What Was Moses’ Sin?

Q. What was Moses’ sin on the occasion of his striking the rock to bring forth water at Meribah (see Nm 20:7-13)?  

T.N., Oklahoma City, Okla.  

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

You will recall that the Israelites desperately needed water. They complained to Moses for having led them into the dry wilderness. Moses and Aaron appealed to God in their distress. 

God told them to call the people together “and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters. From the rock you shall bring forth water for the community and their livestock to drink” (Nm 20:8). Notice how Moses carried out God’s command. He spoke to the people in anger: “‘Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?’” (v. 10). It was also sarcastic. Evidently, Moses did not believe that God would work the miracle promised. That was Moses’ sin, as the next verse makes clear. “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you were not faithful to me in showing forth my sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead this community into the land I will give them’” (v. 12). 

In Deuteronomy 1:19-38, in the first of three long addresses to the people, Moses stated still another reason he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. He reminded the people they had asked him to send scouts into the Promised Land to check it. He did so, and the scouts returned with an optimistic report. But the people refused to enter a campaign into Canaan. 

“When the Lord heard your words, he was angry; and he swore, ‘Not one man of this evil generation shall look upon the good land I swore to give to your fathers’” (Dt 1:34-35). Evidently, because Moses did not compel the people to carry out God’s command, he fell under the same punishment. “The Lord was angered against me also on your account, and said, ‘Not even you shall enter there, but your aide Joshua, son of Nun, shall enter. Encourage him, for he is to give Israel its heritage’” (vv. 37-38).