This morning we will conclude the sermon series we’ve titled “The Wandering Church” after almost 7 months. We have read and studying about the events of the Exodus and the amazing life of Moses. Along the way we have discovered many ancient truths and learned several valuable lessons that still have bearing on our lives presently as Christians and as God’s Church.
We have seen a clear progression take place within the exodus story. God miraculously delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, just as He can deliver sinners from the bondage of sin and death. God developed His people at Mt. Sinai by providing them the law, just as He develops believers today as they grow in the knowledge and devotion to Him. The people disobeyed God and subsequently wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, just as many disobey Him today and suffer the consequences of their disobedience. Finally God lovingly forgave His people and brought the to Moab to try again, just as He forgives our mistakes and is always willing to grant us second chances.
In this final message we will take a look at the death, burial, and legacy of Moses. Certain details about this story are quite mysterious. The Bible does not give us the answers to all of the questions that are raised in these passages. Nevertheless, Moses’ death marked the end of the exodus era. Following his demise, Joshua became the new leader and the conquest of the Promised Land began. I look forward to that series some time in the future, but for now we will turn to the closing chapters of Deuteronomy...
I. THE DEATH (Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34:1-5,7)
God instructed Moses to climb Mt. Nebo and to view the Promised Land from that vantage point. Moses had already been told that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his sin at the Rock of Meribah. We studied this in a sermon called “Two Strikes, You’re Out” several weeks ago. Although Moses pleaded with God to reconsider, ultimately he humbly accepted the LORD’s decision not to allow him to enter Canaan. That said, Moses was allowed to survey the Promised Land from the peak of Mt. Nebo.
Furthermore, God informed Moses that he would die while atop Mt. Nebo. This seems strange because the Bible indicates that, despite his age, Moses was strong and in good health. It leads some to ask, “How exactly did Moses die?” Well, we don’t know. Perhaps he had a sudden and fatal heart attack, or perhaps a tragic accident took place while he was at the summit. Whatever the case, his appointed time came and Moses abruptly died. The unique aspect of this story is that Moses knew he was going to die on the mountain before he went up, yet rather than cowering from it he still bravely climbed up.
In this respect, the death of Moses mirrors that of Jesus. The Messiah knew that upon His return to Jerusalem He would be arrested, tried, and crucified. He told the disciples in advance and on multiple occasions that this would happen. Still, Jesus courageously determined to bear the cross knowing that it was necessary for the salvation of mankind. To a lesser degree, Moses knew that his death would allow Joshua to take the lead and allow Israel to finally claim their Promised Land.
II. THE BURIAL (Deuteronomy 34:6)
In the story of Aaron’s death three men ascended Mt. Hor together, but only two returned. In this case, however, Moses apparently climbed to the peak of Mt. Nebo alone. The was no other person there with him. This raises another question that many have asked - “What happened to Moses’ body when he died?” The Bible clearly states that God buried Moses. This is a peculiar and special occurrence - to think that God Himself personally did this.
Furthermore, the Scriptures indicate that no one knows where the body of Moses was laid. In other words, God buried him in an unmarked grave which could not and has not been found. Why would He do such a thing? It has been proposed that God did not want the people to build a monument to or shrine for Moses and worship there. God was aware of the people’s tendency to chase after idols, and did not want Moses’s grave to be tainted in such a way. Nevertheless, many of the circumstances surrounding Moses’ burial remain a mystery.
Adding to this intrigue, in the book of Jude (1:9) we learn that following Moses’ death the archangel Michael and Satan contended over the body of Moses. It is uncertain exactly what they were arguing about or why the Devil wanted Moses’ corpse. While somewhat unclear, this dispute definitely highlights the importance of Moses and all that he did for the LORD’s people. The Bible never states that Satan wanted anyone else’s body, so Moses must have been a pretty big deal. In the end God denied Satan’s request, instead burying Moses Himself in an undisclosed location.
III. THE LEGACY (Deuteronomy 34:8-12)
Following the death and burial of Moses, the children of Israel mourned his loss for 30 days. Again we are left to wonder how they knew that he had died. Perhaps he told Joshua or the people before he climbed the mountain that he would not be coming back. In any event, after their period of grieving Joshua was named the new leader of Israel. Moses had already designated Joshua to take over after his death. The exploits of Joshua and the children of God are described in the book of Joshua.
The Bible pays tribute to Moses in several ways. It states that no prophet like Moses has ever risen in Israel. He knew God face-to-face, meaning that he enjoyed the personal and immediate presence of God in a way that no other prophet did. In addition God worked through Moses to perform many of the greatest miracles in the history of Israel such as the 10 plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. Moses is held up throughout Scripture as one of the greatest prophets of all time.
Because Moses never physically entered the Promised Land during his lifetime, some have argued that he failed to achieve God’s will for his life. He had been called to lead the children of Israel into Canaan, which ultimately he never did. However, I don’t see Moses as a failure. He was the leader of an obstinate and unruly people, yet Moses remained faithful to them in spite of it all. So many pastors are quick to leave their congregations when things don’t go well, but Moses was loyal. He was a success in that he remained committed to God and His people despite all of the hardships and setbacks. Because of what Moses did, Joshua was positioned to lead the next generation to accomplish greater things.
Some 1500 years after the exodus ended, in the weeks before Jesus death, the transfiguration of Christ took place on a mountaintop within the borders of Israel. We read of this miraculous event in the New Testament gospels. Can you guess who was present there? Jesus, a few of His disciples, Elijah, and… Moses. That’s right! Moses ultimately got to enter into the Promised Land, and in the company of Jesus no less. Whatsmore, he (along with all of the saints) will be present in the New Jerusalem at the end of the age. Moses will experience for the ages to come what he only saw from a distance back then.
Like Moses, we too have been called to come and die (perhaps not literally). We too can boldly climb the mountains before us and embrace God’s will - no matter what it might be. We can say “yes” to Him knowing that when we do, He will advance His kingdom in mighty ways.
Like Moses, we too can catch a glimpse of our Promised Land. By studying the Scriptures we can develop a vision of Heaven. Though we may not be able to enter into our eternal home just yet, the view looks really good! We can rest in the hope that we will be there someday soon.
And so our series has drawn to an end. The exodus has finished and the conquest of Canaan is set to begin. Moses has died and been buried, marking the end of an era in the history of Israel. But a new chapter was just beginning… a bright future that held great promise.