The Resurrection of the Body – Is the Body Important to God?

Question from a Site Viewer

What’s all this business with Moses’ body?

Why did Satan want Moses’ body? Why did God hide his body? If the body is destroyed (burned or lost due to other reasons) will this be a concern as far as bodily resurrection is concerned? Lastly, what about cremation today? Will this be a hindrance come the day of resurrection?

Tim’s Answer

Thank you for your questions concerning Moses’ death and what ramifications it may have for us today. The account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 is short and intriguing. All we know from this passage is that Moses died and “He,” an apparent reference to the LORD, buried Moses in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor, but no one knew where he was buried. Then we are told in Jude 9 that Michael, the archangel, contended with the devil about the body of Moses. Before Jude, Philo wrote around the time of Christ that Moses was buried by immortal powers (On the Life of Moses, II, Chap. 50). Outside of these sources, we have no other passage before the time of Jude that directly addresses these events.

Without any direct evidence on the subject, it is only speculation as to why Satan wanted the body of Moses. And I do not have a plausible answer that satisfies me. We have no other similar situations in Scripture where Satan seeks the body of someone. I know some use Zechariah 3 as such an example, but I see nothing in that passage to indicate that Joshua is dead or that the dispute is about Joshua’s body. To the contrary Joshua is standing before the Angel of the LORD, a name that always is in relation to this earth (we never see the Angel of the LORD in heaven unless we take the accounts in Genesis 22 and Matthew 28:2 to reference God’s heaven as opposed to the sky surrounding the earth). And Joshua is very much alive during this time (see Zechariah 6:10-11) as after this Zechariah places a crown on his head.

Also, we are not told why God hid Moses’ body. The bodies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as well as the bodies of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah were not hidden, but were buried at locations that were well-known. God treated Moses’ differently. Although the children of Israel were carrying the bones of Joseph with them at the time and ultimately buried them in the land of Israel (Joshua 24:32), God gave them no opportunity to do the same with Moses’ body. He was buried in the land of Moab, outside of the land of Israel. We can speculate that God did not want Israel to know where Moses’ body was so that they could not remove it to the Promised Land, or make a shrine of it, but ultimately Scripture does not say this. Nor does Scripture say that God did this to create some sort of perfect picture of the Law and the Promise, with Moses representing the Law and not being able to enter the promised land.

But I can affirm that to the extent the account teaches us anything, it teaches us that God was concerned about the body of Moses after he died. Contrary to a lot of rhetoric from pastors and theologians, and common belief held by many Christians that the body is ultimately a throw-away house, a mere garment to be discarded when we go to be with Jesus, Scripture consistently places a great deal of importance on dead bodies. Abraham bought his first and only parcel in the land of Promise to provide a burial place for Sarah (Genesis 23:1-20). Abraham was carefully buried as well (Genesis 25:8-10). Rachel was buried and a pillar set up on her grave (Genesis 35:19-20). When Isaac died, his sons buried him (Genesis 35:29). It was important to Jacob that he be buried back with his fathers (Genesis 49:29-32) and a great procession took that journey to bury the embalmed body (Genesis 50:1-14). Joseph commanded that his bones not be left in Egypt (Genesis 50:25) and the children of Israel obliged (Joshua 24:32). The writer of Hebrews uses this as an example of faith (Hebrews 11:22). They buried Samuel at his home (1 Samuel 25:1). The men of Gilead risked their lives to give king Saul a burial (1 Samuel 31:11-13) (this is the only positive account in Scripture of burning a body, but the burning apparently dealt only with the flesh, not the bones which were buried). David’s body was buried (1 Kings 2:10) and so were a long list of the kings (1 Kings 11:43; 14:31; 15:8, 24; 22:50; 2 Kings 8:24; 9:28; 12:21; 14:20; 15:7, 38; 16:20; 21:18, 26; 23:30; 2 Chronicles 32:33). God preserved the body of the man of God from Judah for a proper burial (1 Kings 13:24, 28-31). Elisha’s body was buried (2 Kings 13:20). The body of John the Baptist was buried (Matthew 14:12). Jesus’ was buried (Matthew 27:57-60). And the body was important enough that the women were on their way to anoint the body after the Sabbath when they met the resurrection (Mark 16:1). Jesus Himself spoke positively of the act of anointing the body (John 12:7-8). Even the body of strangers were given a burial place (Matthew 27:7).

A sign of God’s dishonor was that the body would not be buried. Thus, Ahab’s household along with his wife Jezebel would not be buried according to the word of the Lord (1 Kings 21:23-25), which is what happened (2 Kings 9:25, 33-37; 10:7-8). Jeremiah speaks of God’s judgment when the corpses of the people will be food for the birds and beasts and there will be no one to drive the animals away (Jeremiah 7:33). He speaks also of the bones being brought out of the graves which shall be as refuse on the face of the earth (Jeremiah 8:2). He repeats the idea that God’s judgment will result in people dying and not being lamented or buried (Jeremiah 16:4-6). The judgment on Jehoiakim was that he would have the burial of a donkey, dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 22:19). He speaks of a coming day when the Lord judges the nations and the slain shall be from one end of the earth to the other and they shall not be buried, but become refuse on the ground (Jeremiah 25:33).

Further, God not only preserved the body of Moses, but Scripture speaks of preserving our bodies as well (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Job stated it very firmly when he stated that after he died he, in his flesh, would see God (Job 19:26). These bodies are important enough to God that He has promised to resurrect them one day (Isaiah 26:19; John 5:28-29; Romans 8:11, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; Philippians 3:20-21). He could have simply stated that He would provide us another body and leave these present bodies to decay. But, God created us to be a body, soul, and spirit, and death of any of these was not His created design. The death of the body followed the death of the spirit in the fall of Adam and the resurrection of the body will follow the resurrection of the spirit in the new creation we have in Christ. Our bodies are important to God.

This, of course, does not mean that we should exalt the body over the spirit or should focus on preserving our bodies. Scripture teaches no such thing (Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28; 1 Timothy 4:8). But I believe that those who honor Christ will seek to honor the body He has created for us in appropriate ways.

You ask whether there should be any concern if the body is destroyed, burned or lost due to other reasons. I do not think we are honoring God when we mistreat the body of the deceased. Nor do I find any support in Scripture for cremation, a practice that was a large part of the Greek and Roman cultures but not part of the Hebrew culture. The idea that the saints would burn the bodies of their dead is never supported in Scripture. Scripture speaks about burning those who were accursed by God (Leviticus 20:14 — burned with fire for certain sexual sins; 21:9 — a priest’s daughter who becomes a harlot; Joshua 7:25 — Achan). God promised judgment on the false altar at Bethel by stating that bones would be burned on the altar (1 Kings 13:2), which Josiah did (2 Kings 23:16-20). God promised judgment on Moab because the king of Moab had burned the bones of the king of Edom and reduced them to lime (Amos 2:1). But cremation of the saints by the saints is not a Biblical concept.

Nevertheless,, cremation does not impact the force of God’s resurrection. The martyrs who have been burned at the stake will take part in the same resurrection that we experience. Those who were eaten by beasts will have their bodies preserved and raised. If God can raise up children of Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8), there is no probIem with God raising up bodies from ashes, or molecules.

I trust this helps. May the Lord Jesus guide you as you seek to follow His will.

In His service,
knowing vs doing


More articles . . .