The Old Testament text for this Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, is from the fifth book of the Torah. The text is Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and deals with the death and burial of God’s special servant, Moses. The first thing many struggle with is who could have written these verses? They describe the death of Moses and what happened to his body, etc. so many would say it is highly unlikely Moses could have penned these words. Among conservative scholars there seems to be two main thoughts: 1) Moses did indeed write these words as they were revealed to him by the Holy Spirit; and 2) This chapter of Deuteronomy was penned by Joshua, the appointed replacement for Moses, upon whom the full wisdom of the Spirit resided as a result of the laying on of hands by Moses at the LORD’s instruction. Certainly, neither should taint the way we read this text.
Another aspect of this account which causes concern, even sadness, is the fact that Moses is not allowed to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan. Earlier, in Numbers 20, at the incident of the rock and the water flowing from it, Moses has struck the rock twice against the instruction of the LORD. This results in the words from the LORD in Verse 12: “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Many find this to be unfair and petty on the part of the LORD, but the LORD never speaks of Moses in a negative light except perhaps here. Also, do not forget how Moses is taken to the top of Mount Nebo/Pisgah and sees the Promised Land stretched out before him. And, though he does not enter this Promised Land, he then becomes a citizen of the greater Promised Land of Heaven.
The burial of Moses by the LORD Himself is also interesting. We find the New Testament Letter of Jude speaking about Satan fighting over the body. This is apparently from a lost apocryphal book entitle “The Assumption of Moses”.
Now, Joshua takes over the role as leader of Israel, but he is seen as Moses Himself in the words; “So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD commanded Moses” (v. 9). This transfer of leadership took place earlier with instructions from the LORD. Later, the LORD God shows His favor and presence with Joshua in the parting of the Jordan and other signs which suggest Joshua is the new Moses… but he is not!
Verse 10 tells us there is no prophet like Moses. “No prophet has arisen since in Israel like Moses.” However, in chapter 18 of Deuteronomy, we hear of a, “New Prophet like Moses,” who the LORD will raise up. This New Prophet, like Moses, will speak with God mouth to mouth and see Him face to face. This is NOT Joshua, and as the New Testament text for Transfiguration show us, this New Prophet like Moses is Jesus!
34:1-2 מֵעַרְבֹת (me-ar-Vot) “desert; desert plain; steppe”
הָאַחֲרוֹן (ha-a-cha-Ron) “western”
34:3 הַכִּכָּר (hak-kik-Kar) “territory; area around a place; vicinity; also the plain”
בִּקְעַת (bik-At) “plain (as in a geographical location); valley”
34:4 נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי (Nish-ba-ti) root: שׁבע (shaw-bah) Niphal: “to swear; make oath; take an oath”
הֶרְאִיתִיךָ (her-i-Ti-cha) root: ראה (raw-aw) Hiphil: “to see” Hiphil sense is to cause to see, or allow to see. The LORD allowed Moses to see the whole of the land which most certainly would not have been visible to man’s eye even on the top of Pisgah. In a sense, this was the final gift God granted to Moses, apart from his new dwelling in heaven.
34:5-6 וַיִּקְבֹּר (vai-yik-Bor) root: קבר (kaw-bar) Piel: “to bury”
בַגַּי (vag-gaY) from: גַּיא (gah-ee) “valley”
מוּל (mul) “in front of; opposite from; opposite”
קְבֻרָתוֹ. (ke-Vu-ra-To) “grave”
34:7 כָהֲתָה (cha-ha-Tah) root: כהה (kaw-haw) “to become/grow dim; inexpressive”
לֵחֹהe (le-Choh) “vigor; vital force; freshness” The idea is Moses, in spite being 120 years old, was just as vigorous and active as when he was a younger man.
34:8 בְּעַרְבֹת. (be-ar-Vot) “desert plain”
וַיִּתְּמוּ: (vai-yit-te-Mu) root: תמם (taw-mam) Qal: “to expire; come to an end; cease”
בְכִי (ve-Chi) “weeping”
אֵבֶל (E-vel) “mourning; ritual mourning; funeral ceremony”
34:9 סָמַךְ (sa-Mach) Qal: “to lay; lean”
צִוָּה (tziv-Vah) Piel: “to command”
34:10-11: הָאֹתֹת (ha-o-Tot) from: אוֹת (oth) “sign; miraculous deed; miracle”
וְהַמּוֹפְתִים> (ve-ham-mof-Tim) from: מוֹפת (mo-faith) “wonder; sign; miracle”
34:12 הַחֲזָקָה; (ha-cha-za-Kah) from: חזק (khaw-zawk) “strong; mighty”
הַמּוֹרָא; (ham-mo-Ra) from: מורא (mo-raw) “deed; awe-inspiring act; terror”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Deuteronomy 34:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Deuteronomy 34:1-12.