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In verses 12-14 Moses had just been reminded by the Lord of his exclusion from the upcoming entrance of the Israelites into the promised land. His sin was directly tied to God’s judgment of his departure from this earth – a reality reinforced by the recent death of his brother Aaron. Yet Moses does not respond in bitterness or self-interest. His focus is on the need for a qualified replacement shepherd to meet the military and pastoral needs of God’s flock moving forward. This passage presents key principles for any leadership transition in Christian organizations.

Timothy Ashley: In effect, the theme of Moses’ death becomes a way of prolonging the climax of the story from Num. 20:12 (where it is first announced) until Deut. 34:4–8, where it is narrated. Here in Num. 27:12–23 the tension is heightened by reintroducing the fact that Moses must die before Israel goes into the land. When will he die? That question draws the reader forward through the rest of the book of Numbers and beyond into Deuteronomy, where it is mentioned at least twice (in 1:37–38 and 3:25–28) as a basis for further exhortation (2:1ff.; 4:1ff.). The climax is finally reached just before the Jordan is crossed. Num. 27:12–23 reintroduces this theme as a way of moving the narrative forward to the character of Joshua while keeping the story tied to its roots in Moses. . .

In the rite performed by Moses in the presence of Eleazar, both the old generation (Moses) and the new generation (Eleazar) cooperate in the transfer of the leadership to Joshua, the man in the middle, who belongs to the old (Exodus) generation but was exempted from the death sentence passed on that generation and, like the new generation, is going into the land of promise. Thus Joshua provides both continuity with the past and development of a new kind of leadership for the future. It is clear, however, that, even though the leadership has been passed ritually to Joshua, Moses continues to exercise the leadership as long as he is alive. Moses and Joshua may be partners in leadership from now until the end of Deuteronomy 28 but Moses is clearly the senior partner; Joshua himself will not come into the leadership until “Moses my servant is dead” (Josh. 1:2).

David Thompson: Now what is fascinating is that when Moses is informed that he is going to die, he doesn’t request that he not die. He does not ask God for more years. What he does is to ask God that He would rise up a leader who would watch out for the welfare of the people.


“Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying,”

Amazing humble prayer lifted up by Moses; not resentful of the judgment against him which precludes him entering the promised land; instead, concerned for the pastoral care of the flock of God

A. (:16) Qualified from an Overall Standpoint — God’s People Need Divinely Appointed Human Leadership

“May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh,

appoint a man over the congregation,”

Ronald Allen: He does not select his own heir. This is not a hereditary post nor one that was his to dispose – only the Lord can provide a successor to Moses. Since the Lord knows all men, he will be the judge of the inner qualities demanded for the task.

The successor to Moses was not chosen because of a blood relationship to Moses; he was not a king. Nor was he chosen by a popular election; for Moses had not been elected by the people – something they had constantly reminded him! (cf. 14:4, where the people want to select a leader instead of Moses). The successor was to be appointed directly by God. The Lord is King; Moses is only an agent. The successor was not to be a figurehead or a symbol but a leader who goes before his people, leading them in the direction they should go. He is pictured as a shepherd, one needed by the flock. Moses’ concern was that his flock not be left without a shepherd.

Ronald Van Overloop: Moses addresses God as “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (also in 16:22).

1) This identifies God as the Maker of each and every man in his whole being (personality, gifts, and talents).

2) God is the best judge of each man’s ability and aptitude and He penetrates the inmost recesses of every heart.

3) Also God fashions each man and re-fashions, supplying them with the sufficient faculties to bear their burden.

B. (:17a) Qualified from a Military Standpoint — God’s Leader Must Lead and God’s People Must Follow

“who will go out and come in before them,

and who will lead them out and bring them in,”

Robert Rayburn: It is the heartfelt concern for the people of God – not for a cause or an idea or a program, but for the people of God themselves, their spiritual life and the blessing of God among them and through them – that is the mark here of Moses’ greatness and continues to be the mark of the greatness of all the church’s finest men. They were men who were concerned for their own souls and so were concerned for the souls of others. Augustine had the penitential psalms written on the wall above his bed so that he could pray them over and over as he lay dying. But in his last days he was preeminently concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock. . .

But Moses’ response to the news of his impending death and the way this reminds us of Christ himself challenges us to imagine a life in which one is always thinking about the problems, the troubles, the needs of others and almost never thinking about one’s own ups and downs, one’s own happiness or sadness. It is very hard for us to imagine such a life. But that was Christ’s life all his life. He was thinking all the time of others (us included!), working all the time on our behalf, carrying all the time our burdens in his heart. Extraordinary! We make the Lord’s life too simple by failing to ponder what sort of life it must have been, what an utterly unique life it had to be for its selflessness, its self-forgetfulness, its constant concentration on the welfare of others.

Raymond Brown: The leader’s responsibility to go out and come in before them may refer primarily to his successor’s role in conquest, the commander taking his soldiers out to battle. Strong and resilient, he would be at their head in expeditions, knowing the best way to mobilize his troops effectively as he led them out, and concerned not only about military strategy but about his soldiers’ well-being. Valuing their lives, and the welfare of their families, he would need to act responsibly so that at the end of hazardous encounters he could safely bring them in, back to base. Such leadership demands resources of courageous strength, exactly what the Lord required of Joshua as the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan. The Lord knew that such an exacting military assignment was beyond Moses’ strength. He had been a fine wilderness leader; a man with different gi􀊸s was necessary if Israel was to conquer Canaan.

C. (:17b) Qualified from a Pastoral Standpoint — God’s Flock Needs Godly Shepherding

“that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep

which have no shepherd.”

Gordon Wenham: Sheep which have no shepherd (cf. 1 Kgs 22:17; Ezek. 34:5; Matt. 9:36). Kings and other leaders are often likened to shepherds in the prophets and in other oriental texts (e.g. Isa. 40:11; 44:28; Ezek. 34).

Roy Gane: Being a good shepherd or herdsman can demand toughness and courage, involving exposure to all kinds of discomforts, irritations, and perils (Gen. 31:40; 1 Sam. 17:34–35). Being a good shepherd of human beings is no less challenging. It requires toughness and humility, courage and ability to lead rather than drive. Moses’ years with woolly flocks were peaceful compared to the four decades he spent shepherding Israelites through the desert toward the Promised Land. Had he not possessed a character of granite and at the same time a gentle humility surpassing that of all others (Num. 12:3), history would have been a lot different.


– False shepherds who lead the flock astray

– Weak shepherds who fail to protect and lead the flock decisively

– Authoritative shepherds after the pattern of Diotrephes who lord it over the flock


A. (:18-21) Divine Appointment of Joshua

1. (:18a) Identifying Joshua to Succeed Moses

a. Family Identification of Joshua

“So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun,’”

b. Spiritual Identification of Joshua

“a man in whom is the Spirit,’”

2. (:18b-19) Commissioning Joshua – Specific Instructions for Moses

a. (:18b) Personal Commissioning by Moses

“and lay your hand on him;”

Gordon Wenham: Through the imposition of hands either blessings or sins were transferred, and the one on whom hands were laid became the substitute or representative of the other man.

b. (:19a) Public Presentation of Joshua

“and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation;”

c. (:19b) Formal Commissioning

“and commission him in their sight.”

3. (:20) Empowering Joshua

“And you shall put some of your authority on him,

in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him.”

Raymond Brown: The retiring leader had to be willing to hand over some of those responsibilities that he had carried for the past forty years. Old leaders have sometimes been less than enthusiastic about handing over the Lord’s work to younger successors. Moses was a man of fine spiritual stature to hand over the reins so lovingly.

4. (:21) Supporting Joshua

“Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.”

a. Support from Partnership with the Priest

b. Support from Guidance from the Lord

Raymond Brown: Eleazar was not allowed to be a despotic or dictatorial colleague. He was to seek God’s mind by enquiring of the Urim. Joshua was to stand before Eleazar, and Eleazar was to stand before the LORD. Neither was free to pursue his own will. The Urim and Thummim were probably two flat stones, coloured differently on each side and kept in a pocket in the high priest’s breastplate. They were used by the high priest to cast lots in order to determine what God’s mind might be on issues requiring a decision. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to encourage, strengthen and preserve our mutual cooperation and to lead us into a clear awareness of God’s will.

B. (:22-23) Human Commissioning of Joshua by Moses

“And Moses did just as the LORD commanded him;”

1. (:22b) Public Presentation of Joshau

“and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest,

and before all the congregation.”

2. (:23) Personal Commissioning by Moses

“Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him,

just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”