Numbers 27:23 gives us a very human story. The Chosen People are at a crossroads. They have come up to the banks of the Jordan River. They can see the Promised Land toward which they have been wandering for 40 years and, Moses, their faithful father and leader, cannot go with them.
Moses is one of the most important people in history. It was he to whom the God of the Universe, the One who made all things, seen and unseen, gave the commission to go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (Exodus 9:1) He was the one that God commissioned to lead the people out of slavery and into their freedom, who shepherded them through their 40 years in the desert. It was Moses that was given the guide to our righteousness toward God and toward others here on earth, the Ten Commandments. Of the great men and women in history, he ranks among the greatest. His righteousness was recognized by God himself. God spoke to Moses and walked with him, but Moses was a human being too. He failed in his faith, only once, at Meribah, when he was told by God to strike the rock only once to bring cool water to his rebellious and thirsty people. Impatient for the miracle, doubting just for a moment, he struck it again. For this, he was not allowed to lead the people across the Jordan. He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land that he had been yearning for over those long 40 years.
Moses, in his humanity, was no more free of the weakness of sin than the rest of us. But he knew his sin and accepted God’s righteous judgment. At this juncture in the history of his people he knew that the commission that had been given to him by the Lord had to be passed on. He did not cling to it. He knew that God’s wisdom far surpassed his own earthly wisdom and desires. He said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all humanity, set over the community someone who will be their leader in battle and who will lead them out and bring them in, that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (verses 15-17) And the Lord chose Joshua, just as he had chosen Moses, for he was, “a man of spirit.” (verse 18)
Here we see the instructions given to Moses. He is told to, “lay his hands upon” Joshua as he stands before the priest, Eleazar, and the whole community, to “commission him in their sight.” In doing so, Moses is told by God to “Invest [Joshua] with some of your own power, that the whole Israelite community may obey him.” (verse 20) This is very powerful. The people know that Moses cannot go with them into the Promised Land. But they cannot conceive of themselves without his noble and sage advice and fatherly leadership. They know his relationship with the Lord. What are they to do without him? Would the Lord abandon them? Moses, commissioning Joshua before the religious authority, the priest Eleazar, and before the people themselves, lets them know that this is the work of God. “Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.” (verse 23) Joshua receives the commission of God when Moses lays his hands on him. The priest and the people are witnesses to this. God will be with them! He will not abandon them! They could now put their trust in Joshua as they had with Moses. What had begun 40 years earlier would continue now under Joshua’s leadership. And so it is with us. Jesus has commissioned all of us to be his disciples. We are to lead others, to show them the way to the Promised Land, by living recognizable, Christ-like lives today.
Lord, as you commissioned Moses and Joshua to lead the people to freedom and to the Promised Land, help us to accept the commission you have given to us to be your good and faithful servants in the world today. Deepen our faith and our commitment to you so that others may encounter your merciful love in and through us. We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen!
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