NUM. 27:12-23 - EXEGETICAL NOTES ON TRANSITION OF LEADERSHIP
Introduction - Succession Planning (Numbers 27:12-23)
Building a sustainable organization-in this case the nation of Israel-requires orderly transitions of authority. Without continuity, people become confused and fearful, work structures fall apart, and workers become ineffective, "like sheep without a shepherd" (Num. 27:17). Preparing a successor takes time. Poor leaders may be afraid to equip someone capable of succeeding them, but great leaders like Moses begin developing successors long before they expect to leave office. The Bible doesn't tell us what process Moses uses to identify and prepare Joshua, except that he prays for God's guidance (Num. 27:16). Numbers does tell us that he makes sure to publicly recognize and support Joshua and to follow the recognized procedure to confirm his authority (Num. 27:17-21).
Succession planning is the responsibility of both the current executive (like Moses) and those who exercise complementary authority (like Eleazar and the leaders of the congregation), as we see in Numbers 27:21. Institutions, whether as big as a nation or as small as a work group, need effective processes for training and succession.
Commentary on Numbers 27:12-23
12 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go up this mountain of the Abarim range, and see the land I have given to the Israelites. 13 When you have seen it, you will be gathered to your ancestors, as Aaron your brother was gathered to his ancestors. 14 For in the wilderness of Zin when the community rebelled against me, you rebelled against my command to show me as holy before their eyes over the water - the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin."
Deut 32:49 provides further geographical information: "Go up to this Abarim hill country, to Mount Nebo (which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho) and look at the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Israelites as a possession." Aaron's death is narrated in 20:22-29. Moses's death is not narrated until Deut 34; this passage is concerned with his successor. In Num 20:12 the Lord told Moses he would not enter the promised land.
15 Then Moses spoke to the LORD: 16 "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all humankind, appoint a man over the community, 17 who will go out before them, and who will come in before them, and who will lead them out, and who will bring them in, so that the community of the LORD may not be like sheep that have no shepherd."
This is the last time that Moses is quoted as saying anything to God. In Deuteronomy Moses will report to the people his past conversations with God, but these are the last words of Moses to God in the Torah. And his last concern is: the people - that they should have a leader. And note that all of this draws us back to Moses' first meeting with God, at the burning bush. God begins the charge to Moses there by expressing concern for the people: "I've seen the degradation of my people" (Exod 3:7). so God's first charge to Moses and Moses' last request of God are both about the good of the people. And the connection to Moses' origins is underscored by Moses' choice of metaphor here. The episode at the bush begins: "Moses had been shepherding the flock" (Exod 3:1); and now Moses asks for a leader so the people won't be "like sheep that don't have a shepherd" (Num 27:17).1
The phrase "the God of the spirits of all humankind" may allude to God's control over life and death (Hebrew ruah also means "breath" of life, Gen 6:17; 7:15). In this passage, Moses does not protest his death but merely asks God to appoint a new leader over the Israelites. In Deut 3:23-27, Moses pleads with God to allow him enter the promised land. Verse 17a speaks of a military leader (Deut 31:2-3; Josh 14:11; 1 Sam 18:13, 16; 29:6; 1 Kgs 3:7). Joshua's military role was already seen in a fight with the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-16).
18 The LORD replied to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is such a spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 set him before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him publicly. 20 Then you must delegate some of your authority to him, so that the whole community of the Israelites will be obedient. 21 And he will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will seek counsel for him before the LORD by the decision of the Urim. At his command they will go out, and at his command they will come in, he and all the Israelites with him, the whole community."
Deut 34:9 says Joshua was endowed with a spirit of wisdom at his investiture while Num 27:18 refers to a spirit Joshua possessed before his investiture. This spirit may be an endowed skill (e.g., military prowess) or a synonym for courage. Hebrew hod ("authority", v 20) is an aura that commands awe and respect.
The exact meaning of hod in this context is difficult to determine, since it is Moses who is doing the investing. He is empowered to transfer to Joshua only his authority. But if hod refers to Moses' spiritual powers, then only God who has endowed them can transfer them-as He did when He allowed the elders to share Moses' prophetic gifts (11:17, 25). Alternatively, render "majesty, power, charisma" ("ray of your glory"), since it is possible that the actual transfer was performed by God (via Moses' hand leaning), just as the hod of Solomon's kingship (1 Chron. 29:25) was granted by God. Furthermore, the text states that only part of Moses' hod was transferred, implying that Joshua, like the elders who received some of Moses' spirit, was not his equal: "but not all of your hod, from which we learn that Moses' face was like the appearance of the sun and Joshua's like the moon" (Sif. Num. 140).2
Whereas Moses spoke directly with God (Num 12:6-8), Joshua is to seek counsel from the Lord through the high priest's use of the Urim and Thummim (but cf. Josh 20:1). The phrases "go out" and "come in" again refer to military matters.
22 So Moses did as the LORD commanded him; he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community. 23 He laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD commanded, by the authority of Moses.
Joshua's appointment as Moses' successor was, as it were, publicly announced by the laying on of his hands. It was later confirmed by God himself appearing in the pillar of cloud in the court of the tabernacle (Deut. 31:14-15, 23). Further revelations to Joshua followed the death of Moses (Josh. 1:1-9; 5:13-15), but we are told that it was the crossing of the Jordan that really convinced the people that Joshua was God's chosen successor to Moses (Josh. 4:14). Thus the ceremony recorded here inaugurates a co-regency, when Moses and Joshua were joint leaders of the people, a transition period that was terminated by the death of Moses on Mount Nebo, recorded in Deuteronomy 34.3
God-appointed Shepherds - Numbers 27:12-23 - Great Leader, Exceptional Follower
Have you ever noticed someone doing their job and thought to yourself, "That's a strange job?" I have done that before. I remember taking my kids to see Seasame Street Live one year and while I was watching the life-size Seasame Street characters dance across the stage I began to wonder, "How do you get a job as a dancing Cookie Monster?" Seriously, how in the world does an individual find out about a job opening as a dancing Seasame Street character? Do they post job openings on Monster.com? And then I also began to wonder about the aspirations of those individuals. Did they grow up aspiring to be a dancing Elmo? I'm not criticizing them if they did - to be honest it looked like a lot of fun (maybe something to fall back on if things don't work out as a pastor - but then there's the problem with the first question again, how do you get that job). Just some things I found myself thinking about one night. But there are also other odd jobs. Think about Vanna White. Twenty years ago they needed her position because she actually had to turn the letters of the puzzle that was being solved on "Wheel of Fortune." But with advancements in technology she doesn't have to turn the letters any more. Now all Vanna does is walk from one end of the puzzle to the other, lightly touching the blocks with the right letter along the way. It makes you wonder why in the world they still have her there. There doesn't appear to be a real need for what she is doing. All throughout our society there are jobs that have obvious purposes and serve great causes, but every once in a while you'll run across one that will just make you scratch your head. That has been the case throughout all of history. Now of course in Moses day there wasn't a need for dancing Seasame Street characters, and Vanna White probably wouldn't have had her job. But one of the jobs that there was a need for and which God appointed men to fill beginning with Moses and continuing throughout history is that of 'shepherd.' Not a shepherd of sheep, but a shepherd of people. From the time of Moses until now, God has appointed an individual over His people to help shepherd them. The obvious question is, 'why?' Why did God appoint men to fill a shepherding role for His people? There are several good answers to this question, but in this particular passage we will see two reasons why God gives God-appointed shepherds to His people.
Verse 12 of Numbers 27 begins with God commanding Moses to "Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel." We discover in the next two verses (vs. 13-14) that this is the closest that Moses was going to get to inheriting the promise land - that he would never actually set foot in the promise land but would only see it from a distance. For some of you this week that comes as a big surprise. You're wondering to yourself, "Why wasn't Moses permitted to go into the promise land? Wasn't he the greatest leader in the OT? And besides, I don't remember him being one of the faithless ones after ten of the spies returned from spying out the promise land and brought back a bad report. So why wouldn't Moses be permitted to enter the promise land?" Those are great questions. And fortunately God provides an answer for us in the text. God says to Moses in verses 13 and 14, "When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes." So let's briefly pause from our examination of this text to go back and look at the account to which God is referring and to consider what transpired that became so offensive to God.
The moment in history to which God is referring in verses 13 and 14 can be found in narrative form in Numbers 20:2-13. As the narrative details for us, the Israelite nation was at a place called Meribah and there was no water there for the congregation. So all of the people assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron and began to argue and quarrel with them. They believed that they and their livestock would die at that place because there was no produce growing and no water for them to drink. Having heard the complaints of the Israelites and tired of their constant complaining and grumbling, the text says that Moses and Aaron left the people to go to the tabernacle to bring the people's complaint before God and to inquire from Him what He would have them to do. The narrative tells us that God, in all of His glory, showed up and spoke to both Moses and Aaron. The narrative tells us that God instructed Moses to "take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle." God had met with Moses and Aaron and clearly instructed them on what to do - unfortunately the next couple of verses show Moses and Aaron failing to carry out God's instructions in the manner that He had laid out. Although Moses began well in verse 9, taking the staff as God had commanded him, it appears that Moses was growing frustrated with God's patience. Perhaps Moses was hoping that in bringing the report of the people's complaints against God that God would bring judgment upon such a stiff-necked and rebellious people. But no where do we see God suggesting that He is going to deal harshly with the Israelites. So with Moses' own personal frustration mounting and God's great mercy and patience taking it in stride, Moses appears to take the matter of rebuking into his own hands. Look at what Numbers 20:10-11 say, "Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?' And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice . . ." Now make sure you're paying attention to the details. First, Moses speaks very harshly to the Israelites - something God had not commanded Moses to do. Second, Moses struck the rock twice instead of speaking to the rock, which is what God had commanded him to do. So for one of the first recorded times in history Moses fell short of exceptional following, not doing all that God had commanded, but taking the initiative to do things his way.
Now note how God's grace and mercy abound even in the midst of grumbling and disobedience. The rest of verse 11 says, "and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock." Even though the Israelites were complaining about God's plan and Moses was acting in disobedience, God still met the needs of His chosen people. He still provided water in great abundance so that the entire nation and their livestock could have the water necessary for life. But there were also consequences for Moses' disobedience. Listen first to the charges that God brings against Moses and Aaron. God first tells Moses and Aaron that that they did not believe in Him. It's hard to tell for sure exactly where their disbelief was, but many scholars suggest that it was in taking the initiative to rebuke the people themselves. Perhaps Moses and Aaron believed that God was going to let the people's grumbling go unpunished. As a result they took it upon themselves to rebuke and scold the people for their ungrateful and rebellious hearts. This isn't the action God calls us to though. Consider Romans 12:19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" Moses and Aaron, failing to believe God would rebuke the people, took it upon themselves to rebuke the Israelites and in so doing put their unbelief to action. Not only did God charge Moses and Aaron with unbelief, but He also charged them with not upholding His holiness. "Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel." Again, it's hard to be clear on exactly how Moses and Aaron were failing to uphold the holiness of God, but we can look to the NT for clues. Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, "For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food [i.e. manna], and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ." Paul suggests that the rock which provided water to the Israelites in the wilderness was symbolic of Jesus, the coming Messiah. In the same way that Jesus would become a physical embodiment of God's grace, the rock was presently a physical embodiment of God's grace towards Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites. And rather than speaking to the rock, Moses lashed out against the rock and struck it twice. Moses failed to treat respectfully the gracious gift of God and the testimony of His provision for the people, and in so doing made an assault on the holiness of God. God says to Moses and Aaron that because they have acted in unbelief and because they have not upheld Him as holy among the Israelite nation, that they would not bring the Israelites into the land that God had given to them.
Before we resume with our examination of the text in Numbers 27 I want to ask you to recall Moses' former occupation and what God had appointed Moses to do while working in the midst of that occupation. You'll recall that after fleeing Egypt for killing an Egyptian Moses resided in the wilderness working as a shepherd. Then one day God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and spoke to Moses. God told Moses that He was sending him back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God was appointing Moses to fill a shepherd's role in which he would both care for and lead the Israelite nation on God's behalf. Throughout the next several centuries God-appointed shepherds, like Moses, would play an important role in the life of the Israelite nation. God would choose to work in and through them to do and accomplish several things. But one of the reasons that God gave these God-appointed shepherds to His people which we can extract from Numbers 27:12-14 was to help uphold His holiness in a sinful world. Moses was a great leader! And in almost every aspect of His life he was faithful and obedient to God. But when we look at these verses we see that Moses was still not permitted to enter the promise land. All around him sin was abounding. Sin had marred creation making the wilderness a very difficult place to survive. Sin was evident in the every day attitudes of the Israelites as they grumbled against God and complained about their circumstances. But reigning over this sin stained world was one incredibly holy God. And God began to appoint shepherd-type leaders over His chosen people to keep before them the holiness of God. Moses failed to do that though, and as a result he wasn't permitted to inherit the promise land which he was leading the people to.
God hasn't given any of us a shepherding role like He did to Moses. It's true that some of us are to act as shepherds in leading our families. Others of us may be given somewhat larger shepherding roles in which we give oversight and care to a small group of believers. But none of us have the save kind of shepherding role as Moses - so it's not up to us to uphold His holiness for the nations (someone else has been given that task - we'll talk about that more later). So our job as believers in Christ is simply to recognize God's holiness and then to respond appropriately. And what is an appropriate response to the holiness of God - it's our worship! And make sure you pay attention to this - our greatest act of worship is not singing songs and raising our hands - our greatest act of worship is our obedience! When we live lives of exceptional obedience to God we offer to Him the most pleasing and acceptable sacrifice of praise and worship that can be offered. The shepherds job is to uphold the holiness of God in a sinful world. And if God is really a holy God, then He is a God worth following in exceptional obedience.
After being reminded that he won't actually be permitted to lead the Israelites into the promise land, Moses speaks to God and makes a request of Him. He says to God in verse 16, "Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." Moses knew well the people that he was trying to lead. He knew well that they were sinful people who were prone to wander and chase after their own desires. He knew well that their tendency was to move away from God and away from His plans. And so Moses asked God to appoint another 'shepherd' over His people.
Moses' request here foreshadows an on-going need that God's people would have for the rest of time - a need for a 'good shepherd.' Israel had a few 'shepherds' that performed better than most. Men like Moses and David stand out as perhaps the two best in the OT (and ironically they were both real 'shepherds' before God appointed them as shepherds over His people). But Israel was also plagued with really bad shepherds. Listen to the words God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 34:2,6-10, "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? . . . My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them." Unfortunately, the Israelites had few 'shepherds' who took seriously the task that they had been given: to care for, protect, and lead them for His glory. Often times these 'shepherds' would only look after their own needs and wants. But Moses asks God to provide the Israelites with a leader who would help this sinful nation follow and carry out God's plans completely. And he asks God for a leader who would do this by leading and modeling this kind of lifestyle for the people. Listen again to Moses' request, "appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in . . ."
In verse 18 God appoints Joshua to fill the role of Israel's new shepherd, telling Moses that Joshua is a man who has the Holy Spirit dwelling within Him. It seems that this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the most significant character trait in God's selection of Joshua since it is the only character trait mentioned by God. God tells Moses, himself, to take possession of Joshua, and to begin the process of transferring leadership power to him. Moses is to do this in a very formal and a very public fashion so that there will be no questions regarding the legitimacy of their new leader. Moses, himself, is to first lay his own hands upon Joshua as a symbol of transfer of power and authority from Moses to Joshua. Then Moses is to take Joshua before Eleazar, the priest, to both commission Joshua and to have Eleazar inquire of the Lord and to confirm that Joshua is indeed the man that God has chosen to lead the Israelite nation.
Perhaps the most interesting and insightful phrase in this section comes at the beginning of verse 20 which says, "You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey." God doesn't tell Moses to bestow all of his authority on this new 'shepherd,' only some of it. While Joshua will end up being a 'good' shepherd for the people of Israel, God is also making it clear that Joshua is only foreshadowing 'the' Good Shepherd. Understand this - according to God's plan there was no other leader in the OT that compared to Moses. Moses was the leader that brought salvation to the nation of Israel. He delivered them from their oppression. He rescued them from their captor. And He had a relationship with God like no other leader in the OT. Listen to Deuteronomy 34:10-12, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel." This was all part of God's plan. Moses' life and leadership was to serve as a faint picture of what the coming Messiah would look like. Moses prophesies the coming Messiah in Deuteronomy 18:15, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers . . ." The One who would come and who would be like Moses would also be greater than Moses, because He would be more than a prophet - He would be the coming Rescuer and Savior of men. So it is important that God distinguish Joshua from Moses. Joshua would 'shepherd' God's people like Moses had. But in order to make certain that he was not the coming Messiah, God tells Moses to only invest him with some of his authority. If Moses had placed all of his authority on Joshua some might have mistaken him for the coming Messiah. But while Joshua was not the coming Messiah, his life still served as a foreshadowing, because he would share the name of the coming Messiah.
Our passage for this week ends with verses 22 and 23 which say, "And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses." As the God-appointed shepherd of Israel, Moses helped lead a sinful people to follow God. And as the God-appointed shepherd of Israel, he also labored to carry out God's plans completely. On occasion he failed - the incident at Meribah served as an example. But with only a few exceptions Moses always did as the Lord commanded and did his best to lead the Israelites to do the same thing. Before his death Moses asks God to appoint another 'shepherd,' another leader who would help sinful people follow God and carry out His plans completely. And God is faithful to do this by appointing Joshua, who we will see in the coming weeks is faithful to lead the Israelites to follow God and who is nearly always faithful to carry out God's plans completely.
After many centuries God finally provided a new 'shepherd' for all the people of the world and for all of history. God sent His Son, Jesus, to be our shepherd and our Savior. Listen to John 10:11-15, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep." When God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world, Jesus became our good and perfect shepherd. He is the one who now cares for, protects, and leads God's people. Listen also to Hebrews 3:1-6, "Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses - as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our basting in our hope."
From the time of Moses on, God gave God-appointed shepherds (1) to help uphold His holiness in a sinful world, and (2) to help lead a sinful people to follow Him and carry out His plans completely. In the past, these shepherds were still sinful men who struggled to do perfectly the tasks that God had assigned them. Some of these shepherds failed miserably as we saw in the passage from Ezekiel 34. Others did a very good job, men like Moses, Joshua, and David. But now, we have a good and perfect shepherd, whose name is Jesus. He came to earth and lived in complete and perfect righteousness. He upheld then and continues to uphold now the holiness of God because He lives without sin. Colossians 1:15 says, "He is the image of the invisible God . . ." Jesus demonstrated to us perfectly the holiness of God and continues today to do the same thing. Jesus also serves as our shepherd leading us by example to follow God and to carry out His plans completely. Jesus did not leave anything that God had given Him to do undone, but carried out God's plan for Him - which involved dying on the cross so that the payment for sin might be made and humanity might have the opportunity to be reconciled to God.
So because Jesus is our God-appointed shepherd and we are His sheep, we need to follow Him as He leads us to carry out God's plans completely. We need to be laboring to fix our eyes on our good shepherd. We need to strive to know His voice and to recognize His commands and His leadings. And then we need to be exceptional in our following.
Numbers 27:12-23 - "Succession Plan" - Sermon Notes
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Numbers 27. Last Wednesday night we were in Numbers 26, looking at a long list of the heads of families of the tribes of Israel; and these names were being listed not only for the purposes of selective service, but especially for the purpose of inheritance. And therein lies an irony with the passage we're reading tonight.
In Num. 26, all the heads of families of the tribes of Israel are being numbered so that the land, which God had promised to Abraham and to his descendents, which the children of Israel were about to enter into, could be apportioned out appropriately to those families that would be entering into and possessing the land.
Then in the first verses of Numbers 27, verses 1-11, we find out that even the unmarried daughters of Zelophehad, who, under the old Mosaic code did not have a claim to inheriting the land of their father, they were going to inherit land in the land that the children of Israel were entering into - the land of Canaan which had been promised by God to Abraham, and which God through His faithful providence and His miraculous mercy had brought about the children of Israel to be on the verge of entering into.
But tonight, we find out that the man who has led Israel all the way is not going to inherit a parcel of land in the land of Canaan. In fact, he's not even going to enter in. That's a sobering thought. And that's Numbers 27:12-23. Let's pray before we read God's word.
NOTE: As we read God's word together in Numbers 27:12-23, notice four parts in the story that's recorded. In verses 12-14, you see the Lord's address to Moses; in verses 15-17, you see Moses' prayer to the Lord; in verses 18-21, you see the Lord's response to Moses' prayer; and in verses 22-23, you see Moses' obedience to the Lord's command.
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.' (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 'Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. So the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.' And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses."
As we ponder this question, 'Lord, why is the mediator not going into the Promised Land? Why are the people inheriting the promise, but the mediator's going to die alone on a mountain?'...as we ponder that question, I want us to look at four things tonight, and you see them in those sections that I just outlined for you.
In verses 12-14, I want you to see God's judgment on Moses - and it's just. God explains there why He is meting out this sentence on Moses. There's a very, very good reason. It's both a reason of justice and it's a reason of sanctification and pastoral care of the people of God that Moses is receiving this sentence.
Secondly, I want you to see the amazing prayer that Moses lifts up in response. This would not have been the prayer that I would have been praying, were I Moses and had I just gotten this sentence. Moses' response is far more godly than I would have dreamt to have prayed. His pastoral heart shows through, because this prayer has nothing to do with him. There is not one word of "But, Lord! I've done so much for You! I've done so much for them!" It's all about the people of God. It shows you his heart. You see that in verses 15-17.
And third, I want you to see how the Lord graciously answers Moses' prayer. You see it beautifully set forth in verses 18-21.
And then, finally, Moses again shows his humility in his faithful obedience to the command of the Lord in verses 22-23. Let's look at these four things together tonight as we continue to ponder that question: Why is the mediator not going in to inherit the land, but the people are, and even the daughters of Zelophehad?
I. God's judgment on Moses.
Well, first in verses 12-14, let's see God's just judgment on Moses. It almost feels like God is rubbing Moses' nose in it, doesn't it?-'Moses, go up the mountain of Abarim, and look over that lush land that I'm going to give to Israel, this people that you have spent forty years in the wilderness bringing to this place. Please look all over that land. But you're going to die outside that land, just like your brother Aaron did.' It almost seems cruel, doesn't it? It's not. It's not. You'll see more of this. This story is told four times; that's how important it is, this succession plan from Moses to Joshua. It's told four times - once here in Numbers, three times in Deuteronomy. It's Moses' last sermon.
God wants the people of God to understand why this succession is happening, and why this judgment is being meted out on Moses. It may seem cruel, but it's not. God tells Moses to go and look at the land, but that he will not enter it. And again, in verse 14, He tells him exactly why. Notice the words: "Because you rebelled against My word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled." In other words, Moses' sin, especially in his station as the leader of God's people, and as the one who delivered what to the people?-God's word to the people! And what did he do at the waters of Meribah? He rebelled against what? God's word, the very thing that he was called to bring to the people of God. The Lord says, 'And as a consequence, I was not treated as holy in the sight of My people.' Moses had done something that was fatal to his continuing moral authority.
I was recently having a conversation with a dear friend who has an unbelieving husband, and her children are rebelling in dramatic ways. And they don't listen to their father any more because he has in fact committed some of the sins that they are committing, and he has no moral authority to speak into their lives. He's guilty of the very crimes that he ought to be correcting in them. The Lord's saying that to Moses: 'Moses, when the man who spoke My word to the people of God has treated Me - in their eyes, in their presence, in the open in public - as not the Holy One of Israel, you've lost the moral authority and capacity to lead My people in the way they need to be led.'
It's a solemn, solemn thing, isn't it? Have you ever been sharing the gospel with someone and they say to you, when you ask them, 'Well, when you stand before God in the judgment, what's the reason that you're going to give that He should accept you and let you into His heaven?' Have you ever heard them give the answer, 'Well, I've tried to live a good life'?
Have you ever had the conversation with them where you said, 'Well, let me ask you a question. Let's say we put Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler on this side, and the Apostle Paul on this side. Now where would you put yourself on that scale? Would you say that you are worse than Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler? Better than the Apostle Paul? Where would you put yourself'? And where do they normally put themselves? Well, normally they don't see themselves as worse than Adolph Hitler and worse than Josef Stalin. Usually they see themselves as somewhere in between the Apostle Paul and Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin.
And then you tell them, "Well, you know it's so interesting. The Apostle Paul said that he was the chief of sinners, so he placed himself below Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin, and that puts you below Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, and the Apostle Paul. Now do you think the Lord will accept you on the basis of your deeds?"
You know, we could play a very similar story. If you ask the people, 'Now where would you place yourself? Would you put yourself with the quarreling, grumbling, rebelling people of God in the wilderness? Are you better than them? Worse than them? Or on the other hand, would you put yourself as better than Moses, the leader of God's people?' And most people would somehow, I think, put themselves in between those quarreling, rebelling, complaining children of Israel and Moses. They wouldn't say they're better than Moses; they wouldn't say they're worse than the quarreling, complaining people of Israel. They would put them somewhere in [there].
But, look! Even Moses doesn't get to go in! If this is not a grand declaration that salvation is not by works, I don't know what it is. If Moses doesn't go in, who in the world gets to go in? The Lord's just telling us 'No one is immune from My judgment, not even Moses. No one is immune from My justice, not even Moses.' If Moses doesn't measure up, are you ready to stand with your good works before the searching gaze of Almighty God?
No, except for grace...except for grace...we're all undone. Doesn't the Lord teach us that, even in this seemingly hard judgment that's meted out on Moses?
II. Moses' pastoral heart for Israel
Well, there's a second lesson to learn here as well, isn't there? And we see it in verses 15-17. We see Moses' pastoral heart for Israel. Moses' immediate response to the Lord's judgment on him is not (as I would have done) to say, "Lord! Give me a second chance! Lord, please let me go!" I don't know what I would have prayed, but it would have been all about me. Moses doesn't do that. Immediately he says, 'Lord, if I'm not going to be the shepherd of Your people, please don't let them be without a shepherd. Please don't let them be without a shepherd. Please give them somebody who loves them, who cares about them, who loves You, who loves Your word, who will do what You say. Give them a shepherd.' His immediate response is to ask the Lord to appoint a faithful shepherd over Israel.
Doesn't that tell us something about the corporate-ness of the Christian life? Here's Moses, who of all people on planet Earth knows the power of God as much as anyone, saying that even though the people of God have God to look over them, that they need human shepherds to give them leadership and guidance and care and protection and example and ministry. The Lord's people need shepherds. It's a testimony to the fact that we can't live the Christian life on our own. It's not just me, Jesus, and my Bible. That's why there are passages like Hebrews 13:17 - "Obey your leaders," because we can't go this thing alone. We need one another. We may think we don't need one another sometimes, but we always need one another. And Moses, who had seen God's power displayed more than any human being on earth in his day, acknowledges that the people of God need shepherds. They need leaders.
And I want to ask you something: Does Moses' response in that prayer remind you of somebody else? Does it?
Do you remember the story that's recorded in both Mark and Matthew, for instance in Matthew 9:35-38, where Jesus is going throughout all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing diseases and great afflictions? And when He looks out on the crowds... [and here's Moses on the mount of Abarim, and he's looking out over the lushness of Canaan, and then he's looking back over what? A crowd of millions. And he's praying, 'Lord, give them a shepherd.'] And look at what Jesus prays:
"And when He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. And then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.'"
Moses, when he prays this prayer, is foreshadowing the heart of Jesus for His people. Because Jesus wants His people to have faithful shepherds, too.
III. God's answer to Moses prayer.
The third thing we see in this passage, you see in verses 18-21. The Lord is gracious, and He answers Moses' prayer for a shepherd for the people and He appoints Joshua to be that shepherd. Joshua is chosen by God to be Moses' successor, and to serve as a co-ruler for a time. God tells Moses to appoint Joshua in front of everyone, and to give him some of his authority so that in the remainder of Moses' life, Joshua's rule will overlap his rule, and together they will be co-rulers over the people of God, and the people of God will become accustomed to Joshua's leadership and they will trust Joshua's leadership, and they will follow Joshua's leadership until a succession plan is laid out.
But isn't it fascinating, even in verse 21, how the distinction between Moses and Joshua is made clear? Moses spoke with the Lord face to face. The Lord gave Moses a word, and Moses turned around and gave that word to the people. But with Joshua, how will Joshua discern the Lord's will? He'll go to Eleazar the priest; Eleazar will consult the Urim and the Thummin; the Lord will reveal through the Urim and the Thummin what the children of Israel are to do; Eleazar will report that back to Joshua; and Joshua will report it to the people of God. Not so with Moses: "He is the servant in all My house, and I speak with him face to face."
You see, when you take the step from Moses to Joshua, it's a step down. The whole prophetic office in Israel began unlike anything else in life. It began in its high form, and it was all downhill from there. From Moses to Isaiah is down; from Moses to Jeremiah is down; from Moses to Malachi is down; from Moses to Samuel is down. No one, not any of the prophets of the old covenant, could match Moses - not even Joshua, who would take the children of Israel into the land. The whole narrative stresses here this unique, matchless, close communion that Moses had with the Lord. And that's interesting, isn't it? I mean, the whole narrative is give and take - Moses spoke to the Lord, so the Lord said to Moses, Moses did as the Lord commanded. It's back and forth. The Lord speaks to Moses, Moses speaks to the Lord, the Lord speaks to Moses, and Moses does what the Lord says. You see a picture of this communion.
It was said of one great leader that his life was not service punctuated by prayer; his life was prayer punctuated by service. The point of that was not that he went about doing Christian things all of his life, and then he withdrew to his closet and he had communion with God. It was that he lived communion with God, and in the midst of that communion with God, he did service. That's a good description of Moses, isn't it? It ought to be an aspiration for us in our communion with the living God. One last thing......
III. Moses' final obedience to God.
You see in verses 22-23, Moses' obedience to the Lord's command. You know, it reminds me here a little bit of Samson. You know Samson had been a great judge and leader of the Lord's people, and by his sin he had fallen grievously. And yet in his last act he brought more judgment on the enemies of God's people than he had in the whole course of his leadership of the people of God. It's a beautiful last act of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord that the Lord honored. And here, though Moses has stumbled so grievously, in the very act of obeying the Lord's command and giving them Joshua, he was bringing enormous blessing to Israel, just like Samson did in his last act.
But you're still wondering about that question, aren't you? After all that Moses has done, after all his faithfulness, why do you suppose that Moses doesn't get to go into the land? Why does the shepherd - the mediator of Israel, who has interceded with them before the Lord, who has led them all the way - on the very verge of the Promised Land, why does he die alone on a mountain?
Well, in Matthew 26:31-32, the Lord Jesus will say to His disciples,
"You will all fall away from Me this night, for it is written 'I will strike the shepherd, and the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."
Or, in John 10:11,
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."
Or, in Hebrews 13:20, where we hear about
"...The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant...."
Or, in Acts 20:28, where we hear the Apostle Paul say to the elders,
"Pay careful attention to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you shepherds or overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood."
You see, the cost of the entrance of the people of God in the Promised Land that He has prepared for them will be the Mediator...the Son experiencing exile from that Promised Land; experiencing being cut off from that Promised Land; experiencing being crushed for our iniquities; experiencing the wrath of God in our place, on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem. And Moses in his very last act is a picture of the Mediator to come.
I can't leave it there, though. I've got to give away part of the story that Deuteronomy, especially Deuteronomy 30, and Psalm 90 tells. You can cheat and go read those passages tonight. But here's the story: Moses never sets foot in the Promised Land, but when he closes his eyes in death... when he opens them again, he is in the presence of the One that he has foreshadowed. He will converse with that One before the eyes of Peter in the inner sanctum about the exodus that that One will accomplish in Jerusalem.
For though he did not enter into the earthly Promised Land, yet he entered into that which the earthly Promised Land is only a faint shadow of, and which awaits all those who trust in the Mediator who died on a hill alone, outside of Jerusalem, so that we might all enter into the rest which had been prepared for us from the foundation of the world.
B. The passing of Moses and the appointment of a new leader.
1. (Num 27:12-14) God tells Moses of his coming death.
Now the LORD said to Moses: "Go up into this Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered. For in the Wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to hallow Me at the waters before their eyes." (These are the waters of Meribah, at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin.)
a. You also shall be gathered to your people: Moses was first told he would die before coming to the Promised Land in Numbers 20. It was still many months until Moses would climb to the top of the mountain, able to see the Promised Land but not able enter it, and die there (Deuteronomy 34). Yet God told him of it here, so as to prepare his heart for the right time.
2. (Num 27:15-17) Moses' response to God's announcement.
Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd."
a. Let the LORD ... set a man over the congregation: After hearing of his coming fate, Moses does not try to talk God out of it, or complain - his only concern seems to be for the congregation, for the people, not for himself.
b. That the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd: Sheep without a shepherd are in constant danger; they face slim provisions of food and water, and they are never led to where they should be. God still wants His sheep to have a shepherd!
i. In the ultimate sense, this is fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, as was prophesied in the Old Testament (Micah 5:2-4), and revealed in the New Testament: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
ii. In an additional sense, this is also fulfilled by the New Testament office of pastor-teacher - because the Greek word for pastor is the word for shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). As 1 Peter 5:4 puts it, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and pastors are under-shepherds.
iii. The job of shepherds is simple: To feed (John 21:15-17), and to lead; to lead them out and bring them in, that is, to give guidance and direction for the sheep to follow.
iv. Jesus was also moved with compassion when He saw the people as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34); Moses is showing the nature of Jesus by his concern.
3. (Num 27:18-23) Joshua chosen and given authority.
And the LORD said to Moses: "Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate him in their sight. And you shall give some of your authority to him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the LORD for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him; all the congregation." So Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him, just as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.
a. Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him: Up to this point, Joshua was mostly known by his servant-like association with Moses (Exodus 24:13). That time as Moses' humble servant prepared him to take the leadership he was now called to.
b. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him: This public presentation and laying of hands on Joshua was important. It let the whole nation know that Joshua was now the leader and the nation should expect to follow him.