Why was Moses denied access to the land that had been promised to him?
For his role in the Exodus, through which God freed His people from Egyptian servitude, Moses is universally revered as a hero. God gave the Law to Moses. Jesus proved that the writings of Moses were a type or shadow of His own activity as the Messiah (John 3:14–15). Scripture cites Moses as a model of trust in Hebrews 11. God Himself buried Moses, according to Deuteronomy 34. Thereafter, “no prophet has emerged in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord recognized face to face…. For no one has ever exhibited the tremendous might or accomplished the astounding feats that Moses did in the eyes of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10, 12). And yet, despite all the favor showered upon him, Moses was not permitted to enter the Land of Promise. I don’t see why not.
This is because… you broke faith with me in the midst of the Israelites at the streams of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin, and you did not preserve my holiness among the Israelites,” God says to Moses in Deuteronomy 32:51, 52. Therefore, you will only be able to view the country from afar; you will not be permitted to set foot on the territory I am granting to the Israelites. This proved that God always keeps His word. Moses was shown the territory, but he was not permitted to enter.
Numbers 20 details the events that took place at the Meribah Kadesh. The Israelites arrived at the Desert of Zin toward the end of their forty-year journey. The people of the area were hostile against Moses and Aaron when they failed to prevent the region’s water supply from running dry. In the presence of God, Moses and Aaron bowed low in the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron were commanded by God to call a congregation together and address the rock. There would be a flow of water. Moses rounded up the troops with the aid of his trusty staff. Moses then remarked, looking angry, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Once again, Moses took his staff and pounded the rock twice (Numbers 20:10–11). According to God’s prophecy, water emerged from the rock. But right away God warned Moses and Aaron that they would not lead Israel into the Promised Land because they did not trust Him enough to treat Him as sacred (verse 12).
This penalty may appear severe, but when we examine Moses’ behavior more thoroughly, we can find that he made multiple errors. First and foremost, Moses disregarded God’s express mandate. It was God who told Moses to address the rock. This time, though, Moses used his staff to smash the rock. For the first time, God told Moses to use his staff to break the rock and release the water inside (Exodus 17). In this case, however, God’s will was different. After spending so much time together, God asked Moses to put his faith in Him. Moses didn’t have to resort to violence; he just had to obey God and have faith that God would keep His word.
Furthermore, Moses claimed responsibility for releasing the water. Must we bring you water from this rock?” he asks the crowd gathered there. Numb 20:10 (emphasis added). Rather than credit God, it appeared like Moses was taking credit for the miracle (together with Aaron). Publicly, Moses did this. God’s purity required that He take action, and He knew the Israelites wouldn’t get it without punishment.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Christ is compared to a rock that provides water. Exodus 17:6 records the striking of the rock, which is analogous to Christ’s lone crucifixion (Hebrews 7:27). Moses’ actions in Numbers 20 may have been symbolic of prayer. In response to those who put their trust in Him, Jesus “struck” once, and He still answers their prayers by giving them living water. By smiting the rock in anger, Moses crucified Christ all over again, destroying the biblical typology.
For his disobedience, his pride, and his distortion of Christ’s sacrifice, Moses paid a heavy price: he was forbidden to enter the Land of Promise (Numbers 20:12). But Moses shows no signs of resentment toward his punishment. On the contrary, he has remained steadfast in his role as leader, and he has continued to serve God.
Aside from His holiness, God’s compassion is unmatched. Before Moses’ death, God took the prophet up Mount Nebo and revealed the Promised Land to him. According to Deuteronomy 34:4-5, The Lord then told him, “This is the country I swore to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I’ve opened your eyes to it, but you won’t go through that door. And Moses the Lord‘s servant was put to death in Moab, as the Lord had foretold. Moses’s disappointment at the rock did not destroy his fellowship with the Lord. There was no pause in God’s use of or concern for the prophet.