Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land?

Q. Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land? I’m aware of his disobedience, I just feel that it’s too much! Too harsh a punishment.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his New Testament epistle, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Other versions say “judged by a stricter standard” or “judged more severely than others.” These all mean basically the same thing, and what James says about teachers applies to all spiritual leaders. God does judge and, when necessary, punish them more strictly than others. Why? What spiritual leaders do affect their followers, both directly, in terms of the consequences of their decisions and choices, and indirectly, through their example.

Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because when God told him to speak to a rock so that it would send out water for the Israelites to drink in the desert, Moses struck the rock  with his staff instead. Certainly the direct consequences of this action were not bad for the Israelites. They had been in danger of dying of thirst, and this action saved them. But the indirect consequences were very dangerous spiritually.

God had told Moses to gather all the Israelites together in front of the rock, and God had given him these instructions: “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” Instead, Moses gathered the Israelites and said to them, speaking for himself and his fellow leader Aaron, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he struck the rock twoice, and water came out.

In response to this, God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Another translation puts that this way: “You did not trust me enough to honor me and show the people that I am holy. You did not show the Israelites that the power to make the water came from me. So you will not lead the people into the land that I have given them.”

So more was involved than the seemingly small distinction between speaking to the rock and striking the rock. For one thing, instead of speaking to the rock as God’s agent of provision and care, Moses spoke to the people, and he did so with hostility and anger. This misrepresented God’s merciful disposition to do good for the people even though they had been grumbling and complaining. Moses also took credit for the action himself: “Must we bring you water out of this rock?” Anyone who is entrusted with the responsibility of acting on God’s behalf must always be very careful to make sure the God gets all of the glory, credit, and praise. If they are not careful, people can be led to glorify other people instead, robbing God of the glory that belongs only to him.

So while it might seem to us that God gave Moses a severe punishment for a small infraction, God was aware of the potential wide-ranging and long-lasting effects of his example, and God needed to stop those effects from spreading.

Your question is similar to the one I answer in the post linked below, and so that post may also be of interest to you.

Why did God reject Saul as king for making one small mistake?

Should I be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others?

Q. I’m currently struggling with quantifying my salvation in light of faith versus deeds. Work, study, and parenting leave me with little time to physically serve in the manner exampled by the apostles. I have not attended church for a couple of years, since my family members are not Christians and due to split working hours this is a period where Sundays are shared with them. I do however meet regularly with Christian friends. I remain constantly insecure about the authenticity of my salvation, despite experiencing some of the smallest and most tender answers to prayer, which surely show God is at work in my life and therefore not completely displeased with me. I know it is by faith and not works we are saved, but I am afraid that I don’t perform like a Christian and that my light doesn’t shine brightly enough. Is this just a season of my life where circumstances prevail and my private efforts/time with the Lord will suffice? Or am I potentially making excuses and should be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others? With thanks.

First, let me say that I sense that God is stirring up within you a desire for your actions to be more patently congruent with your faith. The fact that you are concerned about this and asking about this shows that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and responsive to his leading. This, like the precious answers you continue to receive to your prayers, ought to encourage you that you are walking genuinely with the Lord.

But second, I need to tell you that as a pastor, I have unfortunately seen too many cases where “just for now” became a permanent situation. People who justified stepping back from Christian activity under one set of circumstances continued to justify this under later circumstances. Eventually these people lost the desire to be involved in Christian activities at all. Some of them ultimately even lost the desire to follow Jesus, and they made very regrettable choices once it no longer mattered to them to please Jesus. So while God is encouraging you in a positive new direction, I think God is also warning you about the dangers of your present direction. (We are never in a static “situation.” We are always heading in one direction or another.)

So ultimately I would encourage you to take initiative to make your way of life more openly congruent with your faith. I have a friend who says, “When you don’t buy something, don’t say, ‘I can’t afford it.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.’ When you don’t do something, don’t say, ‘I don’t have the time.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.'”

The fact is that at present you are not choosing to make church participation, for example, a priority over spending time with family. But it seems to me that you are accommodating their preferred use of time every weekend, and that it would only be fair for them to accommodate your preferred use of time on at least some weekends. For all you know, if you say that you would like to make it a priority to attend church on at least some Sundays, some of your family members might even go with you, if only so that they could spend time with you. The same thing could be said about other Christian activities, such as serving those in need in the name of Jesus.

This is not a matter of you “doing more” to prove your faith to God or to other people. The Christian life is not a matter of “doing.” It is a matter of being. Doing must flow from being. But what I hear in your story is that the doing that should be flowing from your genuine being is being blocked, not by your circumstances, but by your response to your circumstances. I would invite you to see your circumstances as something that you can control, at least to a sufficient degree, not as something that necessarily controls you and dictates your choices. When we allow something to block the doing that should be flowing from our genuine being, that is a threat to our being itself.

But I feel I should close with some words from the book of Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, in your case we are convinced of better things—the things that accompany salvation.” I believe you are showing that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and eager to obey his promptings. And so I trust that you will be able to speak with your family members and explain to them how you would like to have time for some of your priorities within the shared family schedule, and I trust that they will respond in an understanding and supportive way. God bless you as you pursue this.

Who was Abraham’s second wife, Hagar or Keturah?

Q. Abraham took a second wife. Jewish traditions say she was Hagar. Most accounts say he married Keturah after Sarah’s death. Can you share what you know on this topic?

The book of Genesis relates how God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child of their own. But instead, as the customs of the time permitted, Sarah gave her female servant Hagar to Abraham as a concubine or secondary wife. Abraham and Hagar had a son named Ishmael.

Later God’s promise came true and Abraham and Sarah did have a child of their own named Isaac. Sarah wanted to make sure that Isaac would have the rights of the firstborn and be the heir, so she got Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. It seems that this involved Abraham divorcing Hagar.

It must be acknowledged that Hagar is one of the figures in the Bible who is treated worst by the people who were supposed to be following and obeying God. But God provided for Hagar and Ishmael, and in response, Hagar gave God the name El-Roi, meaning The God Who Sees. Hagar recognized that God was aware of her situation and caring for her. And so Hagar is also the only figure in the Bible, as far as I know, who gave God a name. God himself revealed all of his other names.

Genesis also tells us that after Sarah died, Abraham married another woman, named Keturah. The two of them had six sons. But Abraham sent them to live in other places so that Isaac would be his undisputed heir.

So the woman Abraham married after the death of his first wife was Keturah. She was his second wife in that sense. However, while Sarah was still alive, Abraham was married to Hagar as his concubine. So in another sense, she may be considered his second wife.


What is the difference between a birthright and a blessing?

Q. Esau gave up his birthright and then Jacob stole his blessing. What is the difference between the birthright and the blessing?

A birthright is the right that a person has, through the circumstances of their birth, to assume the leadership of their family in the next generation. In many cultures this right belongs initially to the firstborn child, whether a son or a daughter. In patriarchal cultures, it belongs to the firstborn son, and in matriarchal cultures, it belongs to the firstborn daughter.

However, this right is not automatic. A person can forfeit it. We see this happen in the Bible in the case of Jacob’s sons. This was a patriarchal culture, and so the firstborn son, Reuben, would have had the birthright. But Reuben forfeited that right through his own wrongdoing. He had sexual relations with one of his father’s concubines, and as a result, his father took this right away from him. He gave it instead to his brother Joseph.

Joseph was actually his eleventh son, but he had already assumed leadership in his generation by rescuing the whole family from famine, and he had proven his godly character. As the official record in the book of Chronicles says about Reuben, “He was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright.”

Since the birthright is not automatic, the leader of the family in the previous generation needs to confer it officially on a person. They do this before they die in the form of a blessing. So a blessing is the official confirmation of a birthright.

To use Jacob’s sons as an example once again, in his dying words to his sons, Jacob disqualifies Reuben and blesses Joseph. About Reuben he says, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength… but you will not have the preeminence” (that is, the birthright). About Joseph he says:

Your father’s blessings are greater
    than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
    than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

So in this blessing, Jacob confers the birthright on Joseph, making him the leader in his generation, after taking that right away from Reuben.

In Jacob’s own generation, his brother Esau was the firstborn, but Esau himself gave away his birthright. (He actually sold it to Jacob for bowl of stew! That is why the Bible says that he “despised” his birthright, meaning that he thought very little of it.) But even though there was this arrangement between Esau and Jacob for Jacob to have the birthright, which of them would ultimately get it was not official until their father Isaac conferred it on one or the other of them through his blessing. And so Jacob later tricked his father into giving it to him.

When Esau found out about this, he said, “This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” I hope that this post has helped explained the difference between those two things and how they are related.

Questions about sin and human responsibility

This post will be different from most of the others on this blog. I have received a long inquiry that contains many thoughtful questions. They are by and large questions that various other posts deal with in one way or another. So I will reproduce the inquiry, without editing it, and then provide links below it to those other posts. I commend this inquirer for thinking about the Bible so carefully and for looking widely for answers to questions about the Bible.

Q. I have many questions which are interlinked to one another. I have read many articles, books, listen to sermons, videos and approached many experts like you for getting answers. However everyone has different explanations for the same word from bible and I end up in confusion. However after this so long journey what I understood is the common elements in all my questions are related to sufferings and the way god deal with it or the way I should look at. We have people believe in god creats the sufferings, god allow sufferings, god tests our faith, it is not god but satan, time, sin, fallen world, glory of god. And if I start writing in it it will be a big story but I will definitely share it with you soon. So I am keeping my question to Adam story or first sin. Here are my observations.
In this present world I have access to so much and I am prone to do any stupid stuff. But adam was in perfect (in fact good ) world what factors lead him to fail. Why did god wanted to have a knowledge tree in his world and asking adam to not to eat. It sounded like I am asking my kid not to eat something (like chocolate or ice cream) even though it is in the house. I am sure kid will try his best to go near to it multiple times and he might/will attempt to eat it and when you ask, in fear kid will/might bluff or do anything which either you expect or not expect. In that way I can not punish him and send away from home. I will try teach him a lesson. But god is different. If he can forgive a sinner woman in new testament, why can not he forgive adam or why did not he gave another chance either to repent or not to repeat. People say satan is the serpent but bible did not mention any such. If serpent is serpent why did it got a thought to ask something to Eve. The words I will put enimity between you and mankind, is it simply that snake will bite man on his feet and man will hit it on belly (which generally happens), is it this way. If satan is serpent, then why to blame adam or eve. If I got cheated by anyone, will you say I deseve punishment for being cheated. Adam and Eve are like new born kids or new in the College of eden, I am not sure (as per the bible) no such details are given about how a man is living and and how he is developing any thoughts. Was he feeling the freedom as bore or punishment. Was he thinking he is more than god. Was he developing thoughts of going on his own. No such details are mentioned. Satan will try in many times for the fall to be happening. So why punishment for adam and eve. I think god did not mention any such that you should nor hear from anyone. Even if he does, I feel that for kids or freshers, the temptation or thought will be there in mind to go near by the tree/person. When nothing is explained why are we coming to a conclusion that man is wrong and first sin and fallen world. And we are blaming everything on as fallen world, sin entered through man. But sin or evil is already there in the form of Lucifer. If a kid is failed who is the responsibility. Lucifer has the thoughts which are not matching with god’s and so became rebel by definition. In that way can we say god’s creation itself has evil existing somewhere. When satan is trying its best for the fall, why to send away adam n eve. Instead he can do something with satan, right?? People relate that Serpent with the Ezekiel Tyrus, revelation dragon and etc. Bible did not mention anything that the snake is serpent. Throughout the bible, why satan is given that much importance. How can he be more Powerful that he can challenge god or work on people. God was accepting some animal sacrifices for the sins. In that he can forgive adam and eve with a sacrifice. Infact he gave animal skin clothes. So sacrifice was done. Then in that way adam n eve are forgiven. If god is accepting offerings, where is the sin existing then. God has sent floods for eradication of man. So in that way also we can see sin is removed. Why do we say sin is from adam and we are all part of that. What is the need for him to send jesus. Once this adam part is finished I will share my questions on this story from jesus point as well. Lot of things are either missing or not clear in bible. Please note that I am asking these questions for my understanding and growth only.

A. As I said at the beginning of this post, I commend you for looking for the answers to your questions. I’ve said many times on this blog, “There’s no such thing as a bad question.” Other readers have had questions similar to yours, and I invite you to read the following posts, in the hopes that they will present some thoughts that will be helpful to you. These posts themselves contain links to other posts that may be of interest. Thank you for your inquiry.

Why did God make people and angels who would fail and fall away?

Did God forgive Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit?

Why did God create Satan?

Why didn’t God protect the children he created from an evil being like Satan?

What is the “hostility” that God put between the woman and the serpent?

Q. In the account of the Fall in Genesis, God tells the serpent that he is going to put put “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. What is that “hostility”? Is it Jesus?

It seems that previously the woman and the serpent had gotten along, or at least that the woman had felt she had no reason to distrust the serpent, since she was having a conversation with him in the midst of the Garden of Eden. The woman actually went along with what the serpent suggested, even though it was contrary to what God had commanded.

So after the disobedience of the woman and the man, God took the measure of putting “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. Some Bibles translate this word as “enmity” or “animosity.” A few state it in a simple way that I think is accurate and helpful: “I will make you and the woman enemies to each other.” So this “hostility” is not a person, it is a hostile state of relationship.

God specified that this situation would continue down through the generations. So on the simplest level, this meant that snakes would be dangerous to people, and people would try to protect themselves from snakes even if that required attacking and killing them.So this was, on one level, a further punishment of the serpent, beyond having to go around on the ground.

But there are much more profound meanings as well. For one thing, the state of hostility would keep the woman from trusting the serpent again. That would protect her from the temptations that the serpent would otherwise have continued to offer. The hostility also prevented the woman and the serpent from agreeing together on a course of action that was contrary to what God wanted. In that sense, the hostility was like the division of human languages at the Tower of Babel that kept people from joining together in opposition to God.

And ultimately Jesus does come into the picture, at the point where God says to the serpent about the “seed” or “descendant” of the woman, “He will crush your head.” In light of how God’s plan of redemption unfolds over the rest of the Bible, we can understand this statement to be a reference to and prediction of the victory of Jesus on the cross over sin and death.

So Jesus is not the “hostility” that kept the woman and the serpent apart so that the serpent could no longer deceive the woman. Instead, he is the “seed” of the woman who ultimately defeated the serpent, that is, the devil, definitively at the cross.

Why do people use flashing lights in their Christmas decorations?

Q. I am at a loss to understand the introduction of flashing lights in people’s Christmas decorations. I understand the use of some light: “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord”; “I am the way, the truth and the light.” But nowhere do I see, “And let the lights flash manically!” What think you?

I would say that the most brilliant display of light happened on the very first Christmas, right after Jesus was born and laid in a manger. Luke tells us in his gospel, “That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God.”

I don’t think any contemporary display of Christmas lights could approach that. But we may hope that those who seem to want achieve a comparable effect in their displays are doing so with the same great reverence with which the shepherds responded to the angelic proclamation.

How long did the baby Jesus stay in the manger in the stable?

Q. The date of the birth of Jesus is supposed to be 25th December, in a stable. How long did the family stay in that stable, that is, when did Jesus leave his manager crib and move to other accommodation?

First, Jesus was actually most likely born in the spring, not the winter. Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem specifically to register for a Roman census. The Roman government would not have required its citizens to travel en masse back to their home towns in winter, when travel was difficult or impossible under the conditions of the time. The return of good weather in the spring is when the census would most likely have been held. However, the Christian church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 because of the symbolism of light coming into the world around the time of the winter solstice.

Second, since their trip to Bethlehem was for the census, Joseph and Mary would not have been planning to stay there very long. They probably would have wanted to visit with family for a while, since that was the town Joseph was originally from, but then they would have returned to their lives in Nazareth. Their trip back was likely delayed when Mary gave birth to Jesus, but even so, they would have traveled back to Nazareth as soon as mother and child could do that safely. So I would say they were in the stable (which was the only accommodation available to them, since so many others had also come to Bethlehem to register) probably not for more than a week. That would be my estimate, anyway.

The marvel is that the Son of God willingly was born into such a rough and improvised setting when he came to earth to be our Savior. Hallelujah!

Why is it so difficult to reconcile the mind and heart regarding faith in Jesus Christ?

Q. Why is it so difficult to reconcile the mind and heart regarding faith in Jesus Christ?

I believe you are observing that there are things we know in our heads to be true about faith in Jesus that we don’t always feel to be true in our hearts, and you are asking why that is so.

I think the answer is that there is a difference between the way our minds and hearts work. Unless we have some motive for rationalizing things away, our minds work pretty straightforwardly to understand and accept things that are true, particularly when we are committed believers learning in community under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Our feelings, on the other hand, are influenced by countless factors, and as a result they do not always correspond to the objective reality of our situation.

So we may very well be walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God, with no known sin or willful disobedience between us and him, and yet God may still feel distant for some reason, even though we know in our heads that he isn’t. Or we may know Jesus’ promise perfectly well, “Whoever comes to me, I will never turn away,” and yet we may still feel doubts about whether God has accepted us.

But the Bible itself addresses this very issue. The apostle John wrote in his first letter, “When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in the presence of God. But even if we don’t feel at ease, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” This statement addresses the issue of a possible disconnect between what we know and what we feel. It tells us to rely on a third faculty, our capacity for faith and trust, to mediate between our heads and our hearts. We are to rest assured that whatever we might be feeling at any given moment, God knows that we truly love and trust and believe in him, and we can rely on that.

And I am convinced, from what I have seen in many years as a pastor, that if we continue to live out our faith, not relying on what we feel, but on what we know, our feelings will come around eventually. The steady influence of a committed way of life will come to outweigh the scattered momentary influences of all those different factors that go into determining how we feel.

Darkness, light, and water in the Genesis creation account

Q. First I will like to say that discovering this site has been very refreshing to my faith, big thanks to you and your team on this good work.
Over the past months I have been reading through my Bible from Genesis all the way down to Revelation, which i have not done in a while. I realized that some of the questions i had as a young believer when doing the same still had not been answered. While these questions do not challenge my faith as they once used to, I still feel a deep intellectual curiosity and I do feel there is something to be gained, even spiritually, from knowing more. So here are the first few couple things I would like to get more insight into:

(1) When was darkness created ? In Gen. 1:1-4 we see darkness mentioned in v. 2, before the creation of light, and again in v. 4, when God separates the light (day) he had created from the darkness. God was and is before all things, including darkness. So what exactly is darkness, and at what point did it come into being? To merely say it is the absence of light does not satisfy me at all.

(2) How was there light before the sun was created? In Genesis 1 we see light created on the first day and the sun and stars created later on the fourth day. To me, even from a purely observational point of view, it seems much too obvious an experiential fact to miss that the sun gives out the light we see. IMO one does not need science to come to this conclusion, just seeing. Perhaps there is a different way of understanding light as it is seen in Genesis 1 that i am not aware of.

(3) In Gen. 1:6-8 we see the sky (vault) created to separate the waters into two. Consequently in verse 9 we see the “waters below” gathered to form the “seas.” Presently, based on scientific discovery, we know that what we have above the sky is “outer space.” So what became of the “waters above”? Are the waters above outer space? (Verse 2 gives a picture of darkness and water existing together, which to me supports this view.) If so, why would the waters above (outer space) and the waters below (seas) differ so much in make when logically they should not. Also, is it possible that darkness and water are somehow equated to each other? And in another line of thinking, did the waters above become “clouds,” since clouds are kind of floating water bodies?

A. Thank you very much for your appreciative words. I’m glad that this blog is an encouragement to your faith. I commend you for reading all the way through the Bible again, and for asking questions about it. I agree with you that there is much to be gained by asking questions and learning from them, even when we do not feel that our very faith is at stake in the answer. I call this blog Good Question on the premise that “there’s no such thing as a bad question.”

In terms of the specific matters you asked about, several other readers of this blog have asked about similar things. So let me start by referring you to the thoughts I have shared in response to them. If you find that these posts address many of your concerns, but not all of them, you can always ask a follow-up question in the comment section of those posts or this one.

Regarding question (1), however, I actually do not have a separate post about darkness on this blog. That is because, simply stated, I do think that darkness simply is the absence of light in the Genesis account. It is not a positive entity that came into existence at one point.

But regarding question (2), please see this post: How was there light on the first day of creation when the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day?

And regarding question (3), please see this post: Does the creation account in Genesis begin with matter (in the form of water) already existing?

In that post you will also find a link to a chapter about the Genesis creation account in an online version of the book Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation that I co-authored with Dr. Stephen J. Godfrey, the curator of paleontology at a museum here in the United States. I think that this chapter will offer some broad answers to your questions, including some thoughts about question (1). In fact, you might find the whole book to be of interest. It begins here.

Keep reading the Bible, and keep thinking about it and pursuing the questions that raises!