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?

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

5 thoughts on “Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land?”

  1. We must always obey God at all times.
    With me, if the Lord tells me to anything right now, I will it. Satan should not play trick on. Lord, please make me to know that you are our Almighty God.

  2. Thank you for the well written answer but why is the scripture not referenced in this commentary? People that are seeking these answers need also (& more so) the Word of God to accompany this commentary.

    1. This post does reference the Scriptures. It does that by providing hyperlinks (identifiable as blue, underlined text) that lead directly to online versions of the passages that are quoted. Throughout this blog it is my practice not to reference the Scriptures by chapter and verse, since the chapter and verse divisions were added to the Bible centuries after it was written and they are often misleading about the structure and literary character of the biblical books. Instead, I reference by key phrases that are linked to the fuller text of the Bible online. The free study guides that are available through this blog (see link at the top of the page) enable people to approach the Bible not through chapters and verses but through natural literary structures. For more information about this approach, please see these posts:
      https://goodquestionblog.com/2013/07/23/studying-the-bible-without-chapters-and-verses/
      https://goodquestionblog.com/2013/06/25/cleaning-sistine-chapel-ceiling/

      (The second post is the first in a four-part series, and all the posts in the series may be of interest.)

    1. As this post indicates, it was for this specific action (striking the rock in anger) that God said to 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.”

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