- No human is infallible. Perfection belongs to God alone. Only when we honor this essential difference between heaven and earth can God be God and humans, human. That is what Moses wanted the people to never to forget. Moses sinned and the Bible did not hide this from us. “Because you did not sanctify me before the people” (Num 20:12). The Bible does not hide anyone’s sin. It is fearlessly honest about the greatest of the great. Bad things happen when we try to hide people’s sins.
- Never lose the idealism of youth. The Torah says of Moses that at the age of 120, “his eye was undimmed and his natural energy unabated” (Deut 34:7). We are as young as our ideals.
- At the burning bush, Moses said to God: “I am not a man of words. I am heavy of speech and tongue.” By the time we reach Deuteronomy, the book named “Words” (Hebrew Devarim), Moses has become the most eloquent of prophets. God chose one who was not a man of words, so that when he spoke, people realized that it was not he who was speaking but God who was speaking through him.
- Moses defended the people. Did he always like them? Was he liked by them? The books of Exodus to Deuteronomy leave us in no doubt about these questions. Yet he defended them with all the passion and power at his disposal. Even when they had sinned. Even when they were ungrateful to God. Even when they made a Golden Calf. He risked his life to do so. He said to God: “And now, forgive them, and if not, blot me out of the book you have written” (Exod 32:32).
Read Jude 9. This is, without question, a rather perplexing text!
There are various biblical texts which can be rather difficult to interpret and understand. This verse would certainly be one of them. The verse in question says this: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” The general context of the verse involves Jude’s concern with false teachers.
Jude relies here on information that is recorded in the apocryphal book the Testament of Moses or the related work known as the Assumption of Moses. Unfortunately, the ending of this testament is no longer extant, but scholars have been able to reconstruct it from early Christian sources.
Because of this allusion to a non-canonical book and the direct quote from the apocryphal book I Enoch, the church in the first few centuries hesitated to accept the Epistle of Jude as canonical. The fact remains, however, that although Jude uses material from other sources, he does not recognize these books as inspired. He borrows examples from apocryphal literature or from the oral tradition of his day to illustrate and clarify his own teachings. In this apocryphal story Satan is accusing Moses of sin and saying that he should not be allowed to enter into God’s presence.
New Testament scholar Richard Baukham offers an explanation about how this text ties in with the larger context of Jude’s letter:
Michael’s behavior contrasts with that of the false teachers when they reject the accusations which the angels, as spokesmen for the Law, bring against them. They do so because they claim to be above all such accusations, subject to no moral authority. In fact, even if they had the status of Moses or Michael, they would remain subject to the divine Lawgiver and Judge. Given the context of the allusion, which Jude’s readers knew, v 9 effectively exposes the spiritual conceit of the false teachers, whose attitude to the angels reveals a resistance to authority which will not even be subject to God.
Question: What difference did the thirteen weeks of studying the book of Deuteronomy make for you?