14. A Death in the Desert
Now drew near the time when Israel should enter upon the Land of Promise, and with it the time when the great leader of Israel must lay down his heavy burden and rest from his labours. For because of his fault at the Waters of Strife, God would not allow him to go into the “goodly land”. As the time of his death drew near, Moses gathered all Israel, and there in the wilderness, on the eastern side of Jordan, on the borders of their inheritance, he spoke again to the new generation that had not heard, like their fathers, the living words from Sinai, the Law of the Lord their God.
Moreover he rehearsed in their hearing all the wonders that the Lord had wrought for His people, since the day when Israel turned back from the southern border of the land because of the false report of the spies.
And he gave them wise counsels, encouraging them to observe diligently all the commandments of their God. Then, calling before him the sheikhs of all the tribes, he blessed them, as Jacob had blessed his sons before his death, a blessing to each tribe according to his vision of its future. Over the whole nation he spread forth his hands in blessing. “The eternal God,” he said, “is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
So at last came the day when he must die in the desert. Yet, before his eyes closed to earthly sights, God gave him the vision of all the “goodly land” which should come to his people in the days to come. For He had him climb the mountain called Nebo, to the peak of it called Pisgah, which looks down upon the deep Jordan Valley and the city of Jericho. There, in the clear eastern air, all the land was spread before his eyes, brilliant and smiling, and God had him look upon it all. Northwards he gazed, along the eastern side of Jordan over the brave country of Gilead, to be mother, in the days to come, of a prophet as mighty as the one who gazed. Westwards across the mountain of Judea, the stronghold of the race, even till his eyes caught in the far distance the silver glimmer of the Great Sea now called the Mediterranean. Southwards lay Jericho, the city of palm-trees, in the midst of its date groves, and the green Jordan Valley stretching to Zoar, the little city to which Lot escaped, while beyond lay the Dead Sea, amid its desolation. And the Lord spoke to His servant as he stood there gazing, with a life’s desire in his eyes. “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’. I have caused you to see it with your own eyes, but you shall not go over into it.”
So the long service of Moses came to an end, and he laid down alone, and, there on the lonely top of Pisgah, he passed to his rest. And the Lord buried him in a valley of Moab, looking to Beth-peon; but the place of his grave no one knows. He was one hundred and twenty years old, yet his eyesight was undimmed and the blood ran strong in his veins till the day when he entered into rest.
Below, in the plains of Moab, Israel mourned their lost leader for thirty days; then they prepared themselves anew to the task ahead of them. In place of Moses, Joshua led the host, for Moses had set him apart for this service, and everyone obeyed him as they had obeyed the dead chief. Nevertheless, since the day of that death in the land of Moab, Israel has known no such prophet as Moses, who saw God and spoke to Him face to face, and who saw all the signs and wonders of the Lord which He worked on Pharaoh and his servants and the land of Egypt before all Israel, in the day of the great deliverance.