(Why was Satan interested in Moses' body?)

QUESTION: Sue asks, "What does it mean in Jude verse 9, ‘But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses...'?"

ANSWER: Thanks for the good question. There are some mysteries here, but I think we can hazard a reasonable guess as to what may well have been going on.

Moses is one of the greatest leaders who ever lived. He was the man who led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, and through their wilderness journeys, for about 40 years.

God had condemned the older generation (the male fighting force, in particular) to die in the wilderness, because of their initial refusal to go in and conquer the land of Canaan (Num. 13–14). Because of their faithful stand, Caleb and Joshua were the only men of that generation to live to enter. Moses might have been a third one to do so, but he disobeyed the Lord, and as a result was told that he could not (Num. 20:2-12).

Deuteronomy 34:1-8 describes the death of Moses. The Lord allowed him to see the land of Canaan in the distance, from atop Mount Nebo. Then he died. And we are specifically told that "He [God] buried him in a valley in the land of Moab...but no one knows his grave to this day" (vs. 6).

Now, what did Michael have to do with that? Apparently God has commissioned the archangel Michael to look out for the needs of the nation of Israel and protect them (Dan. 12:1). It is quite probable that the Lord assigned Michael to care for Moses' body on His behalf, or to guard it for a time.

But why was this necessary? And why keep the location of his grave a secret?

That may have been because of the exalted position Moses held in the eyes of the people. He was the only leader the Israelites had ever had. Most of them had been born or had grown up under his rule. And though the people often whined and complained about what he did, after his death they would no doubt have wanted to honour him in a special way.

We get some inkling of that in Deuteronomy 34:8 which tells us the Israelites wept and mourned for him for a month after his death. It's quite possible they would have wanted to carry the body of Moses with them into the land of Canaan (as they did that of Joseph), bury him, and erect an elaborate shrine over his remains.

It is easy to see how this could have deteriorated into a centre for idolatrous worship. After all, Second Kings 18:4 reveals that the Israelites had carted around the bronze serpent Moses had erected in the wilderness at God's command (Num. 21:5-9). Then they set it up on the Promised Land and began to worship it! (They'd even given it a name!)

Finally, how does the devil figure into this? He seems to have attempted to get the body of Moses for himself, or at least find out where it was buried. If the devil had had his way, the body likely would have come into the possession of the Israelites. And he would have tempted them and seduced them to misuse it. But Michael, being a very powerful angel, prevented this.

Now, let me add one other thought. The full text of Jude 1:9 says, "Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation [a slanderous judgment], but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you'" (NKJV). The latter half of the verse deserves careful attention.

There are those in our day who think it is their job to rebuke the devil, and they often do so in a mocking and sarcastic way. That is a dangerous thing to do! We are called to "resist" Satan (Jas. 4:7; I Pet. 5:8-9), not rebuke him.

Resisting him involves doing as Jesus did, through the use of the Word of God ("It is written..." Matt. 4:1-11). We are to reject his lies, trusting instead on what God has said. If an incredibly powerful angel such as Michael did not dare to deal directly with the devil, we have no business doing so. We need to call on God to protect us and to take care of Satan in His own way and time.

For a helpful discussion of the topic of spiritual warfar, see the boook A Holy Rebellion, by Thomas Ice and Robert Dean. It's a practical and biblical study, that avoids so many of the extremes in current literature. The book jacket describes it as, "A biblical strategy for spiritual warfare that defines the conflicts and answers the difficult questions believers are facing today." Published in 1990, it's out of print now, but it is well worth tracking down a used copy.