By the second paragraph of Melville’s sermon one begins to question who the narrator is. What appeared to be Melvill’s first person account of Moses reaching Canaan begins to sound more like Moses’ stream of consciousness. But Moses’ thoughts are not prophetic or preaching about that greatness of God, as I would expect. Instead, they are the subtle anger of a scorned man. This is the first instance of many in which Melvill humanizes Moses. Melvill places Moses’ trial into the relatable feeling of being unrightfully punished.

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, which 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. [“The Death of Moses,” p. 1]


1.What are the subtle ways Melvill demonstrates Moses’ anger?

2. Displaying Moses’ anger in a subtle way allows Melvill to not overstep his bounds as the interpreter of this event. How do you think a 19th century audience would respond to Mevill’s interpretation of Moses’ anger? Do you think they would be offended regardless?

3. How does humanizing Moses in this way change the way one thinks about Moses?

4. What is Melvill’s ultimate goal in portraying Moses as someone humans can relate to? Do you think he succeeds?

Last modified 31 January 2011