Saturday, December 17, 2005

Moses is Dead, Long Live Christ

Ok, this might not be for everyone, but here's a copy of an exegetical paper I did recently on the death of Moses in Deuteronomy. The idea is to do the work that would be done as background to giving a talk on it, rather than write the talk itself.

Comments are more than welcome, especially on the application section.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Summary: The Work of Yahweh through Moses was unique and foundational, therefore Israel must continue to heed his word

These verses are the main section of narrative progression in Deuteronomy, largely a book of speeches[1]. They record Moses’ death – an event that the reader has already been prepared for, with increasing emphasis in recent chapters[2]. However, they also continue the emphasis throughout the book on the necessity of Israel obeying the words of Moses in this and future generations[3]. Thus the central message of Deuteronomy is concluded, simultaneously closing the Pentateuch and laying the ground for continuation in Joshua.

His death imminent, Moses is shown the whole of the land, thus bringing his life and ministry to a point of climax[4]. Yahweh reminds him that he cannot enter, but repeats the promise to the patriarchs[5]. Therefore Moses dies outside the land because of sin yet strengthened by what he has seen[6]. Similarly, Israel have ‘seen’ all that Yahweh has accomplished through Moses’[7] unique prophetic ministry as he delivered them from Egypt and brought them to the brink of the promised land and gave them Yahweh’s word which is sufficient to secure their entry into and blessing in the land[8]. The response to that word is modelled in the Israelites’ obedience of Joshua[9]. Thus the continued significance of Moses’ foundational ministry is established, and, by implication, the significance of the Pentateuch too.

Explanation of Content
The passage is structured around the central verses recording the death of Moses and the Israelites response to it[10]. Either side are two passages which contain lists[11]. Both lists relate to the conclusion of Moses’ ministry, although the second of these asserts itself as the most prominent, containing as it does the narrator’s commentary. This explanation has attempted to reflect this structure.
Yahweh’s final word to Moses re-affirms the promise of the land to Israel (1-4).
The description of the land as Moses sees it is highly stylised, depicting a detailed panoramic viewing of the land taking in all of its extremities. The effect is that Moses is described as having seen the entirety of the land (the word ‘all’ used three times[12]), adding to the sense that in viewing the land Moses’ ministry has reached an end point[13]. This explains why, although it is re-affirmed that Moses cannot enter the land, and elsewhere his culpability is made clear, the overall feel of the passage is positive[14]. Moses is clearly strengthened by this viewing and re-affirmation of the promise, such that although he is aged[15] he goes to his grave with youthful vigour and vision.
Yahweh’s work through Moses is unique and foundational (vs. 10-12)
That Yahweh knew Moses ‘face to face’ is probably a reference to the revelation that Moses received[16]. Similarly unsurpassed are the wonders associated with the Exodus (‘in the land of Egypt[17]’ ff.) and subsequently in the wilderness (‘all the mighty power[18] and all the great deeds of terror’[19]). As rescuer and mediator Moses remains unsurpassed from the narrator’s historical standpoint. However, specifically on view is the way that Moses relates to subsequent generations of Israelites from his death onwards.
Therefore Israel must continue to heed Moses’ word (vs. 5-9)
A parallel is drawn between the two lists. Where ‘all the land’ was ‘seen’ by Moses, at the very end of the passage ‘all[20] the works’ have been ‘seen’ by the Israelites[21]. In the centre verses we find the appropriate responses to such comprehensive revelation. Firstly Moses responds to all of the land that he has been shown by Yahweh with faith, going to his death strengthened by his vision of the promises fulfilled. In a similar way, all that the Israelites have been shown by Yahweh through Moses sets before them a similar promise to trust[22]; they must trust Yahweh who rescued them through Moses and express their trust in covenant obedience if they are to inherit the land and experience blessings and not curses[23]. Again, this response is modelled in the central section where the Israelites’ response to Joshua (whose authority is derived from Moses) is cast in terms of them doing ‘as the LORD had commanded Moses’. Israel’s future rests upon the rescue Yahweh accomplished through Moses, the promise he confirmed to him and the words he communicated through him. Israel must continue to trust and obey all that Yahweh worked through Moses[24].

Biblical Theology
The tension in this passage between the positive assessment of Moses’ ministry and his sinful failure, is in many ways a microcosm of the tension throughout Deuteronomy and Israel’s history – between Yahweh’s firm promise and yet Israel’s rebellion which denies them lasting enjoyment of it, climaxing in exile[25]. However, Yahweh promised a new covenant in which the sin that undermined the Mosaic one would be solved forever[26]. Into this expectation the apostles declare that Jesus is a ‘prophet like Moses’[27], only his ministry surpasses and fulfils that of Moses[28]. He brings a new covenant[29], a new law[30], a fuller revelation[31], a more complete rescue[32] and a better inheritance[33]. Therefore, it is Jesus’ ministry (who has not failed like Moses and Israel[34]) which has ongoing sufficiency and significance; the believer must continue to heed what God accomplished and said through him[35].

Possible lines of Application
- The uniqueness of Moses helps us understand Christ better (therefore the importance and place of the Pentateuch in Christian discipleship).
- The derivative nature of post-Moses instruction to the Israelites could serve as an illustration for modern day ministry that must be rooted in the unsurpassed revelation of Christ.
- Call to trust in the greater security in Christ the greater mediator than Moses.
- The necessity of continuing to pay attention to Jesus’ words. The finality of Jesus’ ministry and the danger of being led from trusting and obeying him[36].

[1] Deuteronomy 1:1, 4:2, 5:1, 29:1, 31:1, 30, 32:44, 33:1
[2] Deuteronomy 31:2, 14, 27, 32:49-52, 33:1
[3] Deuteronomy 4:9-10, 30:11-20, 32:44-47
[4] The land was in view since Moses was called, see Exodus 3:7-9. See also McConville, Deuteronomy, Apollos OTC 5, (Leicester; Apollos, 2002) p478.
[5] Deuteronomy 34:4
[6] Deuteronomy 34:7
[7] Deuteronomy 34:12
[8] Deuteronomy 30:11-14, 32:44-47
[9] Deuteronomy 34:9
[10] Deuteronomy 34:5-9
[11] Deuteronomy 34:1-4 and 10-12
[12] Deuteronomy 34:1-2
[13] The level of detail, the place names etc. all suggests a picture of the land once inherited, therefore Moses’ viewing is described in ways that highlight the completion of his God-given task. Although he himself will not enter the promise of entry is re-affirmed and Moses has seen it.
[14] See for example the description of Moses as ‘the servant of the LORD’ in 34:5, emphasising the importance of his office. This is not to deny the tension in the passage between a positive assessment of Moses ministry and the as yet unfulfilled aspects. See below under Biblical Theology.
[15] Compare Deuteronomy 31:2 with 34:7
[16] Exodus 33:11 where the context is revelatory
[17] Deuteronomy 34:11-12
[18] AV reads it as ‘in all that mighty hand’ emphasising the relationship between God’s actions and Moses’.
[19] Deuteronomy 34:12
[20] The word ‘all’ is used many times in both lists, emphasising the connection between them.
[21] The same Hebrew word is used in 34:4, 12 and also in 7.
[22] Deuteronomy 1:32
[23] Deuteronomy 28
[24] Deuteronomy 4:9-10
[25] This in itself was an indication of the ongoing importance of Moses’ words, see Deuteronomy 29:64-68
[26] Jeremiah 31:31-34
[27] Matthew 5:1, John 1:17, Acts 2:22, Hebrews 1:5
[28] Matthew 5:17-18
[29] Mark 14:24, Hebrews 8:6-13
[30] Matthew 5:17-20
[31] John 1:18, Hebrews 1:1-4
[32] Hebrews 1:1-4, Hebrews 9:11-12
[33] 1 Peter 1:4, Hebrews 9:15
[34] Luke 4:1-11
[35] Hebrews 2:1-4
[36] Using the logic of Hebrew 2:1-4, 3:5, 10:28 for example

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