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1. And Moses went. up from the plains of Moab. It is not certain who wrote this chapter; unless we admit the probable conjecture of the ancients, that Joshua was its author. But since Eleazar the priest might have performed this office, it will be better to leave a matter of no very great importance undecided.
We have elsewhere said, that one part of mount Abarim was called Nebo, as another was called Pisgah, because they were distinct summits.
Now, the ascent of Moses was equivalent to a voluntary going forth to death: for he was not ignorant of what was to happen, but being called by God to die, he went to meet death of his own accord. Such willing submission proceeded from no other source than faith in God’s grace, whereby alone all terror is mitigated, and set at rest, and the bitterness of death is sweetened. Doubtless to Moses, as to every one else, it must have been naturally an awful thing to die; but inasmuch as the testimony of God’s grace is interposed, he does not hesitate to offer himself without alarm; and Because he was firmly persuaded that the inheritance of the people would be there set before his eyes, he cheerfully ascended to the place from which he was to behold it. Already, indeed, by faith had he beheld the land, and the promise of God had been, as it were, a lively representation of it; but; since some remaining infirmities of the flesh still environ even the most holy persons, an ocular view of it was no slight consolation, in order to mitigate the bitterness of his punishment, when he knew that he was prevented from actually entering it by the just sentence of God.
When it is said, that God “showed him all the land,” it could not have been the case without a miracle. For, although history records that some have been endued with incredible powers of vision, so as to have been able to see further than the whole length of Canaan; there is still a peculiarity to be remarked in this case, that Moses distinctly examined every portion of it, as if he had been really on the spot. I allow, indeed, that Naphtali, and Ephraim, and Manasseh are mentioned by anticipation, but, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit would express that every part was shown to Moses, as if they were close beneath his feet. Else the vision would have been but unsatisfactory and useless, if he had not been allowed to behold the future habitation of the people. And to the same effect is also what is afterwards added, that it was the land, which God sware to give unto His servants; for otherwise the desire of Moses would not have been satisfied, unless he had seen what a pleasant, fertile, and wealthy region the sons of Abraham were about to inhabit.
5. So Moses the servant of the Lord died. Since it was mark of ignominy to die without the borders of the Holy Land, Moses is honored with high eulogy, in order that the Israelites might learn the more to tremble at the judgment of God, who did not spare even his most illustrious servant. And it is expressly added, “according to the word (or mouth) of the Lord,” lest they should despise the threatenings which were accomplished in so memorable a manner. For, if God spared not His own distinguished Prophet, but at length executed upon him what He had threatened, how should the ordinary multitude escape?
What follows, “he buried him,” some render passively, “he was buried;” and others transitively, “he buried himself;” but in both cases improperly; for, whilst they are afraid to assign this office to God, they labor to avoid an absurdity which does not exist; since it may be gathered from the end of the verse, that Moses was buried by divine means, for it is said that his sepulcher is unknown. It is likely that an effort to discover it was not omitted, or neglected to be made by the people; since it would have been barbarous for them not to discharge the last offices of humanity towards such, and so great a man. Since, therefore, no signs of his funeral, nor his body itself, were anywhere to be found, it might be inferred that he was hidden by God’s determinate counsel; whilst it is superfluous to discuss in what manner God buried him, inasmuch as all the elements are under His control. It was enough, therefore, for Him to signify (annuere) to the earth, that it was to receive the body of the holy man into its bosom: nor was there any necessity to call in the assistance of angels, as some think, since the earth would have instantly obeyed the command of its Creator. From the Epistle of Jude (Jude 9) we learn that it was a matter of no slight importance that the sepulcher of Moses should be concealed from the eyes of men, for he informs us that a dispute arose respecting it. between Michael the archangel, and Satan: and, although the cause of its concealment is not stated, still it appears to have been God’s intention to prevent superstition; for it was usual with the Jews, and it is a custom for which Christ reproves them, to kill the prophets, and then to pay reverence to their tombs. (Luke 11:47.) It would have, therefore, been probable that, in order to blot out the recollection of their ingratitude, they would have paid superstitious veneration to the holy prophet, and so have carried his corpse into the land, from which the sentence of God had excluded it. Timely precaution, then, was taken, lest in their inconsiderate zeal the people should attempt to subvert the decree of heaven.
7 And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old. Again he celebrates a special favor of God, viz., that all the senses of Moses remained unimpaired to extreme old age, in order that he might be fit for the performance of his duties: for thus it was manifested how dear to God was the welfare of the people, for which He so carefully provided. Some, indeed, though very few, are found, who are capable of public government, even to their hundredth year. Already, however, at that period, the rigor of the whole human race had so diminished that, after their seventieth year, they dragged on their life in “labor and sorrow,” as Moses himself bears witness. (Psalm 90:10.) It was, consequently a conspicuous sign of the paternal favour wherewith God regarded His people, that Moses should have been thus unusually preserved in rigor and strength. If the powers of Moses had failed him long before their entrance of the promised land, his debility would have been very inconvenient to the people: yet naturally he would not have been so long sufficient for the performance of his onerous duties. It follows, then, that when God did not suffer him to fail, He showed wonderful consideration for the people’s welfare. Mention is specially made of his eyes, by synecdoche, yet the sum of the matter is this, that he was neither imbecile nor feeble, for neither were the faculties of his mind exhausted, nor his body dried up.
It needs not that I expound at any length, what is added respecting the solemn mourning, because I have elsewhere shown, 330330 See on Leviticus 21:1, vol. 2 p. 228. that the ancients were particular in their attention to the performance of funeral rites, on account of their faith not being as yet so elevated from the measure of revelation they had received, as to be easily able to forego those external aids to it, for which there is not the same necessity under the Gospel. It is natural to man to mourn for the dead; and, besides, this mourning was justly instituted in consequence of the loss which the Church had sustained; but a ceremony is here recorded, which was brought to an end with the fulfillment of the shadows of the Law. Our dead are, therefore, now to be buried in such a manner as that our grief may be restrained by the hope of resurrection so clearly revealed by the coming of Christ.
9. And Joshua the son of Nun. It is again shown how perseveringly God provided for the welfare of the people. We have already seen how, at the request of Moses, Joshua was chosen to succeed him. Now, when he is about to take upon him his office, “the spirit of wisdom” was imparted to him, that it might be effectually manifested that he was appointed by God. He had been, indeed, previously endowed with excellent gifts, but he was now much more splendidly adorned with the ensigns of dignity, in order that his calling by God might be more certainly proved; for thus is God wont to furnish those, whom He calls, with capacity for action. The imposition of hands was also subjoined, which was no empty symbol of God’s grace. But inasmuch as I have already fully spoken of these things, I now only lightly touch upon them.
10 And there arose not a prophet. This eulogy seems to have been added, that the children of Abraham might place dependence on Moses until the manifestation of Christ; for although prophets were from time to time raised up, still it was fitting that the superiority should remain with Moses, lest they should decline in the smallest degree from the rule of the Law. It must be concluded, therefore, that Moses was here placed in a position of supremacy, so as to be superior to all the prophets; as also Malachi (Malachi 4:4) exhorts the ancient people, in order that they may continue obedient to the law of Moses. Two signs of his excellency are here recorded, namely, his familiar acquaintance with God, and the glory of his miracles. We have elsewhere seen that, by this prerogative, Moses was distinguished from the other prophets, that God spake to him face to face. For, although Jacob makes the same declaration respecting himself, still we know that God was more intimately revealed afterwards to Moses; not indeed that He beheld His glory in its perfection, but because, in comparison with others, he went beyond them all. As regards miracles, though they were wrought by others, still none of them came near to Moses in their performance.
END OF COMMENTARIES ON THE FOUR LAST BOOKS OF MOSES, IN THE FORM OF A HARMONY.