Monday, May 18, 2020

Yehoshu'a and Yeshu'a: Christ in the Book of Numbers

I. Introduction: Joshua and the New Generation of Israelites

In the book of Numbers, there are numerous types of Christ that shadow forth his person and work. As with all types of Christ, some are more elaborate than others. Under the heading of more elaborate types of Christ, we find the interrelated events recorded in Numbers 27:12-23. There we read –
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.
Broadly speaking, what we see in this passage are the following –
I. Moses fails to uphold the Lord as holy in the eyes of the first generation of Israelites. 
II. The first generation of Israelites, due to their lack of faith, are rejected from entering the promised land. 
III. Moses is succeded by Joshua/Yehoshu’a whose leadership, it is implied, is like that of a Shepherd. 
IV. Joshua is equipped with the Spirit for the task of bringing the second generation of Israelites into the promised land.
To summarize, we see that the first generation of God’s people were under the leadership of Moses, the one through whom came the Law of God, but neither could enter the promised land. Instead of Moses, it would be the Spirit-empowered successor of Moses named Joshua/Yehoshu'a who would lead God’s people into the promised land by means of his Spirit-empowered words/directions, not by means of the Law. Moreover, it is the new Israel, i.e. the second generation of Israelites, who would enter the promised land with Joshua, and not the first generation of Israelites. By separating the unbelieving first generation from the second generation, God was beginning again with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses guided the second generation of Israelites, i.e. the children of the first generation, only up until it was time for him to be succeeded by Joshua/Yehoshu'a.

With these things in mind, let us look a little more closely at how these things point forward to the person and work of Christ.

II. The Elder Rejected, and the Younger Accepted

As early as the book of Genesis, we see that God often chooses the younger over and against the elder. God rejected Cain, but accepted Abel. God did not make his covenant with Ishmael, but he did with Isaac. God loved Jacob, but he hated Esau. Indeed, he chose the nation of Israel over and against the rest of the nations who were more numerous than them (see Deut 7:6-8). And we see this pattern in the New Testament as well. There, Christ teaches us that the last will be first and the first will be last (see Luke 13:22-30). The kingdom of God, he later teaches, will be taken from the natural descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and “given to a people producing its fruits” (see Matt 21:33-46), i.e. the Gentiles.

In Numbers 27:12-23, we see that the first generation of Israelites is rejected by God for their unbelief, whereas the younger generation is not. The initial body of those who received the Law of God, the Word of God, would not inherit the land promised to Abraham’s seed. Rather, the land was taken from them by God and given to the younger generation of Israelites. The first became the last; and the last became the first.

III. Moses’ Inability, and Joshua’s Ability to Bring Israel to Canaan

The first generation and Moses are rejected by God, and in their place we see the second generation and Joshua. Moses played a limited role in the leading of God’s people, giving them the Law, guiding them to the very edge of the promised land, and proclaiming the one who would come to bring God’s people into Canaan. Moses literally pointed to Joshua/Yehoshu'a, the servant of the Lord who was born under the Law, lived empowered by the Holy Spirit, lived a life of faith, saw the land of Canaan as good, and did not doubt that God’s promises would materialize.

Because of Moses’ sin, he was unable to lead the people into Canaan. The only one who was capable of doing this was Joshua/Yehoshu'a.

IV. Joshua the Shepherd

Joshua is represented as one who will shepherd God’s second generation of Israelites into the promised land. God provides Joshua in response to Moses’ prayer, in which he says –
“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.[Num 27:16-17 (emphasis added)]
The language here points forward to Israel’s plight under king Ahab. In 1 Kings 22:17, the prophet Micaiah, speaking for the Lord, declares – 
“I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.” (emphasis added)
Whereas the Lord provided the second generation of Israelites with Joshua/Yehoshu'a, he did not do so with the southern kingdom. The people were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, a situation that would remain constant over time, as we learn from the prophet Ezekiel, writing during the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel later declares –
The word of the Lord came to me: “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? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 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. 
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”
[Ezek 34:1-11 (emphasis added)] 
Whereas the Lord had provided Israel with Joshua after Moses prayed for them, and raised up other leaders who shepherded Israel according to God’s commandments, in Ezekiel we are told by the Lord that he will come and shepherd his people, those Israelites who were like sheep without a shepherd.

V. Jesus the Greater Shepherd

Thus, we clearly see the significance of Mark’s description of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, Mark declares,
...saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.[Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)]
Seeing that the people were “harassed and helpless” (Mat 9:36), Christ exercised compassion on them. Like Joshua, Jesus is a Shepherd. However, he is the Greater Shepherd, as he explains in John 10:14-18 & 10:27-30 –
“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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. 
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one.” 
(emphasis added)
Whereas Joshua (Yehoshu’a) could only lead the people externally, Jesus (Yeshu’a) shepherds his people internally as well. Whereas Joshua could not ensure that the people would follow him, Christ clearly declares that his people will hear him and follow him. Whereas Joshua could not say that he and God are one, Christ openly declares himself to be one with the Father.

In Christ, Moses’ prayer for a man to lead Israel finds its ultimate answer. In Christ, Yahweh’s promise to personally come gather his sheep and lead them becomes flesh and blood.

VI. Conclusion

Without denying the historicity of the narrative found in Numbers 27:12-23, we can make out the rough lineaments of the historical events of the New Testament, as well as the person and work of Christ. We see that the Law (Moses) would only function as a tutor up until the time when God would send his shepherd (Joshua) to lead his people into the promised land. We see that those who enter the promised land under the leadership of the shepherd do so by God’s mercy and grace, not by obedience to the Law. And when we take the entirety of the OT into consideration on this matter, we see that Yahweh himself is the Greater Shepherd, the Greater Joshua who would be born under the Law, made like his brethren, and become our salvation, the one who brings us all who have been shown mercy and grace, apart from works, into the greater promised land – the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.