Questions From Readers
● The Bible says that Moses was vigorous right up till his death. (Deut. 34:7) Why, then, does Moses say in Deuteronomy 31:2 that being a hundred and twenty years old he could no longer “go out and come in” before the Israelites as their leader?
Basically, it seems that the point Moses was making in Deuteronomy 31:2 was that he would no longer be allowed to ‘go out and in’ before the Israelites to lead them into the Promised Land.
This point is not made clear in some translations, for Deuteronomy 31:2 reads in such a way that it sounds as if Moses was saying that he was physically unable to lead the people. For instance, the translation by Ronald Knox reads: “Here am I, a man of a hundred and twenty years of age, no longer fit to lead you on your expeditions; and besides, the Lord has told me that I am not destined to cross yonder stream of Jordan.”—Deut. 31:2, italics added.
But it is quite obvious that Moses could not have been saying that he was unable to lead the nation because of being decrepit. We know that, for after Moses had died it was written: “And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old at his death. His eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.”—Deut. 34:7.
So Moses was evidently quite vigorous. Though, obviously, he was not as robust as a strong young man, he was exceptional for his age; he was not incapacitated from old age. Right up till his death he was capable of leading the people.
But Moses finally turned the leadership of the people over to Joshua, who, though somewhat younger, had experience, ability and God’s spirit on him. (Ex. 24:13; 33:11; Num. 27:15; Deut. 31:3; 34:9; Josh. 14:7-11) The primary reason for doing this was to enable Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land, which God would not permit Moses to do.
This thought is plain in some Bible translations. For example, Isaac Leeser renders Deuteronomy 31:2: “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I am not able any more to go out and come in; for the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.” And the New World Translation renders the verse: “A hundred and twenty years old I am today. I shall no more be allowed to go out and come in, as Jehovah has said to me, ‘You will not cross this Jordan.’”—Deut. 31:2.
Hence, though still being quite a vigorous man for his age, Moses rightly said that he could no longer ‘go out and in’ before the nation as they prepared to cross the Jordan.