Dear Father Angelo,
I am reading / trying to get a better understanding of today’s first reading.
Book of Numbers, ch 20, the sin of Moses and Aaron.
I’m trying to understand what Moses did wrong.
According to the rabbinic tradition Moses committed 13 sins.
I found that his sins are: lack of faith and anger (striking the rock twice instead of speaking to it – see verse 11); pride (placing himself and Aaron before God – verse 10).
However, it is a very significant passage and honestly the reaction of God (not allowing him to enter the Promised Land) seems to me excessively severe. After all, Moses, with all his human limitations (a tumultuous population, desert physical and psychological fatigue), does the will of God and quenches his people’s thirst.
I’d like your opinion on this passage.
Thank you in advance.
Best regards, always united in prayer.
Answer from the priest
1. The event narrated took place in the first month of the fortieth year after leaving Egypt. The people were in the Sin desert by the Red Sea.
A new protest and rebellion was taking place against Moses and Aaron.
People said: “Why have you brought the LORD’S community into this desert where we and our livestock are dying? Why did you lead us out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place which has neither grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates? Here there is not even water to drink!” (Nm 20.4-5).
2. Moses and Aaron entered the tent to beg the Lord and the answer was that they had to strike the rock with the staff.
“Moses and Aaron assembled the community in front of the rock, where he said to them, “Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?” Then, raising his hand, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff, and water gushed out in abundance for the community and their livestock to drink. 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.” “(Nm 20,10- 12).
3. According to some biblical scholars, Moses certainly did not doubt the power of God and his promise, but in the presence of continuous ingratitudes, rebellions and deviations from the people, Moses perhaps thought that the promise was conditional to a sign of conversion.
In fact, during the long pilgrimage in the Sinai desert, the people had neglected the circumcision which was then carried out under Joshua, in whose book we read: “under these circumstances: Of all the people who came out of Egypt, every man of military age had died in the desert during the journey after they left Egypt. Though all the men who came out were circumcised, none of those born in the desert during the journey after the departure from Egypt were circumcised. “(Js 5: 4-5).
4. Not only that, but the people neglected to offer sacrifices, so that God will later complain to Amos: “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?” (Am 5.25).
Indeed, it even fell into idolatry: “You will carry away Sakkuth, your king, and Kaiwan, your star god, the images that you have made for yourselves” (Am 5:26).
St. Stephen, in his great speech, remembers all this and says: “Then God turned and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? No, you took up the tent of Moloch and the star of (your) god Rephan, the images that you made to worship. So I shall take you into exile beyond Babylon.’ ” (Acts 7.42-43).
5. And this is despite the fact that the Lord provided daily the needs of the people with manna: “Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” (Dt 8,2-3).
6. Why was Moses and Aaron denied entering the promised land?
Because they doubted. This is the motivation that emerges directly from the sacred text: “Since you did not believe in me (…) you will not introduce this assembly into the land that I give”. I can’t find any others, such as the ones you mention.
7. It is not excluded that God wanted to further purify these two great servants of his, who took upon themselves the sins of the people (how can it be forgotten that Moses had offered himself for the people!).
Nor is it excluded that the Lord wanted that with the suffering of being deprived of the joy of entering the promised land they were in their way precursors of the Messiah who with his passion and death wanted to deserve for us to enter the true promised land, in Paradise.
I wish you well, remember you to the Lord and bless you.