It is exceedingly moving to read of the conclusion of Moses' long and testing life as a prophet and a leader of Israel. The man of the wilderness wanderings who led the moody and murmuring people of God along their difficult and eventful way must have pondered deeply as he wended his way to the summit of Mount Nebo – alone. Moses had completed his divine assignment which marks him out as a unique man of God, unsurpassed until the advent of a greater “Other” of whose coming he had foretold (Deuteronomy 18:15,18). The spread-out panorama of the promised land before him was a triumph of faith and fortitude but it did not let him forget his sinful frailty that forbade him to enter (V4). Every life is checked with successes and shortcomings. Moses glimpsed the land that God had promised to the descendants of the patriarchs but he did not gain it.
He is given the prospect and then given a private burial by the Lord. It is an honourable end to the friend of God, the man who knew the Lord face to face, figuratively and performed those awesome deeds by the power of God in the sight of Israel. Moses is a towering figure of the Old Testament and human history. Drawn as a babe from the river in a dangerous time for Hebrew infants he is given an Egyptian upbringing and education as a member of the Pharaoh's royal court. He masters languages, that of Egypt and his own people at least. He is highly literate and absorbs the principles of government and administration as a prospective holder of official rank. This is the first aspect of his preparation for his divine calling. Moses enjoyed in his early life many advantages that equipped him for leadership, the recounting of his history as found in Genesis, and the recording of the Lord's communications to him in the tent of meeting and elsewhere. Moses' first phase of formation is refined. The second is a phase of toughening and strengthening of mind and body in lonely wilderness conditions that would break the spirit of many a strong man.
In these unpropitious circumstances he receives his extraordinary commission from the Lord at the burning bush. He must defy the might of Egypt and attain the release of Israel – a people deemed as abject and worthless slaves, barely semi-human. The series of wonders and judgements performed in and against Egypt are well-known. The details of the eventual exodus of God's people are familiar. The power of God exercised on their behalf is enormously evident.
The miraculous events that accompanied the troubled pilgrimage of Israel are richly detailed in Scripture – their complaints, crimes, and the strains they heaped upon Moses and Aaron his brother, but the choice theme of the entire narrative is the intimacy Moses enjoyed with God. He was an especially chosen instrument of the Lord. He learned from God and leant upon God as a spokesman and guide to a recalcitrant people that wearied even his doughty soul. Their unbelief and obstinacy wore him down so much so that he behaved rashly and forgot his absolute dependence upon God (Numbers 20:10).
It was that occasion that prevented his entry of the promised land. Moses was by no means impeccable and infallible. We err seriously if we attribute these qualities to any eminent saint of God. In doing so we usually tear them apart when their flaws become evident. Nevertheless, his endurance in the divine cause was amazing and evident at the close of his remarkable life (v7). In human terms Moses was incomparable. His character and role were exceptional. But only because God had selected him in sovereign favour and upheld him his continuous grace and power. The editor of Moses' written work makes this touching tribute to God's special man in a telling observation, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses” (v10).
As Advent approaches we are able to identify the prophet who excelled Moses and surpassed him by far – beyond estimation. That prophet is our Lord Jesus Christ. We may short-cut our reflections by stating that though Moses was the man who figuratively, and by faith and close communion, met God face to face, the Lord Jesus is the face of God in human form and the accurate definition of divine nature and self-expression (2 Corinthians 4:6). In Christ we are closer to God than Moses was in his earthly sojourn. Moses understood much prospectively as a divinely informed prophet, though we cannot measure to what extent. One takes care not to dim the light the prophets possessed, also avoiding the temptation to credit them with knowledge equal to the disclosures of the New Covenant. In essence he was sufficiently entrusted with the message of sin, human helplessness, and the salvation wrought by God. But his function was different from and preparatory to the ministry of Jesus (John 1:17).
He pointed to the glorious future; Jesus brought the fulfilment: he raised the language and symbols of typology to literal truth. Moses led the exodus from Egypt. Jesus grants us an exodus from the slavery of sin. Moses brought the people of God to the edge of fertile Canaan; Jesus brings us into the rich blessing of Paradise. Moses was gently buried by God and we know from the transfiguration that he is in the Presence of God – the Presence of which he had a foretaste on earth. Jesus lays us to rest when we expire on earth and in an instant conveys us to heaven. Moses is our pioneer. He is a living pledge of the Promise of God and his power to perform it to the full. He is our exemplar for trust in God and nearness to him. He is the forerunner of the Lord Jesus through whom our confidence in God is fully vindicated and in whom we have the sweetest, surest intimacy with God.