Deuteronomy 34 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

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This chapter informs us of Moses going up to the top of Pisgah, where he was shown the whole land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 34:1; of his death, burial, and age, Deuteronomy 34:5; of Israel's mourning for him, and the time of it, Deuteronomy 34:8; of his successor Joshua, Deuteronomy 34:9; and of the character of Moses, to whom no prophet was to be compared, Deuteronomy 34:10.

Verse 1. And Moses went up from the plains of Moab,.... Where the Israelites had lain encamped for some time, and where Moses had repeated to them the law, and all that, is contained in this book of Deuteronomy; and after he had read to them the song in Deuteronomy 32:1; and had blessed the several tribes, as in the preceding chapter: at the command of God he went up from hence,

unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that [is] over against Jericho; Nebo was one of the mountains of Abarim, which formed a ridge of them, and Pisgah was the highest point of Nebo, and this was over against Jericho on the other side Jordan, see Deuteronomy 32:49; hither Moses went, to the top of this high mountain, for aught appears, without any support or help, his natural force not being abated, though an hundred and twenty years old; and hither he seems to have gone alone, though Josephus {p} and the Samaritan Chronicle {q} say, Eleazar, Joshua, and the elders of Israel accompanied him:

and the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan; the Word of the Lord, as the Targum of Jonathan, who appeared to him in the bush, sent him to Egypt, wrought miracles by him there, led him and the people of Israel through the Red sea and wilderness, and brought them to the place where they now were: and though the eye of Moses was not become dim, as was usual at such an age he was of, yet it can hardly be thought it should be so strong as to take a distinct view of the whole land of Canaan, to the utmost borders of it: no doubt but his natural sight was wonderfully strengthened and increased by the Lord, by whom he was directed first to behold the land of Gilead on that side of Jordan where he was, and which was the possession of the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh; and then he was directed to look forward to the land of Canaan beyond Jordan, to the northern part of it; for Dan is not the tribe of Dan, but a city of that name, formerly Leshem, which the Danites took, and lay the farthest north of the land, hence the phrase "from Dan to Beersheba," see Joshua 19:47; this city is so called by anticipation: Aben Ezra thinks Joshua wrote this verse by a spirit of prophecy; and it is very likely the whole chapter was written by him, and not the eight last verses only, as say the Jewish writers: this view Moses had of the good land a little before his death may be an emblem of that sight believers have, by faith, of the heavenly glory, and which sometimes is the clearest when near to death; this sight they have not in the plains of Moab, in the low estate of nature, but in an exalted state of grace, upon and from off the rock of Christ, in the mountain of the church of God, the word and ordinances being often the means of it; it is a sight by faith, and is of the Lord, which he gives, strengthens, and increases, and sometimes grants more fully a little before death.

{p} Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 48. {q} Apud Hottinger. Smegma, l. 1. c. 8. p. 456.

Verse 2. And all Naphtali,.... Which lay in the northern part of the land, and where was Galilee of the Gentiles, and so he had a sight of all that country most frequented by the Messiah when come, see Matthew 4:13;

and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh: which lay in the midland part of the country:

and all the land of Judah; which lay to the south:

unto the utmost sea; the Mediterranean sea, which was the western boundary of the land, called the "hinder sea," Zechariah 14:8; and might as well be so rendered here, for the same word is used: Jarchi would have it read, not the "hinder sea," but the "latter day": for, he says, the Lord showed to Moses all that should happen to Israel until the resurrection of the dead; and so the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the above passages, and observes that the Lord showed Moses the mighty deeds of Jephthah of Gilead, and the victories of Samson, who was of the tribe of Dan; the idolatries of that tribe, and Samson the saviour that should spring from them; Deborah and Barak, and the princes of the house of Naphtali; Joshua the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, that should fight with and slay the kings of Canaan; and Gideon the son of Joash, of the tribe of Manasseh, that should fight with Midian and Amalek, and all the kings of Israel, and the kingdom of the house of Judah; the king of the south, that should join the king of the north to destroy the inhabitants of the earth; and even the destruction of Armiilus or antichrist, and the war of Gog and Magog, and the great affliction Michael shall save from.

Verse 3. And the south,.... The southern part of the land, even all of it; and having shown him that, he is directed eastward to take a view of

the plain of the valley of Jericho; which lay before him, a delightful plain; see Joshua 5:10;

the city of palm trees; so Jericho was called, because of the multitude of palm trees which grew there, and which Josephus not only testifies {r}, who speaks of it as a plain planted with palm trees, and from whence balsam comes; but several Heathen writers: Pliny says {s} Jericho was set with palm trees; Diodorus Siculus {t} speaks of the country about Jericho as abounding with palm trees, and in a certain valley, meaning the vale or plains of Jericho, is produced that which is called balsam; so Strabo says {u}, Jericho is a plain surrounded with mountains abounding with palm trees, where there is a plantation of palm trees, with other fruit trees, the space of a hundred furlongs:

unto Zoar; near the salt sea; see Genesis 19:22.

{r} De Bello Jud. l. 1. c. 18. sect. 5. & l. 4. c. 8. sect. 2. {s} Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 14. {t} Bibliothec. l. 2. p. 132. {u} Geograph. l. 16. p. 525.

Verse 4. And the Lord said unto him,.... The Word of the Lord, as the Jerusalem Targum, having shown him all the land of Canaan:

this [is] the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed; to Abraham, Genesis 15:18; to Isaac, Genesis 26:3; to Jacob, Genesis 28:13;

I have caused thee to see [it] with thine eyes; not only had indulged him with a general view of it, but had strengthened his eyesight, that he had a full, clear, and distinct sight of it:

but thou shalt not go over thither; which he had said more than once before and abides by it, and this because of the behaviour of Moses at the waters of Meribah, Numbers 20:12; see Deuteronomy 3:25.

Verse 5. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab,.... Which formerly belonged to Moab, and was taken from them by Sihon king of the Amorites, and now in the possession of Israel: here on a mountain in this land Moses died; and yet, contrary to the express words of this text, some Jewish writers affirm {w} that be died not, but was translated to heaven, where he ministers; yea, that he was an angel, and could not die: but it is clear he did die, even though a servant of the Lord, as he was, and a faithful one; but such die as well as others, Zechariah 1:5; there is a saying of some {x} Jews, "Moses died, and who shall not die?" no man can promise himself immortality here, when such great and good men die: the Targum of Jonathan says, he died on the seventh of Adar or February, on which day he was born; and it is the general opinion of the Jewish writers {y}, that he died on the seventh of that month, in the middle of the day, and that it was a sabbath day: though, as Aben Ezra observes {z}, some say he died on the first of Adar; and Josephus {a} is express for it, that it was at the new moon, or first day of the month; and with this agrees the calculation of Bishop Usher {b}:

according to the word of the Lord; according to the prophecy of the Lord, and according to a command of his, that he should go up to the above said mountain and die, Numbers 27:12; or, as the Targum of Jerusalem, according to the decree of the Lord; as the death of every man is, both with respect to time and place, and manner of it: it is appointed for men once to die, Hebrews 9:27; because it is in the original text, "according to the mouth of the Lord" {c}; hence some Jewish writers, as Jarchi particularly, interpret it of his dying by a kiss of his mouth, with strong expressions and intimations of his love to him, Song of Solomon 1:2; and no doubt but he did die satisfied of the love of God to him, enjoying his presence, and having faith and hope of everlasting life and salvation; but the true sense is, he died according to the will of God, not of any disease, or through the infirmities of age, but by the immediate order and call of God out of this life.

{w} T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 13. 2. Yalkut & R. Abraham Seba in Tzeror Hammor in loc. {x} Seder Tephillot, fol. 213. 1. Ed. Basil. {y} T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 38. 1. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 10. p. 29. Judasin, fol. 10. 1. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 7. 2. so Patricides apud Hottinger, p. 457. {z} Pirush in Deut. i. 2. so Midrash Esther, fol. 93. 2. {a} Ut supra, (De Bello Jud. l. 4. c. 18.) sect. 49. {b} Annales Vet. Test. p. 37. {c} yp le "super os," Montanus; "juxta os," Tigurine version.

Verse 6. And he buried him,.... Aben Ezra says he buried himself, going into a cave on the top of the mount, where he expired, and so where he died his grave was; but though he died on the mount, he was buried in a valley: Jarchi and so other Jewish writers {d} say, the Lord buried him; it may be by the ministry of angels: an Arabic writer says {e}, he was buried by angels: it is very probable he was buried by Michael, and who is no other than the archangel or head of principalities and powers, our Lord Jesus Christ, for a reason that will be hereafter suggested, see Jude 1:9;

in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor; where stood a temple dedicated to the idol Peor, see Deuteronomy 3:29;

but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day; to the time when Joshua wrote this, or, as others think, Samuel: if Moses is the same with the Osiris of the Egyptians, as some think {f}, it may be observed, that his grave is said to be unknown to the Egyptians, as Diodorus Siculus {g} and Strabo {h} both affirm; and the grave of Moses is unknown, even unto this our day: for though no longer ago than in the year 1655, in the month of October, it was pretended to be found by some Maronite shepherds on Mount Nebo, with this inscription on it in Hebrew letters, "Moses the servant of the Lord"; but this story was confuted by Jecomas, a learned Jew, who proved it to be the grave of another Moses {i}, whom Wagenseil conjectures was Moses Maimonides {k}; but some think the whole story is an imposition: the reason why the grave of Moses was kept a secret was, as Ben Gersom suggests, lest, because of his miracles, succeeding generations should make a god of him and worship him, as it seems a sort of heretics called Melchisedecians did {l}: the death and burial of Moses were an emblem of the weakness and insufficiency of the law of Moses, and the works of it, to bring any into the heavenly Canaan; and of the law being dead, and believers dead to that through the body of Christ, and of the entire abrogation and abolition of it by Christ, according to the will of God, as a covenant of works, as to the curse and condemnation of it, and justification by it; who is Michael the archangel, and is the end of the law for righteousness; he abolished it in his flesh, nailed it to his cross, carried it to his grave, and left it there; the rites and ceremonies of it are to be no more received, nor is it to be sought after for righteousness and life, being dead and buried, Romans 7:6.

{d} Misn. Sotah, c. 1. sect. 9. Pirke Eliezer, c. 17. {e} Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. p. 32. {f} See Gale's Court of the Gentiles, B. 2. c. 7. p. 94. {g} Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 18. {h} Geograph. l. 17. p. 552. {i} See Calmet's Dictionary, in voce "Sepulchre." {k} Not. in Sotah, p. 327. {l} Epiphan contr. Haeres. l. 2. Haeres. 55.

Verse 7. And Moses [was] an hundred and twenty years old when he died,.... Which age of his may be divided into three equal periods, forty years in Pharaoh's court, forty years in Midian, and forty in the care and government of Israel, in Egypt and in the wilderness; so long he lived, though the common age of man in his time was but threescore years and ten, Psalm 90:10; and what is most extraordinary is,

his eyes were not dim; as Isaac's were, and men at such an age, and under, generally be:

nor his natural force abated; neither the rigour of his mind nor the strength of his body; his intellectuals were not decayed, his memory and judgment; nor was his body feeble, and his countenance aged; his "moisture" was not "fled" {m}, as it may be rendered, his radical moisture; he did not look withered and wrinkled, but plump and sleek, as if he was a young man in the prime of his days: this may denote the continued use of the ceremonial law then to direct to Christ, and the force of the moral law as in the hands of Christ, requiring obedience and conformity to it, as a rule of walk and conversation, 1 Corinthians 9:21.

{m} So Ainsworth.

Verse 8. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days,.... According both to Josephus {n} and the Samaritan Chronicle {o}, they cried and wept in a very vehement manner, when he signified to them his approaching death, and took his leave of them; and when he was dead they mourned for him, in a public manner, the space of time here mentioned, the time of mourning for his brother Aaron, Numbers 20:29;

so the days of weeping [and] mourning for Moses were ended; on the eighth of Nisan or March, as says the Targum of Jonathan, and on the "ninth" they prepared their vessels and their cattle for a march, and on the tenth passed over Jordan, and on the "sixteenth" the manna ceased, according to the said paraphrase.

{n} Ut supra. (De Bello Jud. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 49.) {o} Apud Hottinger, p. 456.

Verse 9. And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom,.... The successor of Moses, and who, by the spirit of wisdom on him, was abundantly qualified for the government of the people of Israel; in which he was a type of Christ, on whom the spirit of wisdom and understanding is said to rest, Isaiah 11:2;

for Moses had laid his hands upon him; which was a symbol of the government being committed to him, and devolving upon him after his death, and expressive of prayer for him, that he might be fitted for it, of which action see Numbers 27:23;

and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses; or by the hand of Moses; they received him and owned him as their supreme governor under God, and yielded a cheerful obedience to his commands, as the Lord by Moses commanded them to do, and as they promised; see Joshua 1:16.

Verse 10. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,.... Not in the times of Joshua, who wrote this chapter, at least the last eight verses, Deuteronomy 34:5, as say the Jews {p}; nor to the times of Samuel, whom others take to be the writer: of them; nor to the times of Ezra, as others; nor even throughout the whole Old Testament dispensation to the times of Christ, the great Prophet, like to Moses, that was to arise; and the Messiah is by the Jews owned, as by Maimonides {q}, to be equal to him, and by others to be above him: it is a well known saying of theirs {r}, that

"the Messiah shall be exalted above Abraham, and extolled above Moses, and made higher than the ministering: angels;"

but as to all other prophets he excels them, and therefore they call him the prince, master, and Father of the prophets, and say, that all prophesied from the fountain of his prophecy {s}: the difference between him and them is observed, by Maimonides {t} to lie in many things; as that they prophesied by a dream or vision, but he awake and seeing; they prophesied by the means of an angel, and saw what they did in parables and dark sayings; but Moses not by means of an angel, but the Lord spake to him face to face; they trembled and astonished, but not so Moses; they could not prophesy when they would, but he at any time, nor did he need to dispose and prepare his mind for it; some of which will not hold good, especially the last; the instances in which he really exceeded them follow:

whom the Lord knew face to face; owned, took notice of, and familiarly conversed with face to face, as a man with his friend; none were permitted to such familiarity with God as he; see Numbers 12:6; the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem paraphrase it, "whom the Word of the Lord knew."

{p} T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 15. 1. {q} Hilchot Teshuvah, c. 9. sect. 2. {r} Tanchuma in Yalkut in Isa. lii. 13. {s} Maimon. Yesode Hatorah, c. 7. sect. 6. & Vorst. in ib. {t} lb. sect. 6, 7, 8, 9.

Verse 11. In all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do,.... The same Targums also paraphrase here, "which the Word of the Lord sent him to do;" for he it was that appeared to him in the bush, and sent him to Egypt to work miracles, which he did by him:

in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land; to whom they were visible, and who were all affected by them more or less: this respects chiefly the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians: the Jews observe that the superior excellency of Moses to the rest of the prophets lay chiefly in his superior degree of prophecy rather than in miracles, and not so much in the nature or the quality of the miracles; the stopping of the sun by Joshua, and the raising of the dead to life by Elijah and Elisha, being greater than his; but either in the duration of them, as the manna which continued near forty years; or especially in the quantity of them, he working more than all the rest put together: Manasseh Ben Israel {u} has collected all that the prophets wrought or were wrought for their sakes, and they came to seventy four; but those that were wrought by Moses or on his account make seventy six; but whether this is a just account I will not say.

{u} Conciliator in Deut. Qu. 11. sect. 4. p. 238, 239, 240.

Verse 12. And in all that mighty hand,.... In all done by his hand, which he stretched out over the sea and divided, to make a passage through it for the Israelites, and with his rod in it smote the rocks, and waters gushed out for them:

and in all that great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel; meaning either the terror the Egyptians were struck with by him, in the sight of all Israel, when he publicly and before them wrought the wonders he did in the land of Ham, which often threw them into a panic, especially the thunders and lightning, the three days darkness, and the slaying of their firstborn; see Psalm 78:49; or the terror the Israelites were in at the giving and receiving of the law, Exodus 19:16.