As soon as Moses and Joshua left the tabernacle, where God had instructed them concerning things to come, Moses hurried to his tent. He was to write down the matters that were to be made into a song to teach to Israel (Deut. 31:22).
Later, Moses went before the people to give them the verses that were to become a sort of national anthem to remind the Israelites of their faults, their obligations and the matters that would come up in the future. The verses mentioned God’s perfect justice, mercy and great works, and showed how sinful Israel had become in spite of God’s wonderful ways. The people were reminded of how patiently God had dealt with them during their travels in the desert, and of the terrible warnings that had repeatedly been given them. The verses pointed out that if Israel were wise enough to obey, all enemies would be overcome, but that lack of wisdom would result in great calamity for Israel. It was shown that Israel would have great reason to rejoice in the far future, but only after the people would have undergone a time of terrible tribulation and finally would have repented (Deut. 32:1-43).
“Don’t do what is right in your own eyes,” Moses told the people. “Your conscience will deceive you. Let it be your ambition above all things, to observe God’s laws and teach your children to do the same. If you fail in this, your lives will become miserable and come to an untimely end. On the other hand, obedience will mean long, happy lives with prosperity, and wonderful futures for your children” (Deut. 12:8; 6:6-12; 4:30-31; 11:8-9)!
Moses then pronounced a lengthy blessing on the various tribes of Israel, at the same time telling some of the things they would accomplish in the far future (Deut. 33).
Moses ruefully ended talking to the people. He realized that the time had come for him to go to Mt. Pisgah to look across the Jordan and view the land of Canaan, which he would never enter. Accompanied probably by Eleazar, Joshua, the elders of Israel and some aides, Moses started out for the mountain, which was not far distant. When the congregation became aware that he was leaving forever, the people gradually broke into tearful moans and wailing. Moses was greatly moved by the loud demonstration, but there was nothing for him to do but go on.
A little later he noted that the great mass of people, still wailing, was following him toward the mountain. Moses knew that if the people weren’t stopped, many of them would follow him right up the mountain. He hastily took advantage of a small rise, from which he could more easily be seen and heard, to firmly tell as many as could hear him that they should not follow any farther.
The wailing people obeyed. Moses and those who accompanied him continued on toward Mt. Pisgah, a point from which Balak, king of Moab, had asked the since-destroyed prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel.
Silently the group progressed up the mountain, while the sad wailing of the people drifted up strongly from the plains below. It was a strange fact that while the people were feeling sorry for Moses, Moses was feeling sorry for the people. The people were sorry to see Moses depart from them, and at the same time Moses felt concern for Israel because his close contact with God had resulted in his knowing Israel’s fate even into the far future. He knew the people still had many bitter lessons to learn.
When as last Moses and the elders and officers arrived close to the peak of Mt. Pisgah, Moses turned to the people who had come with him and said a few last words of farewell. There were no dry eyes, even among those who were hardened soldiers and officers who had long served Moses. Moses said goodbye to them, and then walked alone up to the highest point of the mountain. From there, through the clear atmosphere of that high mountain country, Moses looked across the Jordan and into nearby territory to clearly view the land where most of the tribes of Israel would settle.
From that elevation of several thousand feet, one of the highest points in the land, Moses carefully drank in the magnificent sight. He looked southwest and west across the area where the tribes of Simeon, Judah, Dan and Benjamin were to settle from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. To the northwest he could see the region that was to be occupied by Ephraim, Issachar and half of Manasseh. To the north he viewed the lands to be taken over by Zebulon, Asher and Naphtali. Swinging his gaze to the east side of the Jordan, Moses saw the land already allotted to the other half of Manasseh, to Gad and Reuben.
Below him, stretching from the Dead Sea far to the north, was the beautiful Jordan Valley with its lush bottom lands filled from east to west with fields, vineyards, groves of palm trees and other fruit.
“This is the land,” the voice of God came to Moses, “that I promised to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here it is for you to see, but it is not for you to enter. However, you will enter a better land in the resurrection to come. Now walk down the side of the mountain opposite the way you came up” (Deut. 34:1-14; Heb. 11:1-15, 24-29, 39-40)
Having feasted his eyes on the scene around him, Moses switched his gaze back on the mourning elders and officers who sadly gazed up at him. He waved, then turned and strode slowly out of their sight.
This was the last that was seen of Moses by human beings. He started down the other side of the mountain, but just how far he went, no one knows. Possibly God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, and then took his life. God then buried him in a nearby mountain valley in Moab (Deut. 34:5-6). Satan attempted to obtain possession of Moses’ body (Jude 9), probably with the purpose of bringing it to the attention of the Israelites so that they could make it an object of worship. However, God carefully hid the burial place from man, so that no one would ever be tempted to regard the body as something sacred that should be worshipped.
Some readers might think that it would be a very extreme thing to worship a dead body. But even today, when we are supposed to be enlightened and intelligent, millions of people in the professing Christian world regard the relics – dried bones and shriveled flesh of certain long-dead individuals as something to be revered, worshipped and considered holy.
Thus Moses’ death ended, at one hundred and twenty years, the life of one of God’s most outstanding servants of all time. Just before he died, Moses was as healthy and strong as when he was eighty years of age. Even his eyes were as keen as they had been in his youth (Deut. 34:7). No other leader of Israel accomplished such great deeds as did Moses (vs.10-12). Because he was so close to God, he enjoyed the great privilege of leading millions of his people out of slavery, bringing God’s wonderful laws to them, and leading them to the entrance of a bountiful garden spot that was to be their home.
Although there were too many times when they ignored God by ignoring Moses, all Israel was very sad to lose such a wonderful leader. But the next thirty days matters came almost to a standstill in the camps while the people mourned Moses’ death (v. 8).
In those days many people, including a host of outstanding religious leaders, consider the vitally important times and events of ancient Israel only as an old tale having to do with the Jews. They think of Moses simply as one who, not too successfully, lead the Jews out of Egypt and into Canaan, and who started the present Jewish religion.
Such shallow beliefs are spawned by the refusal to completely believe Jesus and the Old Testament, and the inability to understand who Israel is today. Moses didn’t start the Jewish religion. The word “Jews” is not even mentioned in the Bible until long after Moses’ time. Then the Jews were referred to (II Kings 16:6) as being at war with Israel. Those who assume that the word “Jew” and “Israelite” always mean the same thing find it impossible to understand some of the most important parts of the Bible – especially prophecy.
It is tragic that innumerable people who earnestly want to learn how best to live are taught by such blinded or stubborn leaders that the sacred, living laws of God, brought to Israel through Moses, were only “Jewish” rules blotted out by Christ’s death so that we are now “freed” to do as our conscience pleases.
Happily, according to prophecy for these last days, God is gradually opening the understanding of more and more people to the startling fact that those who defiantly teach that God’s laws are no longer in force are as guilty in God’s sight as the most villainous men mentioned throughout the scriptures . Unless they repent, the fate of such people, referred to as false shepherds, will be most horrible – because of their deceitful posing as true ministers of God (Ezk. 34:2, 7-10; II Peter 2:12).
After Moses’ death, God contacted Joshua to remind him that now that he was Israel’s leader he should direct himself and the nation to live by all the book of the law of God. He was reminded that trust in the Eternal and obedience and courage, would mean success in battle over Israel’s enemies and in taking over the land from the Great Sea (Mediterranean) east to the Euphrates river, and from the desert south of the Dead Sea to Mt. Lebanon on the north (Deut. 34:9; Joshua 1:1-4).
“I will not fail you nor forsake you as long as you carry on in accord with the laws that came to you through my servant Moses,” God instructed Joshua (Deut. 4:30-31). “Meditate on those laws so that they will become so familiar to you that you can’t forget them. Be strong in this office that has been given to you. Be of great courage. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed. Remember that your God is with you wherever you go” (vs. 8-9).
This was one of the greatest “pep” talks ever given to one of the most responsible leaders in all history. If Joshua hadn’t previously realized how much he should rely on God, he surely was completely reminded at that time.
As soon as the mourning period of thirty days for Moses was over, Joshua gave orders to his officers to make a quick announcement to the people.
“Be prepared on notice to break camp within three days,” the officers told the surprised people. Prepare extra food and supplies for a sudden trip over the Jordan and into the land promised to us by God” (vs. 10-11).
Although manna was still the main food of the Israelites, it wasn’t something that could be gathered during a sudden movement of the people or a food that could be kept overnight except over the Sabbath. At this time when Israel was going to be on the move for a few days, it was necessary to prepare meat, fruit and grains taken in their conquests, which could be carried and consumed at any time.
Joshua then spoke to the heads of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh – who had by this time returned from settling their families east of the Jordan – to remind them of their obligation to their brethren in the other tribes.
“I want to remind you of your promise to send the best soldiers of your tribe to help take over all of Canaan,” Joshua told them. “We’ll be moving across the Jordan very soon, and your picked soldiers should lead the way, since they will not have their families with them. After we’ve taken the land, your warriors shall be free to return to their towns and families on this side of the river” (Joshua 1:12-13).
“We are sending the best of our soldiers to fight in God’s battles,” the leaders replied. “We shall carry out our promise. Our soldiers will go wherever you send them and obey every command. Every soldier that we send will know that if he fails to obey you, he will be put to death” (vs. 16-18)!
Just west of Israel’s camp was the Jordan River. It was exceedingly deep, as the flood season had begun. Only about six miles farther to the west was a walled and fortified city called Jericho. Joshua knew that it would be necessary to attack that city before progressing further into Canaan, because it was situated by the pass that led through the mountains. It was also one of the Canaanite cities God had commanded Israel to destroy because of its extremely evil practices.
Joshua realized that God wasn’t necessarily going to protect Israel if any foolish moves were made. He knew that he was to use sound judgment and strategy. Because of this, he had already sent two men to Jericho to try to find out how well the city was armed, the condition of the walls, and the gates, what forces were close to Jericho and the morale of the people within the city.
These two men quickly found how difficult it was to cross the Jordan at that time of year. It was spring, and showers had swollen the stream into a muddy torrent. Very few swimmers could cross a raging turbulent river in flood stage. But these men had been chosen for their many outstanding abilities, including great skill in swimming, and they managed to struggle across the violent current to the west bank.
After drying their clothes, which were chosen to appear as those of roving Canaanites, they trudged the several miles from the river to the city. Jericho was surrounded by groves of palm trees, and well-traveled roads led to its several gates. The Israelites met several people on the first road they came to. No one seemed particularly friendly; some were even a little suspicious of their identity.
There was no problem in getting into Jericho. Its huge gates were open to traffic till sunset. The Israelites mixed in with a caravan that was entering the nearest gate, and boldly walked about to view the life and activity of this habitation of their enemies.
Jericho wasn’t a tremendous city; it covered only about seven acres. But it was compact and had room for thousands of people. Within its four strong walls were many busy streets crammed with stables, shops, public buildings, homes and inns. Many shops homes and inns were built on top of the double walls. People milled about everywhere. From their expressions and actions, it wasn’t difficult to see that most of them were in a state of excited anxiety.
A few soldiers huddled in groups in the streets, but most of them were on the walls. The Israelite scouts noted that they were gazing mostly to the east toward the camp of Israel.
Hoping to get on the wall, the Israelites walked up a long flight of steps to one of the inns built there. The proprietress greeted them cordially and saw to it that they were well fed. While eating, they were startled by a loud clanging. The proprietress – her name was Rahab – explained that it was sundown, and that the huge gates of the city were being closed for the night to keep anyone from going out or coming in. The two Israelites suddenly realized that they were trapped – at least until sunrise.
“We have been sent by the ruler of Jericho,” the officers announced to a servant at the door. “He has received information that two Israelite spies were seen entering this inn. We are here to arrest them.”
Be watching for the next installment of the Story of the Bible. Rahab the harlot assists the spies.