#266. Why was Moses not allowed to enter the promised land: because he rebelled against Yahweh’s word OR because he bore the sins of the people who rebelled against Yahweh? (Num 20:12, 27:14; Deut 32:51 vs Deut 1:37, 3:26, 4:21)


The Deuteronomic (D) and Priestly source (P) differ on their reason for why Moses could not enter the land of Canaan. Since this issue is not presented in the older Yahwist nor Elohist traditions, we might assume that this story derived from a later “need” and was thus inserted into the tradition. At any event, D and P give competing answers.

As we saw in the previous entry (#262-265), the Priestly writer completely rewrites the Yahwist version of the Waters at Meribah story, specifically adding into his version a reason why Yahweh was wroth with Moses and thus denied him entry. Even here, the specific reason is unclear. We know that P changes “striking” the rock to “speaking” to it, whereupon Moses strikes it! But specifically why or how, in P’s view, Moses “made a breach” (Deut 32:51 [P]) against Yahweh is unclear. This of course receives much speculation in the rabbinic tradition.

At any event, the Deuteronomist provides a different rationale and what is significant in the Deuteronomic tradition’s version is that this rationale excludes Moses of any wrongdoing, rebelliousness, or sin against Yahweh. Rather, because Moses bears the sins of the people, he does not enter Canaan! This is what the Deuteronomist provides us:

  • “Yahweh was incensed at me too, because of you, saying ‘You too shall not come there!” (Deut 1:37; context: D’s spy story. The idea that Yahweh was somehow angry with Moses on account of the spy’s sin here in D is a narrative detail completely absent from the original J version)
  • “But Yahweh was cross at me because of you… ‘see it with your eyes, because you won’t cross this Jordan!” (Deut 3:26)
  • “And Yahweh had been incensed at me over your matters, and he swore that I would not cross the Jordan and not come to the good land…” (Deut 4:21)

We must additionally bear in mind that the Deuteronomist’s retelling of the Meribah incident also makes no reference to any sin or disobedience that Moses did! Thus it would appear that for this author (D), Moses does not cross over to the land for no fault/sin of his! Again, this is just one way in which handed-down traditions and stories were rewritten by later writers so that they better suited these later writers’ agendas and/or ideologies.

Moses was the Deuteronomist’s hero. And it may be for this and other unknown reasons that when this author narrates the reason why Yahweh did not allowing Moses to enter the promised land that it is a different reason from that given by the Priestly writer. It was not Moses fault or something that Moses did, claims D! The Deuteronomist clearly states, through Moses’ own mouth, that he was not allowed to enter the land of Canaan because of the people’s sins, which apparently Moses carried or bore himself!

11 thoughts on “#266. Why was Moses not allowed to enter the promised land: because he rebelled against Yahweh’s word OR because he bore the sins of the people who rebelled against Yahweh? (Num 20:12, 27:14; Deut 32:51 vs Deut 1:37, 3:26, 4:21)

  1. Hi, thank you for your response. If a man went to prison for his crimes, one person might say the judicial system put him in there. Another might say that the things he did is what brought him to his present state… Both would be correct statements just observed from two different angles and points of view… Could the sins (lack of faith) of the children of Israel have caused Moses to falter before God at Meribah, therefore making both non-entrance statements true?

  2. I’m not into reading too deep (and ultra literal) like some people are on here… The bible nmis a book written and translated by human beings ohe representr many centuries and through many languages… I believe that the stories and accounts of the man, Moses, are fairly accurate and that many of the biblical statements are somewhat close to what really happened 3,500 years ago… However, I would rather rely on spiritual senses to get more from the stories told…
    I feel Moses was not allowed to enter the “Promised land” (which figuratively represents the spiritual utopia of heaven). Moses represents “the law” (the capability and self-strwngth within human beings in becoming righteous and sinless)… Therefore, Moses could not enter because he fell short in sin, as did the rest of Israel. Joshua and Caleb trusted in God’s strength and could therefore cross the Jordan and enter the promised land.

    1. Thanks for providing yet another interpretation that neglects the text, imposes exterior and centuries-later ideas and beliefs onto the text, and is ultimately concerned about the reader’s beliefs about the text rather than understanding those of its author, and the hows and whys of his own beliefs.

      You’ve encouraged me to produce my own translation of the Bible. It will consist of a front cover on which is printed in blood red “Holy Bible” and a plain black back cover. In between will be 1,275 blank pages of glistening shinning white paper. That’s it! And we can all impose our own meanings onto the text, cause hell let’s face it, that’s what’s going on anyway. And let’s face it too… because that which is implied, signified, or symbolized by the cover—“Holy Bible”—is much more important and full of meaning than that which is or is not written on these 1,275 blank shimmering white pages. I mean really, who cares; it’s the “Holy Bible” anyway you slice it! Because that’s what later readers said it was!

  3. Entry #266 is above. But don’t you state also that you would be posting one contradiction per day starting January 1, 2013? Shouldn’t that have yielded 365 entries in just the first year alone?

    1. Pip,

      I’m interested in how the stories are told differently, and often contradictorily, in the Bible’s different textual traditions — understanding what the texts tell us and why. Interesting…. your reply actually assumes MORE historicity than I do!

  4. You could add a #267: When was Moses told that he could not enter the Promised Land: in the 40th year in the desert or at the beginning of the wilderness campaign (Numbers 20:1-13 vs Deut. 1:22-37)? As you point out in contradiction #261, Numbers 13-14, the spy narrative, is set early in the wilderness narrative, while Numbers 20 takes place in year 40. Deuteronomy 1:22-37 recaps the spy narrative (while contradicting Numbers–see contradiction #233 ff.) and states that because of the people’s lack of trust in Yahweh regarding the spy episode , Moses was also denied entry.

    Deuteronomy 1:
    22 All of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.’…26 But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 32But in spite of this, you have no trust in Yahweh your God…34 When Yahweh heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: 35‘Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, 36except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to the Lord.’ 37Even with me Yahweh was angry on your account, saying, ‘You also shall not enter there. 38Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel’s possession of it. 39And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it. 40But as for you, journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea.’

    1. John,

      Yes indeed. Thanks for the addition, and I apologize for my now habitual sporadic posting. One day I’ll get back on track….

      What I like about this too is that it also adds further textual support for the early chronology of the Edom and Meribah episodes. Only in P with its awkward placing of the 40th year at Numbers 20 do the Meribah and Edom events occur in the 40th year. In the other textual sources these all occur early in the wilderness narrative, and thus potentially too, as D witnesses above, Yahweh’s decree against Moses’ entry.

  5. This entry and the last one are quite interesting. I was taught that the reason Moses did not enter the Promised Land was plain and simple — that he took credit for bringing water from the rock at Meribah, rather than giving God credit. Because of the selective way in which I was shown scriptures, I never had any idea that there were alternate explanations for his punishment, nor that there were alternate versions of the Meribah story where Moses didn’t do anything wrong.

Leave a Reply