Here in Numbers 27, Moses was disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to go into the land, but he did not seem shocked, rebellious, or unhappy at the fact that he would soon die. His concern in this passage is not with himself, but that the people might have a leader to direct their going out and their coming in after he was gone. He described the people as “like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 17), which is a phrase used by the Lord Jesus Christ as He looked out on the masses and had compassion on them.
This is true today. There are masses of people, even Christians, without a shepherd. They have no good leaders to direct, teach, challenge, or inspire them. Moses, who was a good leader, was very concerned about that. He knew what the situation was like when he was there, not to mention how it would be when he was gone, and so he asked God to appoint a leader to replace him.
God appointed Joshua, who was the ideal man for the job. He had been Moses’ understudy for those forty years in the desert, and he had seen how Moses operated. Something of the spirit of this great leader had been passed on to Joshua. When God told Moses to appoint Joshua, He commends Joshua, describing him as “a man in whom is the spirit” (v. 18), certainly referring to the Holy Spirit. Joshua really was a godly man, as well as a strong man.
Now, we learn several things about the transfer of leadership in this story. For one thing, we learn that when God appoints a new leader, the new leader is never exactly like the old. People get accustomed to the old, and they want to get the same kind of leader all over again. It’s never that way. Joshua was not like Moses. Moses was a charismatic, bold leader. He was the kind that stood before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” He really had the kind of strength that was necessary to keep the people on track in the wilderness all those many, many years. Joshua wasn’t like that. He was a very faithful man, but he was stolid—a soldier type. A whole book in the Old Testament goes by his name. He was a brilliant general, but he does not personally do exciting things like miracles, as Moses had done. Yet, this was the man God chose.
Whenever one pastor, parachurch leader, or Bible teacher is succeeded by another, the one who follows is never like the one before. You shouldn’t expect it. The one whom God appoints in the second place has different gifts. We have to learn to appreciate those different gifts that God gives.
In spite of the change in leadership, and the gifts and ability of the individuals involved, the work itself continues. We see that through this ceremony of the laying on of hands. God told Moses to take Joshua, bring the priest, and there lay his hands upon him, in that way symbolically transferring something of the spirit and authority of Moses to the man who would take his place.
The work is always the Lord’s. The Lord may do it through different individuals, and individuals differ widely, but the work is God’s work. Therefore the continuity is there. And when a transition takes place, we can be confident God is at work, thank Him for it, and rally behind the new one that He has chosen.
Numbers 28-30 deal with offerings, feasts, and vows—subjects that have already appeared in Exodus and Leviticus. These chapters describe the offerings in more detail, then move to the section that has to do with the feasts, since the offerings were made at the feasts. The offerings are listed in an escalating pattern. Every day of the year they sacrifice two lambs, and then on the Sabbath they sacrifice two lambs as well as seven others, along with all the grain and drink offerings. On the first of each month, there were additional sacrifices. There were special sacrifices at the various feasts, leading up to the great Feast of Tabernacles, at which a large number of animals was offered. In a year’s time, these offerings amounted to 32 rams, 113 bulls, 1,086 lambs, more than a ton of flour, and thousands of vessels of oil and wine.
These numbers give you a greater appreciation for what the author of Hebrews is talking about when he marvels at all those many repeated offerings down through all those many, many years of Jewish history. He says, in effect, “Aren’t you glad that has now been fulfilled in Jesus Christ?” As important as these sacrifices were, they pointed to Jesus Christ and would be fulfilled in Him, because He is our one perfect and all-sufficient sacrifice forever and ever.