The Death of Moses

Bible Book: Deuteronomy  34 : 5
Subject: Death; Heaven; Testimony
[Editor's Note: This is message By The Rev. Francis W. Dixon Preached At Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth, England, On Sunday 6 January 1963.]

"So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 34:5)

Although he was an illustrious servant of the Lord the time came when Moses, at the age of 120, finished his work on earth and died. All the verses in Deuteronomy chapter 34 are very remarkable, and they contain a significant sequence of teaching in relation to the death of Moses. Lets begin with point one.

I. Moses, The Servant Of The Lord, Died

Do not think that there is anything morbid or melancholy about the fact that the death of Moses is recorded, nor about the fact that we are making reference to it. As Christians we should be able to look death in the face and see it for what it is, for after all, "whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). For Moses, death meant a removal from the stress and strain of leadership into the calm and peace of the presence of God, and so it is for the child of God. The Lord Jesus, by His sacrificial death and His powerful resurrection, has conquered death and has opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers. Death for the Christian is the doorway into the palace of the King; thus, we read in Revelation 14:12, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" - blessed! The Apostle Paul tells us that while it is a very wonderful thing to live for Christ and to have Christ living in us while we are His servants upon the earth, it is even more wonderful to die, for - "To die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). The apostle was so captured by the wonder of entering into the presence of the Lord to dwell with Him that he actually had "a desire to depart and to be with Christ", and he said that to do so would be "far better" than to stay down here in the world (Philippians 1:23). So, for the Christian there should be no fear of death; and from God's standpoint, when Moses died, or when any one of His servants dies, it is a precious thing - "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15). If the Lord does not come first, you and I will die. I hope we are ready to die - ready, because all our trust is in the Saviour and in His redeeming work; and if we are ready, I hope we have no fear or dread of death, for note point two.

II. Moses Died According To The Word Of The Lord

Moffat renders this, "The Eternal ordered it", which of course reminds us at once of Psalm 37:23 - "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delighteth in His way." You see, the death of Moses was all according to plan - God's plan - for God had a plan for Moses' life and for mine, and all that happened in the life of His servant Moses happened according to God's ordering. Now surely that is a very wonderful thing! Moses could not have died before or after the time when he did die simply because he was dependent on the sovereign will of God, and the same is true of us. We are immortal until our work is done. There is no such thing as "chance" in the life of a believer; no accident, no illness and no fate can take us out of the will of God. Our times are in His wise and loving hands, and not until He gives us His word can we go to our heavenly Home. Surely this is a word of great encouragement to us. We need to recapture the conviction that God is tremendously concerned for every one of His children, and He watches over them tenderly, not only in life but also in death.

There is a significant thing to notice here. Moses died and was buried; Elijah did not die but he was translated. During our Lord's earthly ministry He took Peter, James and John on to the mount of transfiguration, and there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah - Moses who had died and had been buried 1600 years previously, and Elijah who did not die but had been translated 900 years previously. When the Lord Jesus returns again there will be those who, like Moses, will rise from the grave; and there will be those who being alive on the earth at His coming, like Elijah, will be translated into His presence (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Now notice the next remarkable thing in point three.

III. The Lord Himself Superintended Moses' Burial

Verse 6 tells us, "And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab...but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." I suppose the angels must have come forth at God's bidding in order that they might tenderly lay the earthly remains of God's servant to rest in the grave that God had chosen for him. The body of our Christian loved one needs proper care, but let us remember that he is not in the grave. It is as true of him as the angel said of Jesus, "He is not here; He is risen!" - not now present in the body but absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Let us go to the graveside with great respect and let us tenderly lay the earthly remains of loved-ones and friends into the grave, but let us not be in bondage to the cemetery or to the grave. Let us keep `the upward look and let us remember that those whom we have "loved and lost awhile" are not down here on earth, and they are certainly not under the earth; they are with the Lord.

IV. Moses Died In Full Strength Of Body And Mind

Verse 7 tells us that, "Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: and his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." What an age! - 120! But let me remind you that his father, Amram, was 137 when he died, and his grandfather, Kohath, was 133, and his great-grandfather, Levi, was 137, so really Moses was quite a youngster by comparison! Why then did he die? First, because it was God's will. But we can also say he died because his earthly work was done. There was nothing to stay for. We cannot possibly understand how it can be true that the Lord's servants continue to serve Him after death, but we know it is so, for Revelation 22:3 assures us that throughout eternity - "His servants shall serve Him". When a Christian dies, therefore, it is simply the case of the earthly service merging into the heavenly service, and it is important for us to notice something more: the earthly service qualifies us for heavenly service, for Jesus had some very challenging words to say about this - "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:23). It is as though the Lord might say to us one day when we are in Heaven, "You were faithful in preaching to a few folk down there: now go and preach to all the patriarchs up here!"; or, "You lived faithfully in the home down on earth: now I am going to give you this very special job of work in 'the Father's House' up here!"

V. When Moses Died His Friends Wept For Him

We read in verse 8 that, "The Children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended." You see, their leader had gone, and he had not only been a mighty man of God but he had been their friend and counsellor. How natural it was that they should weep! We, of course, do the same when our loved-ones and friends are taken from us, but we do not weep "as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). I want to make this rather personal, however. Why do we weep when loved-ones and friends leave us? Is it not because of their Christian grace and the virtues that have characterised them? For instance, when they go from us we say, "How kind he was!"; or, "She was always so thoughtful and helpful and so self-effacing"; or, "He was a real Christian, if ever there was one!" The point I want to make is this. Are we living so graciously, are we showing forth the love of Christ so manifestly - His kindness and His patience and His understanding - that when we go beyond the veil others will mourn because we have gone from them? It must have seemed a tragedy that the leader of God's people should be called away so suddenly, but that is only how it seemed from earth's level. Everything was working out quite satisfactorily really, for we need to note the next point.

VI. Moses Died, But His Success Or Immediately Carried On His Work

In verse 9 we read that "Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him and did as the Lord commanded Moses." We sometimes think we are indispensable. Even Moses, great man that he was, was not indispensable when the moment came for God to call him away. Indeed, if Moses had remained alive instead of dying, he would have been in the way! Moses' work was now finished. Joshua was to carry on with that work. We often imagine that if we were taken away the work that we are doing would fall to the ground. Let us remember that God has our successor ready, for the work in which we are engaged is not our work, it is not man's work, it is not even the Church's work, it is the Lord's work, and He will always look after His work; for, as He Himself said - "I will build My Church..." How thrilling it is to read through the Old Testament and see this truth illustrated! Indeed, one can read through the records of modern missionary movements and see this truth underlined again and again. God raises up His servant to do a work; he completes that work; he goes out of action, through illness or death; and then God immediately raises up his successor. What was Moses' spiritual condition at the time of his death? This is very important.

VII. The Lord Knew Moses Face To Face

In verse 10 we are told that, "there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face". This shows us immediately the key, the secret, of Moses' wonderful life of usefulness. He could go and speak to the Lord, or the Lord could come and speak to him, for they knew each other "face to face". This, beloved, is the way in which you and I should be living, so that whether the Lord wants us to serve Him longer on earth or commence to serve Him in His immediate presence, we are living in such holy, happy, intimate fellowship with Him that it really will be true of us that "whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's" - whether we are serving Him down here or up there it really does not matter to us, for the great thing is that we are living in fellowship with Him and in communion with Him, knowing Him, loving Him, serving Him, "face to face".