Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:6-9)
So here we have the Israelites about the enter Canaan, with their long-suffering leader, Moses, seeing the Promised Land but not being allowed to enter (Deut. 34). But why couldn't Moses join them?
The answer comes in Numbers 20, at the waters of Meribah. There is a clue in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (I Cor. 10:1-5)
So clearly this incident at Meribah is a prefiguring, as it were, of Jesus. There is an allegory here which Paul draws on, which is consistent with the spiritual meaning that Christians associate the events of Exodus through to Joshua with - the Passover prefigures the Last Supper, crossing the Jordan prefigures death, entering the Promised Land prefigures entering Heaven etc.
Moses's sin was:
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Num. 20:10-12)
So, Moses made out that it was him and Aaron - rather than God - who caused the rock to give out water. It was him taking the credit for something God did.
When I thought about this again, I suspect that a deeper message is being given as well - about salvation. Which is that Moses is without doubt one of the great Old Testament figures, being obedient (most of the time), putting up with a lot from the ungrateful Israelites, being mocked and ridiculed.
But even the great Moses was not good enough to earn a place in the Promised Land.
That might seem shocking. If Moses couldn't earn a place there, then who could? Well, there is a simple answer - no-one.
So, I wonder if this is the lesson here. God's judgment isn't a weighing up of good and bad deeds - as some clergy might have us believe. Rather it is the case that:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)
So, the Biblical teaching is that all of us have fallen short of God's standards, but He has provided a way for us, by Jesus Christ being a propitiation, paying the penalty for sin.
If entering the Promised Land is an allegory for entering Heaven, then here the point is surely that individual Israelites entered it by God's grace, not by having been good. Even Moses wasn't good enough to claim a place there by right.
But there is a coda to Moses's story, as the New Testament tells us:
And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matt. 17:1-7)
On one mountain, Moses dies seeing the Promised Land. On another mountain, Moses lives seeing his Saviour and Lord.
Moses died without entering the earthly Promised Land, but he entered the heavenly Promised Land.