The Death of Moses
Deuteronomy 34:5-10 “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 of Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then 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 on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” [All Scripture is from the ESV unless otherwise noted]
Why is it that a man such as Moses is allowed to die before he is able to touch one blade of grass in the promised land that he led millions of God’s people to? The Scriptures tell us that he did mighty deeds and had mighty power that he made evident before Israel. It goes on to tell us that no man is like him, that such great signs from God were shown like the ones in Egypt. Moses protected and stood up for Israel on numerous occasions. From the man he murdered in Egypt, to confronting Pharaoh, to asking God to heal Miriam, all the way to when he stood up for Israel when they complained or disobeyed God. Why end the life of someone who was “the most humble man in all the Earth?” Why would God possibly condone the death of someone as incredible as this man?
This post will give possible explanations to the previous questions by investigating the life of Moses, the character of God, Scriptures that concern the death of Moses, and different theories that scholars have had concerning the reason for his death.
First, we need a brief background of Moses and the role he played for the nation of Israel. Moses had escaped the fate of so many male infants born during the time of his birth. He was adopted into the house of Pharaoh, and took on the lifestyle of an Egyptian. When he was older, he found his true heritage and defended a Hebrew that was being mistreated. Someone saw Moses do this so Moses had to flee. He went to the land of Midian when he was 40, married a woman, had two sons, and continued to live there until he was 80. When he was 80, God came to him in a burning bush and revealed to him that he will lead Israel to freedom, and take them to a land that He had promised Abraham. Moses frees Israel through the helpful rhetoric of his brother Aaron, and the mighty power of God.
Israel Crosses the Reed Sea (as opposed to the mistranslation, “Red Sea”) and goes through a vicious cycle of praising God to complaining about God. God fed them manna and quail from the sky, and He gave them water through a rock that followed them around the wilderness as they traveled to the promised land. During this time, God gave Israel commands through Moses. These were commands that were for civil, religious, and medical well being. Some of these commands were to take immediate action, while other commands were for after they entered Canaan (the promised land).
The entire journey, Israel struggled with maintaining faith in God. They were stubborn doubters more times than not. God tried to get them to understand that if they believed and trusted in His wisdom, and if they obeyed His words, they would be taken care of spiritually and physically in every way. Israel found themselves complaining and trying to do things their own ways instead. Israel was punished for an entire generation (40 years) because they had a lack of faith when the spies went to Canaan to check it out. Only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter after these 40 years. Not even Moses was allowed into this land. Instead, they were all forced to wander in the desert place until their deaths.
This entire time, from the Reed Sea until Moses’s death, Israel complained and had weak faith. However, Moses always stood up for them, and interceded with God on their behalf. He did this even when it cost him time, energy, frustration, edgy conversations with God, or even his life. He cared deeply for the people of God. He is an example of faith that is like none other. He is the deliver of the wisdom of God. He is a leader that is to be respected. He is the savior of Israel, but even with all these things being true, he died.
One theory as to why Moses died before he came into the promised land has to do with his age. This is the weakest theory because it takes very little evidence to disprove. The reason people believe this to be true is because Genesis 6:3 tells us that God said that man will not live more than 120 years. This can’t be the reason Moses died for two reasons 1) We are told through Scripture that he died as punishment (we will discuss this in more detail later), and 2) there are examples of people living more than 120 years after Genesis 6:3, and even in the last century of modern times. So it is obvious to see that this theory is ruled out.
There are two reasonable schools of thought concerning his death, and they both revolve around the passage about water, and the rock that Moses struck in order to receive the water in the desert. These thoughts come from the story in Numbers 20:2-12. Israel complained again because they had no water. They asked why God, Moses, and Aaron led them out into the desert for them, their kids, and their animals to die. They did not trust God or Moses. In fact, they were probably going to stone Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron panicked and went to the tent of meeting and laid down on the ground. God came to them and told Moses to take his staff, and for him and Aaron to gather up the people at the rock where they got water the last time, and Moses would speak to the rock. When he did this, water would come. Moses and Aaron gathered the people and Moses said in verse 10: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Instead of speaking to the rock, he hit it twice. God punishes him and Aaron for not believing in Him. The punishment was that Moses and Aaron would not have the privilege to enter into the land of Canaan with his people.
Before we go any further, it is important to understand what this means for the spiritual life of Moses. There are numerous people in the Bible who were put to death by God because of some sin they had committed. This, however, does not necessarily mean that these specific individuals were damned to hell for these sins. In fact, there are Old Testament people who are commended for their faith in the New Testament even though they were punished for sin. Moses is one of these people. There is plenty of evidence within Scripture that would suggest that Moses still has the gift of spiritual salvation. Including the fact that he was on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus.
The first school of thought concerning his punishment in Numbers 20 is that he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. The Scriptures do not explicitly state this, but it could be argued that there is enough evidence to infer this. Before, Moses had to strike the rock with his staff for the water to come out. In fact, every sign that God did through Moses before Numbers 20 was done with some physical action. Most of the time, this physical action had something to do with his staff. The snakes, parting the read see, receiving water from the rock, and other actions were all done with the staff.
Granted, magicians of the day could not do some of the acts that God did through Moses, and this glorified God. However, even more glory could come to God by Moses only using words to accomplish such a great deed, because the magicians of the day had to use a physical sign. It is possible that God wanted to use the same glory that he did when he simply “spoke” the world into existence. Whatever the case, we do know that God only said to take his rod, gather the people, and speak. Anything else would be ruled out as an option. We also know that Moses showed unbelief somehow, and this did not give God glory. This school of thought makes the most since when studying it through all of Scripture.
The last school of thought says that it was just simply the lack of belief that Moses had that caused him to be punished. They say this because the Bible doesn’t tell us the explicit reason why he was punished, because Aaron was punished too and (according to these people) we cannot prove that Aaron also hit the rock. They said shall “we” bring forth water.
The Bible defines “belief” as not only the mental and emotional state of trust, but also the physical state of trust; action and obedience. So, of course, either way, the Lord is correct in stating that the reason for Moses and Aaron’s punishment was unbelief.
The second school of thought asks, “Why would God ask Moses to carry his staff with him if he didn’t intend for him to use it?” The first school would respond by informing them that the law of silence is still applied here. God could have told Moses to bring it to test him, and even if God intended for him to use it, Moses hit the rock twice, which he was never commanded to do even the earlier command to receive water from the rock.
I, However, believe that the reason was simply based on his lack of faith and his pride-fulness in this situation. Silence leads me to have this understanding. Anything else would be speculation. Nobody is perfect; not even Moses. He didn’t make it to the promised land, but he will be in the new heaven and new earth. – Jesse