Bible Studies in Israel's Wilderness Wanderings
Missing the Promised Land - The Death of Moses
by F 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
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
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
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!