From ancient times until today, Moses still stands as one of the most significant figures in Christianity. He is a true example of unwavering faith in God, obedience, leadership, and courage. Moses was a man who truly devoted himself to God’s assignment. He is remembered as the courageous man who delivered the children of Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt. He trusted God and embarked on a journey to confront Pharaoh to let go of God’s people.
Moses also prophesied about the coming of Jesus (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). There are many things that Moses did, but the question that sparks debates about him is, “How old was Moses when he died?”
The Bible tells us that Moses died at the age of 120 years. Deuteronomy 34:17 reads, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”
There you have it. But let’s extend this discussion to explore Moses’ life, faith, the assignment God gave him, and his walk with God to his last breath.
Moses knew about his death. He talked to the Israelites about it and told them that Joshua was the one who would help them cross the Jordan and lead them to the promised land.
“Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’
The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said.
And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land.
The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you.”Deuteronomy 31:1-5
Moses must have known that he was not only not going to cross the Jordan, but he was also going to die.
He told the Israelites that he was old and could no longer lead them. Moses even prepared Joshua to take over from him, handing over everything to Joshua before his death.
“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”Deuteronomy 31:7-8
All the things that Moses did and said to the Israelites reveal to us that he knew and was prepared for his death. He reminded the Israelites about his age (120 years) and explained to them that since he was old, he was no longer in a position to lead.
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But in Deuteronomy 34:7, the Bible says that Moses still looked energetic and young at his death.
Other versions say that he still had a youthful and radiant look. What does this mean? And what does it reveal to us about the death of Moses? Does this mean that Moses died a premature death?
From the Scripture, we note that we are not only told about the age of Moses when he died but we are also told something else worth exploring. Why would Moses look youthful, yet he was 120 years old when he died?
But before we find the answers to these questions, let us first go back to the life of Moses from his childhood.
The Book of Acts chapter 7 divides the life of Moses into three periods of forty years each.
Forty Years in Egypt
Moses was born when Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys of the Hebrews be killed at birth.
Pharaoh was worried about the increasing number of Hebrews in Egypt and how successful they were becoming with each passing day. He feared that they would multiply, prosper, become powerful, and overthrow him as the Pharaoh of Egypt.
So, he wanted to cut off their lineage and ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all males born during that time.
When his plan failed, he ordered that newborn boys be thrown into the Nile River. Miraculously, or rather, with God’s plan, Moses’s life was spared.
Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses when she had gone to the Nile to bathe. Just like that, Moses’ life was spared, and he was raised in the palace as a prince.
His biological mother nursed him and later took him to Pharaoh’s daughter in the palace.
Moses lived in the palace until he was 40, when he left.
“When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites.”Acts 7:23
The first forty years of his life, as Acts 7:23 reveals, were spent in the palace. After that, he went to see his people.
While watching his people work, Moses secretly killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. When he discovered this was no longer a secret, he fled to Midian.
Forty Years in Midian
The second period of the life of Moses was spent in Midian, where Moses tended to the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro.
During this period, God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush. At this time, Moses was 80 years old. Acts 7:30 reads, “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.”
God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt when he was 80 years old. Also, Exodus 7:7 reads, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.”
Forty Years Leading the Children of Israel
The third forty-year period of the life of Moses was spent in the wilderness as he led the Israelites from Egypt.
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In the Scriptures, we are told that God had planned that the Israelites take 40 days to travel from Egypt to Canaan. However, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before they arrived in Canaan, the promised land.
Moses was with them until his death when the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and settle in Canaan – the forty years in the wilderness marked the last period of Moses’ life on earth.
So what does the Scripture mean when it tells us that Moses died at 120 yet was still in good health and vigor? It could be that he was still in a position to lead the Israelites, but God cut his life short because of a mistake he made.
When the Israelites ganged in opposition to Moses and Aaron and complained to them that there was no water to drink, God offered a solution: He asked Moses to speak to the rock in the presence of the Israelites so that the rock would pour water for them to drink.
However, Moses did not do as the Lord had instructed him. Instead, he struck the rock two times, and the rock gushed water that the Israelites drank together with their livestock (Numbers 20:2-11).
Their disobedience displeased God, which could be why he cut their lives short.
“But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”Numbers 20:12
The Bible tells us that Aaron died at the age of 123 years, while Moses died at the age of 120, denied the opportunity to enter the promised land, which explains why the Bible says he died at the age of 120, yet his eyes still looked strong.
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However, it could also be because God had continually been renewing his strength to complete his assignment. Moses died after completing the task that God had given him: to deliver the Israelites from bondage.
Other scholars argue that Moses died when he had lived to his full age. They draw their inspiration from Genesis 6:3, which reads:
“Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”Genesis 6:3
They argue that even though Moses still looked strong at his death, he had attained the full age God declared as the lifespan for humankind.
All in all, Moses was an exemplary leader, a humble servant of God (Numbers 12:3), and a great man of faith.