Taking Moses Off The Pedestal (Jude 1:9)

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The short little epistle of Jude has a lot of issues.  One of our discerning readers came across this strange little reference in Verse 9 and wisely questioned what was going on:

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)

So what is Jude referring to here?  Is it really true that Michael and Satan got into a tussle over who ought to get jurisdiction over Moses’ earthsuit?  No, it’s not.  This legend about Moses is complete hooey.  In fact, Jude’s epistle has a lot of hooey in it, which makes you wonder what was wrong with the folks who voted to include Jude’s letter in our sacred Scriptures.  But since we’re now stuck living with their choices, we might as well use Jude’s silly book for discernment practice.

To understand Jude’s strange comment about Moses, you need to start by understanding that Moses was big stuff to the Jews.  He was venerated much like the apostle Paul is among Christians today–the Jews viewed Moses as a spiritual superhero, and their admiration of him reached idolatrous levels.  What’s highly ironic about this is that during Moses’ lifetime, his fellow Jews treated him really crummy.  They gave him no end of attitude, and they even threatened to murder him on multiple occasions.  They only seemed to fall in love with him long after he was dead.

So what do you do when you’ve decided to turn a dead guy into one of your national heroes?  Well, consider what the Catholics have done with Mary: they have invented a whole bunch of ridiculous fables about her to make her sound extra awesome.  The Jews did the same thing with guys like Moses and Abraham.  This business about Michael and Satan fighting over Moses’ corpse is a way of making Moses sound super awesome.  He’s so fabulous that the highest ranking angel in Heaven just has to have him.  But the notorious king of evil–Satan–wants him, too, and that’s a kind of reverse compliment.  Once you understand that New Testament Jews viewed Satan like a kind of demigod who actually ruled over the earth, well, then it’s even more impressive that Satan was paying so much attention to Moses.  Whether you’re good or bad, if you’ve got power, then your opinion is considered important.  Old Moses had the top ranking officers on both sides of the supernatural realm fighting over him, so obviously that meant he was big stuff.

Now as you read through Jude’s epistle, it quickly becomes clear that he’s got a head full of stories.  Some originate from the Old Testament (like his reference to Cain, Balaam & Korah in Verse 11).  But other stories are based on oral traditions and utterly idolatrous writings, such as the Book of Enoch.

Jude has clearly heard a lot of wild tales in his time.  But unlike some of you, he doesn’t show any signs of critical thinking.  Instead, he seems to just believe whatever he’s told without questioning, and this makes him flunk the test for a good spiritual role model.  Jude was far too gullible, and his writings lack indications of spiritual maturity.  Instead, he dishes out some pretty absurd advice.  Take this bit about Michael and Satan arguing about who gets to keep Moses’ body.  Really??  So angelic beings view our rotting corpses as prizes that they actually fight over?  Not hardly.  This is just human ego talking–Jewish ego, to be precise, because it was religious Jews who were paranoid about what happened to their corpses when they died, and they were the ones who would have viewed Moses’ corpse as extra special just because Moses was one of their heroes.

Now obsessing over the body is nothing new–the ancient Egyptians and many other ancient cultures showed a lot of concern about burying their earthsuits in good condition.  But all of this fussing over the body is based on the very wrong assumption that our bodies continue to matter after we die.  When you die, only your soul goes on to the next world.  Your physical body decomposes as part of God’s fabulous recycling program and it ceases to exist.  When Moses died in real life, his soul went on to a new dimension, and his body became irrelevant.  But since Moses was a hero, the Jews couldn’t accept that no one in the supernatural realms cared about his body.  Instead, they whipped up a bunch of wild tales like this one that Jude is referring to.

No one wants their great hero to just fade out quietly–heroes are supposed to go out in some dramatic way so we can keep talking about them for generations to come.  Just look at what Christians have done to Peter–the man volunteered to be crucified upside down.  Of course tales like this are just a bunch of hokum that we invented to make our heroes sound more heroic.  But such stories keep the idolatry flowing, because how stellar does Peter sound to go for an upside down cross?  Obviously a man’s devotion to God is illustrated by his method of execution, right? Well, no.  The manner in which you’re killed really doesn’t have bumpkus to do with your soul’s attitude towards God.  Whether you’re crucified right side up, upside down, or sideways, God is going to be judging you by the soul choices you made during your whole life on earth. You don’t get extra points for going out in some ultra agonizing way, just as you don’t get docked points for dying of natural causes.  The morbid Christian fixation with gruesome martyr stories only reflects how backwards our priorities are.

Now in the case of Moses, what do we actually know about his death?  Well, Moses authored the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy.  Since his death is recorded in Deuteronomy, we know he didn’t finish it, but we do find some interesting comments made.  First, Yahweh actually tells Moses where he’ll die ahead of time.  And when Yahweh brings up the subject of dying with Moses, His tone is far from admiring.  Clearly God doesn’t think Moses is some kind of superstar.

On that same day Yahweh told Moses,  “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.  There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.  This is because both of you broke faith with Me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold My holiness among the Israelites.  Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deut. 32:48-52)

God sounds pretty crispy in this passage, doesn’t He?  Notice how He reminds Moses of a time when both Moses and his brother Aaron (who served as Israel’s first high priest) really hacked God off by publicly rebelling against Him (see Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land).

Now once you know Yahweh personally, this passage stands out as odd because it’s really not Yahweh’s normal style to harp on past sins.  We usually only find Him harping on the past with souls who are continuing to give Him attitude.  Unfortunately, Moses wasn’t nearly as devoted as the Jews make him out to be.  Instead, we find Moses’ loyalty to God wavering all over the place in the accounts of his life.  Too many times he actually turns against Yahweh to side with the snarky humans who are spitting in Yahweh’s face.  So if we want to talk about ideal spiritual role models, Moses really doesn’t make the cut.  The fact that Yahweh is still being crisp with him at the end of his life gives us all the evidence we need that Moses’ soul attitude with God still needed major improvement.  You see, you don’t need to see into the soul of the human in this case because you have God acting so irritated, and God’s attitude gives us all the information we need.

Now the account God is referring to here happened towards the end of Numbers–and the fact that God is still complaining about it makes it clear that Moses never sincerely repented for what he did.  Instead, after waiting forty years to enter the lush Promised Land, Moses is more than a little irked that God won’t let him go in.  In fact, he’s decided that the whole thing is unfair because it’s really the Israelites who were punks, not him. In the book of Deuteronomy, we find Moses slipping in several bitter complaints about the fact that he’s been banned from the land.  Notice how he shifts the blame Adam-style in this passage:

Yahweh was angry with me because of you, and He solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land Yahweh your God is giving you as your inheritance. (Deut. 4:21)

Nice try, but no.  Yahweh is punishing Moses because Moses is the one giving Him the attitude.  Yahweh doesn’t get angry with people for sins they didn’t commit.  When God is angry with someone, it’s because that someone is giving Him attitude on a soul level.  What kind of role model is Moses being to make himself out as the innocent scapegoat here?  By saying that Yahweh is nailing him for other people’s sins, he’s actually slandering Yahweh.  As we said before, Moses really doesn’t qualify as a good spiritual role model.

Now in the previous chapter, Moses admits to pleading with God to lighten up and take back His sentence–something that God doesn’t respond to well at all.  Here’s Moses telling on himself:

At that time I pleaded with Yahweh: “Sovereign Lord, You have begun to show to Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works You do?  Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

But because of you Yahweh was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” Yahweh said. “Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter.  Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.” (Deut. 3:23-27)

After buttering God up with compliments, Moses asks to be let into the Promised Land. How does Yahweh respond?  He tells Moses to hush up and drop the subject.  God’s crisp answer implies that this isn’t the first time Moses has pleaded with God like this.  But notice how Moses shifted the blame by saying that the only reason he was getting punished is because of everyone else.

But because of you Yahweh was angry with me and would not listen to me.

As long as Moses insists on slandering Yahweh’s Character and refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, why would God act like everything is fine between them?  Why would Yahweh reward Moses for being such a little brat?  Do you see the problem with exalting Moses as an ideal role model when he’s playing these games with God up until his dying day?

So what do we know about Moses’ death?  Well, here’s the account of his death in Deuteronomy 34:

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho. And Yahweh showed him the whole land, from Gilead as far as Dan;  all the land of Naphtali; the land of Ephraim and Manasseh; all the land of Judah, extending to the Mediterranean Sea;  the Negev; the Jordan Valley with Jericho—the city of palms—as far as Zoar.  Then Yahweh said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.”

So Moses, the servant of Yahweh, died there in the land of Moab, just as Yahweh had said. Yahweh buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place.  Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever.  The people of Israel mourned for Moses on the plains of Moab for thirty days, until the customary period of mourning was over. (Deut. 34:1-8)

It’s a very neat trick Yahweh did about hiding Moses’ body from the Jews.  And when we see what the Jews turned Moses into, we can appreciate why God did this.  Just imagine if Moses’ bones were enshrined in some temple somewhere today–no doubt scores of people would be camped at that place praying to the bones, kissing the bones, and worshiping the bones.  When you see how modern day Christians fruit out over their “holy relics”–weeping, crying, and praying to fragments of cloth, old bones, and splinters of wood–you can see why Yahweh just wasn’t interested in arming the Jews with a whole corpse that they could deify (see The Fate of the Bronze Snake).

Now when you consider that millions of Jews were present at the time Moses died–and when you consider that those same Jews faithfully carried Joseph’s bones out of Egypt and hauled them around for forty years in the desert just so they could bury him in the Promised Land–it is really quite miraculous that Moses’ corpse was completely lost.  The Jews usually made quite a fuss over the remains of their prominent leaders, so how do millions of eye witnesses fail to remember where Moses was buried?  This account demonstrates how easy it is for God to cause us to lose track of things that He doesn’t want us to keep holding onto.

Wherever Moses was buried, his corpse is long gone.  Since the Jews weren’t practicing the mummification rituals of the Egyptians, God’s natural processes would have made short work of Moses’ corpse.  As for Moses’ soul–that was immediately transferred to another dimension after Moses died.  How Moses is doing with God today is something only he and God know about.  We certainly don’t want to view him as some kind of standard that we can only hope to live up to.  Instead, we should set our sights on doing far better than Moses did by making our own submission to God a lot deeper than Moses’ was.  And as for Jude and his silly tales of angelic beings fighting over a corpse, well, what can we say?  It’s Jude.  It’s the Bible.  Don’t expect perfection.

Psalm 90: Moses Gripes at Yahweh
Why did God want to kill Moses in Exodus 4?
The Resurrection Myth: Why the Dead in Christ Won’t Really Rise
Impressing the Devil: Jesus’ Self-Exalting Temptation Story
Know Your Bible Lesson 56: A Suicidal Savior & The Transfiguration