The epilogue of Moses’ life is recorded for us in the treatise of Deuteronomy. Throughout this amazing book we catch some powerful insights into the character of this wonderful man of God. This is because the last book of the Pentateuch commences like this:

“These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel… according unto all that Yahweh had given him in commandment unto them” (Deut 1:1,3).

Unlike many of the previous revelations which began, “thus saith Yahweh”, we have here a very personal message which came from the very heart of Moses himself. This message was in fact a summation of 120 years of experience in the ways of God and, as he carefully pointed out, none of his words were in conflict with God’s expressed will (v3).

The record tells us that “on this side Jordan, in the land of Moab began Moses to declare this law” (v5). The original is far more expressive. The word “began” means to agree, to show willingness, to be pleased, to be determined. He gladly seized the opportunity “to declare” God’s ways, or, as it should be translated, to make the law plain and distinct. He wanted to give the essence of God’s law to Israel. He sought to answer the question that was on everyone’s lips—what doth God require of us? And he had no hesitation in making it all plain.

The words of Deuteronomy are the sum of Moses’ understanding of the essential elements of service in the covenant relationship between Israel and Yahweh and as such they reveal to us the inner thoughts of this man. He is able to give prominence to the motive of loving obedience and the development of spirituality before God because this was what was important to him. Each discourse is a paternal speech, full of exhortation and affectionate admonition, carefully highlighting subjects and details best thought to touch their hearts.

It all points to one great crescendo—the establishment of a covenant outside that revealed at Sinai. (26:17–19, 29:1–30:20). This was his final gift to the people of God. He diligently sought their reconciliation with the Creator of all life that they might become a national seed of Abraham and by implication an individual seed of promise (cp 29:13). If only they could appreciate the enormity of that blessing he sought for them.

There is a constant phrase which could be heard from his mouth. He taught them about a law which he commanded them “this day”. It was different from the legalism of the past forty years. It was an invitation to hear the voice of “today” (cp Ps 95:6–11), a voice which sought the obedience of faith.

A Continual Patience in Well Doing

Imagine standing on the threshold of the promised land, seeing a generation enter under a new leader and you, yourself, unable to pass over Jordan. We might have been filled with bitterness and spite, but not Moses. His response was to pray for mercy (3:23–26) and even when Yahweh was unable to grant him his wish, he was still prepared to courageously shoulder his disappointment “for their sakes” and prepare them for an inheritance he so desperately craved.

In each recorded speech he gently lead them through their wilderness experiences, patiently unfolding the reason behind their deprivations and trials. He continually exhorted them to godly fear; to love and to remember their God in all their ways. Though he spelt out their obligations in service under the law, he attempted to raise them to higher things. “The word” he explained, was “nigh them even in their hearts” (30:11–14); a phrase picked up by Paul and categorised as a heart which responds in faith (Rom 10:6–8).

What does this tell us about Moses? It reveals a great deal. The man who had learnt to be a literal shepherd under Midian was now displaying the true spiritual qualities of that office right to the very end. He led by example; he encouraged by word; he taught with care. It is no wonder that his life became the blueprint of the Messiah himself (18:18).

His Charge to the People

He was always insistent that the people of God constantly remember the experiences that they had been subjected to (5:15, 7:18, 8:2). In addition to this he instructed Israel to set up a huge memorial in the centre of the land upon mount Ebal and emblazon it with the law that was given “this day” so that all could see and understand their spiritual obligations (27:1–8). The man who had the spirit of the Law in his heart sought to place that same force into the heart of the nation. This same desire ought to permeate the lives of all those who seek God.

To underscore the importance of the word engraved in the fleshy tablets of the heart in absolute contrast to the letter of the law he commanded the nation to stand upon Ebal and Gerizim and utter blessings and cursings. One verse is devoted to the voice of blessing upon Ebal whilst twelve verses are devoted to the cursings. The law which had been given 40 years previously could only emphasise the curse of failure. Here are some vital observations of a perceptive leader. Indeed how true it was when he said, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil” (30:15).

His Personal Encouragement

There was not the slightest doubt that Yahweh would fulfil His promise of supplying an inheritance to Israel. He constantly spoke of the event as a fait accompli. The destruction of the Canaanite and the victory of the nation was always expressed in the past tense (31:3, 5). Israel’s contribution, however, was to demonstrate courage, fearlessness and faith in God’s abiding power to save (31:6). How relevant is the same exhortation for us today.

Although he was unable to lead the people into the land, he bore no grudge against the successor whom God had appointed. Instead he offered Joshua a very personal encouragement which still echoes down through the centuries. God “will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (31:8; Heb 13:5).

He instructed the priests to read this law publicly every seven years and then gathered the elders and officers to warn them of their responsibilities in leading the people. We can picture the heaviness he felt when he predicted the rise of corruption and evil in their midst. How sorrowful it must have been to teach them a song which would prove their guilt every time they sang it. One wonders whether he had tine to perceive the significance of the refrain which predicted the call of the Gentiles in 32:21: “I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people”.

His Blessing Upon the Tribes

His final words, though, were words of blessing. He looked beyond the faithlessness of Israel and peered with prophetic portent into the day of the future age. In fact his last recorded words before his death sums up his hope and expectation: “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by Yahweh, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!” (33:29). He had laboured diligently for Israel. He had borne their griefs and sorrows; endured their stubbornness and now just before he was to die, all he could think about was the happiness of a people called and saved by a God who was a sword and shield to those in need. He was fully appreciative of the greatness of God’s mercy right to the very end.

The End Draws Nigh

His death was not from old age. It was a voluntary submission to the will of God by a faithful servant. From the top of mount Nebo his last sight before his death was that of the promised land which had been promised to Abraham’s seed. His next waking moment was to see on a mount blazing with glory the seed himself for a brief moment of time.

He was buried in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor, but there was no evidence of corruption for any to see (34:5,6). Beth-peor means “the house of opening” and stands as a testimony to the fact that the grave is never permanently closed to those of the calibre of Moses.

May we be encouraged to emulate his selfless care for others. May we strive to emulate his desire to know God in every facet of life. May we develop a similar humility to his, that when our Lord returns we may enter into that glorious inheritance prepared for those who love and fear Him.