“Also the Lord was angry with me, because of you, saying: ‘You too shall not go there’” Deuteronomy 1:37


The book of Numbers explains why Moses won’t see the land of Israel. It’s because he hit the rock, to give forth water, when he was commanded to speak to it (Numbers 20:12). This contradicts our verse, from the book of Deuteronomy, which pins God’s anger to the episode of the ten spies.

Moses’s punishment has a public and a private explanation. The public explanation was this: Moses was no longer an appropriate leader for the new generation that emerged in the desert. That shortcoming was made manifest in the episode with the rock. A generation ago it had been appropriate to hit the rock (see Exodus 17:6). But a new generation required new leadership and Moses wasn’t able to adapt.

 The private explanation concerns the episode of the spies. The people had wanted to know if the land of Israel was as good as God had promised. They weren’t merely planning an invasion. They were checking if God had been telling the truth. Accordingly, Moses shouldn’t have sent them.

But didn’t God command Moses to send them (Numbers 13:2)? No. The commandment can be read as a response to the desire of the masses — “Send for yourself”, God said, as if to say, ‘”if you really want to send them, go ahead and send them!”

Had Moses led differently, the disaster of the ten spies could have been averted. The previous generation would then have entered the land immediately and Moses’s leadership style would still have been well-suited to his flock.

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