Does Moses Get a Raw Deal?

It doesn’t seem fair.

Moses, because of one mistake, can’t lead the Israelites into the promised land. Despite his fortitude, his faith, and his obedience one mistake is all it takes to leave him on the outside looking in.

Following God’s direction he leads the nation of Israel out of Egypt; the greatest military power of that time. He is obedient to God and leads more than 2 million people through the desert; a physically impossible feat without God’s help. After all this he is betrayed by his own brother and the rest of the nation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 31 – 32) and it is Moses who pleads for their lives. In Exodus 32: 11 – 14 we read that without Moses’ intervention God was about to strike down the whole nation and start again.

In Numbers 13 – 14 we read the story of the botched invasion. Despite Moses’ endorsement the nation completely defies God: When God says to go in they refuse. When God tells them to turn around they go in. Moses returns to the desert with them, rewarded with 40 more years of wandering in the wilderness. “Thanks guys!”

38 years later we read in Numbers 20 about Moses’ big mistake. Moses just finishes burying his sister-in law, one of the last of her generation and the people start complaining again about having no water. He is commanded by God to speak to the rock in order to get water, yet he strikes it instead. God immediately says to Moses,

Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them

Numbers 20: 12

The view today from Mount Nebo in Jordan.

Moses himself writes in v. 13, “those waters were called Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them.” Instead of entering, Moses was allowed one glimpse of the promised land from Mount Nebo, in modern day Jordan. Jericho and the northeastern corner of the nation were visible from there, but nothing more.

We often think of God as this harsh and unyielding taskmaster in the Old Testament, but a warm compassionate softie in the New Testament, and yet God, like Jesus, is the same yesterday today and forever (Heb. 13: 8). In Malachi 3: 6 God emphatically declares, “For I, the Lord do not change…”

God is holy and must be treated as such. Not only are His commands to be obeyed, both then and now, but He is to be revered always. How bitter it must have been for Moses to be so close and yet so far from his goal.

In Matt. 17: 1 – 9 (see also Mark 9:1-8 & Luke 9:28-36) we read of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Hermon. Before Peter, James and John’s eyes Jesus is lifted up and joins Elijah and Moses in the air. Elijah was expected to return (Mal. 4: 5 – 6) but why is Moses there?

Scholars have many theories but I read one recently that I like. Mount Hermon lies 80 km northwest of Mount Nebo; smack in the middle of Galilee. What do you know? Moses gets to see the promised land after all! I can just picture the exchange in heaven, “Hey Moses, get your sandals on. There’s something I want you to see.”

I will think of this the next time I am forced to tell one of my boys that as a consequence of their actions they must go to bed immediately after supper; but later decide to delay supper until 7: 30 pm at night.


One thought on “Does Moses Get a Raw Deal?

  1. I think Moses teaches a very important lesson in his ‘defiance’ and the following exchange with the big G. That lesson is: you do have your own thoughts and will takes corresponding actions – regardless of what God says – G money has given you the power to do this. However, there is always a price which you must pay for your decisions. This is good because it opens the door on the fact that questioning, thinking and discussing – all things – is a very important thing. Why is Moses in the sky? Well, maybe he became Gs right hand man… Maybe Moses is the ‘go-to’ when HE had a question and needed to bounce some ideas around.

    As for God being harsh in the OT and a ‘softie’ in the NT – I think a couple things are prevalent here. One, you gotta set an example early on – Moses was on the receiving end of this.Two – I guess having a kid just really chilled him out. =)


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