And the Lord spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; 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, as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people. [Deuteronomy 32:48-50]
THE long wanderings of the Israelites were now about to be concluded. That wicked generation, which had provoked God by their murmuring and rebellion, had been terminated according to the divine threat; and their children stood by the waters of Jordan, waiting the command to go over, and expel the Canaanites. The land, flowing with milk and honey, was actually in view; the hand which had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and in order to the possession of which by their descendants, Egypt had been desolated with plagues, and a mystic pillar of fire and cloud had traversed the wilderness. It was a moment of great excitement, and of great triumph: many must have looked impatiently on the river, which now alone divided them from their heritage, and have longed for the permission to pass this last barrier, and tread the soil which was to be henceforward their own. And who shall be more excited, who more eager for the crossing the Jordan, than the great leader of the people, he who had been commissioned to deliver them from bondage, and who had borne meekly with their insolence and ingratitude during forty years of danger and toil? It was the only earthly recompense which the captain of Israel could receive, that, having been instrumental in bringing the nation to the very border of their inheritance, he should behold them happily settled; and enjoy, in his old age, the beautiful spectacle of the twelve tribes dividing amongst themselves the fields and the vineyards for which their fathers had longed. Or, if this were too much, and he must resign to those younger than himself the leading Israel to battle with the possessors of the land, let him, at least, behold the rich valleys, the sunny hills, the sparkling brooks; and thus satisfy himself, by actual inspection, of the goodliness of the heritage, the thought of which had cheered him in a thousand toils and perils.
But Moses, though there was to arise after him no prophet, so honoured and faithful; though he been admitted to speak face to face with the Lord, and had received marks of divine approbation, granted neither before nor since to any of our race — Moses had sinned, and the incurred penalty had been, that he should not enter the land of promise. His earnest desire and prayer can do nothing towards procuring remission of the sentence: he may ascend Mount Nebo, and thence may he catch a distant view of the spreadings of Canaan: but he shall not cross the Jordan, he shall not plant his foot on the long-desired Palestine. Strange and apparently harsh decree ! The sin itself had not seemed extraordinarily heinous; yet the threatened retribution is not to be escaped: lengthened and unvaried obedience can do nothing when set against the solitary offence; and the intercessor, who had so often pleaded successfully with God for the thousands of Israel, is denied the slight boon which he ventured to ask for himself. Look on the assembled congregation: who doubts that there are many in that vast gathering, who have done much to provoke the Almighty, who will carry into Canaan unsanctified hearts and ungrateful spirits ? Yet shall they all go over the Jordan: they shall all follow the ark, weighty with sacramental treasures, as the waters divide before it, doing homage to the symbol of divinity. None shah be left behind but he who was first amongst the servants of God, who would have felt the purest joy, and offered the richest praise, on entering the land which had been promised to his ancestors. Aaron was already dead: this father of the Levitical priesthood had offended with Moses; and therefore was he denied the privilege of offering the first sacrifice in Canaan, and thus consecrating, as it were, the inheritance to the Lord. And now must Moses also be gathered to his fathers: he has been spared longer than Aaron, for he had been far more upright and obedient: he has been permitted to approach much nearer to the promised land, yea, actually to come within sight; but the Lord is not forgetful of his word; and now, therefore, comes this startling message," Get thee up into this mountain, and die in the mount, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people."
The command was obeyed without a murmur. This man of God, whose "eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated", ascended to the top of Pisgah; and there did the Lord, miraculously assisting his vision, show him" all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah unto the utmost east, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar." This having been done, he breathed out his soul into the hands of his Maker; and "the Lord buried him in a valley over against Bethpeor" but no human eye saw this mysterious dissolution, and "no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day."
Now we consider this as a very interesting and instructive portion of sacred history, presenting ill large measure material for profitable discourse. We design, therefore, to enlarge you with its consideration; and if the truths, which we shall have to bring before you, be only those with which frequent hearing has made you familiar, they will be found, we think, of such importance as to warrant their being often repeated. It will be necessary that we examine the sin of which Moses had been guilty, and which entailed his exclusion from Canaan. After this, we shall have to consider the peculiar circumstances of his death. There are thus two general divisions under which our subject will naturally resolve itself. In the first place, we are to consider why God refused to allow Moses to pass over Jordan: in the second place, we are to give our attention to the narrative of his ascending Mount Nebo, and there expiring in view of the land which he was not to enter.
Now you will remember that, soon after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, they were distressed for water in the wilderness, and were so incensed against Moses as to be almost ready to stone him. On this occasion, Moses was directed by God to take the rod, with which he had wrought such great wonders in Egypt, and to smite the rock in Horeb; he did , and forthwith came there out water in abundance. It is generally allowed that this rock in Horeb was typical of Christ; and that the circumstance of the rock yielding no water, until smitten by thereof of Moses, represented the important truth, that the Mediator must receive the blows of the law, before He could be the source of Salvation to a parched and perishing world. It is to this that St. Paul refers, when he says of the Jews, " They did all drink; the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ." It appears that the waters, which gushed from the rock in Horeb, attended the Israelites during the chief part of their wanderings ill the wilderness; and this it is which we are to understand, when the Apostle affirms that the rock followed them — the rock itself did not follow them, but the stream which had issued from that rock — a beautiful representation of the fact, that, if Christ were once smitten, or once sacrificed, a life-giving current would accompany continually the Church in the wilderness We do not read again of any scarcity of water until nearly thirty-seven years after, when the generation which had come out of Egypt had been destroyed for their unbelief, and their children were about to enter into Canaan. It i~ probable that God then allowed the supply of water to fail, in order that the Israelites might he reminded that they were miraculously sustained, and taught, what they were always apt to forget, their dependence on the guardianship of the Almighty. Assuredly they needed the lesson; for no sooner did they find themselves in want of water, than they showed the same unbelief which their fathers had manifested, and, in place of meekly trusting in the God who had so long provided for their wants, "they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron," and bitterly reviled them for having brought them out of Egypt.
Moses is bidden, as on the former occasion, to take his rod, that he may bring forth water out of the rock. But you are to observe carefully the difference between the command now given him, and that which had been delivered in Horeb. In the latter instance, God had distinctly said to him, "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb, and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink." But in the present instance the direction is, "Speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, and it shall give forth his water." In the one case, Moses was expressly commanded to smite the rock; in the other, he was as expressly commanded only to speak unto the rock. And we cannot but consider that there was something very significant in this. The rock, as we have supposed, typified Christ, who was to be once smitten by the rod of the law, but only once; seeing that "by one ordering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Having been once smitten, there is nothing needed, in any after dearth, but that this rock should be spoken to; prayer, if we may use the expression, with open the pierced side of the Lamb of God, and cause fresh flowings of that stream which is for the cheansing of the nations. Hence it would have been to violate the integrity and beauty of the type, that the rock should have keen smitten again; it would have been to represent a necessity that Christ should be twice sacrificed, and thus to darken the whole Gospel scheme Yet this it was which Moses did; and, in doing this, he greatly displeased God. We have shown you that the command to Moses and Aaron was most distinct, "Speak ye unto the rock before their eyes." But when we come to see how the command was obeyed, we read as follows. "And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock; and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice."
Can you fail, my brethren, to see that herein Moses sinned grievously? It is evident that he was chafed and irritated in spirit; his language shows this, "heal; now, ye rebels:" rebels indeed the Israelites were; but it was manifestly in a burst of human passion, rather than of holy indignation, that Moses here used the term. And, then, observe how he proceeds — "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" What are ye, O Moses and Aaron, that ye should speak as though the virtue were in you, when ye are verily men of like passions and feebleness with ourselves? The Psalmist, when giving us the history of his nation during their sojourning in the wilderness, might well describe Moses as provoked, on this occasion, to hasty and intemperate speech. "They angered God also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes, because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips."
But this was not the whole, and perhaps not the chief of his offence. In place of doing only as he had been bidden, and speaking to the rock, he lifted up his hand, and smite the rock, yea, smote it twice. Was this merely in the irritation of the moment, or in actual unbelief ? Did he only forget the command, or did he fear that a simple word would not suffice, seeing that, on the former occasion, the rock yielded no water until smitten by the rod ? Probably there was a measure of distrust; he would hardly else have struck twice; and faith was not likely to be in vigorous exercise, when an unholy wrath had possession of his mind. And thus the lawgiver displayed passion, and arrogance, and Unbelief: passion, in that he addressed the multitude in the language of an irritated man; arrogance, in that he spake as though his own power were to bring forth the water; unbelief, in that he smote where he had been commanded only to speak. It seems probable that it was the unbelief which specially provoked God; for when he proceeded to the rebuking the sin, it was in these terms, "Because ye believed me not to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel."
To us, accustomed, as we unhappily are, to offend more grievously than Moses, even when the utmost has been said in aggravation of his sin, it may seem that God dealt harshly with his servant, in immediately pronouncing as his sentence, that he should not bring the congregation into the land which he would give them. It was a sentence of which Moses himself felt the severity; for he describes himself as pleading, earnestly for a remission But he pleaded in vain; nay, he seems to have been repulsed with indignation; for it is thus that he describes the issue of his supplication. "But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me; and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee, speak no more unto me of this matter." Let it however be remembered, that the eyes of all Israel were now upon Moses and Aaron; and that, the more exalted their station, and the more eminent their piety, the more requisite was it that God should mark their occurrence; thus proving that He will not tolerate sin even in those whom He most loves and approves. It is not because a man stands high in the favour of his Maker, that he may expect to escape the temporal retributions of a fault; on the contrary, since he is not to sustain its eternal retributions, there is the greater reason why the temporal should not be remitted; for if they were, his sin would be wholly unvisited, and therefore apparently overlooked by God. And though indeed Moses had been singularly faithful and obedient, who can fail to perceive that the uncommonness of his fault would only have made his being unpunished more observable; whereas it gave, on the other hand, opportunity for a most impressive lesson, as to God's hatred of sin, and his resolve that it shall never go unrecompensed? The whole congregation had seen the sin committed; had they seen it also unnoticed by God, they might have argued that impatience and unbelief were excusable in certain persons, or under certain provocations. But when they found that Aaron was to die on mount Hor, and Moses on mount Nebo, because they had not believed God to sanctify him in their eyes, they were taught, even more impressively than by any thing which had happened to themselves, or their fathers, that sin necessarily moves, under all circumstances, the wrath of the Almighty; that no amount, whether of previous or after righteousness, can compensate for the smallest transgression; and that eminence as a saint rather insures than averts some penal visitation, if there be the least swerving from the strict line of duty.
And the lesson should lose none of its impressiveness, because delivered ages back, and under a dispensation which had more of temporal sanctions than our own. If I would judge the evil nature of unbelief, if I would estimate how the least distrust of his word provokes the Most High, I know not on what I can better fix my attention than on Moses, arrested on the very threshold of Canaan, because, on a solitary occasion, when moreover there was much to incense him, he had shown want of confidence in God, and overstepped the limits of a command. The thousands who fell in the wilderness "because of unbelief," warn me not so emphatically as this single individual, shut out from the promised land. They were bold and dissolute men: often and fiercely did they provoke God in the desert. But he was the very meekest on the earth: his face, it may be, still shone with celestial radiance, as when he descended from communing with God on the mount; and I do not know that there is another registered instance, during all the years which had elapsed since the coming out of Egypt, in which he had displayed the least approach to deficiency in faith. Does he not then furnish a most signal demonstration, that unbelief, in every degree and with every palliation, stores up against us matter of accusation; and that, if we will not simply take God at his word, act on his precepts, and leave Him to make good his promises, we expose ourselves to his heavy indignation, and must look for nothing but the fulfilment of his threatenings? Let us be assured that God does not overlook, but rather accurately notes, with full intent to recompense, those doubtings and mistrustings which are often found in the best of his servants; and that, if He do not at the instant punish his people, when they follow not implicitly his bidding, it is not because He thinks little of the offense, but because He sees fit to defer the retribution. And if any one of you would plead that it very hard to be simply obedient, that reason will come in with its suggestions, and that then it is intensely difficult to adhere strictly to revelation; if he would think it some excuse for the defects of his faith, that he is taken by surprise, or placed in trying circumstances, or is constitutionally anxious, or generally firm — we send him to behold Moses, eager to enter Canaan, and almost within its borders, and nevertheless commanded to ascend Mount Nebo to die; and we think that he will hardly venture to make light hereafter of the least distrust of God, when he finds that this eminent saint expired on the very margin of the promised inheritance, just because, in a moment of unbelief, he had smitten the rock to which he had been directed only to speak.
Such then was the offence of Moses: an offence which we are perhaps disposed to under-rate, because prone ourselves to impatience and unbelief; and of which, as probably, we over-rate the punishment, not considering that the chastisement was altogether temporal. It is true that God was angry with Moses , and that He showed his anger by disappointing one of his most cherished hopes: but the anger was exhausted in the one decree, that he must die upon Nebo; for this mountain was to be as the gate to paradise.
Let us now however examine the particulars which are narrated in our text of the departure of Moses. The sentence had been, that Moses should not bring the congregation into Canaan. Its literal execution did not forbid his approaching to the very confines of the land, nor his being allowed to look upon its provinces. And accordingly God, who always tempers judgment with mercy, though He would not remit the sentence, gave his servant as much indulgence as consisted with its terms, suffering him to advance to the very edge of the Jordan, and then directing him to a mountain whence he might gaze on large districts of the expected inheritance. Still the hour is come when Moses must die, however graciously it may be ordered, that, though he is to depart out of life because he had displeased God, his departure shall be soothed by tokens of favour. There is a strange mixture of severity and gentleness in the command, "Get thee up into this mountain, and behold the land of Canaan, and die in the mount whither thou goest up." There is severity — thou must die, though thou art yet in full strength, with every power, whether of mind or of body, unimpaired. But there is also gentleness — thou must die; but yet thou shalt not close thine eyes upon the world, until they have been gladdened by a sight of the valleys and mountains which Israel shall possess.
Yet it is neither the severity, nor the gentleness, which is most observable in the passage: it is the simple, easy, manner in which the command is given. "Go up and die." Had God been bidding Moses to a banquet, or directing him to perform the most ordinary duty, He could not have spoken more familiarly, or with less indication of requiring what was painful or difficult," and in truth it was no hardship to Moses to die. He had deliberately "esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt," and had long "had respect unto the recompense of the reward." And though he would fain have lived a while longer, to complete the work at which he had laboured for years, he knew that to die would be to enter a land, of which Canaan, with all its brightness, was but a dim. Therefore could God speak to him of dying just as he would have spoken of taking rest in sleep: as though there could be nothing formidable in the act of dissolution, nothing from which human nature might shrink. Yet we could not have wondered, had Moses manifested reluctance; for it was in a mysterious, and almost fearful manner, that he was to depart out of life. It is, in all cases, a solemn thing to die; and our nature, when gathering itself up for the act of dissolution, seems to need all the prayers and kindnesses of friends, that it may be enabled to meet the last enemy with composure. The chamber in which a good man dies, is ordinarily occupied by affectionate relatives; they stand round his bed, to watch his every look;, and catch his every word: they whisper him encouraging truths, and they speak cheeringly of the better land to which he is hastening, though they may often be obliged to turn away the face, lest he should be grieved by the tears which their own loss extorts. And all this detracts somewhat from the terror of dying. It is not, that, if the dying man were alone, God could not equally sustain him by the consolations of his grace. But it is, that there is something in the visible instrumentality, which is specially adapted to our nature: we are disposed to the leaning upon sensible aids, so that, whilst yet in the flesh, we can scarce commit ourselves to purely spiritual agency. Take away all the relatives and friends from the sick room, and is there not a scene of extraordinary desolateness, a scene from which every one of us recoils, and which presents to the mind such a picture of desertion, that the thought of its being our own lot would suffice to embitter the rest of our days?
Yet it was alone that Moses was to die: no friend was to accompany him to Pisgah; no relative was to be near, when he breathed out his soul. " Get thee up into this mountain, and die there." Strange death-bed, which I am thus ordered to ascend! Thine eye is not dimmed, my strength is not broken — what fierce and sudden sickness will seize me on that mount? Am I to linger there in unalleviated pain? and then, when my soul at length struggles free, must my body be left, a dishonoured thing, to be preyed on by the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air? Would you not have expected that thoughts such as these would have crowded and distressed the mind of the great lawgiver, on receiving the direction of our text ? I cannot find words to express to you what I think of the mysteriousness and awfulness of the scene, through which Moses had to pass. To separate himself from the people to whom he was tenderly attached; to ascend without a single companion, the mountain from which he was never to return; to climb the lofty summit for the express purpose of there grappling with death, though he knew not with what terrors, nor under what shape; to go, in his unabated vigour, that, on a wild spot, alone with his Creator, he might be consumed by slow disease, or rapt away in a whirlwind, or stricken down by lightning — I feel as though it had been less trying, had he been summoned to a martyr's death, to ascend the scaffold in place of the mountain, and to brave the cries of bloodthirsty persecutors instead of the loneliness, the- breathlessness, of the summit of Pisgah. And never does Moses wear to me such an air of moral sublimity, as when I contemplate him leaving the camp, for the express purpose of resigning his soul into the hands of his Maker. Never does his faith seem to me so signal, so sorely tried, nor so finely triumphant. I gaze on him with awe, as, with the rod of God in his hand, he stands before Pharaoh, and appalls the proud monarch by the prodigies which he works. And there is a fearful magnificence in his aspect, as, with outstretched arm, he plants himself on the Red Sea's shore, and bids its waters divide, that the thousands of Israel may march through on dry land. Yea, and who can look on him without emotions of wonder, and almost of dread, as he ascends Mount Sinai, whilst the fire and thunder of the Lord strike terror into the hearts of the congregation, that he may commune in secret with God, and receive from his lips enactments and statutes? But, on these and the like occasions, the very circumstances, in which he was placed, were calculated to animate the leader; and when we think on the mighty powers with which he was endowed, we can scarce feel surprise that he should have borne himself so heroically. The great trial of faith was not in the waving, or striking with a rod which had often shown its mastery over nature: neither was it in the ascending a mountain, from which he expected to return with fit laws for the government of a turbulent multitude. It was the laying down of the miraculous rod which required vast faith; and the splendid courage was shown in the climbing a summit, where, with the rock; for his couch, and the broad heaven for his roof, and far from all human companionship, he w as to submit himself to the sentence, " Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."
And therefore, we again say, that, if we would survey Moses in his grandeur, when his moral majesty is most conspicuous, and the faith and boldness of a true servant of God commend themselves most to our imitation, then it is not when he breaks the chains of a long-enslaved people, and not when he conducts a swarming multitude through the wilderness, and not when he is admitted into intimate communings until the Almighty, that he should fix our attention — it is rather when he departs from the camp without a solitary attendant, and we know that, as he climbs the steep ascent, perhaps pausing at times that he may look yet again on the people whom, notwithstanding their ingratitude, he tenderly loved, he is obeying the strange and thrilling command, "Get thee up into this mountain, and there die, and be gathered to thy people."
We cannot follow Moses in this his mysterious journey. We know not the particulars of what occurred on the summit of Pisgah; and where revelation is silent, it does not become us to offer conjectures. We are on]y informed that the Lord showed him great part of the land of Canaan, and then said unto him, " I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither." And here, just where curiosity is most strongly excited — for who does not long to know the exact mode in which Moses departed out of life, to be present at his last scene, and observe his dismissal ? — the narrative is closed with the simple announcement, "So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the hand of Moab, according to the word of the Lord." But we know, at least, that God was with his servant in this hour of strangeness and loneliness, and that, when Moses lay down to die, he had been abundantly cheered by visions vouchsafed him of the long-promised Canaan. And shall we think that Moses died contented and happy, just because his eye had rested on the waters of Jordan, and caught the wavings of the cedars of Lebanon? Was it merely by gazing on the natural landscape that the man of God was cheered; and was nothing done for him but the causing valleys that laughed with abundance, and heights that were crested with beauty, to gather themselves into one glorious panorama, as the inheritance which had been promised to the children of Abraham? We can scarcely think this. We may believe that the desire of Moses to enter into Canaan was a spiritual desire: with Canaan he associated a fuller revelation of the Christ: and he may have thought, that, admitted into the land, which in the fulness of time would be trodden by Messiah, he should learn more of that Redeemer of the world than he had been able to gather from existing prophecies and types.
In his own prayer to God, deprecating the sentence which his impatience and unbelief had provoked, he spake as though there were one spot which he specially wished to be permitted to behold. "I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon." "That goodly mountain', — were his thoughts on Mount Moriah, where Abraham had offered up Isaac, and which was to be the scene of a sacrifice of which this had been only a figure? Was it Zion on which lie was eager to gaze, as knowing, that, on a far distant day, it would be hallowed by the footsteps, and witness the sorrows of the Prophet, whose coming he had himself been commissioned to foretel? Indeed, we again say, we can hardly think that it was simply the wish of beholding the rich landscape of Canaan, its fountains and brooks, and olives and vines, which actuated Moses when imploring permission to pass over Jordan. He knew that in this land was to be accomplished the original promise; that there was the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent's head. He knew that in this land would that Deliverer appear, for whom patriarchs had longed, and of whom he was himself a signal type — the Deliverer in whom he felt that all his hopes centred, but whose office and person could be only feebly learned from revelations already vouchsafed. And why may it not have been, that Moses longed to tread Canaan, because his mind already peopled it with the august occurrences of coming ages? even as to ourselves would Palestine be a scene of surpassing interest, not because its mountains may be noble, and its valleys lovely; but because haunted by the memory of all that is precious to a Christian, because every breeze would there seem to us to waft the words of Christ, and every flower to be nurtured with his blood, and every spot to be hallowed by his presence? To Moses it must have been through anticipated, whereas to us it would be through remembered events, that the land of Judea might thus preach by its every hill, and fountain, and tree. But the trains and processions of prophecy were as splendid, though not as distinct, as are now those of history; and if the lawgiver, privileged to search into the future, and behold in mystic shadows the redemption of humankind, could not associate, as we ourselves can, various scenes with the various transactions in which sinners have interest, he might at least connect the whole land of Canaan with the promised rescue of one race, and regard all its spreadings as "holy ground," like that which surrounded the burning bush in Horeb. And as we ourselves, carrying with us the remembrance of all that was done" for us men and for our salvation," might feel that to visit Judea would be to strengthen our faith and warm our piety — seeing that dead indeed must be the heart which would not beat higher in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the mount of Calvary — so may Moses, borne onward by the prophetic impulse, have felt that it would be to awaken loftier emotions, and obtain clearer views, to enter and walk the land which was finally to be consecrated by the presence of the Shiloh.
For this it may have been that the lawgiver so intently longed to pass the Jordan And when he stood on the summit of Pisgah, and God showed him the land, it may have been by the revelation of mysteries, which he had ardently desired to penetrate, that his spirit was cheered, and death stripped of all terror. He looked from the mountain-top over many a luxuriant scene; but as plain, and vineyard and town, and river, were made to pass before his view, God, who is expressly declared to have bee with him to instruct him, may have taught him how each spot would be associated with the great word of human deliverance. His eye is upon Bethlehem but, lo, already a mystic star hangs over the solitary village; and he learns something of the force of the prediction which himself had recorded, "There shll come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel." The waters of a lake are heaving beneath him; but, lo, a human form is walking the agitated surface; and he is taught that as Noah, whose history he had related, was sheltered in the ark, so shall all, who will turn from iniquity, find safety in a being whom no storms can overwhelm, and no waves engulph. And now a mountain is seen, but not lit up, as the panorama had hitherto been, by the joyous shinings of the sun; awful clouds hang around it, and over it, as though it were the scene of some tragedy which nature shrank from beholding. This rivets the lawgiver's gaze; it is the "goodly mountain" which he had prayed that he might see. And [there] is a cross upon its summit; a greater than Isaac is bound to the altar; the being, whom he had upon the waters, is expiring in agony. The transactions of the great day of Atonement are thus explained; the mystery of the scapegoat is folded; and Moses. taught the meaning of types which himself had been directed to institute is ready to exclaim, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in Peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."
Thus it may have been, that, ere Moses departed out of life, God not only showed him the promised land, but made it a kind of parable of redemption. And, on this supposition, we may well understand why Moses was so eager to see Canaan before he died, and why the sight should have been instrumental to the making him die happy. Yes, I cannot but feel, as I follow Moses in thought to the summit of Pisgah, that the man of God does not climb that eminence, merely that he may gladden his eye with a glorious development of scenery, and satisfy himself, by actual inspection, of the goodliness of the heritage which Israel was about to possess. And when I find that God Himself was with this greatest of prophet, to assist his vision, and inform him as to the territory which lay beneath his feet, I cannot think that the divine communication referred only to the names of cities, and the boundaries of tribes. Rather must I believe that what Moses sought, and God vouchsafed, was fuller knowledge of all that would be wrought in Canaan for the pardon of sin; that, as Bethlehem, and Nazareth, and Tabor, and Zion, graced themselves on the picture, it was their association with the promised Messiah which gave them interest in the eye of the delighted spectator; and that, therefore, it was literally to prepare Moses for death, by showing him "the Resurrection and the Life," that God spake unto him, saying, "Get thee up into this mountain, and behold the land of Canaan, and die there, and be gathered with thy fathers."
And there did Moses die: his spirit entered into the separate state, and no human friends were near to do the last honours to his remains. But God would not desert the body, any more than the soul of his servant; both were his by creation, and both were to become doubly his by redemption. It is therefore added to the strange narrative — and perhaps it is the strangest fact of all — that "he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." Wonderful entombment ! no mortal hands dug the grave, no mortal voices chaunted the requiem; but angels, "ministering spirits", who are appointed to attend on the heirs of salvation, composed the limbs, and prepared the sepulchre. We refer to angels this performance of the last rites to the departed prophet, because it appears from another, though obscure, passage of Scripture, that angels were in some way the keepers of the body; for we read, in the General epistle of Jude, of "Michael the Archangel, when, contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses." Why this special mystery and carefulness in regard of the body of Moses? It has been supposed, that, prone as the Israelites were to idolatry, they might have been tempted, had they known the sepulchre of their great lawgiver, to make it the scene of superstitious observances. But this seems at best an insufficient supposition, more especially since the place of burial, though not the exact spot, was tolerably defined, "a valley in the land of Moab over against Bethpeor" quite defined enough for superstition, had there been any wish to give idolatrous honours to the remains of the dead.
But you will remember that Moses, though he must die before entering Canaan, was to rise, and appear in that land, ages before the general resurrection. When Christ was transfigured on mount Tabor, who were those shining forms that stood by him, and "spake of the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem"? Who but Elias and Moses — Elias, who had been translated without seeing death, so that he had entered, body and soul, into heaven; and Moses, who had indeed died, the soul having been separated from the body, but whose body had been committed to angelic guardianship, as though in order that it might be ready to take part in the brilliant transaction upon Tabor? The body, which had been left upon Pisgah, reappeared upon Tabor; and evidence was given, that those who lie for ages in the grave, shall be as glorious, at the second coming of Christ, as those who are to be changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," shall rise from the grave; Elias, of those, who found alive upon the earth, shall be transformed without seeing death; and forasmuch as the representatives appeared in equal splendour, so also, we believe, shall the quick and dead, when all that was typified by the transfiguration, shall be accomplished in the preliminaries to the general judgment.
But we have no space to enlarge upon this. We must pass from the mysterious death and burial of Moses, and ask you whether you do not see that there are great spiritual lessons in the series of events which we have briefly reviewed ? We need not tell you that the captivity of Israel in Egypt was a striking representation of the moral condition of the whole human race, as sold by sin into the service of a task-master. And when the chains of the people were broken, and God brought them forth " by a mighty hand, and a stretched out arm", the whole transaction was eminently typical of our own emancipation from bondage. But why might not Moses, who had commenced, be allowed to complete the great work of deliverance ? Why, after bringing the people out of Egypt, might he not settle them in Canaan? Why, except that Moses was but the representative of the law, and that the law of itself can never lead us into heavenly places? The law is as "a schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ;" it may discipline us during our wanderings in the wilderness; but if, when we reach the Jordan, there were no Joshua, no Jesus — for the names are the same — to undertake to be our guide, we could never over, and possess that good land which God hath prepared for his people. Therefore, we may believe, was it appointed that there should be a change of leaders, that all may know, that, if the law, acting through terrors, bring a man out of the slavery of sin, it is only the Gospel, rich in merciful provision, which can open for him an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Moses was commanded to resign the people to Joshua: "The very acts of God," says Bishop Hall, "were allegories; where the law ends, there the Saviour begins; we may see the land of promise in the law: only Jesus, the Mediator of the New Testament, can bring us into it."
Thus does Moses instruct us, by his death, to whom to look for admission into the heavenly Canaan. He instructs us moreover as to how we must be placed if our last hours are to be those of love and peace. We must die on the summit of Pisgah: we must die with our eye upon Bethlehem, upon Gethsemane, upon Calvary. It was not, as we have ventured to suppose, the gloriousness of the Canaanitish landscape, which satisfied the dying leader, and nerved him for departure. It was rather this view of the Being by whom that landscape would be trodden, and who would sanctify its scenes by His tears and His blood. And, in like manner, when a Christian comes to die, it is not so much by views of the majestic spreadings of the paradise of God, of the rollings of the crystal river, and of the sparklings of the golden streets, that he must look to be comforted: his eye, with that of Moses, must be upon the manger, the garden, and the cross; and thus, fixing his every hope on his Forerunner, he may be confident that an entrance shall be ministered unto him abundantly, into the kingdom "prepared from the foundation of the world." "Get thee up into this mountain, and die there." O that we may all be living in such a state of preparedness for death, that, when summoned to depart, we may ascend the summit, whence faith looks forth on all that Jesus hath suffered and done, and, exclaiming," we are waited for thy salvation, 0 Lord," lie down with Moses on Pisgah, to awake with Moses in paradise.
- The Smitten Rock: One of the Most Popular Victorian Uses of Typological Symbolism
- John Henry Newman's sermon, “Moses the Type of Christ”
- First-Person Narrative and the Experience of Moses' Death
- A Punch cartoon about this type
- The Conflict of Holy and Human: Type and its Complications in “The Death of Moses”
- Takeff (title?)
- Moses' Sin and Those of the Common Man
- Humanizing Moses
- A Lesson in Dying
Last modified 2 February 2011