Why Moses was Forbidden from Entering the Promised Land?

The question”why Moses was forbidden from entering the promised land” sounds both interesting and intriguing; however, it is also a question that believers often don’t ask or think about.

But, if we dive deeper into the reasons, we could learn something very profound, that will really benefit our Walk with the LORD Almighty.

Well, you ask any Christians around: your pastor, preacher or fellow believer

“Why Moses was forbidden from entering the promised land”?

Their straight answer would be: oh! He struck the rock twice instead of once”.

But is this answer correct as per the Bible? Doesn’t it sound a bit silly to prevent a great Leader like Moses from entering the promised Land just because “he struck a rock twice”.

I too believed this story for a long time, but recently as I studied the Scriptures more carefully, I got the correct answer which I am going to share with you.

Here, I will be attempting to answer the following three questions:

  1. Why Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised land?
  2. Did God ask Moses to strike the rock?
  3. What was the origin of “Striking the Rock story”?

First, let us examine the main question:

“Why did the LORD forbid Moses from entering the promised land?”

The answer is clear and straightforward and let us hear it straight from Moses’ mouth. but before you hear from him, let me share a little bit of background information.

As per the instruction of the LORD Almighty; The Israelites, from Horeb, moves towards the Hill country of the Amorites and reaches Kadesh Barnea. Here, Moses tells the people:

21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy: 1, 21)

However, The Israelites were not willing to go ahead and fight as they were afraid of starting a war without knowing in detail about their enemies. So, first, they wanted to send people and find out more about the land and the people living in the Hill Country.

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” (Deuteronomy, 1, 22)

Please remember, this unwillingness was despite Moses assuring them that “The LORD has given you the land, go up and take possession of it”.

Eventually, Moses agrees to their plea and sends out twelve people as spies. But unfortunately, ten out of the twelve, brought back really bad news that scared the Israelites to death.

28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.” (Deuteronomy 1, 28).

Based on the description of the spies, the Israelites concluded that, the enemy is much stronger and formidable in strength  and they won’t be able to conquer them for any reason.

It seems like these Israelites had a very poor memory. They really forgot or ignored the miracles that the LORD Almighty did in the midst of them all these days.

They, even forgot about the parting of the Red Sea, which was the greatest among all the miracles they witnessed.

Moreover, those words of distrust and ungratefulness came out of their mouth while, still living under the shade of the cloud and the pillar of fire. What a great unbelief! What a horrible distrust!

Though the Israelites were witnessing supernatural miracles on a daily basis, still, their hearts were hardened. They still did not trust in the LORD with all their heart. Even after seeing, they did not believe!

Anyway, after getting the details of the people living in the Hill Country, the Israelites decides not to fight the Amorites.

May be, they concluded that, the battle is theirs and they did not have enough strength to take on the enemy. Instead of trusting God and going ahead to take possession of the land, they stayed in their tents and began to grumble against the LORD.

Despite all the assurances of Moses, they were unwilling to trust in The LORD and their words of distrust made HIM really angry and compelled HIM to solemnly swear that:

35“No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors,36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” (Deuteronomy: 1, 35-36).

So, now, from the above verses, it is clear that no one from that evil generation will enter the promised land, even Moses. But what was the fault of Moses?

In the following verses we hear Moses telling in his own words why he was not allowed to set foot on the promised land.

37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. (Deuteronomy 1, 37-38)

Now, we know very well, why Moses was not allowed to set foot on the Promised land.

The reason was nothing but: distrust and disobedience of that generation including Moses. Though Moses was not as guilty as the other people, he too was counted among them.

This raises another question: why Moses was also treated as one among them? 

I think it is because, He agreed to the plan of the people to send out spies.

In this particular situation, it was not a wise decision for Moses to send out spies against the instruction of the LORD Almighty.

He should not have yielded to the pressure of the community leaders. It was a wise decision from a worldly perspective but an unwise one from the heavenly perspective. As a leader, he should have obeyed God Almighty instead of following the suggestions of the people.

Next, let us examine the second question:

Why did Moses strike the rock instead of speaking to it? Did God ask him to strike the rock? Or did he do so in anger?

The answer can be found in the book of Exodus 17:

5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17, 5-6)

From Exodus chapter 17 verse 6, it is clear that The LORD is instructing Moses to strike the rock but he did not say how many times. He plainly says:

“I will be there near the rock at Horeb and you strike it and water will come out of it”.

Well, now it is clear that Moses struck the rock because, God instructed him to do so.

Therefore, there is no reason for anyone to argue that:

“Moses committed a sin by striking the rock” and also because of this he was forbidden from entering the promised land. This accusation is baseless and imaginary. 

Neither God nor Moses talks anything about “striking the rock”, as an offence that made The LORD angry. on the contrary in Deuteronomy 1, 37-38 Moses clearly explains why he was not allowed to enter the promised land.

Last, let us examine the third question: the origin of striking the rock” story.

The story of “striking the rock” has its origin in the following verses in Numbers 20.

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him.10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (Numbers 20, 6-11)

Here in verse 8, it is true that The Lord tells Moses to speak to the rock and it will pour out water. But there is more to the story, from the context it is evident that:

Before striking the rock, there was a very heated argument between Moses and the people. During this argument he became very angry and rash words came out of his mouth which was not fitting for a Prophet of God.

We get more information about this argument from the following verse in Exodus 17.

7 And he called the place Massah a and Meribah b because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”(Exodus 17, 7)

The people were demanding water and there was no way Moses could give it to them without a miracle. Even Moses never expected that God would bring water out of a rock, there was a certain degree of doubt in Moses’ heart too. That is the reason, I think, for the heated argument between him and the community leaders.

Moreover, the rash words that came out Moses’ mouth did not sanctify the name of The LORD before His people.

His words did not bring honour or glory to The LORD’s name, instead his words made the people angrier.

As a representative of God Almighty, he was not supposed to talk to the people in this manner and it resulted in profaning the LORD’s name before His people.

Though, the LORD listened to the argument between Moses and the people, HE did not say anything to Moses immediately. But, waited until the water was brought from the rock. And as soon as the miracle happened The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them (Numbers 20, 12)

Here, the LORD reminds Moses of the words of distrust that came out of his mouth during the quarrel with the community leaders and how those words brought dishonour to HIS  Holy name before the Israelites.

Also, The LORD tells Moses that: “because of those words of distrust and dishonour he won’t be allowed to bring the Israelite community in to the promised land”.

Here an important point for us to keep in mind is:

Although God forbids Moses from entering the promised land “in the context of bringing water from the rock”, HE did not give “striking the rock twice” as a reason for it.

Please note, nowhere in the above verses in Numbers 20 did God say:” I won’t let you in to the promised land, because, “you struck the rock instead of speaking to it” or “you struck the rock two times instead of once”. On the contrary HE says:

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20, 12)

So, the reason was lack of trust on the part of Moses and not striking the rock. As a leader, Moses didn’t speak words of faith that would sanctify the name of the LORD before Israelites.

The God we worship is a GOD who makes impossible things possible. But Moses forgot this fact for a short while. I think, Even Moses might have  thought:

“Bringing water out of a hard rock – oh! that is impossible.

Let us examine once again the two key parts in Deuteronomy 1 and Numbers 20 that explain the reasons for forbidding Moses from entering the promised land.

Deuteronomy -1

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” 32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35“No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors,36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” 37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. (Deuteronomy 1, 29-38)

Numbers – 20

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20, 12)

So, the conclusion is:

whether in Deuteronomy 1 or Numbers 20, the reason for not allowing Moses to enter the Promised Land was the Distrust and disobedience of that generation including Moses and not striking the rock.

A Lesson for Us

Like the Israelites, we too, in our Walk with the LORD, often speak words of distrust that dishonours HIS Holy Name. No matter how many miracles God had already done in our lives, we, still in a new situation, will be quick to speak words of impossibility instead of words of possibility.

Instead of recalling the previous times of miraculous deliverances, we would try to magnify the difficulties or obstacles that lie in front of us.

Saints, Trust is the pillar that holds firm our relationship with the LORD Almighty. Once that pillar is shaky, the whole relationship is shaky. So, let us be diligent in studying the Word of God, from which we can gain enough strength keep the pillar of trust firm.

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