Bible Studies in Israel’s Wilderness Wanderings
Missing the Promised Land – The Death of Moses
By Fraser Gordon
We’ve been studying the nation of Israel from Egypt on their journey through to the Promised Land. We looked at their wilderness wanderings and we got up to the point where they were about to go in to Canaan. We will soon continue that theme and start on a new book which is the book of Joshua, but before I do this, I have to deal with one more event and that is the death of Moses, the great saint of God.
Times up! Not something you want to hear...
Num 27:12-13 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. (13) "When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was.
Israel you will recall was under a slave master back in Egypt and they were called to come out from there and also to go in and possess the land which God had promised them. This pictures the Christian life – we also have been brought out of bondage that we might enter into all that Christ has for us. God's purpose for the nation of Israel was always to take them into the land, which is what His will also is for us as Christians. We have looked at the fact that they spent 40 years going around and around the back side of the desert having the same old issues, problems and defeats and how God actually rejected them as a nation and they suffered the consequences of unbelief. When you get to this point, though Moses himself is included with the nation’s rejection, he is called to go up and view the land. He is allowed to see it but he is not allowed to go in. Of all the people that really deserved to go in you would think it would be Moses! He had numerous attacks upon his leadership. The nation was always saying to one another ‘Let's get rid of him and appoint another and get back to Egypt’. He bore all this, so you would think that he would be allowed into the land, but he wasn’t. However, God said to him “I do want you to go up and have a sneak peak at the land before I gather you to your people. When I was thinking about that, I thought that from a natural point of view this would have been a really hard thing for Moses. What do we do at times when God puts us aside... When all of the dreams that we may have had come to an end? Remember that Moses had preached about Canaan for 40 years, and told them about God's promises for them as a nation so in his heart he would have been longing to go into the land and taste of the fruit and to see God work in a different way amongst the nation. Yet here he is, with all of his hopes dashed. This is so true of many of us when the things that we had hoped for actually don't come to pass and God has different ideas for us. Now I have never been told like Moses, pack your bags, you are coming home. But many saints have. Whether they are young or old, in some way tragedy has come upon them or they have come back from the doctor saying I have got such and such a disease or I have got this amount of time to live. It is then that they realize that all of things that they lived for, dreams of maybe being a grandparent, seeing their children's children, or doing the things that they had hoped for were not going to come to fruition. I believe that Moses may have felt like that, but yet, God had other plans for this saint.
How Moses reacts is quite amazing. He is so close to entering the land but yet he is given this command “I want you to go and view the land, you can see it, but you are going to be gathered to your people as your brother Aaron was gathered.” It would have been a hard thing for Moses to actually do. It would have been a really great trial, I believe, on the self- life of Moses. How would he react? Do you remember in scripture, the same thing happened to Hezekiah? The prophet came to him and said “I want you to put your house in order, you are going home, and you are going to be resting with your fathers.” Hezekiah had a bit of a pity party and said “Woe is me, it's not fair, I have been a good King and I have done this and this and this” and God actually granted him another 15 years. But when you look at Hezekiah's life in the 15 years that were granted to him, they were not good years. He should have gone when he was told to. And I think that little picture is in the scriptures just to remind us that though God's plans purposes are often a mystery to us, He knows what He is doing. If our time is up, our time is up. Our lives are in the hands of the Lord and He is the One that controls all these things.
So how does Moses react? No pity party thrown.
Numbers 27:15-23 Moses said to the LORD, (16) May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community (17) to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." (18) So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. (19) Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. (20) Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. (21) He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in." (22) Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. (23) Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.
So you see here that Moses’s first reaction was for the nation - that was what concerned him. First of all he is saying “who is going to take over, who is going to lead them; who is going to look after these people that are Yours”? So he didn't have a pity party or woe is me. His first concern was for others. And that is really the picture of this servant. So why was Moses rejected, why was he not allowed? Let us have a look at verse 14.
Numbers 27:14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes." (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)
We looked at this when we did “the struck rock” but let us go back and have another look because there is a specific reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the land.
The sin of Moses was striking the rock. What does the New Testament say about the rock? The rock was Christ. In Corinthians 10 Paul brings out that all of these things that happened in the Old Testament. Paul says that the rock in Corinthians was Christ and Israel drank from that spiritual rock, and that the rock followed them. In other words he says that what happened to that rock back there in the Old Testament is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. God had previously told Moses “I want you to take the rod that is in your hand and I want you to strike the rock” and the rod that Moses took was the rod of judgment. It is the same rod which he used in all the judgments when he dealt with the nation of Egypt. This rock that pictures Christ pictures the crucifixion. He was struck down and afflicted so that we may freely obtain the water of life.
But when you get to this next rock, Moses is called to do something completely different. He is not called to “strike the rock” he is called to “speak to the rock”. Now remember that this rock is the same rock that Paul talks about in Corinthians – that rock is Christ. So why does he have to speak to it?
The Rock that should only be spoken to, not stuck again.
Numbers 20:7-8 The LORD said to Moses, (8) Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.
First of all he is commanded to take the rod. Now which rod was he talking about--because there are actually two rods in this passage? There was the rod of judgment and there was also another rod-- Aaron had a rod. Only a few chapters back there is an attack upon Aaron’s leadership and his priesthood and if you remember the story God says “let's sort this out, every head of the tribe is to bring in a rod before the congregation and the rod that brings forth life, the one that buds and blossoms and brings forth fruit is the one I choose.” Out of all the twelve rods that were brought before God only one actually did this and it was Aaron's rod. And what God was showing was that He had chosen him to be priest. So that rod speaks of resurrection life. So Moses had these two rods, and I believe that when God spoke to Moses saying “take the rod, you and your brother Aaron: it is actually this rod that He is talking about, not the rod of judgment, because Jesus Christ can only be struck down once. He is only crucified for sin once, not a second time. If you read the book of Hebrews you will see that time and time again that He was judged once, and once only for the sins of the world. So Moses is told to come forth and take this rod, which is a rod of authority, it’s the rod of resurrection; it’s the rod of power, God's power. And he is told to speak to this rock, and whenever speaking is mentioned in the scripture it is about resurrection life. It is about speaking a word and God actually doing it. Moses unfortunately does the opposite.
Numbers 20:9-10 So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. (10) He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock
So he has had a gut full of the nation and the nation has had a gut full of him and he addresses them as rebels. They didn't like him and he didn't like them at this point. “Hear now you rebels must we fetch water from the rock?” he said to them. Now God had said nothing about the “we”. Moses was called to speak to the rock and God was the one that was going to be hallowed. God was the one that was going to be glorified here not Moses.
Numbers 20:11-12 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (12) But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."
Moses was rejected from entering the land because of this unbelief. The nation was also rejected for the very same thing. And Moses also died in the wrong place from just one act of unbelief. He is numbered among the unbelieving. So what does this have to do with us? The New Testament picks up on all of this.
The warnings of unbelief still alive and well in New Testament Christianity
Look at Hebrews chapter 3, because the writer of Hebrews deals with this point. All that Moses could really show the nation was a struck rock. But what God actually commanded Moses to do was to show them the rock in resurrection and His life would have come forth.
Hebrews 3:7-12 So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, (9) where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. (10) That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' (11) So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' " (12) See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Now there is something like five warnings through this book of Hebrews that are addressed to individual believers who had come to Christ. The first one is neglect, just about neglecting the things of God. The second one here is a heart of unbelief in departing from God.
Hebrews 3:13-19 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (14) We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (15) As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." (16) Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? (17) And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? (18) And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? (19) So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
So Moses was rejected because of disobedience. And unbelief here is a real warning to these believers and to us who have been saved that we do not allow unbelief to creep into our walk with God. Now unbelief is not actually the inability to understand, it is an unwillingness to trust God. It is the opposite of faith. We become self- dependent and will not simply trust God for whatever it is that He asks us to do. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that all that was needed from the nation and all that was needed from Moses was just a little word called “faith”. That was all that was needed. They had believed God enough to get out of Egypt and all that they had to do now was believe God enough to get into the Promised Land. Moses had believed God in many things but in this one point, instead of glorifying God and speaking to the rock, he took matters into his own hands and struck it. He disobeyed God; he showed unbelief and lack of faith that God was able to bring this about from a simple act of obedience on his part.
We exercise faith all the time. We maybe exercising faith right now, in something as basic as a chair, it’s as simple as that. You believe that the chair is able to hold your weight. You look at it, it's made in a specific way, and you put your back side on it, believing that it can do something for you and it does. Faith believes that God will do what He says He can do. So it doesn't matter what we face; we all face different scenarios and God is longing to be involved in all of them. Faith is such a simple thing; it is just a looking away from yourself to someone who can do something on your behalf. It is a little bit like the clutch in your car. Now the clutch isn't the whole engine, but the clutch enables the engine to operate more fully. When you go home today, try changing gear without your clutch. And see what sort of noises you make. That is like the Christian who is trying to live the Christian life on his own. That is trying to deal with problems without actually engaging a simple thing called a clutch. The clutch just engages something else which is what faith does, it is just a simple thing in essence where you just believe that God is able to work on your behalf in whatever is happening.
Faith... A personal example with a shark!
I had a little experience of this when my family and I were on a camping holiday. I had taken my two children swimming, but there were sharks patrolling the beach close to shore. We climbed up out of the water onto a large rock and watched... intensely! As we did so we saw that they were going a long way along the beach before turning and coming back. I reckoned that we could jump off the rock we were sitting on and get out of the water well before they returned. So I said to the children what I was thinking and asked them if they wanted to come with me. My son said “No way”! He was staying on that rock and going nowhere! My daughter was equally as concerned about the sharks but said she would jump on two conditions...one that I would tell her when to jump, and two that I would jump with her. I agreed and that is what we did. She trusted my judgement enough to obey what I said even though there were sharks involved! We both jumped into the water together and made it back to the shore safely. And thankfully my boy followed else he still might be sitting on that rock! Later as I thought about this, it reminded me of what faith is and what our relationship with the Lord should be like. Thankfully, in all of things that try our faith, we can still know that He is in control and calling the shots and if we are called to ‘jump’, then He will jump with us!
Back to the nation that didn’t jump
So the nation of Israel was rejected and here in Hebrews it says “Look, we have both had the gospel preached to us, them and us, but the only difference was that they didn't mix it with faith. Everything that they heard didn't actively engage God. So he is saying “beware of this, beware of unbelief.” Yes, you have been saved, God has forgiven you all of your sins but what is God's purpose for you? Do you stop at salvation, or go on? This is a picture for us as Christians. We have believed God for salvation (out of Egypt),and have begun our journey through the wilderness, but are we going to go round and round there, never really facing the same problems and never entering into the Rest which God has prepared for us?
When we look at these things, they are all pictures. Back in Egypt you are under a slave master, continually serving him; but God’s purpose was to take you out of Egypt and into something where He could be in control and that is what Canaan actually is. Canaan, if you look in your hymn books, pictures heaven. However, I don't believe that when you get to the book of Joshua and the land of Canaan that it is actually heaven. The dominant theme in Joshua is faith to war and take possession of the land. These things speak about active Christian life, not heaven. There is no war in heaven. There are no more battles to fight there. Yes, there is a rest that is ongoing. There will be a final rest when we are in His presence.
What does the New Testament identify Moses with?
The other thing I want to look at is how Moses is a representative of something. In the New Testament what is Moses pictured as? What does he represent? He represents the Law. ‘For the law came through Moses it says in John, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’
2 Corinthians 3:15 says that when Moses is read a veil lies upon their heart. This always refers to this old legal system of which Moses is the head. So all through Corinthians, whenever it talks about Moses as a representative, it is speaking of that legal law which God gave to the nation in the wilderness. When looking at this as a type, all of these pictures are only true of New Testament truths. The law had a purpose but it could only come so far; for the law came through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. So the Law of Moses could only operate before Christ came to fulfil its commands.
Galatians 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
When you look at the wilderness wanderings all that was purposed there was that the nation would come to knowledge of their sin. Yes, they had been saved, but they didn't know the workings of sin within them, so for forty years God showed them what their hearts were really like. And the Law is like that, there is nothing wrong with the Law, but it can only actually take you so far. The Law's purpose is to show you the standard and actually to bring you to another who can deliver you. Like Galatians says, it is a tutor. It is a teacher to actually bring you to Christ Himself. Moses, as a representative of the Law, could only take them to a certain position and then a new leader was needed to take them in. And that new leader, of course, was Joshua; which is another name for Christ, Yeshua. So just as the Law came through Moses and grace and truth through Jesus Christ The nation had to be put into the hands of someone who was able to bring them into victory. The Law is actually like that. It shows you that you are a sinner. It shows you the standard but it won't actually do anything for you to meet that standard. Paul experienced this in Romans 7. He says “look, I wouldn't have even known what sin was if it wasn't for the Law. It the Law didn't say you shall not covet, I wouldn't have even known about coveting; but when I came to know the Law, all sorts of things were produced in me. In that massive struggle in Romans 7 he wants to obey God, he wants to do the things of God, but he finds that there is this law within him, the law of sin and death, working against God's law and he cries out for someone who will deliver him. You have got these same pictures here, that Moses could only actually take the nation so far. For them to inherit God's promises, for them to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of victory required another leader. Paul experienced that it is actually Christ in His death and resurrection who takes you into those victories and that life of faith which Canaan pictures.
Canaan – God’s inheritance and rest
So Canaan is God's rest. It is God's inheritance but it is also faith mixed with battle. We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood but it is against principalities and powers. So the Christian life is not passive. It is quite the opposite.
One last question... Did Moses ever go into the Promised Land? The answer is Yes – on the Mount of Transfiguration we see him with Elijah and Christ: interestingly he is there after Christ is in the land, so there will probably be something in all of that. But he did get there but not until Jesus was actually in the land. Moses’ life is amazing and from the basket in the river to the top of the mountain you see the providence of God and the hand of God right throughout his life... Yet that one act of disobedience prevented him from leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. That would be left to another – and that is Joshua who is a type of Christ. That is what we shall continue with in the next series from the book of Joshua. Entering and possessing the land!