Moses and the Promised Land

Moses and the Promised Land

Question
Why was Moses, a great leader, not allowed to go into the Promised Land? Striking a rock too many times is no reason.
Answer
Moses was indeed a great leader of God's people (Deut. 34:10-12). Though slow of speech, God empowered him to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 3:1-4:17). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Moses defied one of the greatest rulers upon the earth (Exod. 4:18-14:31) and did many other mighty works. He was a man of faith (Heb. 11:23-28). He was entrusted with God's Law – The Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21). He foreshadowed Jesus (Heb. 3:1-6). (Please see, "Moses - a Type of Christ?" below.) God himself buried Moses (Deut. 34:5-6). What an honor to be buried by God himself! And the devil was jealous and desired a piece of the action as well (Jude 1:9). Moses was well known by friend and foe alike.

Despite all this, Moses never stepped foot in the Promised Land; rather, Joshua led Israel into Canaan (Deut. 31:1-8). Why? Deuteronomy 32:51-52 explains the reason why to us:

Because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.

Briefly, Moses was instructed to "tell the rock before [Israel's] eyes to yield its water" (Num. 20:8), but instead he disobeyed God and struck the rock twice (Num. 20:10-11). Moses' outward sin may have been the improper striking of a rock, but there was inward sin behind this sin. Moses broke faith with God! He disobeyed a direct command. He even appears to take credit for bringing the water out of the rock when he says, "Must we bring you water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10). He did all this publicly and so didn't treat God as holy before all Israel. This was indeed a serious set of sins which in Moses' case required temporary punishment. While ultimately forgiven, Moses received temporary judgment and never entered the Promised Land (cf. Num. 20:12; Deut. 34:1-8).

To make matters worse, consider that Moses struck the Rock which symbolized Christ himself! Paul records, "… and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Here Paul refers to the Rock that satisfied the thirst of the Israelites in the desert as "Christ" (cf. Num. 20). We're reminded by James that God is the ultimate source of every good gift (cf. Jas. 1:17). So, while the water may have come out of the rock, the blessing flowed from God himself. In essence, Moses symbolized striking God himself instead of doing what he was supposed to – talk to Jesus from whom flows the living water of salvation (John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39; cf. Isa. 12:3; 55:1). As Paul states, "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Rom. 10:13; cf. Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21).

Even for someone as great as Moses (who had eternal life), the wages of sin was still death (cf. Rom. 3:23). God is really serious about our sins. That's something to think about!

Related Topics

Moses - A Type of Christ?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).