Moses hesitated to accept God’s call at first, protesting that the Israelites would not obey him and that he was too “slow of speech and of tongue” to lead Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 3:1–4:17). Yet the Lord, in His patience and grace, remained with Moses and strengthened his hand. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Moses stared down the mightiest king on the planet (4:18–14:31), led the Israelites against the Midianites (Num. 31), and did many other mighty works.
Despite years of serving the Lord, however, Moses never stepped foot in the Promised Land; rather, Joshua led Israel into Canaan (Deut. 31:1–8). Joshua may also have written Deuteronomy 34:1–8, one of the few texts of the Pentateuch (Genesis– Deuteronomy) that Moses did not pen. Certainly, Moses did not record his own death, so Joshua or some other close companion of Moses wrote it. The same person may also have authored verses 9–12, but many scholars believe a later person, perhaps Ezra, added this note about Moses’ prophetic office after Israel returned from exile. For as is clear from the Old Testament, no other period of old covenant history had the numbers and varieties of miracles as the days of Moses. Other prophets performed miracles (2 Kings 6:1–7), but the flurry of miracles in Moses’ lifetime was unsurpassed until the ministry of Christ.
Even though Moses did not enter the land, God granted him a vision of it, reminding Moses that the promise to the patriarchs (Gen. 15) would come to pass. Moses died on Mount Nebo after seeing Canaan, and God Himself buried him (Deut. 34:1–8), probably to guard against the people later building an idolatrous shrine to Moses. Being buried by the Lord, of course, was also a great honor.
Death before entering Canaan was earthly discipline for Moses, who failed to trust God at Meribah-kadesh (32:48–52; see Num. 20:1–13). Even the greatest old covenant prophet had to learn his place in the kingdom is through a grace that covers all his failures. No less than all the other saints of God, Moses had to recognize the truth Augustus Toplady so beautifully expresses in the hymn Rock of Ages: “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill the law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone.”