God has not chosen to reveal much to us about the circumstances of Moses’ death. There are three references in the Bible to the death and burial of Moses, and each of them contributes to the mystery surrounding the story of the great prophet. We know that he was 120 years old when he died, “yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Despite his age, Moses was still in his prime when he was called home.
Because of Moses’ sin of disobedience at the waters of Meribah Kadesh (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:51), Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. He brought the people of Israel to the very edge of Canaan, and he was given a look into the land, but he was not allowed to go in himself. At the end of Moses’ life, God gave Moses a glimpse of the land he had left Egypt for. “Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah. . . . There the LORD showed him the whole land” (Deuteronomy 34:1; cf. Numbers 27:12–13). Moses died there on the summit, “according to the word of the Lord.” God buried him secretly, and no one knows to this day where his grave is (Deuteronomy 34:5–6).
One mystery involves Moses’ grave. Scholars have suggested God buried Moses secretly and without a grave marker to prevent the grave from becoming a shrine or a place of worship. As the Israelites were prone to idolatry, this seems plausible. Others believe that there was no grave at all, and that Moses was translated in the manner of Enoch and Elijah. These scholars point to the appearance of Moses with Elijah on the Mount of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–10). The problem with this latter view is that the Bible specifically says Moses “died” and “was buried” (Deuteronomy 34:7). If Moses were translated straight to heaven, there would be no death and burial. In any case, the circumstance of God personally burying someone and keeping the burial place secret is unique in all of Scripture.
Another mystery involves Jude 1:9, where we learn that, when Moses died, the archangel Michael contended with the devil over the body of Moses. This passing reference is not expounded on by Jude and has been a source of debate among biblical scholars. We are not told exactly when this angelic argument occurred, although it was likely at the time of Moses’ burial. We also don’t know why the devil and Michael would be arguing over the body. Perhaps Satan was opposed to the future resurrection of Moses, accusing him of the sin at Meribah and other sins. Perhaps Satan wanted to bury the body in a more accessible place and mark the spot to tempt the people to build a shrine. Whatever the reason for the dispute, Satan lost the battle.
In spite of the mysteries surrounding Moses’ death and burial, we know some things for certain. One is that God’s Word is true and His prophecies always come to pass. Another is that sin brings the discipline of God, and no one is exempt. Also, God doesn’t always explain the mysteries in His Word. But we have this truth: “Precious in the sight of the Lord / is the death of his faithful servants” (Psalm 116:15).