Thursday, October 1, 2009

Do you know why Moses did not enter the Promised land?

I did NOT think about it before
Up until recently, I really did not give much thought to this question. I only knew that Joshua was the one who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua succeeded Moses as the Leader just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. But I was not having the impression that Moses was physically unable to make the journey into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 34:7, we read that Moses was 120 years old but his eyes were not weak and his strength was not gone. I have heard over and over again that the adults who left Egypt (except Joshua and Caleb) did not make it to the Promised Land because by the second time the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. It was that long, that by this time, the many adults would have died, apart from the fact that God had decreed that the adults (except Joshua and Caleb - the two spies, who wanted the people to enter the Land) would not ever enter the Promised Land when they refused to enter Land the first time God brought them near it (Numbers 14:29-30). Although I knew of this decree of God against the adults, I never really thought that Moses was excluded. Indeed, I now think Moses and Aaron were NOT included in the decree. It was in a later event that Moses and Aaron were NOT allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Miriam dies
After about 38 years (according to Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary) of wandering in the
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deserts, God brought the people to a place called Kadesh in the Desert of Zin. By this time, only Moses, Aaron and Miriam were left (apart from Joshua and Caleb){Num 26:64-65 - By the time of the second census, all adults had died except a handful}. In case you do not yet know, these three (Moses, Aaron and Miriam) were brothers and sister (Numbers 26:59). Moses was the Leader God had chosen, Aaron was the Priest, and Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20). They were a team although at times they had their differences. We know that Miriam died at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1). I believe Moses was sad and upset. I believe Moses wanted to believe that Miriam was NOT included in the decree God made when they first came near the Promised Land (Numbers 14:29-30). Moses loved his sister very much, and had successfully appealed to God to heal her of leprosy which God Himself inflicted on her because of her opposition to Moses’ taking of a Cushite wife (Numbers 12). I believe Moses had wanted and thought that the 3-member team would remain intact until they have entered the Promised Land. I could understand his sentiments, by the time they reached Kadesh, he could see that probably, all the adults who needed to die, had died.

Background to the decree
When the Israelites first came close to the Promised Land and spies were sent out to check out the land and when the spies came back with their reports, the Israelites (except Joshua and Caleb) decided NOT to trust God who said that He would be giving them the Land. The Israelites were afraid of the giants of the Promised Land. The Israelites treated God with contempt. Numbers 14:1-3 recorded this as follows:

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?"

In fact, God said, I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, … (Numbers 14:12).

It was Moses who pleaded with the LORD, and eventually God agreed NOT to destroy the people right away but decreed the “deaths over 40 years of wandering”. It is very important to see how Moses pleaded with God but we will return to it, a bit later on.

Second time round
We shall return to Kadesh, where Miriam died and was buried. The Bible recorded that for this second time of approaching the Promised Land, the Israelites had come to a place without water:

In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (Numbers 20:1-5).

It is very interesting to note that the Israelites’ {children of the adults who left Egypt} attitudes and reactions were the same as those of their fathers (when God first brought the Israelites to the edge of the Promised Land), as we have seen in Numbers 14:1-3 above.

Same attitude at the Red Sea
It is also interesting to note that the fathers of that generation of Israelites behaved the same way their children subsequently displayed, when there were plenty of water, too much water to be more precise; then, the people faced likely death because of water rather than lack of water. Yes, I am referring to the juncture in time when Moses and the Israelites had reached the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit behind them, shortly after the Israelites had left Egypt. I reproduced Exodus 14:9-12 below:

The Egyptians—all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"

Stiff-necked but what does it got to do with Moses?
Ok, we now know how stiff-necked the Israelites were, but what does it have to do with Moses NOT being permitted to go into the Promised Land? This is to show that the Israelite community always had this bad attitude and complained in the same manner – that they have been set up, snared to die a terrible death! The complaint of the Israelite community at Kadesh where there was no water, was NOT new to Moses.

A point to note is that the Israelites were really complaining about God. It was very clear that both Moses and Aaron represented God - Aaron, being The High Priest, Moses being the one who consistently acted supernaturally. I want to reiterate, the one who consistently performs God’s signs and wonders, and miracles, has God’s name written all over him, and he represents God in certain aspects. It was very clear that the Israelites were complaining about God. In fact, in Numbers 20:13, the place at Kadesh where the complaint of no water was made, it became called Waters of Meribah because the Israelites was said to have quarreled with God, there.

About Moses (and Aaron) at Kadesh
This was what happened after the Israelites murmured about dying of thirst:

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. The LORD said to Moses, "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." (Numbers 20:6-8).

This is what Moses did and what God said afterwards:

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?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." (Numbers 20:10-12).

What did Moses do wrong?
Have you figured out what Moses did wrong? I did not until I re-read the verses a couple of times. After that it took me a while to figure out the severity of what Moses did wrong.

Yes, Moses was supposed to have just spoken to the rock instead of striking the rock (in fact, not once but twice). Also, Moses did NOT speak positively for the LORD, he did NOT even mention the LORD in the performance of the miracle. Remember, he (Moses) represented God, and the complaints against Moses (and Aaron) were really complaints against God.

You will NOT enter the Promised Land
Remember I said in the opening para. that I realized that Moses and Aaron were NOT included in the decree against the Israelite adults. If the duo were included, there would NOT be a need to state that they would NOT enter the Promised Land in Numbers 20:12 above. But why so severe, a punishment? To me, this was a severe punishment, just imagine how you would have felt if you were in Moses’ shoes. You challenged the Pharaoh of Egypt to let all the Israelites go, you parted the Red Sea, you faced the murmuring of the people for years in the deserts, and then you were told you would NOT enter the Promised Land, the every place the Israelites left Egypt for, the very goal of your personal journey too, I believe. In fact, we read in Deuteronomy 3:23-25, how Moses pleaded with God to let him enter the land:

At that time I pleaded with the LORD : "O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon."

No, that is enough!
In verse 26, the LORD replied him harshly and said, “No ”. In verse 27, the LORD relented only to allow Moses to see the Promised Land from Mt Pisgah.

……"That is enough," the LORD said. "Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:26b-27).

In Deuteronomy 34:1, we read that Moses climbed to the top of Mt Pisgah where the LORD showed him the Promised Land, talked with him [Moses], confirming the land that the Israelites and Joshua would be entering was indeed the land that the Lord had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The LORD said to Moses, I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it (Deuteronomy 34:4) – how sad!

The Rebuke of the LORD
It is important for us to look at the manner the LORD rebuked Moses. I list below Numbers 20:12 again:

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

Moses, NOT presumptuous per sec
We may think that Moses was presumptuous – thought he had to do something with the staff; when God first sent him, God actually told him to take the staff with him so that he could perform miracles with it (Exodus 4:17), and he raised the staff when he parted the Red Sea; so he might have thought that he must do something with the staff since God did, in this case, say “take the staff” (Numbers 20:8). But God did NOT say Moses was presumptuous, per se.

You did NOT trust Me enough
God said Moses (and Aaron) did NOT trust Him enough. God told Moses to speak to the rock. Instead Moses struck the rock, NOT just once but twice. God said Moses actions indicated Moses’ lack of trust. Of course, we should be clear that presumptuousness and lack of trust are 2 separate matters.

Also we see in Deuteronomy 32:50-51, God again explained why He was NOT happy with Moses (and Aaron):

“There on the mountain that you have climbed [Mount Nebo, (Mt Pisgah) Moab] you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor [Aaron did NOT make it as far as Moses] and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.”

God equated Moses and Aaron’s lack of trust as breaking of faith with God.

Did NOT honor Me as holy
But the thing that struck me is that how come the LORD said Moses’ lack of trust did NOT honor Him as HOLY in the sight of the Israelites (Numbers 20:12). Again in Deuteronomy 32:51 (see above), God said Moses did NOT uphold his holiness among the Israelites. Why “as holy”? What does it got to do with holiness of God?

I looked up a couple of Bible commentaries on this, but I did NOT really get a satisfactory explanation. As I mediated on this, I formed the conclusion that it got to do with the condition of Moses’ heart at that point of time.

Let’s look at the condition of Moses’ heart
Let us go back further in time and look at a couple of situations and see how Moses’ attitude was, compared to the same, in the situation in question:

Occasion 1: Moses and the Golden Calf
Remember the time when the Israelites were left at the foot of Mount Sinai (aka Mount Horeb) whilst Moses was up the Mount waiting for the 10 Commandments from God. Yes, the Israelites made the Golden Calf from the gold gotten from the Egyptians (the Egyptians gave the Israelites much wealth, upon the latter’s departure from Egypt, as prophesized earlier on in time). In pleading with God not to destroy the entire community of Israelites, Moses said these words,

"Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (Exodus 32:11-12).

What Moses was trying to tell God was that He was a holy God and that everyone knew that. If God destroyed the Israelites, people would say God set the Israelites up to snare them with the view to destroy – a wicked thing. God should not allow such thing to be said of Him. Even the slight insinuation could not be acceptable.

Setting people up with ill intent is wicked
I want to say, indeed, to God, the setting of people up to snare them with ill intent is a wicked thing to do, and wickedness and holiness just do not mix. Before we go back to see some more examples of Moses’ attitude/reactions, let me say that King David, known to God as the man after His heart, knew how much God hated such wickedness – many of David’s psalms had such set-ups, traps and snares cries in them, when he (David) petitioned for God’s help (Ps 140, for example). So, please do not do these things, it is detestable to God.

Occasion 2: Moses in The First Time
Now we go back to the time when the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land the first time the LORD brought them to the edge of the Promised Land (Numbers 14). God wanted to destroy the Israelites (verse 12). What did Moses say? This is what Moses said to the LORD,

"Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 'The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.' (Numbers 14:13-16).

Moses was saying the same thing to God, people would say you were NOT a holy God but a wicked one.

Occasion 3: Moses and water everywhere
We go to one more scenario before we return to Kadesh, to the Waters of Meribah (Meribah means quarrel. Israelites quarreled with God and He [still] showed himself holy to them, although He rebuked Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:13).

Remember the Red Sea story, briefly touched on above (Exodus 14), where the Israelites were pursued by the Egyptian army on leaving Egypt. We saw how the Israelites complained that they were set up to be killed in the desert. How did Moses react then? Let us see.

Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:13-14).

After that, he (Moses) did exactly as told by the LORD, raised his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea (Exodus 14:16, 21).  Notice the ascribing of glory from what was to happen, to the LORD, in the text above.

Now we compare
Now, think about the Waters of Meribah situation (Kadesh). You see the contrast. At the Red Sea, he assured the people, he spoke positively for the LORD before doing exactly as he was told by the LORD. At the Waters of Meribah, he did NOT even mention the name of the LORD, and he did NOT do as he was told (but why?!).

Also remember how he appealed to the LORD’s holiness in those other situations (Golden Calf, and the first time at edge of Promised Land) above.

This generation of Israelites, again like their fathers maligned God. By Moses’ actions (NOT speaking positively for the LORD and NOT doing as told) God was NOT given the “voice” due Him. This is why God said Moses (& Aaron) did NOT uphold his holiness before the Israelites. Moses did NOT try to displace the insinuation that God was wicked - setting the people up to have them die of thirst.

What have we learnt here?
Firstly, this article goes to show God views holiness very seriously; his own holiness most seriously. It is interesting to note that God still showed himself holy to the Israelites despite being displeased with Moses (& Aaron), He still allowed water to flow out from the rock at Kadesh (Meribah);  Numbers 20:13 confirmed that.

If you want to read more on the importance of holiness, read my other articles:
1. Way of holiness - the way of Lord
2. Be holy as I am holy

Secondly, wickedness is opposite to holiness, and God hates wickedness.

Thirdly, setting people up to snare them with ill intent is wickedness in the eyes of God. Pre-meditated (planned, set up) sins are equated to wickedness and God looks at them very seriously.

Fourthly, do NOT be upset with God, especially when you are in position of leadership. I believe Moses and Aaron had allowed Miriam’s death to cause them to be upset with God. When we are upset with God, our hearts would NOT be right with God and God would NOT be happy, especially when we are in position of leadership. Moses’ trust in God got diminished because he allowed Miriam’s death to cause him to be upset with God.  Why did Moses struck the rock twice, instead of just speaking to it?  Perhaps, he letting his upset with God got the better of him - a kind of showing unhappiness against God for the death of his sister, Miriam.

Fifthly, God still disciplines no matter how high you are in leadership and metes out punishment.

Finally, from Moses’ case, we take comfort that God does NOT write his servants off for one blunder. Bible recorded that Moses died on a mountain outside of the Promised Land but the Israelites could NOT find his body. God must have lifted him to Himself. How can we be so sure? The Bible recorded that at The Transfiguration of Jesus, God sent Moses (and Elijah, who was taken up by God) to talk with Jesus, on a high mountain, witnessed by 3 disciples of Jesus (Mat 17:1-3).

Now, we know why Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land – he did NOT uphold God’s holiness before the Israelites when he was expected to do so.

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Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Rev 4:8). Please do NOT even insinuate any wickedness in God. God is holiness, absolute holiness.

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