The final compilers and shapers of the Hebrew Bible arranged the story of Moses as the deliverer of Israel from slavery … He’s one portrait of a delivering figure in the Hebrew Bible. But when even he fails and he dies outside the land, all of the stories of Moses being God’s arm of deliverance still stand there in the Torah giving us a picture of the kind of leader God’s people need. As that torch is passed to Joshua, Joshua becomes the next character on the stage, who starts filling out even more the portrait of the kind of deliverer God’s people need to plant them in the new Eden land.
In part one (00:00-15:08), Tim and Jon pick up where we left off in the third movement of Numbers. In the last episode, they discussed the daughters of Zelophehad and Israel’s need to operate under new wisdom as they enter the promised land. Starting in Numbers 27:12, we’ll see how Israel also needs a new leader. That new leader is Joshua, whose Hebrew name (Yehoshua, meaning “Yahweh rescues”) is the root form of Jesus’ Hebrew name (Yeshua).
At the beginning of Numbers 27, the story involving the daughters of Zelophehad reminds readers of Genesis 2, when God appointed men and women to rule the earth together. The closing section of Numbers 27 is a callback to Genesis 1-2 too.
Numbers 27:15-17 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”
Moses uses language to describe Israel’s upcoming leader as a new Adam, filled with God’s Ruakh and equipped to oversee Israel—almost like they’re animals in need of someone to look out for them.
In part two (15:08-37:33), Tim and Jon discuss Yahweh’s selection of Joshua as the new Adam and leader of Israel. Joshua is already filled with the Spirit at this point (Num. 27:18), and he’s uniquely qualified as he’s been Moses’ protege for much of his life.
Yahweh instructs Moses to place his hands on Joshua to give him some of his khod. Many English versions of the Bible translate this word as “authority,” but in Hebrew, it really means majesty or visible splendor. It’s the same word used elsewhere to describe Yahweh’s glory when he is seated on his heavenly throne. Here, Joshua is being depicted as both a new Adam and a new Moses.
Unlike Moses, when Joshua needs to know Yahweh’s will to make a decision, he has to consult the urim and thummim—he can’t just go up the mountain like Moses. He is a new Moses but also a lesser-than Moses. Moses acted as both ruler and priest for Israel, but now that role will be split between Joshua and the high priest. The high priest also used urim and thummim, which was their way of casting lots.
Other ancient Near Eastern peoples had practices of divination by which they sought the will of the gods. However, unlike other ancient peoples, the Israelites served a loving and all-powerful God, not a fickle deity whose fleeting favor they were trying to win. Moreover, casting lots was never something Yahweh commanded Israel to do. In the case of the ancient Israelites, casting lots seems to be a way by which God accommodated a means of communication the people were familiar with.
It might sound weird to us, but it’s not dissimilar to asking God for a providential sign when we reach a crossroads in our lives and don’t know which direction to go. A theistic view of the world asserts that there are no coincidences—the natural world is ordered, and God can speak through it.
In part three (37:33-49:43), Tim and Jon discuss another comparison the biblical authors make with Joshua. He’s a new Adam, a new Moses, and also a precursor of the leader Israel truly needs—the Messiah, the ultimate Adam-Moses figure.
In Deuteronomy 34, when Moses dies and Joshua officially takes over leadership of Israel, the narrator says that Joshua is at this point filled with the “Spirit of wisdom.” Except didn’t the narrator of Numbers say Joshua was already filled with the Spirit? The story seems to indicate that both are true: Joshua was already filled with the Spirit, and now he is specifically filled with the Ruakh chokmah, the Spirit of wisdom. This phrase occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible, first to describe Bezalel (an artist from the tribe of Judah who makes the tabernacle), second in this passage about Joshua, and finally in Isaiah 11 to describe the branch from David who will be the ultimate leader of God’s people.
Moses gave us an idea of what the Messiah would be like when he rescued Israel from slavery. Now, Joshua will fill out the portrait of the anticipated Messiah even more with his leadership of Israel.
In part four (49:43-1:04:16), Tim and Jon discuss how the melody of Genesis 1-9 replays in the third movement of Numbers.
Numbers 28-29 represent the seventh-day rest of Genesis 1-2. These chapters contain reminders and instructions for the sacrifices Israel was to offer, full of even more hyperlinks to Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden. In fact, the entire third movement of Numbers is meant to depict Israel as a new Adam and Eve in a new garden of Eden. The movement even ends with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh deciding they are going to settle east of the Jordan River, outside the promised land. Moses sees this as a rebellion worthy of a flood of judgment, unless they cross through the waters to help their brothers conquer the land (which they do).
This episode was produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. It was edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. MacKenzie Buxman provided the annotations for our annotated podcast in our app.
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