Why was Moses punished so harshly? (Numbers 20:12)

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.”

Numbers 20:12 - 13

ESV - 12 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. 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Clarify Share Report Asked June 07 2018 My picture Jack Gutknecht

Community answers are sorted based on votes. The higher the vote, the further up an answer is.

Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
Even though Moses was spoken of very favorably as someone with whom God spoke face to face (as one would with a friend) (Exodus 33:11), there remained a quantum difference between Moses (as is the case with any human) and God. Moses was (and would always remain) a fallen being who was at best a servant of God, and Moses should have been mindful of that fact at all times (as he was when God initially appeared to him in the burning bush, and Moses hid his face after God had identified Himself, because he was afraid to look at Him (Exodus 3:6)).

Forgetting that distinction puts one on the road to the sin of pride, which is the complete anti-God state of mind. It was through such pride that Lucifer became Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15). Although God is loving and merciful, He is also (as He has described Himself) a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14), who will not share His unique, rightful glory with anyone or anything.

Although Moses was undoubtedly motivated by frustration and anger with the Israelites in the words that he spoke and the actions that he took in Numbers 20:10-11, that did not excuse the manner in which he spoke of himself as having the power to bring water from the rock (when it was entirely God's doing), or in which he disobeyed God's explicit instruction to merely speak to the rock, instead of striking it as he did (and not just once, but twice) with his staff, again implying or giving the appearance before the people that he was personally involved in causing the miracle that took place, and indicating his own lack of faith in the instruction that God had given him by feeling that he had to add to it.

God could not leave that action unpunished. He would even have been justified in taking Moses' life, as He did on other occasions when the Israelites acted presumptuously (as with Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16). From that perspective, one could say that God was being merciful to Moses in "only" punishing him by not permitting him to enter the Promised Land.

Although Christians know God's love and mercy through Jesus, and can relate to Him as a true human, this account of Moses should always remain in their minds as a cautionary warning never to forget God's utter holiness, and never to assume unjustified familiarity with God by approaching Him as their equal, rather than remembering that they are sinners who have access to God only as a result of His grace by faith in Christ (John 14:6).

June 08 2018 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Aurel Gheorghe
Moses did have a problem with his temper. Earlier in his life he lost his temper and killed an Egyptian (Ex 2:12). Now Moses, because of his temper, he lost an opportunity to glorify God. He got angry, and instead of speaking to the rock, he takes the rod and strikes the rock twice (Numbers 20:10, 11). 

He briefly forgot that it was not Moses who was bringing the water out of the rock, but it was God. And because of that, Moses was not allowed to go into the Promised Land. ‘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’ (Numbers 20:12). 

But is more than that. This chapter is overflowing with symbolism: that rock symbolizes Christ (1 Cor 10:2, 3, 4). Moses had struck the rock once earlier (Ex 17:6). It was not to be struck twice. Christ was to be struck only once for our sins (Isaiah 53:5), and the whole symbolism was ruined by what Moses had done in anger.

June 08 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Grant Abbott Child of Father, Follower of Son, Student of Spirit
In my view Moses was not being punished at all. God simply decided to end Moses’ ministry as a servant and prophet of God.

But why did God do that? I believe there were 2 reasons:

1) Moses did not obey God completely. God told Moses what to do to bring forth the water but Moses did not follow God’s instructions, to the letter, 100% accurate.

2) Moses did not give God the glory for the miracle of water pouring forth from the rock. Moses took credit for that himself.

Did Moses fall because of pride. I don’t think so. Look at God’s assessment of Moses in Numbers 12:3: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

Did Moses stumble because he was unfaithful? I don’t believe so. Look at God’s assessment of Moses in Numbers 12:6-9: “... he is faithful in all my house, with him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles, he sees the form of the Lord..,”

So why did God end Moses’ ministry? Here are some reasons to consider:

1) the more that God revealed himself and used Moses to accomplish his kingdom purposes, the higher the level of holiness and perfection God expected.

2) God was doing amazing miracles through his servant Moses, so that God would be known, revered and honoured by all the peoples of the world. God was not willing to share his glory with anyone, even a very faithful servant like Moses. When Moses took credit for the miracle of waster, he stole the glory that was due to God.

3) Moses had ministered for the Lord for over 40 years. He was an old man who no longer had the strength, perseverance, patience and determination to deal with the continuous rebellion of the Israelite people. God knew this day was coming, so he had chosen Joshua to be his successor, and had given Moses lots of opportunity to train him. It was time for Moses to retire and pass the torch to Joshua.

This story of Moses' ministry has some very important lessons for every Christian. When God calls us to be his servants, we must obey what he tells us to do. We must not take control but follow his lead and guidance. We must be sure to give God all the glory for every good result from our service for his kingdom.

Moses got to see the Promised Land, died in the arms of God and was buried on the mountaintop by his creator. Many similarities also to the life, ministry and retirement of Elijah.

August 26 2018 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Data Danny Hickman Supporter Believer in The Gospel Of Jesus Christ
Moses was denied the opportunity to step foot in the land God promised to give to Abraham's descendents because he didn't glorify God when he struck the rock that gave water to the people during their forty year sojourn in the desert. However, I don't call his barring of the promised land "harsh punishment." Of course he was probably disappointed, but I think He was somewhat appeased when he was allowed to look over the horizon and get a good look at the place. Besides that, he had to be at least a little tired after all he'd gone through with the people he was leading. Also, he was spared the different battles they had to engage to acquire the land. I don't call being kept from what he was kept from, "harsh punishment."

August 24 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Max on trike Max Kirk
Moshe had already been instructed to strike the rock once, previously when Israel first entered the wilderness. Here at the end of the 40 year wilderness journey it is written, ‘And Miriam died’ (Num. 20:1), the Torah then states (v.2), ‘The People had no water’. From this the Talmud,(Ta’anit 9a), derives that the well of water which came from the rock followed Israel through the wilderness in Miriam's merit. 

It was after Miriam's death that Moshe was commanded to go and speak to the rock, taking his staff with him, so that the people would once again have water. What was Moshe to say to the rock before the people in this situation? Since we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that the rock that, being struck by the staff of Moshe, brought forth water to Israel was Christ, that is to say, Mashiach, we can conclude that it was in the merit of the confession of Mashiach as the source of the redemption of Israel that the water was provided for Israel in the wilderness. 

This confession was given by Moshe in the Song of Moshe after the crossing of the Red Sea, but this song was also led by Miriam among the women, and is also called the Song of Miriam. We can see, then, how the merit of the confession of Mashiach in the redemption of Israel could especially be attributed to Miriam, for Moshe had to be the one to strike the rock, showing the sacrifice that God had had to make in redeeming Israel out of bondage, which was first represented by the Pascal Lamb. 

When Miriam died, therefore, all that Moshe needed to do was to speak to Israel and to say to them that they should themselves have the confidence to sing the Song of Miriam while crossing over the Jordan River, even without Miriam leading them. However, Moshe and Aaron saw that there would be a greater need for correction even yet in Israel, and that they still did not understand his or Aaron's role well enough to step forward in Miriam's place. He therefore struck the rock twice, indicating, perhaps, that the Temple would be destroyed twice. 

In doing this, Moshe put himself in the position of the sinner instead of Israel. Instead of Israel even now not being able to enter into the Land across the Jordan River because of its unbelief, Moshe put himself in the position of not being able to enter the Land across the Jordan River because of his sin of not properly admonishing Israel. Because he put himself in the position of judging Israel, as if to accuse them that because of them Mashiach would have to be struck twice, when it was only God's place to judge Israel, God answered by defending Israel and punishing Moshe. And this was what Moshe desired, even though it broke his heart to do so. 

Now, Moshe did this for Israel's sake and therefore God ultimately vindicated him, but many since Moshe have taken it upon themselves to judge Israel for its unbelief, not for Israel's sake, but because they wanted to take Israel's place. If God defended Israel even against Moshe, how much should those people fear who judge Israel but without the faith and righteousness of Moshe?

August 24 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

My picture Jack Gutknecht ABC/DTS graduate, guitar music ministry Baptist church
First, see the big picture about this failure of Moses:

In Exod.17 God said to Moses, ‘Smite the rock’, and Moses obeyed.
‘That Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4,5).
In Num.20 God said, ‘Speak to the rock’, and Moses disobeyed.
1 He spoke inadvisedly with his lips Ps. 106:33
2 He failed in his strongest point, meekness Num. 20:10; 12:3
3 He struck the rock twice Num. 20:11
4 He disbelieved God Num. 20:12
5 He failed to honor God before the people Num. 20:12

Moses had publicly disobeyed the Lord. It was a failure of faith—"you did not trust in me enough"—as well as a failure of obedience and worship. He had failed to honor God as holy. To me, his punishment fit his crime. It was just.

Yes, this may seem an excessively harsh punishment for Moses. It seems that with only one slip-up, he now had to die short of the Promised Land. But Moses was being judged by a stricter standard because of his leadership position with the nation, and because he had a uniquely close relationship with God.

> It is right for teachers and leaders to be judged by a stricter standard (James 3:1); though it is unrighteous to hold teachers and leaders to a perfect standard. It is true the people’s conduct was worse than Moses’, but it is irrelevant.

>> Worst of all, Moses defaced a beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemptive work through the rock which provided water in the wilderness. The New Testament makes it clear this water-providing, life-giving rock was a picture of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus, being struck once, provided life for all who would drink of Him (John 7:37). But it was unnecessary – and unrighteous – that Jesus would be struck again, much less again twice, because the Son of God needed only to suffer once (Hebrews 10:10-12). Jesus can now be approached with words of faith (Romans 10:8-10), as Moses should have only used words of faith to bring life-giving water to the nation of Israel. Moses “ruined” this picture of the work of Jesus God intended. --Enduring Word Bible Commentary

October 21 2021 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Ovie Omeleh
My opinion to the question and answers is that we have to look at the story from God's point of view. All these events are means of God communicating His salvation plan and the fact that he is omniscient. Moses in this story represents man, a human leader. The underlying message is that Man cannot lead Man to salvation. Only God can, will and has. So we cannot get so fixated on the little details. Moses is not being punished. Was it not the same Moses that appeared in the transfiguration of Christ? What honour can be greater than that. We are reminded later, when God, I will send a prophet like Moses, which was not Aaron but Christ, same pattern with David and his intention to build the temple, God also rejected him, again the promise of a King after David was not to Solomon but Christ. Here we have seen two of the threefold ministry of prophet and King, both taking same pattern of the salvation plan and pointing not to man but to Christ. Thank you. HRH Ovie Omeleh.

August 24 2018 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Joseph Mazivanhanga
When we read the OT it has types and shadows. The NT has antitypes and fulfilments. Moses represents the law and the old covenant—a covenant based on works. Moses did not die from any illness, but he just died because his time was up. Canaan represents the promised land. Joshua is a type of Christ who has to take the people of God into the promised land. Now, where Joshua is taking God’s people, the law cannot function because it’s only by grace through faith. Please read Acts 13:39, Galatians 3:24, Romans 8:3-5. 

Moses has to die so that Joshua, a type of Christ, can lead people into God’s promises, not through the covenant of works, but by grace. Therefore it is said, “Christ is the end of the law,” Romans 10:4. 

Think of this, before Joshua went into the promised land he passed through / was baptized in the Jordan through Jericho. Before Jesus started His ministry, He was baptized in the Jordan. Before the conquest of Jericho and entering the promised land, Joshua had to come from beyond Jordan. Before Jesus gained victory on the cross or his itinerary to the cross, Jesus started from beyond the Jordan into Jericho, then Jerusalem to the cross (please follow the journey to the cross from Matt. 19 and Mark from 10). 

Moses had to die whether we think he was severely punished or not so that Christ can come and justify us. Moses himself sinned and he lived by the law, and that ministration of the law brings a curse and death because the letter killeth. Moses had to die because the law worketh wrath (Romans 4:15). But Christ, typified by Joshua, has qualified us just as he qualified the Israelites as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter killeth (2 Corinthians 3:7). This is my opinion on why Moses was severely punished.

February 18 2022 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini James Kraft 74 year old retired pipeline worker
The rock represented Jesus. Moses in effect struck Jesus. He was also usurping God’s authority. He was making himself God before the people, not a servant of God. 

Through all of that, Moses was a servant of God and as such, even though he had his human faults like all of us, he trusted in God for the most part. But God still chastens His children. We are never too old to spank. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Those who are not chastened by the Lord are none of His. He scourges and chastens every son. John 1:12.

All we like sheep have gone astray and turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord hath laid on Him, Jesus, the iniquity of us all. 

I believe Moses and Elijah will be the two witnesses in Revelation.

February 18 2022 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Add your Answer

All answers are REVIEWED and MODERATED.
Please ensure your answer MEETS all our guidelines.

What makes a good answer? ▼

A good answer provides new insight and perspective. Here are guidelines to help facilitate a meaningful learning experience for everyone.

  1. Adhere to the eBible Statement of Faith.
  2. Your answer should be complete and stand-alone.
  3. Include supporting arguments, and scripture references if possible. Seek to answer the "why".
  4. Adhere to a proper tone and spirit of love and understanding.
  5. For more info see The Complete Guide to eBible
  1. 4000 characters remaining