And I besought the LORD at that time, saying,

O Lord God, thou hast begun to shew they servant they greatness, and they mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might?

I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the LORD said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.

Deut. 3:23-26

Israel was encamped on the plains of Moab closely bordering the river Jordan. They had only to look across the expanse of the river and they could see the promised land which they had come so far and waited so long to inherit. Even more, they had been given a foretaste of the power with which they would enter that land. Not only had they won great victories over the armies of Og king of Bashan and Sihon king of the Amorites, but they had gone forth to punish and destroy the Midianites for the sin which they had instigated in Israel according to the suggestion of Balaam. There could no longer be any doubt for them or anyone else that the power of God was with them.

Every day the excitement and anticipation was growing stronger in the camp of Israel as events pointed more and more to their entrance into the promised land. Everything seemed to say that the time was near.

One of the first such events took the form of a crisis. One day the heads of the tribes of Reuben and Gad came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and announced their desire not to pass over the river Jordan at all. They had been looking at the land of Bashan and of the Amorites which they had conquered and had decided that it was as good a land for their cattle as they could ever desire. To Moses the words were like treason. Violently he reacted, “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD bath given them? This did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land . . .” He could not understand that any should be hesitant to enter the land of promise. To him lack of courage was the only real reason which they could have had for their request. Stung by the severity of Moses’ attack, the leaders of Reuben and Gad quickly modified their request. “We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones: but we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.”

With this condition understood, Moses gave his reluctant approval. It was another event which served to stress for Israel the importance of the promised land which they were about to inherit. With the conclusion of this event there came to Moses an overwhelming realization of the difficulties that were still lying ahead of Israel. Problems would continue to arise, requiring bold and courageous leadership. All the time, moreover, he could not forget that he would not be allowed to provide that leadership. God had told him that he could not enter the promised land. Nor would God allow him to forget this. He came to him again and said, “Get thee up into the mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou, also shall be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes; that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.”

In concern for Israel Moses answered back, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.”

To this the Lord gave immediate answer. “Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.”

In obedience to God Moses did as he was commanded, He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar and before the congregation of Israel. There he laid his hands upon Joshua to symbolize that his position and authority was being laid upon Joshua. Joshua was to take Moses’ place before the children of Israel.

This was a difficult ceremony for Moses to perform, perhaps one of the most difficult in all of his life. Moses’ life from its very beginning had been centered in the hope of return to the promised land. From his very earliest years he had been schooled in the promise by his faithful parents. Through the years in Pharaoh’s court he had nurtured that hope until he had become convinced that God was preparing him to perform an important part in the redemption from Egypt. For a time the hope had dimmed as he fled an exile to Midian; but even then there was always the possibility that he could join his nation should they pass through the wilderness on the way to Canaan. When finally God had extended to him that almost unbelievable calling and he actually went forth to give leadership to Israel, his hope grew clearer and more vivid than ever before. During the years that he guided Israel through the wilderness his calling had brought him before countless trials which defied human faithfulness and courage. Still he had endured. It was the power of faith that had upheld him with strength from on high. Holding firmly to God’s promise, he had gone on in the assurance that Israel’s return to Canaan would surely come to pass because the word of the Lord had promised it.

And now suddenly in the closing stages of the journey Moses found this promised land slipping away from him. God in faithfulness to His promise was, still giving it to Israel; but Moses personally was being denied it in his earthly life. He had sinned by striking the rock at Meribah instead of speaking to it as God had commanded, and because of that he was being denied the right of entering Canaan. He might go up to the very edge; he might gaze upon it from across Jordan’s waters; but he might not enter in. This was God’s judgment upon his sin.

One can hardly imagine a greater disappointment than Moses must have felt. From the moment that God pronounced this judgment he knew that it was right; but that did not take away the longing which he had always nurtured in his heart as a good thing. The hope of his life lay fractured and hurting in his heart, never to be realized. Surely he was not above the rebellious feeling that God was unjust in punishing him so severely for so little. How often must he not have cried out in anguished repentance for his foolish lapse of obedience. And then as the time for Israel to cross over Jordan came near and he saw the anticipation of the people growing eager, how lonely he must have felt because he was to be left behind. And when troubles arose as those with Reuben and Gad which only his definite and determined leadership could straighten out, did he not wonder how Israel could do without that? and can tie blame him for thinking those thoughts? But God’s word was unwavering. The leadership of Israel had to be turned over to another even at this critical juncture of affairs.

For Moses it was almost too much. It seemed almost impossible far him to reconcile himself to this judgment of God. Again and again he found himself crying out through tears to God. “O LORD God, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.”

Moses knew well how effectual the fervent prayer of a righteous man could be. Often he had prayed in almost impossible situations and God had listened to answer him in grace. Through his prayers Israel had repeatedly been saved. But for this prayer, as earnest as it was, there was no such answer. Rebukingly God replied, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”

To Moses these words were harsh; but they were God’s words and they were final. And, when he at last reconciled himself to this end, he saw also the reason for it. At the close of his earthly sojourn he could say to Israel, “But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me.” It was not because God hated Moses and sought vengeance upon him that he would not allow Moses to enter Canaan. Moses was a child of His love and before divine justice his guilt was completely covered by the redemption of the promised blood. But still for the sake of Israel Moses could not be allowed to enter in but must perish east of Jordan.

It was just exactly because Moses was so close to God at all times that when he sinned his judgment had to be so severe and so definite. Israel must be given no occasion to, accuse God of being a respecter of persons. Time and again Moses had been used as an agent of God to announce judgments upon those who had erred and broken His commandments. To serve in this capacity was a privilege but also a great responsibility. He could never be allowed to leave the impression that because of his intimate relationship to God he was above living as purely as he demanded from others. When, therefore, Moses fell openly into public sin and rebellion, God could not allow it to appear for a moment that he was less strict with His demands upon Moses than upon others. For the sake of Israel, that it might be spared from any misconceptions, God imposed upon Moses a public punishment for his error, and from it God would not relent even when Moses’ repentance was sincere and his prayers long and repeated.

Even more, however, was this punishment necessary because of the danger which confronted the future generations of Israel. As time passed by the danger would become very great that Israel would begin to look back upon Moses as a man worthy of special recognition and of worship. There would be a tendency to place Moses in the place that belongs to God. It was necessary, therefore, that Israel should be left with one indisputable testimony of the fact that Moses was only a man and imperfect. Should anyone ever feel inclined to deify Moses, they would always stand before the fact that as important as Moses was as a servant of God he could not enter the land of promise because he had sinned. For the sake of Israel and its future generations this testimony had to be allowed to stand so that to God alone the glory of all ages might be given.