Moses’ mission was accomplished. Joshua had been commissioned as his successor (Deuteronomy 31:14,23). Israel was on the brink of entering the land of Canaan. They had renewed their promise to live under the covenant first given to the nation at Sinai (29:9-14). The next chapter of their story will be told in the book of Joshua. But before this begins, there is one more event that must transpire.
Moses must go home.
It’s not happening in the way that either God or Moses ideally desired, but it does take place in the manner it needed to. Israel will have a lasting memory of how their great leader missed out on entering the promised land because he “broke faith” with God and failed to uphold His holiness before the Israelites (32:51). No one, no matter what their stature, is exempt from submitting to the Lord. That said, there’s much more about Moses’ departure that needs to be noted.
Moses went out with a song. You can read it in chapter 32. It’s a song that is worthy of the occasion. In his song Moses praises God:
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he. (v. 3-4)
The song does not speak as well for Israel (see 31:19-22), as it describes the judgement that will come upon them because of their unfaithfulness. Nonetheless, after punishing them, God in His mercy will “take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people” (v. 43).
Moses went out dispensing blessings. You can read about this in chapter 33 where Moses blesses the different tribes. It’s not unlike what we see Jacob doing in Genesis 49. And it’s fitting that these words come from the lips of the man who has shepherded them for 40 years. His last act of leadership is to bless them!
He climbed his final mountain. That’s what life is for all of us, isn’t it? It’s a series of mountains to climb as we serve God and others. At Nebo, Moses climbed his final one. Everyone in life has mountains to climb, the challenge is to make sure we are climbing them for and with God.
God showed him the future. The text says, “The Lord showed him the whole land . . .” What a sight it must have been! The people who had lived in tents would settle down and prosper in Canaan. That must have warmed Moses’ heart.
Moses went out a vibrant person. We’re told that although Moses is 120, “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” I think we’re to see in this that not only is his death not due to frailty, but how God took care of him and had equipped him for his mission. Mark it down, if God calls us, He will equip us!
Israel mourned him. There’s such a thing as good grief, and Israel practices it here. We were created for relationships and the cessation of them brings us pain even though we know that have gone to be with God. After the death of John the Baptizer, Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13). The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (7:4). The promised land is before them waiting to be entered, but Israel’s first order of business is to mourn the passing of their leader.
Moses finished strong. He went out as a vibrant man—with a song, with blessings, and after his final mountain had been climbed for God. He was in death what he had been in life.