Why was Moses Forbidden to enter the Promised Land?

I have a co-worker who has asked me this question and I have searched an online Bible reference and looked in my bible, but I have been unable to find the answer. So, I turn to all my learned friends. I figure with all the Jewish and Christian Dopers somebody has the answer.

I seem to recall that it dealt with Moses striking a stone to get water when God told him to speak to the stone, but Moses strikes a stone for water in a couple of places and I found no reference of God being mad at him due to this.



IIRC from my parochial school upbringing he struck the rock too many times.

Sorry, I thought this was going to be a riddle thread in the “Where was Moses when the lights went out” vein.

For the benefit of later posters, here’s the text in question, courtesy of a site called Bible: Revised Standard Version.

When they arrived in Canaan, the Israelites were scared of the size of the native men and the fortifications of their cities. They didn’t believe that they could conquer the land and it pissed off God enough to where, combined with all of the other various incidences where they showed a lack of faith (golden calves etc), God decided that the nation would have to move through an entire generation before it would be ready to try again (let all of the naysayers die off). So he sentenced them to 40 more years of wandering around. Moses was old by this time and knew he wasn’t going to make it, so God took him up on a mountain and let him see the Promised Land, even though he would never be able to go there.

At least I think that’s close enough… I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Same source.

The rabbinic explanations and discussions are fascinating. I’m boiling down here, and I expect others to hop in.

The surface level explanation is that Moses was instructed to speak to the rock, but he struck it instead. A seemingly minor infraction, but a display of lack of faith; and downgrading God’s miracle (striking a rock to expose a hidden spring isn’t as neat as just speaking to it.)

On the other hand, that seems a harsh punishment for such a minor infringement. After all, Moses spent his life dedicated to the Israelite people – saving them from Egypt, saving them in the wilderness, saving them from God’s wrath after the golden calf incident, etc. Why be denied his greatest dream – seeing the people in the land – on account of such a little infraction, after so many years of obedience and greatness and humility?

Some rabbis work from the assumption that no man is perfect. Most people must work out their sins in some sort of after-life; Moses was punished for his sins in this life, and thus was spared any delay in ascending to heaven.

A more prosaic (or more poetic) explanation is that this is the transition, from a single leader (Moses) who brings holiness into the world, to a people (Israel) – a holy people living in a holy land who bring holiness into the world. The mantle of holiness (so to speak) cannot pass to the people if Moses is still alive, and so Moses must die before the transition into the Holy Land.

And a final explanation is that Moses has fulfilled his purpose, in rescuing the people from Egypt, bringing them to Revelation at Sinai, and holding them fast to the Covenant during the generational change. The people who left Egypt still had a slave mentality; the people who entered Canaan had a mind-set that was focused on the Covenant, and Moses was the remnant of the older generation.

First I want to thank all for their answers.

Second I want to thank KneadToKnow for giving the Bible reference.

Third I want to thank CK for once again explaining the viewpoints of various scholarly thoughts on the matter.

I knew that someone like CK or CMK, or any one of a number of my Jewish brethren that are much more knowledgeable than I especially in the part of the Bible I refer to as the Old Testament.


I hope everyone can connect the dots from verses 8, 11, and 12, in KneadToKnow’s passage, to see that God told Moses one thing, Moses did something else, and that’s why he didn’t make it into the Land, as CKDextHavn wrote.

CKDextHavn offered three reasonable answers, all of which answer the OP, but none of which seemed to answer his own question about the imbalance of the minor infraction and major punishment. The answer I’ve liked is that it is normal and natural to judge a person more severely, the higher the pedestal he is standing on.

Leaders of all types are expected to take the higher ground, and will suffer more harshly than an average person who did the same thing. Examples abound on the front page of your favorite newspaper. And for someone who is not merely a leader, but has a proven track record of doing “the right thing”, hoo-boy, one little slip-up, and it’s all over.

Such is life. This is not exactly “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”, but more like “the taller they are, the easier it is to tip over”.

Don’t get me wrong–I agree with what you said, Keeve. He was in a much higher position, and, being only human, we naually judge him by higher standards.
But it wasn’t our judgement. Ths doesn’t really demonstrate the “just and merciful God” we always hear about, does it?

The people who speak of God’s mercy are talking in general terms; it’s a kind of mercy that is beyond mortal comprehension. Here’s an example of mercy (2 Kings 2:23-24):

And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Moses may have gotten a harsh sentence, but at least he was allowed to die a natural death.

Oh, in case it wasn’t clear from context, “tare” means “tore up”. In other words, the bears disembowelled the kiddies for calling Elisha “baldie”. Presumably they all deserved it, in some deep cosmic sense that I fail to grasp.

That story ain’t gonna make it into Sunday school.

In terms of the storytelling:
A. God rewards the just. God kept Moses alive up to the finish line so he (and the readers) would get closure for Moses’ maintiaining good leadership all through the travails of the desert, getting away from the Egyptians, &c.
B. God limits even the great man. Were Moses a Hercules, Gilgamesh, or other demi-godly character, he probably would have gone into the land and become Hero-King for a while. But it seems to be a charateristic of the God we in the Jewish-Christian-Islamic world know to be more levelling in nature and not have a few people who are much more priviliged (and thus implicitly loved more by God) than the rest of us teeming millions.

I probably didn’t put it too well, but our traditions and concepts of the deity would not tolerate an Alexander who (supposedly) rises from a fairly minor princeling to an imperial power and then is accepted by the head god (Zeus) as his son (as at the shrine of Ammon in Egypt). I suppose this would be as if Moses got “promoted” to a Jesus role. We have God and man, but not men who become gods either partially or entirely.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” — Jesus

Following Heckler’s comments, Moses is chosen (like most Old Testament heroes) because of his humility, not because of his greatness. It’s the younger son (Jacob, Joseph, David) or the most reluctant general (Gideon) rather than the king’s son. In fact, most of the kings are dreadful, both as leaders and as human beings.

The lesson of the text is very clear, not to put people upon too high a pedastle.

One other point I’ve always liked about the death of Moses… The Pentateuch begins (roughly) and ends with acts of lovingkindness by God: He makes clothes for Adam and Eve; and He buries Moses. The rabbis interpet this to mean that we should try to emulate God, by clothing the naked and burying the dead, as acts of lovingkindness.

The way I had it explained to me is: God told Moses to go before the people, and to then call out for God to make water flow from the rock. Instead, he got so angry at the people that he struck the rock, from which water then flowed.

By doing so, he gave the people the impression that it was Moses who caused the water to flow from the rock, rather than God. For all of his closeness to God, Moses was just a man, but by his actions gave the impression he had a touch of the divine. For that reason was he forbidden to enter the promised land.

Adding a Christian perspective to Dex’s:

In addition to some Charleton Heston-esque “overacting” on the miracle, the rock was a symbol or type of Christ, God’s Messiah. A single rock pouring out water in the desert to the thirsty is symbolic of Christ pouring out God’s Spirit on a barren and thirsting world. Moses was commanded to speak to the rock and water would pour out, but instead he shouted at the congregation and struck it, symbolically trusting in his own actions as opposed to faith that God will provide. Also, even though the people were grumbling and rebelling, God had intended to provide the gift of water freely and without judgment, but Moses berated the people and turned God’s free gift into one tinged with guilt.

This is another very important point that I missed.

On the plus side, this story also illustrates the fact that even though people approach God disrespectfully, are disobedient, and are sinful, He is still willing to bless us anyway (Moses screwed up and disobeyed his command, but still got water).

Okay, god supposedly knows everything; even stuff that hasn’t happened yet. So he knew any and all infractions Moses (and everyone else) would commit. He knew from the beginning of time that he wouldn’t let Moses go to the Promised Land. But he made him wander the desert for 40 years anyway, knowing full-well he was going to pull the rug out from under the poor old man at the last second. And people wonder why I don’t go to church!

What does your post have to do with the OP? This is General Questions. Inflammatory statements go in either the Pit or Great Debates. Maybe you should go to one of those and start another “I hate God thread” instead of cluttering up this one.

Just an idea.

Uh… well it *does[/i[ relate to the OP. See, the OP asked why God didn’t let Moses into the Promised land. My post posed the same question another way.

Your reply was rude. You should take your own advice and go to the Pit.