Kiss of death

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

We can’t credit the Authorized Version with this one.  But it is Biblical.

Its origins go back further than people think: not with Mafia bosses, nor even with Judas but with Moses.  Here’s how it came about…

Moses has finished the last of his Deuteronomy sermons to the Israelites.  Now it’s time for him to die.  You see, at a key point in the life of Israel, he “had not believed” in the LORD (Numbers 20:8-12).  Therefore, like the rest of his faithless generation, he had to perish in the wilderness.  Mr Law would fall short of the promised rest because of unbelief.  It would be Joshua (whose name means “Jesus”) who brought them in.

However, even though his death in the wilderness was a sign of the law’s inability to save, Moses himself is very dear to the LORD.  Moses himself is saved even if he symbolizes faithless perishing.

If we were in any doubt about the LORD’s enduring love for Moses, we should read the details of his death in Deuteronomy 34.  Before he dies, the LORD allows Moses to see the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah.  Just as the law pictures the Good Life but can’t produce it, so Moses can see the Good Land but can’t enter it.

Once he has surveyed the land of milk and honey, Moses dies “according to the word of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 34:5).  That’s the King James translation.  But here’s a more literal translation: Moses died “by the mouth of the LORD.”  It’s this that the ancient Rabbis picked up on.  They claimed that the LORD gave Moses a “kiss of death.”

In this way kisses bookend the writings of Moses.  His five books are called the ‘Pentateuch’ or the ‘Torah’, meaning ‘Law’.  They begin with a kiss of life for Adam (Genesis 2:7).  But they end with the kiss of death.

If you have to die it’s the best death imaginable.  But it’s still death.  What a terrible tragedy that those created to share in the life of God, should perish in the wilderness.

This is where the Law takes you – Pisgah not Canaan.  It might get you a kiss of death, but it’s still death!

How do you face death?  How do you face the futility of a life lived in the shadow of death?  Mount Pisgah represents the height of earthly expectations.  Here is the best we can hope for in our own strength: to survey a lifetime of labour and achievement.  But still, it’s not enough. Even the greatest lives fall short.  We all end up buried in the plains of Moab.  If our story ends here it is a terrible tragedy.

Where is the hope?

Back in Deuteronomy 18 there was a promise of a Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20).  He would accomplish what the law never could.

At the end of Deuteronomy, we see the demise of Moses.  So where will this Prophet like Moses come from?

Could it be Joshua?  Well Deuteronomy 34:9 reminds us of Spirit-filled Joshua.  But even though Joshua would picture the work of the Messiah, he was not the One.  You see the Law ends with this assessment:

There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Clearly Joshua was not the Prophet like Moses.  He was not the Accomplisher of the Law, the Bringer of Rest.  The Messiah was still to come.  And the people were still to look for Him.

Centuries later, the Prophet arose.  Moses’ LORD came in the flesh and, in many ways, He retraced the steps of Moses.  You see He too perished away from His community.  He too went up a mountain to die.  But it was not death-by-kisses for Jesus.  He would taste the full bitterness of death.  Curses were promised for our disobedience to the law.  And Jesus took the curses.  He drank down the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. There was no face-to-face fellowship for Jesus as He called out to a black and silent heaven, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

If Moses’ death was the best way to go, his LORD’s death was the worst. But through it, we gain a face-to-face that is beyond death, and beyond imagining.

Thank God for the Prophet like Moses.  Through His death, He proves the true Joshua, bringing His people into the land of promise.  Jesus transforms life and death and the future.  Though we all deserve to perish – He takes the death; we get the kiss.

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