We have here a very honourable encomium passed both on Moses and Joshua; each has his praise, and should have. It is ungrateful so to magnify our living friends as to forget the merits of those that are gone, to whose memories there is a debt of honour due: all the respect must not be paid to the rising sun; and, on the other hand, it is unjust so to cry up the merits of those that are gone as to despise the benefit we have in those that survive and succeed them. Let God be glorified in both, as here.
I. Joshua is praised as a man admirably qualified for the work to which he was called, Deut. 34:9. Moses brought Israel to the borders of Canaan and then died and left them, to signify that the law made nothing perfect, Heb. 7:19. It brings men into a wilderness of conviction, but not into the Canaan of rest and settled peace. It is an honour reserved for Joshua (our Lord Jesus, of whom Joshua was a type) to do that for us which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Rom. 8:3. Through him we enter into rest, the spiritual rest of conscience and eternal rest in heaven. Three things concurred to clear Joshua’s call to this great undertaking:—1. God fitted him for it: He was full of the spirit of wisdom; and so he had need who had such a peevish people to rule, and such a politic people to conquer. Conduct is as requisite in a general as courage. Herein Joshua was a type of Christ, in whom are hidden the treasures of wisdom. 2. Moses, by the divine appointment, had ordained him to it: He had laid his hands upon him, so substituting him to be his successor, and praying to God to qualify him for the service to which he had called him; and this comes in as a reason why God gave him a more than ordinary spirit of wisdom, because his designation to the government was God’s own act (those whom God employs he will in some measure make fit for the employment) and because this was the thing that Moses had asked of God for him when he laid his hands on him. When the bodily presence of Christ withdrew from his church, he prayed the Father to send another Comforter, and obtained what he prayed for. 3. The people cheerfully owned him and submitted to him. Note, An interest in the affections of people is a great advantage, and a great encouragement to those that are called to public trusts of what kind soever. It was also a great mercy to the people that when Moses was dead they were not as sheep having no shepherd, but had one ready among them in whom they did unanimously, and might with the highest satisfaction, acquiesce.
II. Moses is praised (Deut. 34:10-12), and with good reason.
1. He was indeed a very great man, especially upon two accounts:—(1.) His intimacy with the God of nature: God knew him face to face, and so he knew God. See Num. 12:8. He saw more of the glory of God than any (at least of the Old-Testament saints) ever did. He had more free and frequent access to God, and was spoken to not in dreams, and visions, and slumberings on the bed, but when he was awake and standing before the cherubim. Other prophets, when God appeared and spoke to them, were struck with terror (Dan. 10:7), but Moses, whenever he received a divine revelation, preserved his tranquillity. (2.) His interest and power in the kingdom of nature. The miracles of judgment he wrought in Egypt before Pharaoh, and the miracles of mercy he wrought in the wilderness before Israel, served to demonstrate that he was a particular favourite of Heaven, and had an extra-ordinary commission to act as he did on this earth. Never was there any man whom Israel had more reason to love, or whom the enemies of Israel had more reason to fear. Observe, The historian calls the miracles Moses wrought signs and wonders, done with a mighty hand and great terror, which may refer to the terrors of Mount Sinai, by which God fully ratified Moses’s commission and demonstrated it beyond exception to be divine, and this in the sight of all Israel.
2. He was greater than any other of the prophets of the Old Testament. Though they were men of great interest in heaven and great influence upon earth, yet they were none of them to be compared with this great man; none of them either so evidenced or executed a commission from heaven as Moses did. This encomium of Moses seems to have been written long after his death, yet then there had not arisen any prophet like unto Moses, nor did there arise any such between that period and the sealing up of the vision and prophecy. by Moses God gave the law, and moulded and formed the Jewish church; by the other prophets he only sent particular reproofs, directions, and predictions. The last of the prophets concludes with a charge to remember the law of Moses, Mal. 4:4. Christ himself often appealed to the writings of Moses, and vouched him for a witness, as one that saw his day at a distance and spoke of him. But, as far as the other prophets came short of him, our Lord Jesus went beyond him. His doctrine was more excellent, his miracles were more illustrious, and his communion with his Father was more intimate, for he had lain in his bosom from eternity, and by him God does now in these last days speak to us. Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ as a Son. The history of Moses leaves him buried in the plains of Moab, and concludes with the period of his government; but the history of our Saviour leaves him sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and we are assured that of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. The apostle, in his epistle to the Hebrews, largely proves the pre-eminence of Christ above Moses, as a good reason why we that are Christians should be obedient, faithful, and constant, to that holy religion which we make profession of. God, by his grace, make us all so!