excerpt from the book :

Why Moses  was not allowed

to enter the promised land 

Essays and considerations

 

 

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Why Moses

was not allowed to enter the promised land

 

 

 

 

Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egyptian captivity and through the desert for forty years to guide them to the land east of the Jordan, which God had once promised to the fathers and their descendants. 

But at the end of the way he was not destined to go over there himself.

He was one hundred and twenty years old when he climbed Mount Nebo, the highest elevation west of the Jordan, from which, far beyond the Jordan Valley, one looks to the region that extends east of the river. From there, God showed Moses the land. He reminded him of his promise and then said to Moses:

I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there5 Moses 34,4

 

Why was it destined to Moses to see the promised land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness but not to enter it?

The reason is less familiar, but is articulated in the preceding texts, in the descriptions at the end of the wandering: The people were dissatisfied because they suffered from a lack of water. 

There were allegations against Moses, whereupon he and his brother Aharon visited the tabernacle to ask for God's help. God told Moses to take a staff and to gather the congregation. In front of their eyes he should speak to a rock to let water flow:

Take the staff; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink. 4 Moses 20, 8

 

Moses initially did as he was told. He stepped before the people and said: Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?

Then, instead of speaking to the rock, as instructed, Moses, it is said, hit it twice with his staff. There was a lot of water coming out and the community could drink and their cattle.

Then it is said:

But the Eternal said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as the saint before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them“

 

The water had flowed out of the rock in front of the eyes of the congregation, in such a quantity that all, and also the cattle, could drink enough. But in what, after all, consisted Moses’ failure not to have treated God as the saint before the eyes of the children of Israel?

 

One might think it could be seen in the announcement with which he stepped in front of the crowd: Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock? He refers to himself and Aharon, without mentioning God.

 

But this interpretation would not really consider content and background of the encounter between God and Moses; it would be an assumption that disregards the essential and articulated difference between the instruction of God and the behaviour of Moses: Moses was supposed to speak to the rock - instead he had hit it twice with his staff.

 

It was not the first time the people had complained about a lack of water and Moses, at God's command, had let flow water from a rock. It had already happened once before, at the beginning of the wandering. At that time, God had specifically instructed Moses to hit the rock with his staff. 2 Moses 17, 5

 

Now he instructs him to take the staff along, but then to speak to the rock, to let the water flow. It should, so it seems, be made clear to all eyes that now not the staff, but the word opens the rock.

But Moses again grabs the staff and hits the rock.

The commentator Rashi emphasizes: Because God had not commanded to strike the rock, but 'you shall speak to the rock ....' if Moses and Aharon had not failed here , they would have entered the land. 

Raschi Commentare, Die fünf Bücher Moses, 20, 12

 

This is the reason given as to why Moses was only allowed to see the Promised Land, but not to enter it.

He had not, as commanded, spoken to the rock to let water flow, but used the staff as a tool. He did not let the Word become presence.

 

What was it about the staff?

 

 

 

 

The staff of Aharon

 

 

For the second time the people complained about a lack of water. At the first complaint, at the beginning of the journey through the wilderness, when God had commanded Moses to strike the rock with the staff for water to flow out of it, he had specified the staff: ... take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile.  2 Moses 17, 5

 

This points to an earlier use of the staff. It was supposed to be the staff that was used to hit the Nile, so that it turned into blood. This was the first of the ten Egyptian plagues that came about because Pharaoh did not want to let the Hebrews go. 

Here, again, a reference is made to a previous use of the staff: you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent... 2 Buch 7:15

 

It was the staff of Aharon. Before the imposition of the ten Egyptian plagues, Moses and Aharon had come before the Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites from Egyptian captivity. 

At that time Aharon, by God's direction, had thrown the staff down in front of the Pharaoh and his entourage, so that if the Pharaoh asked for a miracle, the staff would turn into a serpent as a reminder to let the children of Israel go:

When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ 2 Moses 7, 9

The Pharaoh had then instructed his sages and wizards to turn their staffs into serpents too, and, surprisingly, they succeeded. But, it is said, the staff of Aharon devoured their staffs.

 

A snake as a staff or erected on a staff is a recurrent image. 

Later, Moses receives the instruction to make a copper serpent and raise it up on a staff. Those who look at them are healed by the bites of fiery snakes who had come upon the Israelites for their nagging 4 Moses 21, 4-9. 

Outside the Bible, there is a similar image in the symbol of the Aesculapian staff.

 

The staff of Aharon had been turned into a serpent and again into a staff. With it Aharon had struck the Nile, so that it turned into blood, and after the departure of the Hebrews and the beginning of the wandering in the desert, Moses was told to hit the rock with it.

 

But towards the end of the wandering, in the fourth book of Moses, after the people had again complained of thirst, Moses should take the staff along but not use it in front of everyone. Instead, he should talk to the rock in order to let water flow.

 

What has changed in the time between the first water shortage and the second?

 

 (...)

 

 

excerpt

 

 

 

(C) Herbert Antonius Weiler 2015