The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 43: The Death of Moses
Was God being harsh and arbitrary in not allowing
Moses to lead Israel into Canaan after these 40 years?
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
In all the dealings of God with His people there is, mingled
with His love and mercy, the most striking evidence of His
strict and impartial justice. This is exemplified in the history of
the Hebrew people. God had bestowed great blessings upon
Israel. His loving-kindness toward them is touchingly portrayed:
"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young,
spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her
wings: so the Lord alone did lead him." And yet what swift
and severe retribution was visited upon them for their transgressions!
The infinite love of God has been manifested in the gift of
His only-begotten Son to redeem a lost race. Christ came to the
earth to reveal to men the character of His Father, and His life
was filled with deeds of divine tenderness and compassion. And
yet Christ Himself declares, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot
or one title shall in no wise pass from the law." Matthew 5:18.
The same voice that with patient, loving entreaty invites the
sinner to come to Him and find pardon and peace, will in the
judgment bid the rejecters of His mercy, "Depart from Me, ye
cursed." Matthew 25:41. In all the Bible, God is represented not
only as a tender father but as a righteous judge. Though He
delights in showing mercy, and "forgiving iniquity and
transgression and sin," yet He "will by no means clear the guilty."
The great Ruler of nations had declared that Moses was not
to lead the congregation of Israel into the goodly land, and the
earnest pleading of God's servant could not secure a reversing of
His sentence. He knew that he must die. Yet he had not for a
moment faltered in his care for Israel. He had faithfully sought
to prepare the congregation to enter upon the promised inheritance.
At the divine command Moses and Joshua repaired to the [p. 470] tabernacle, while the pillar of cloud came and stood over the
door. Here the people were solemnly committed to the charge of
Joshua. The work of Moses as leader of Israel was ended. Still
he forgot himself in his interest for his people. In the presence of
the assembled multitude Moses, in the name of God, addressed
to his successor these words of holy cheer: "Be strong and of a
good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the
land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee." He
then turned to the elders and officers of the people, giving them
a solemn charge to obey faithfully the instructions he had
communicated to them from God.
As the people gazed upon the aged man, so soon to be taken
from them, they recalled, with a new and deeper appreciation,
his parental tenderness, his wise counsels, and his untiring labors.
How often, when their sins had invited the just judgments of
God, the prayers of Moses had prevailed with Him to spare
them! Their grief was heightened by remorse. They bitterly
remembered that their own perversity had provoked Moses to the
sin for which he must die.
The removal of their beloved leader would be a far stronger
rebuke to Israel than any which they could have received had his
life and mission been continued. God would lead them to feel
that they were not to make the life of their future leader as trying
as they had made that of Moses. God speaks to His people in
blessings bestowed; and when these are not appreciated, He
speaks to them in blessings removed, that they may be led to
see their sins, and return to Him with all the heart.
That very day there came to Moses the command, "Get thee
up . . . unto Mount Nebo, . . . and behold the land of Canaan,
which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: and die
in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy
people." Moses had often left the camp, in obedience to the divine
summons, to commune with God; but he was now to depart
on a new and mysterious errand. He must go forth to resign
his life into the hands of his Creator. Moses knew that he was
to die alone; no earthly friend would be permitted to minister
to him in his last hours. There was a mystery and awfulness
about the scene before him, from which his heart shrank. The
severest trial was his separation from the people of his care and
love—the people with whom his interest and his life had so long [p. 471] been united. But he had learned to trust in God, and with
unquestioning faith he committed himself and his people to His
love and mercy.
For the last time Moses stood in the assembly of his people.
Again the Spirit of God rested upon him, and in the most sublime
and touching language he pronounced a blessing upon each
of the tribes, closing with a benediction upon them all:
"There is none like unto God, O Jeshurun,|
Who rideth upon the heaven for thy help,
And in His excellency on the skies.
The eternal God is thy dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms:
And He thrust out the enemy from before thee,
And said, Destroy.
And Israel dwelleth in safety,
The fountain of Jacob alone,
In a land of corn and wine;
Yea, His heavens drop down dew.
Happy art thou, O Israel:
Who is like unto thee, a people saved by Jehovah,
The shield of thy help."
|Deuteronomy 33:26-29, R.V.|
Moses turned from the congregation, and in silence and alone
made his way up the mountainside. He went to "the mountain
of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah." Upon that lonely height he
stood, and gazed with undimmed eye upon the scene spread
out before him. Far away to the west lay the blue waters of the
Great Sea; in the north, Mount Hermon stood out against the
sky; to the east was the tableland of Moab, and beyond lay
Bashan, the scene of Israel's triumph; and away to the south
stretched the desert of their long wanderings.
In solitude Moses reviewed his life of vicissitudes and hardships
since he turned from courtly honors and from a prospective
kingdom in Egypt, to cast in his lot with God's chosen
people. He called to mind those long years in the desert with the
flocks of Jethro, the appearance of the Angel in the burning
bush, and his own call to deliver Israel. Again he beheld the
mighty miracles of God's power displayed in behalf of the
chosen people, and His long-suffering mercy during the years
of their wandering and rebellion. Notwithstanding all that God [p. 472] had wrought for them, notwithstanding his own prayers and
labors, only two of all the adults in the vast army that left Egypt
had been found so faithful that they could enter the Promised
Land. As Moses reviewed the result of his labors, his life of
trial and sacrifice seemed to have been almost in vain.
Yet he did not regret the burdens he had borne. He knew
that his mission and work were of God's own appointing. When
first called to become the leader of Israel from bondage, he
shrank from the responsibility; but since he had taken up the
work he had not cast aside the burden. Even when the Lord
had proposed to release him, and destroy rebellious Israel, Moses
could not consent. Though his trials had been great, he had
enjoyed special tokens of God's favor; he had obtained a rich
experience during the sojourn in the wilderness, in witnessing
the manifestations of God's power and glory, and in the communion
of His love; he felt that he had made a wise decision in
choosing to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than
to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
As he looked back upon his experience as a leader of God's
people, one wrong act marred the record. If that transgression
could be blotted out, he felt that he would not shrink from death.
He was assured that repentance, and faith in the promised Sacrifice,
were all that God required, and again Moses confessed his
sin and implored pardon in the name of Jesus.
And now a panoramic view of the Land of Promise was presented
to him. Every part of the country was spread out before
him, not faint and uncertain in the dim distance, but standing
out clear, distinct, and beautiful to his delighted vision. In this
scene it was presented, not as it then appeared, but as it would
become, with God's blessing upon it, in the possession of Israel.
He seemed to be looking upon a second Eden. There were
mountains clothed with cedars of Lebanon, hills gray with olives
and fragrant with the odor of the vine, wide green plains bright
with flowers and rich in fruitfulness, here the palm trees of the
tropics, there waving fields of wheat and barley, sunny valleys
musical with the ripple of brooks and the song of birds, goodly
cities and fair gardens, lakes rich in "the abundance of the seas,"
grazing flocks upon the hillsides, and even amid the rocks the
wild bee's hoarded treasures. It was indeed such a land as Moses,
inspired by the Spirit of God, had described to Israel: "Blessed [p. 475] of the Lord . . . for the precious things of heaven, for the dew,
and for the deep that coucheth beneath, and for the precious
fruits brought forth by the sun, . . . and for the chief things of
the ancient mountains, . . . and for the precious things of the
earth and fullness thereof."
Moses saw the chosen people established in Canaan, each of
the tribes in its own possession. He had a view of their history
after the settlement of the Promised Land; the long, sad story of
their apostasy and its punishment was spread out before him.
He saw them, because of their sins, dispersed among the heathen,
the glory departed from Israel, her beautiful city in ruins, and her
people captives in strange lands. He saw them restored to the
land of their fathers, and at last brought under the dominion
He was permitted to look down the stream of time and behold
the first advent of our Saviour. He saw Jesus as a babe in
Bethlehem. He heard the voices of the angelic host break forth
in the glad song of praise to God and peace on earth. He beheld
in the heavens the star guiding the Wise Men of the East to Jesus,
and a great light flooded his mind as he called those prophetic
words, "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall
rise out of Israel." Numbers 24:17. He beheld Christ's humble
life in Nazareth, His ministry of love and sympathy and healing,
His rejection by a proud, unbelieving nation. Amazed he
listened to their boastful exaltation of the law of God, while
they despised and rejected Him by whom the law was given. He
saw Jesus upon Olivet as with weeping He bade farewell to the
city of His love. As Moses beheld the final rejection of that
people so highly blessed of Heaven—that people for whom he had
toiled and prayed and sacrificed, for whom he had been willing
that his own name should be blotted from the book of life; as he
listened to those fearful words, "Behold your house is left unto
you desolate" (Matthew 23:38), his heart was wrung with anguish,
and bitter tears fell from his eyes, in sympathy with the
sorrow of the Son of God.
He followed the Saviour to Gethsemane, and beheld the
agony in the garden, the betrayal, the mockery and scourging—
the crucifixion. Moses saw that as he had lifted up the serpent
in the wilderness, so the Son of God must be lifted up, that
whosoever would believe on Him "should not perish, but have eternal [p. 476] life." John 3:15. Grief, indignation, and horror filled the heart
of Moses as he viewed the hypocrisy and satanic hatred manifested
by the Jewish nation against their Redeemer, the mighty
Angel who had gone before their fathers. He heard Christ's
agonizing cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Mark 15:34. He saw Him lying in Joseph's new tomb. The
darkness of hopeless despair seemed to enshroud the world. But
he looked again, and beheld Him coming forth a conqueror,
and ascending to heaven escorted by adoring angels and leading
a multitude of captives. He saw the shining gates open to receive
Him, and the host of heaven with songs of triumph welcoming
their Commander. And it was there revealed to him that he
himself would be one who should attend the Saviour, and open
to Him the everlasting gates. As he looked upon the scene, his
countenance shone with a holy radiance. How small appeared
the trials and sacrifices of his life when compared with those of
the Son of God! how light in contrast with the "far more exceeding
and eternal weight of glory"! 2 Corinthians 4:17. He rejoiced
that he had been permitted, even in a small measure, to be a
partaker in the sufferings of Christ.
Moses beheld the disciples of Jesus as they went forth to
carry His gospel to the world. He saw that though the people of
Israel "according to the flesh" had failed of the high destiny to
which God had called them, in their unbelief had failed to become
the light of the world, though they had despised God's
mercy and forfeited their blessings as His chosen people—yet
God had not cast off the seed of Abraham; the glorious purposes
which He had undertaken to accomplish through Israel were to
be fulfilled. All who through Christ should become the children
of faith were to be counted as Abraham's seed; they were
inheritors of the covenant promises; like Abraham, they were
called to guard and to make known to the world the law of God
and the gospel of His Son. Moses saw the light of the gospel
shining out through the disciples of Jesus to them "which sat in
darkness" (Matthew 4:16), and thousands from the lands of the
Gentiles flocking to the brightness of its rising. And beholding,
he rejoiced in the increase and prosperity of Israel.
And now another scene passed before him. He had been
shown the work of Satan in leading the Jews to reject Christ,
while they professed to honor His Father's law. He now saw the [p. 477] Christian world under a similar deception in professing to
accept Christ while they rejected God's law. He had heard from
the priests and elders the frenzied cry, "Away with Him!"
"Crucify Him, crucify Him!" and now he heard from professedly
Christian teachers the cry, "Away with the law!" He saw the
Sabbath trodden under foot, and a spurious institution
established in its place. Again Moses was filled with astonishment and
horror. How could those who believed in Christ reject the law
spoken by His own voice upon the sacred mount? How could
any that feared God set aside the law which is the foundation
of His government in heaven and earth? With joy Moses saw the
law of God still honored and exalted by a faithful few. He saw
the last great struggle of earthly powers to destroy those who
keep God's law. He looked forward to the time when God shall
arise to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and those who have feared His name shall be covered and hid
in the day of His anger. He heard God's covenant of peace with
those who have kept His law, as He utters His voice from His
holy habitation and the heavens and the earth do shake. He
saw the second coming of Christ in glory, the righteous dead
raised to immortal life, and the living saints translated without
seeing death, and together ascending with songs of gladness to
the City of God.
Still another scene opens to his view—the earth freed from
the curse, lovelier than the fair Land of Promise so lately spread
out before him. There is no sin, and death cannot enter. There
the nations of the saved find their eternal home. With joy
unutterable Moses looks upon the scene—the fulfillment of a more
glorious deliverance than his brightest hopes have ever pictured.
Their earthly wanderings forever past, the Israel of God have
at last entered the goodly land.
Again the vision faded, and his eyes rested upon the land of
Canaan as it spread out in the distance. Then, like a tired
warrior, he lay down to rest. "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 a valley in the land of Moab, over
against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher." Many
who had been unwilling to heed the counsels of Moses while he
was with them would have been in danger of committing idolatry [p. 478] over his dead body had they known the place of his burial.
For this reason it was concealed from men. But angels of God
buried the body of His faithful servant and watched over the
"There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,
whom Jehovah knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders
which Jehovah sent him to do . . . and in all that mighty
hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the
sight of all Israel."
Had not the life of Moses been marred with that one sin, in
failing to give God the glory of bringing water from the rock at
Kadesh, he would have entered the Promised Land, and would
have been translated to heaven without seeing death. But he
was not long to remain in the tomb. Christ Himself, with the
angels who had buried Moses, came down from heaven to call
forth the sleeping saint. Satan had exulted at his success in
causing Moses to sin against God, and thus come under the
dominion of death. The great adversary declared that the divine
sentence—"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return"
(Genesis 3:19)—gave him possession of the dead. The power
of the grave had never been broken, and all who were in the
tomb he claimed as his captives, never to be released from his
dark prison house.
For the first time Christ was about to give life to the dead.
As the Prince of life and the shining ones approached the grave,
Satan was alarmed for his supremacy. With his evil angels he
stood to dispute an invasion of the territory that he claimed as
his own. He boasted that the servant of God had become his
prisoner. He declared that even Moses was not able to keep the
law of God; that he had taken to himself the glory due to
Jehovah—the very sin which had caused Satan's banishment from
heaven—and by transgression had come under the dominion of
Satan. The archtraitor reiterated the original charges that he
had made against the divine government, and repeated his
complaints of God's injustice toward him.
Christ did not stoop to enter into controversy with Satan. He
might have brought against him the cruel work which his deceptions
had wrought in heaven, causing the ruin of a vast number
of its inhabitants. He might have pointed to the falsehoods told [p. 479] in Eden, that had led to Adam's sin and brought death upon
the human race. He might have reminded Satan that it was
his own work in tempting Israel to murmuring and rebellion,
which had wearied the long-suffering patience of their leader,
and in an unguarded moment had surprised him into the sin
for which he had fallen under the power of death. But Christ
referred all to His Father, saying, "The Lord rebuke thee."
Jude 9. The Saviour entered into no dispute with His adversary,
but He then and there began His work of breaking the power
of the fallen foe, and bringing the dead to life. Here was an
evidence that Satan could not controvert, of the supremacy of the
Son of God. The resurrection was forever made certain. Satan
was despoiled of his prey; the righteous dead would live again.
In consequence of sin Moses had come under the power of
Satan. In his own merits he was death's lawful captive; but he
was raised to immortal life, holding his title in the name of the
Redeemer. Moses came forth from the tomb glorified, and
ascended with his Deliverer to the City of God.
Never, till exemplified in the sacrifice of Christ, were the
justice and the love of God more strikingly displayed than in
His dealings with Moses. God shut Moses out of Canaan, to teach
a lesson which should never be forgotten—that He requires
exact obedience, and that men are to beware of taking to
themselves the glory which is due to their Maker. He could not grant
the prayer of Moses that he might share the inheritance of
Israel, but He did not forget or forsake His servant. The God of
heaven understood the suffering that Moses had endured; He
had noted every act of faithful service through those long years
of conflict and trial. On the top of Pisgah, God called Moses to
an inheritance infinitely more glorious than the earthly Canaan.
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Upon the mount of transfiguration Moses was present with
Elijah, who had been translated. They were sent as bearers of
light and glory from the Father to His Son. And thus the prayer
of Moses, uttered so many centuries before, was at last
fulfilled. He stood upon the "goodly mountain," within the heritage
of his people, bearing witness to Him in whom all the
promises to Israel centered. Such is the last scene revealed to
mortal vision in the history of that man so highly honored of
Heaven. [p. 480]
Moses was a type of Christ. He himself had declared to Israel,
"The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the
midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall
hearken." Deuteronomy 18:15. God saw fit to discipline Moses
in the school of affliction and poverty before he could be prepared
to lead the hosts of Israel to the earthly Canaan. The Israel of
God, journeying to the heavenly Canaan, have a Captain who
needed no human teaching to prepare Him for His mission as a
divine leader; yet He was made perfect through sufferings; and
"in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to
succor them that are tempted." Hebrews 2:10, 18. Our Redeemer
manifested no human weakness or imperfection; yet He died to
obtain for us an entrance into the Promised Land.
"And Moses verily was faithful in all his house as a servant,
for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
but Christ as a son over His own house; whose house are we, if
we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm
unto the end." Hebrews 3:5, 6.
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"Crossing the Jordan"