Chapter 23

The Death of Moses

When Eleazar finished compiling the words of Moses, he added an addendum to tell us how Moses died. In Deut. 34:1 Eleazar says,

1 Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land….

This is a record about Moses, not by Moses himself, as it is written in the third person. No doubt Moses told Eleazar that God had instructed him to go up Mount Nebo to die and had left final instructions to both Eleazar and Joshua.

Seeing and Entering the Kingdom

It appears that Moses also told them that God had planned to show him the land so that he would “see the kingdom,” even if he could not go into the kingdom (at that time). Perhaps this gave rise to the idea expressed in John 3:3, saying,

3 … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [anothen, “from above, from a higher place”], he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Moses was brought to a high mountain so that he could “see the kingdom of God.” But Jesus also added in John 3:5,

5 … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Moses’ name literally means “born of water,” because Pharaoh’s daughter had drawn him out of the water (Exodus 2:10). This had a double meaning, of course, because babies are also drawn from the water when they are born. Hence, being “born of water” became a symbol of natural birth. Jesus was thus telling us two things about the Kingdom of God: (1) the Kingdom of God was more than just a spiritual matter, but also physical; and (2) one had to be identified with both Moses and the Spirit to enter the Kingdom.

The first matter goes back to Gen. 1:26, which stipulates that man was given authority in the earth. In other words, God (or heaven) delegated authority over the earth to man, making human flesh a requirement for rulership under God. This is why Jesus Christ had to come to earth in a flesh body in order to qualify for rulership in the Kingdom. And when we study the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles, we see too that it is fulfilled when we receive our second set of garments by which we are “clothed” with immortality (2 Cor. 5:1-4). The priests had two sets of clothing, linen to minister to God, and wool to minister to the people. The feast of Tabernacles gives us the ability to minister in both realms.

The second matter shows that angels do not “enter the Kingdom” as citizens, for they remain in the spiritual realm; and if they are called upon to minister to people on earth, they appear as men, taking on the requirement of a fleshly body to “enter the Kingdom.” This is also why the resurrection of the dead is important, not merely as a spiritual resurrection (which we now possess, being identified in His resurrection), but also as a physical resurrection (as Paul describes in 1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Hence, we must be born not only of the spirit but also of the water; and we must be born not only of Christ but also of Moses. Moses here is a metaphor for obedience or lawfulness, while Christ speaks of grace and the Holy Spirit. Both are important in their own way.

Inspired Editorial Notes

The description of the land itself, beginning with the end of Deut. 34:1 and going through verse 4, appears to be the addition of Ezra in later years as he compiled the canon of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

1 … Gilead as far as Dan, 2 and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.

Ferrar Fenton tells us,

“Vv. 2, 3. The above words in brackets are not part of the original text, but the note of an ancient editor, probably Ezra, when he edited the Books of Moses after the return from the Babylonian captivity, as the geographical indications are clearly from the standpoint of Jerusalem, not like the rest of the chapter, from the Plain of Moab, east of the Jordan.”

In other words, this description points first to the north of Jerusalem toward “Gilead as far as Dan.” Since Gilead was located on the east side of Jordan to the north near the Sea of Galilee, it is obvious that “Dan” is the city to the north at the base of Mount Hermon. This city was originally called Laish until the tribe of Dan conquered it in Judges 18:29. It is plain, then, that since the city of Dan was not known to either Moses or Eleazar at the time, this was a later addition by Ezra to clarify what Eleazar meant by “all the land.”

The southern portion of the country was the Negev, which was the valley between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.

Eleazar’s record continues in Deut. 33:4-6,

4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor….

Ezra adds: “but no man knows his burial place to this day.” The term “to this day” shows that some time had passed between Moses’ death and the time these words were penned.

7 Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.

In other words, Moses did not die of old age. He died when God removed the spirit of life from his body. Perhaps we could attribute this vigor to the lingering effects of his Tabernacles experience on the mount, when his face glowed with the presence of God (Exodus 34:29). The feast of Tabernacles promises us the immortal, glorified body.

The Dispute over the Body of Moses

We may also mention another detail not recorded here but mentioned in Jude 9,

9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

It appears that some sort of dispute over Moses’ body occurred at the time of his death. Some second and third century church officials (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus) claimed that this was a quotation from a book called The Assumption of Moses, which was thought to have been written in the century before Christ’s birth. However, no copy exists today.

The Dispute over the Body of Joshua

If Jude’s quotation did appear in such a book, it appears to have been a direct quotation from Zech. 3:2, though inserted into the story of Moses’ death. Zech. 3:1, 2 says,

1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord [Michael?], and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse [“satan”] him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan!” Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

In this scene, Joshua the high priest stood before God in the divine court. One the one hand, Satan was accusing him, while the angel of the Lord seems to have been speaking the word of the Lord, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan.” The term “Satan” literally means “accuser,” and so the Hebrew text tells us that Satan was “standing at his right hand to satan him.”

No mention is made here of the precise nature of the dispute, nor is there any mention of the body of Moses. Instead, Joshua is featured, and he carries the same name as Moses’ successor, Joshua. Both were types of Christ, and so both represent Yeshua-Jesus.

Jude’s prophecy appears to draw from the revelation of Zechariah, but applies it to Christ’s first coming—that is, to his death and resurrection. In that first work, Jesus came as the prophet who was like Moses (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22, 23). Zechariah’s prophecy, however, was really about Christ’s second appearance as Joshua the Ephraimite, who led Israel into the Kingdom, who is also the high priest of the Order of Melchizedek.

It appears, then, that between Jude and Zechariah there are two disputes between Satan and Michael over the body of Christ. The dispute over the body of “Moses” prophesies of the contention over Christ’s body to try to prevent His resurrection. The second is about the body of Christ in His second appearance, attempting to prevent the manifestation of the Sons of God.

Michael won the first dispute, for Jesus was indeed raised from the dead. His resurrection, then, ensured our own resurrection, for apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection, we ourselves would be without hope of a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:13, 14).

Thus, the story speaks of Joshua being “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zech. 3:2). This was a Hebrew expression denoting one who was saved from sure destruction, as in Amos 4:11. But in this instance, the idiom prophesies of being raised from the dead, where death and the grave is pictured as the destructive “fire.”

Resurrection and Transfiguration is Assured

Verse 3 says “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments,” showing that he was primarily a type of the body of Christ, rather than of Christ Himself, who was perfect. These “filthy garments” were no doubt the occasion of Satan’s accusation, for no man can minister to God in such garments. But verse 4 gives Joshua a change of clothing with the words, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”

Does this not speak of the body of Christ? We are imperfect and unqualified while clothed with flesh, but yet by the first work of Christ on the cross, we are imputed righteous (Rom. 4:17), and by the second work of Christ, we are “clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2). This change of garments is pictured in Ezekiel 44:19 in terms of changing from wool to linen. Wool is the fabric representing carnal flesh, for it causes sweat—part of the curse (Gen. 3:19). Linen is the fabric representing the glorified body, the “garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10) and “the righteousness of saints” (Rev. 19:8).

The angel, Jude tells us, is Michael, who is the angel of resurrection, for Daniel 12:1-3 says that when Michael stands up, those who sleep in the ground will follow his example: “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake.” Michael’s job is to facilitate the resurrection by disputing with Satan over the body of Christ.

There is much that is unsaid in these passages, but enough is revealed to piece together a picture of resurrection. The body of Moses was Israel itself, i.e., the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), led by Joshua into the Promised Land. In the first coming of Christ, He played the role of Moses in this scene through His death, but His body was more than just the Head. Michael rebuked Satan for the second time in order for Christ to be raised from the dead, and then he claimed the whole church body for resurrection.

Finally, in the second coming of Christ, this is replayed for the third time in a new context, for the church is now coming out of the wilderness, this time after forty Jubilees of church history. Moses is dead, and Joshua the Ephraimite is leading the body of Moses-Christ into the promised inheritance.

Once again, the ancient dispute has been raised by the accuser, but once again, Michael says, “The Lord rebuke you.” Yet there will indeed be a resurrection of the dead.

The 120 Years of Moses’ Life

Deut. 34:7 tells us that Moses was 120 years old when he died. He spent the first 40 years in the house of Pharaoh (Acts 7:23). He spent the next 40 years being trained in God’s Wilderness Bible College. And then his experience at the burning bush sent him back to Pharaoh, and he led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness for the final 40 years of his life.

These three forty-day cycles were prophetic of Kingdom history, for each year in his life prophesied of a Jubilee cycle beginning with Adam and ending in our own time:

40 Jubilees (1960 years) from Adam to Abraham

40 Jubilees from Abraham to Christ

40 Jubilees from Christ’s first coming to His second work

The final 40 Jubilees brings us to the year 1986 A.D., which was the 120th Jubilee from Adam. (Dating from Christ’s crucifixion in 33, the 40 Jubilees ended in 1993.)

So in the progressive history of the Kingdom since Adam, not much happened until Abraham. The call of Abraham, then, parallels the call of Moses who was forty when he discovered his identity.

Moses himself had to go through 40 years of training as a servant before he could actually begin his ministry at the age of 80 (Exodus 7:7). So also Israel as a nation was trained by God to learn obedience, not only for 40 years in the wilderness, but also for the next 40 Jubilees to prepare for the coming of Yeshua (Joshua).

Then, even as Moses returned to Egypt to lead Israel out of bondage at Passover and into the Kingdom, so also Jesus came to die on the cross at Passover, leading us out of “Egypt” after 80 Jubilees of Kingdom history had passed. The 80th Jubilee from Adam fell in 26-27 A.D., which was also the start of Daniel’s seventieth “week.” Jesus then died on the cross at Passover of 33 A.D., which was at the end of Daniel’s seventieth week. I explained this in greater detail in my book, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.

Christ, who was “like Moses” (Acts 7:37), led the church out of “Egypt” into the wilderness in 33 A.D., where the Church was trained by God through hard experience for 40 Jubilees until now. Then, just as Moses died at the age of 120, in order to allow Joshua to lead Israel into the Kingdom, so also is it in our generation following the 120th Jubilee (1986-2035). We are the generation that is called to cross over into the Promised Land after the death of Moses.

Thirty Days of Mourning

Deut. 34:8 continues,

8 So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.

It was customary in those days for people to set aside thirty days to mourn for the dead. When a national leader died, the whole nation set aside thirty days to mourn.

9 Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.

In Mark 5:23 Jesus was asked to lay hands on a man’s daughter so that she might be healed. In Acts 8 the apostles went to Samaria to lay hands on the Samaritans that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Later, Paul spoke about laying hands on people to receive spiritual gifts (2 Tim. 1:6). So also Moses laid hands on Joshua to receive the spirit of wisdom, by which he might lead Israel.

This appears to be the final words of Eleazar, ending the book. We then find an addendum that was added later, probably by Ezra, who compiled the completed canon of the Old Testament.

Ezra’s Addendum

Deut. 34:10-12 gives Ezra’s addendum,

10 Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

The phrase “since then” implies that considerable time had passed when this paragraph was written. Since Ezra lived nearly a thousand years after Moses, this would allow plenty of time to see if anyone else might arise on the level of Moses’ ministry. Because Moses had prophesied in Deut. 18:18 that such a prophet like Moses would indeed arise at some point, Ezra assures us that this unknown prophet had not yet arisen in his day. In fact, another five centuries would pass before Jesus Christ was born to lead us in a greater way out of the house of bondage.

Jesus was crucified as the Passover Lamb on the 1480th Passover, beginning with that first Passover that was celebrated in Egypt under Moses. The Greek term for Christ is christos, which has a numeric value of 1,480. Hence, it is fitting that only the true Christ could give His life as the Passover Lamb that would be celebrated at the 1480th Passover.

From a prophetic standpoint, there was only one year that the Christ could fulfill the feast of Passover. It was the year that Christ became the Passover Lamb. Likewise, this could only be fulfilled on a particular day of the year—Passover—and at a specific time of day, while the lambs were being killed. I know of only one Man who stepped forward to do what was required at this appointed time. For this reason, I believe that Jesus was the One of whom Moses spoke.

Ezra seemed to be most interested in the coming of that Prophet who was like Moses, but he too would have to rest and wait patiently for another five centuries before Christ came to fulfill the prophecy.

So the book of Deuteronomy ends with death but with the hope of the greater Prophet yet to come. That prophet was foreshadowed in Joshua, the new Leader who was to implement the New Covenant.