Deuteronomy 34 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

<< Deuteronomy 33 | Deuteronomy 34 | Joshua >>
(Read all of Deuteronomy 34)
Moses, as the servant of God, belonged to the wilderness and could not enter the land

We have now to consider a little the prohibition to which Moses was subjected, not to enter the land of promise. Moses, the man of God, might pronounce the blessings on Israel as in the land; but he himself, as servant of God, belonged to the wilderness. There are more things than one to be weighed here. As to the position of Moses, it was that of the government of a people, placed under the principles of Sinai; that is, while under the government of God, it was in the flesh that His people were subjected to that government (compare Rom. 9: 5, where the subject is fully discussed).

Man in the flesh cannot enjoy the promises

Now, man in the flesh, under the government of God, cannot come into the enjoyment of the promise. This is true even of a Christian. Risen with Christ, he is seated in the heavenly places, he enjoys the promise in the presence of God; or, at least, his affections look up there, his life is hid there with Christ; [1] but, as a man upon earth, he is under the government of God, who acts towards him according to the manifestation of the spiritual life here below; and Christ is between him and God, exercising priesthood and advocacy, which do not establish righteousness (that is done once for all), but which maintain the relationship of weak men with God in the light—to the fellowship of which they are called in Christ who is in it—by obtaining mercy and grace to help in time of need so that they should not fall, or to restore them if they do, through the advocacy by the operation of the Spirit upon earth.

Crossing Jordan was our death and resurrection with Christ in a figure. Joshua always represents Christ, Head of His people, according to the power of the Spirit. But the wilderness is this world. Moses directs and governs the people there according to God; consequently he does not enter into Canaan.

The difference between the Red Sea and the Jordan

The difference (we shall dwell on that more at length when we study the Book of Joshua) between the Red Sea and Jordan is, that the Red Sea was the efficacy of redemption through the death and resurrection of Christ Himself, and we are viewed, withal, in Him; Jordan was the application of it to the soul, as having died with Him in order to the enjoyment of the promises. The passage of the Red Sea was followed by songs of joy; that of Jordan, by conflict and the realisation of the promises.

Moses' fault when wearied with evil

As to Moses himself, personally, the fault which precluded his entrance into the land is well known. Provoked by the rebellion of Israel, and wearied with caring for the people, instead of exalting God in the eyes of Israel, he exalted himself. He made use of the gift of God for that purpose; he did not sanctify Jehovah in the eyes of the people; he did not give Him His place. God does not become weary in His goodness; and thus acting in discipline, for the good of His people, according to His majesty, He can always fall back upon those ways of direct blessing which flow from His unfailing grace. Man wearied with the evil that vexes him, tries to exalt himself, to put himself above the evil, and to shelter himself from it, because he is not above it. He no longer glorifies God; he exalts himself and he is abased.

If Moses, instead of acting according to the flesh, had remembered that it was not he or his glory which was in question (and how often had he himself told them so!) but God, he would have felt that the people could not touch the glory of God; and this unfailing glory would have sustained him, looking only at that glory which ever maintains itself; so that if we only seek to maintain it, we may rest upon it.

But he lacked faith, and was forbidden to enter into that which only the perfection of glory could open to men; and, indeed, what could lead Israel safely through the desert and into the land of Canaan? Pure grace alone. Moses was not able to apprehend the height of the grace that conquers everything. It was according to that grace, as we have seen, that God acted at Meribah.

New creation needed to enjoy the promises

Now, the law could not lead into life; and, therefore, the flesh, the world, and the law, ever correlative in the ways of God, were found in the journey through the wilderness; and Moses remains there. He might, as a man of God and a prophet, tell of grace, as making sure the blessing of Israel (chap. 33: 26-29). Faithful in all his house, as a servant, he remains on this side Jordan; a proof, in these touching circumstances, that an absolutely new creation is needed to enjoy the promises of God, according to that grace which can alone, after all, bring one in safety even through the wilderness—the unfailing grace of our God.

Moses' death: the purpose of his honoured burial by Jehovah

Moses dies, and, buried by Jehovah, does not serve as an object of carnal veneration to a people at all times ready to fall into this sin, when his name gave them honour according to the flesh; just as they continually opposed him, when his presence according to God thwarted the flesh. He was a man honoured of God, who scarcely had his equal (He of course excepted who had none); but nevertheless he was man, and man is but vanity.

[1] The former is the teaching of the Ephesians, the second, of the Colossians. In the former, dead in sin, he is raised up and set in Christ in heavenly places. It is a new creation. In the latter, he has died to sin and is risen, with Christ, and his affections are to be set on heavenly things. In this last epistle he is viewed also as dead in sins and quickened together with Christ, but not as sitting in heavenly places.