"That very day the Lord spoke to Moses: 'Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo'" Deuteronomy 32:48-49

By Elaine Robinson, September 7, 2010

The poem that forms part of Moses's farewell to the Israelite nation summarises the themes of the Book of Deuteronomy: the greatness and generosity of God and the stubbornness of the nation.

But this parsahah is one of the most devastating to read. At the end of the section, God takes Moses up Mount Nebo to show him the beauty of the Land of Canaan and then tells him that he will not enter into the land because of his sin in hitting the rock rather than talking to it as God had commanded him. We hear nothing of Moses's response on hearing this news.

Where is the justice in this punishment? Moses, the unwilling leader of the nation, worked tirelessly to lead the people from slavery to freedom through the wilderness for 40 years, dealing with insurgence, rebellion, complaints, frustration, hunger and thirst.

The human error he displayed, a moment where frustration overtook him, leaves him on the edge of his life's work, but there is no protest, just acceptance.

Some commentators claim that his silence is the pinnacle of his leadership. This was why he was chosen to lead the people through the desert, because he would not challenge God's judgment once it was delivered. But we do hear Moses challenge God throughout the journey - so why here and why now is he silent?

Other commentators point to the need for a different type of leader, Joshua, to lead the people once they become a landed nation; others ask what role would Moses have played as the ex-president of the people and how could a new leader take over with the old one still around.

None of these explanations satisfies my sense of justice; I still struggle with this feeling of this being a harsh and unjustified punishment for a tireless and loyal servant.

Last updated: 1:25pm, September 7 2010