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It is commonly believed that God prohibited Moses from entering the Promised Land because of "striking the rock" instead of "speaking to it." And, indeed, that is the way Scripture conveys Moses' punishment:

Numbers 20:9-12: "So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; 10and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, 'Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?' 11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, '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.'"

However, is it possible that another reason Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was because, just as the O/T Law was insufficient for eternal life in the "promised land" of heaven, Moses who represented the Old Law could not bring the ancient Israelites into their promised Land of Canaan — a physical reward for obeying the Law absent grace?

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    There is a difference between the man Moses and his personal relationship with Deity and what Moses represents in the progressive revelation of God. Not entering the land is a consequence of what he represents, but also of his conduct, it may be.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 9 at 14:16
  • @NigelJ I suggest there was a very symbolic reason, as I have outlined below, why Moses could never enter the promised land. 1 Corinthians 10:1b-2, 6: "[Our] fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;... 6Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved." Moses, as the Law, typified its deficiency; it could neither offer any reward to physical Israel just as the Law today cannot allow spiritual Israel (Church) into heaven.
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 13:16
  • It's no coincidence that our salvation is achieved achieved by the grace of Christ, Heb.: Joshua = "Yeshua" = Gr.: Jesus. I'm surprised this question was closed, and that so few seem to understand what I'm attempting to convey.
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 13:20
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    Thanks, Nigel. That is encouraging.
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 15:21
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    I believe this is a reasonable question that can be illuminated with facts and citations. It does seem like a harsh punishment for striking the rock under the circumstances so it could cause one to wonder if there might not be other reasons for God imposing that sanction. I vote to reopen. Oct 10 at 17:40
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Historical tradition, coming out after the reformation, has the interpretation you allude to. And most are comfortable with that. But, you ask is there an alternative? If I provide one to consider, it may not be easily accepted by those comfortable with that explanation. Nevertheless, seeing you asked, and, for consideration….

This incident causes difficulty. Moses, after all he has done, not being able to enter the promised land. Therefore there must be a ‘righteous’ foundation.

Moses was Gods mediator. Moses represented God to the people, and the people to God. When the Israelites saw Moses, they ‘saw’ God. The Israelites had entered a covenant. And Moses was mediator of that covenant.

The Israelites asked for water. Moses asked the Lord, and the Lord gave Moses instructions.

That covenant was founded on the Law. Violations of that Law had a penalty. That penalty was the same. Death.

But, Moses broke the Law.

EXODUS 20:7 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, [snip]

Vain - šāv - denote what is not true. - Moses presented God in a way that was not true.

NUMBERS 10:20 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels!

Moses had been warned that the angel administrating the Law had zero tolerance.

EXODUS 23:21 Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions;

So, no Grace, nor Mercy, not even for Moses. He had to die for his violation. But yes, there was Grace, and Mercy - God allowed (demanded that) Moses ‘see’ the promised land first!

Incidentally- That was the same reason the original generation was not allowed to enter the promised land. They had to die in the wilderness. Exactly the same reason! They broke the Law. So here in is an alternative explanation for them not being able to enter.

The explanation for both instance is - because of the Law!

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  • Great answer Dave! +1 Note that Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus) was the one to lead them to their P/L just as (Yeshua) Jesus lead us to the P/L of paradise. This strikes me as a very compelling argument regarding my suggestion, particularly because God knew just how demanding the Israelites were to Moses (constantly). Several times, he even pleaded with God to take his (Moses') life away from them. Such a rather inconsequential mistake on Moses' part tells me that this is the symbolism to be understood: a foreshadow of Christ's leadership to heaven.
    – Xeno
    Oct 9 at 4:19
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Numbers 20:

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, '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.'"

This reason was clearly told to Moses by the LORD.

Is there an alternate interpretation of God prohibiting Moses from entering the Promised Land?

There are always alternate interpretations. E.g.,

OP: However, is it possible that another reason Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was because, just as the O/T Law was insufficient for eternal life in the "promised land" of heaven, Moses who represented the Old Law could not bring the ancient Israelites into their promised Land of Canaan — a physical reward for obeying the Law absent grace?

The deeper point is which of these two reasons carries a higher weight. To me, Numbers 20:12 carries a significantly higher weight because it was what the LORD told Moses personally.

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Is there an alternate interpretation of God prohibiting Moses from entering the Promised Land?

Answer: I believe there is. However, to see this, it is necessary that we consider the great symbolism being used throughout the Pentateuch (and beyond).

It is certainly true that Moses would never physically enter the Promised Land:

Numbers 20:12: "But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, '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.'"

If we learn anything from the O/T, it should at least consist of the many profound O/T parallels to the N/T. Exodus through Joshua contains mountains of symbolism if we are prepared to look for it.

God did not forsake Moses. In fact, Moses may have been able to see more of the Promised Land than any other human being:

Deuteronomy 34:1b-3: "And the LORD showed [Moses] all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, 2and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar" (emphasis added).

Since ALL human beings are fallible, why did God choose this one incident to prevent Moses from entering the land? Perhaps we might recognize that Moses was emblematic of the Law. The Pentateuch (first 5 Books of the Bible) was, after all, the "Law of Moses." However, the Law had no salvational aspects, only condemnation when broken.

Suppose we look at it this way: Are we to expect a reward if we drive within the speed limit? Are we congratulated or offered praises when we abstain from shoplifting? This is not to suggest that the Law is bad, only that the Law was never intended to offer rewards. And, in Moses' case, that reward was the Promised Land.

We learn some of this from Paul:

Romans 8:3: "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh" (emphasis added).

Here, the Law is insufficient. It is through the grace of Christ that the blessing is bestowed on us. Suppose we observe the first four passages of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians regarding some of the typology of the O/T (including Moses' role):

1 Corinthians 10:1-4: "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."

Based on Paul's words, there is much more that we might recognize upon reflection1 (I have added bracketed comments):

  • Egypt typifies sin and bondage.
  • God's sending Moses to deliver Israel foreshadows God delivering us from sin.
  • Pharaoh is a type of the devil.
  • Israel's crossing the Red Sea typifies Christian baptism.
  • Israel's entering the wilderness is typical of [a Christian's life of testing in their faith, cf. 1 Peter 1:7].
  • The wilderness is ["the world" which all saints must endure].
  • That Israel sinned is typical of the [apostasy of those who fall away from Christ (cf. 2 Peter 2:22)].
  • The majority of [these] failed to enter [the Promised Land, typical] of those [who defect, and] will not be saved eternally.
  • Canaan [their Promised Land] is a type of heaven.
  • [The Law was insufficient to offer this reward.]
  • Some of Israel entering Canaan is typical of the [victory] of Christians who [persevere to enter into the joy of the Lord].
  • God's providential care of Israel in the wilderness is typical of his providential care of Christians until "the end of the time."
  • The manna in the desert typified devotion to Christ, the "bread of life."

Further, we might understand that:

  • Israel would ultimately be led by Joshua — not Moses.
  • [Joshua typified Christ, the One to lead the faithful across the Jordan River, the "river of death".]
  • [Moses typified the Law which could never offer the gift of Promise; this would have to be accomplished by Joshua (above).]

There is every reason to believe that the Law (Moses) could never enter the Promised Land. One could easily find other examples where Moses, like any other man, was flawed and disobeyed God. But none of those other flaws prevented Moses from entering the P/L — only striking the rock is "condemned." How curious that this seemingly insignificant act disallowed Moses from his lifelong expectation.

Naturally, we could view Moses' transgression as an example of how slight a sin could keep us from heaven. But, the larger issue appears to be that Moses — the Law — was utterly insufficient to provide a promise because the Law falls short of the blessings God has to offer, both in the O/T as well as the N/T. That is only achieved by the grace of Christ, Hebrew: Joshua = "Yeshua" = Greek: Jesus.

1Coffman, Dr. James Burton. Coffman's Commentary on the Bible, 1 Corinthians 10.

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  • But the land of Canaan isn't heaven. And the Law is very much focused on that physical land, not heaven. I don't think your typology makes sense.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 9 at 23:01
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    @curiousdannii You may be missing my point. The land of Canaan typifies heaven. Just as the Law (Moses) could not bring physical Israel into the P/L -- that would come through Joshua (Gr. Jesus), Our promised land in the N/T is heaven; the Law cannot get us there either: only the grace of our Joshua, Jesus can accomplish that. This is an interpretative question based on the great symbolism of the O/T. Why is this off-topic?
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 13:26
  • I didn't close the question, though I don't think it's a great one. Nor do I like this answer, as I just don't think it's grounded in the text. The Jewish Law is not efficacious for eternal life, but it was efficacious for life in the land of Canaan. That's what it's focused on, and that focus is why it's not efficacious for eternal life. We needed to learn from it in order to appreciate the Gospel of Christ's death and resurrection, but if it was always worthless then we would not appreciate what the Gospel brings, nor could we trust God. So I don't think your analysis works.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 10 at 13:45
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    You've sort of made my point: "The Jewish Law is not efficacious for eternal life, but it was efficacious for life in the land of Canaan." Moses was the Law. Just as the Law cannot allow entry into eternal life, Romans 8:3: "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did. Similarly, what the Law cannot do for us, God did through the grace of Christ, foreshadowed by Joshua. The Law profits nothing. This response was intended to provoke interpretive thought regarding the symbolism being used (Moses).
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 13:49
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    I suppose the way I look at it is this: Joshua ("Jesus") led the people across Jordan ("river of death") into the P/L. Christ leads us across death into the P/L of heaven. It strikes me as very peculiar, given the symbolism throughout, that Moses disallowed to enter based on such a minor offense. Much of the symbolism I'm describing is derived from 1 Cor. 10:1-4 (above): "[Our] fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;... for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; [the] rock was Christ."
    – Xeno
    Oct 10 at 14:25

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