THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN
Part I: THE DEPARTURE FROM SINAI
Biblical period 4
Lesson # 11

Beloved Heavenly Father,

The Children of Israel faced many hardships in their journey to the Promised Land, but in the crucible of the desert You formed them into the Covenant people who would witness to the world the reality of the One True God. We also face many hardships on our faith journeys to our Promise Land, the heavenly Jerusalem.  We pray that You will strengthen us and that we will be faithful in hardship and that we too may someday reach the home that You have promised to those who preserved by placing their faith in Christ Jesus.  We pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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"Yahweh set his heart on you and chose you not because you were the most numerous of all peoples'for indeed you were the smallest of all'but because he loved you and meant to keep the oath which he swore to your ancestors: that was why Yahweh brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you form the place of slave-labor, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  From this you can see that Yahweh your God is the true God, the faithful God who, though he is true to his covenant and his faithful love for a thousand generations as regards those who love him and deep his commandments, punishes in their own persons those that hate him." Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Readings for The Conquest of Canaan

The 12 Spies

Numbers 13:1-33

The Forty Years of Wandering Numbers 14:1 - 24:25
The Sin of Baal of Peor /
Covenant of the Perpetual Priesthood
Numbers 25:1 - 27:23
Moses' Homily &
The Promise of the Prophet
Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 18:13-20
Covenant Blessings and Curses Deuteronomy 28:1 - 31:13
The Commissioning of Joshua and
The Song of Witness
Deuteronomy 31:14 – 32:44
The Death of Moses Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Joshua's Invasion of Canaan Joshua 1:1-6:27
Covenant Renewal at Mt. Ebal Joshua 8:30-35
Division of the Land by Tribes Joshua 13:7-19:51
Joshua's Farewell Address Joshua 23:1-16

After nearly a year at Sinai the tribes of Israel begin to prepare for their departure on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year [Numbers 10:11].  They had arrived at Sinai on the third month [Exodus 19:1]. The signal for departure is a series of trumpet calls by the sons of Aaron to help lead the tribes on their march as they follow the Pillar of Cloud.  The trumpet calls keep the departure orderly.  The tribe of Judah moves out at the first blast and the rest of the tribes followed in order at each successive call of the trumpet.

In Numbers 10:1-28 Yahweh gives explicit directions for the orderly march of the Tribes of Israel.  For a plan of the March please consult the chart and the overhead display of "The Order of the March of the Tribes of Israel" in the Charts and resources section of the study.

In Numbers 11:4-35 the people begin to complain about the manna and express their yearning to return to Egypt where dining was, to their mind, more varied and enjoyable--they crave meat!  Moses understandably looses patience with the people and complains to God that the burden of caring for all of them is too great for him.  Yahweh promises to ease Moses' burden and tells him to appoint 70 elders of the tribes on whom He will set His spirit so they can assist Moses in governing the people.  When Yahweh's spirit came upon the elders gathered around the Tabernacle they began to prophesy.  Moses' aid, Hoshea [Joshua] of the tribe of Ephraim, complains to Moses that there are two men who had not been part of the select group of 70 who are also prophesying and must be stopped.  But Moses prophetically replies "If only all Yahweh's people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!"  This is a prophecy that will be repeated in Joel 3:1-5.

Question: When will this prophecy be fulfilled in the New Covenant?  See Acts 2:1-4

Answer:  It will be fulfilled in the second great Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit fills and indwells the 120 New Covenant believers gathered in prayer in the Upper Room in Jerusalem at the second great Pentecost.

Please read Numbers 13:1-33: The 12 Spies

The theme of God's faithfulness in keeping His Covenant with Israel and the people's unfaithfulness continues in this chapter as the Children of Israel camp on the western border of the Promise Land at Kadesh Barnea.

Question: What does God instruct Moses to do? See Numbers 13:2

Answer: To select a man from each of the 12 tribes to spy out the Promised Land.

Question: Who is selected to represent the tribe of Ephraim [Ephraim was the younger son of Joseph who was adopted by his grandfather Jacob/Israel and given precedence over his older brother].

Answer: Hoshea [also spelled Hosea], or as it is written in Hebrew, "Hosua", which means "salvation".

Question: A change of name in the Bible indicates a change of destiny.  Moses changes Hoshea name in Numbers 13:16. What is his new name and what does it mean?

Answer: His name is changed to Yehosua, in English we render this name Joshua. Yehosua is a compound theophoric name which means it combines the name of a deity into the name.  In this case that deity is Yahweh.  Yahweh's name is added to his old name to form a name meaning "Yahweh saves". It will be the same name given to Jesus by the angel Gabriel.  Since Yahweh is God's covenant name, which indicates the meaning "I AM", the more literal translation of Jesus' name could be "I AM Salvation" which truly reflects His destiny!  Hebrew theophoric names using the name of Yahweh are unheard of until this period in Hebrew history.

Question: What man is selected to represent the tribe of Judah?

Answer: Caleb

From the time of the Exodus forward in Israelite history, Israelite personal names that incorporated the name of YHWH [Yahweh] were far more popular than those mentioning pagan deities.   Prior to this era names incorporating Yahweh's name are nonexistent in the archaeological record.  [For more information see "What's in a Name", Jeffery Tigay, Bible Review, pages 34-51, February 2004].

 

Question: How many days do the spies spend reconnoitering the Promised Land?

Answer: 40 days.

Question: Of the 12 spies which men are in favor of trusting God for His help in taking the land? Numbers 13:30 and 14:6-7

Answer: Joshua of Ephraim and Caleb of Judah. 

These two men will be the only members of the Egyptian generation to survive to enter the Promised Land.  It is interesting that men from these two tribes are singled out. Later the Davidic Kings of Israel will come from the tribe of Judah but it will be a prince of Ephraim who will lead a revolt that will split the Kingdom of Israel into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the 10th century BC.

Please read Numbers 14:1 – 24:25 Forty years of wandering:

Question: In Numbers 14:12 Yahweh is prepared to judge the people of Israel severely for their lack of faith but how does Moses intervene?  Is this the first time Moses has intervened in this way?

Answer:  Just as in Exodus 32:11-13 Moses intercedes for Israel and pleads with Yahweh that His rejection of Israel in the wilderness would have a negative effect on the other nations who have heard of the wonders Yahweh worked for Israel in Egypt.

Question: God calls the fearful response of the people to the negative report of the 10 spies an act of "unbelief" in 14:11-12 and a breach of the covenant.  God would be justified in casting off this ungrateful people but what is God's response?  See Numbers 14:18 where Moses quoted Exodus 34:6-7

Answer: Moses says: "Now is the time to assert you power as you promised when you said, earlier, 'Yahweh, slow to anger and rich in faithful love [hesed], forgiving faults and transgressions, and yet letting nothing go unchecked, punishing the parents' guilt in the children to the third and fourth generations.'  In your faithful love [hesed] please forgive this people's guilt, as you have done from Egypt until now." 

Yahweh remained faithful and merciful as befits the three attributes of Yahweh listed in Exodus 34:6: hen, hesed, and rachum = grace/gracious, faithful love, and compassionate. 

Question: Yahweh gives both pardon and judgment.  Forgiveness does not negate accountability. What is His verdict?  See Numbers 14:20-25, 34 and 36-38

Answer: Yahweh forgives Israel and keeps the Covenant with them but the generation who saw His signs in Egypt and still had imperfect faith will never see the Promised Land and are domed to wander 40 years in the wilderness.  Only Caleb of the tribe of Judah and Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim are exempt from this curse.

Question: What does God call this generation of the Exodus? See Numbers 14:27, 35; Deuteronomy 32:5, 20.

Answer: A "perverse generation".

Question: Is there another generation of Israel who will bear this same epitaph?  Hint: only one other generation saw such great works of God.  See Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41; and Acts 2:40. 

Answer: Only one other generation in Salvation History bears this infamous title. The generation of the Exodus was blessed to see God's miracles in a way no other generation would witness God's great works except one other generation--the generation that witnessed the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the miracles He worked in their presence. Twice Jesus calls his generation of Israel "perverse" in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and in Peter's great homily on the second great Pentecost Peter condemns the people listening to him by saying "Save yourselves from this perverse generation!"  This phrase is used 7 times in Scripture.

Question: How many years will it be that Israel remains paralyzed in her sin and prevented from obtaining the Promised Land before this first generation has died? See Deuteronomy 2:14

Answer: 38 years.  In the 40th year they will take possession of the Promised Land.

Moses suffers continually under the burden as mediator between God and the people.  Even his own family challenges his authority as "the voice of God" in chapter Numbers 12.  In the confrontation between Moses and his siblings Aaron and Miriam, and in the rebellion of Korah the Levite [chapter 16-17], Yahweh clearly affirms Moses as His choice: "Listen to my words!  If there is a prophet among you, I reveal myself to him in a vision.  I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses; to him my whole household is entrusted; to him I speak face to face, plainly and not in riddles, and he sees Yahweh's form.  How, then, could you dare to criticize my servant Moses?" Numbers 12:6-8

In the rebellion of the priest Korah in Numbers chapter 17 nearly five times the number of rebellious Israelites die of the plague as died in the rebellion of the Golden Calf.  In this rebellion God affirms Aaron as His choice as High Priest in the miracle of Aaron's staff.

Question: How does Yahweh use Aaron's staff to indicate His divine will?

Answer: Aarons staff, a dead almond branch, miraculously returns to life, blooms and bears fruit.  This sign of Aaron's priesthood along with the stone tablets of testimony and the pot of manna will all be placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. See Hebrews 9:4; Exodus 16:33 & 40:20.

In Exodus 40:13-15 Aaron and his sons had been consecrated to serve as Yahweh's holy high priests; an everlasting priesthood for all generations to come, established in a "Covenant of Salt" in Leviticus 2:13 and Numbers 18:19.  Salt was to be used by the priests in every altar sacrifice.  The salt was to have a purifying effect and caused great billows of smoke to ascend from the altar, representing the essence of the sacrifice ascending to Yahweh'an earthly reminder of the Glory Cloud.  For Aaron and his sons this "Covenant of Salt" expressed the stability of the covenant between God and His priesthood, a condition that science has discovered still exists.  The office of "Kohen"[Hebrew = "priest"] was granted to Aaron and his sons and to all their male progeny for all generations.  The Pentateuch states a number of times that the priesthood is an eternal covenant with the descendants of Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol ["high priest"], never to be lost.  Geneticists have discovered the "Cohen Modal Haplotype" which is a DNA signature consisting of specific genetic markers on the Y chromosome of Jewish Cohens. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, precisely as described in the Pentateuch. It is absolutely amazing that modern genetic scientists have discovered that a genetic link back to Aaron still exists in what was the Hebrew priesthood!

Confirmation of the Aaronic priesthood is followed by more regulations concerning ritual purification in Numbers chapter 19: The ashes of a pure red heifer, cedar wood, scarlet wool and hyssop are to be mixed with "holy water" and "kept for the ritual use of the Israelite community for making water for purification; it is a sacrifice for sin. [..]..this will be a perpetual decree. Anyone who touches the corpse of anyone whatever will be unclean for 7 days.  Such a person must be purified with these waters on the 3rd and 7th  days and will then be clean; otherwise he will  not be clean.  Anyone who touches the corpse of anyone who has died and is not purified, defiles Yahweh's Dwelling; such a person will be outlawed from Israel, since the water for purification has not been sprinkled over him; he is unclean, and his uncleanness remains in him. [...] Anything that an unclean person touches will be unclean, and anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening."  Numbers 19:9b-13, 22. 

Question: According to this decree what happens to a person who becomes ritually unclean as far as his place in the community is concerned?

Answer: Ritual uncleanness is a kind of death.  That person who has become ritually unclean is dead to the community until the rite of purification can cleanse and restore him, as a sort of rebirth, into the community.

Question: But why is there to be a double re-birth on the 3rd and 7th days?  Remembering that the number 3 in Scripture represents fullness and completion as well as to New Covenant believers the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and that 7 represents perfection;  and for Christians it is also the number of God the Holy Spirit therefore representing spiritual perfection.  Can you see any symbolic connection between this rite of purification and the Christian rite of baptism? 

Answer: Baptism is a Christian's second birth.  The first birth all human beings experience is physical birth but baptism is a second birth, a spiritual re-birth through the power of God the Holy Spirit into the community of the family of God.  CCC 1213 "...Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made shares in her mission: 'Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.' "#CCC# 1265 "Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte a 'new creature', an adopted son of God, who has become a 'partaker of the divine nature,' member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit." Also see Titus 3:5, John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12.

Numbers 20:1-13 Water from the Rock at Meribah

This is the second narrative of a miracle of water from the Rock.  The first event occurred in Exodus chapter 17.

Both accounts of the water-rock miracles follow a similar pattern:

Manna
and
quail
40 years of wandering prophesied Strike the rock for water Sinai Covenant and time in the wilderness Manna
and
quail
Curse of 40 years of wandering Speak to the rock for water
Exodus 16:4-34 Exodus
16:35
Exodus 17:1-7 Numbers 11:4-34 Numbers 14:21-22 Numbers 20:1-12

[chart adapted from The Penteteuch as Narrataive by J. Sailhamer]

Question: What is the significant difference between the two accounts?

Answer: This time Yahweh commands Moses to "speak to the Rock" to release its water.

Question: Does Moses obey Yahweh's instructions?  Why not?

Answer: No, the narrative does not tell us why Moses failed to be obedient to Yahweh's command.  Perhaps Moses had reached the breaking point with the constant grumbling and bickering from these rebellious people.  He even calls them "rebels".  Moses also claims that this miracle is accomplished through the efforts of Aaron and himself.

Question: What is the result of his disobedience?

Answer: Water does come forth miraculously from the rock but for their disobedience and "unbelief" [verse 12] Moses and Aaron will not be permitted to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.

Why is the punishment so severe?  Haven't Aaron and Moses served God faithfully for 40 years?  Doesn't their faithful obedience up to this point count for some leniency in this event? The answer may lie in St Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Question: Who does Paul identify as "the Rock" in 1 Corinthians 10:5?

Answer: He identifies Jesus as the Rock.

Question: St Paul has identified the Rock as a "type" of Christ.  How might these two episodes of water from the Rock be a "type" of Christ?  What happened in the first episode to give the people life-giving water?  What was supposed to happen in the second event? See John 7:37-39.

Answer: When the world first encountered Jesus He was struck down once for our sins.  He suffered and defeating sin and death, He arose again from the dead.  But now, in order to receive His life-giving essence all that must be done now is to "call" on Him to provide our nourishment on our journey of faith when the priest speaks the words of consecration in the celebration of the Eucharist.  When the priest speaks, God the Holy Spirit sends us nourishment--we receive the miracle of the most Holy Eucharist, Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. Christ is only struck down and suffered once for our sins--from then on we must "call" on Him to receive Him. Moses' disobedience interfered with God's instruction for future generations in this prophecy of Christ. This connection to "the Rock" and a future Redeemer will be revealed in the Song of Witness that Moses is instructed to teach the people to sing as a perpetual reminder of the Covenant promises and obligations in Deuteronomy 32.  See CCC 728, 624, 1362-81.

Chapter 20 ends with the death of Aaron. Aaron will be succeeded by his son Eleazar [Hebrew = "God has helped"] who will be anointed Kohen Gadol, High Priest.  The priesthood of Eleazar and his descendants will be a long succession of priests throughout the remainder of Israelite history until the time of the Macabees in the 2nd century BC.

 

In Numbers 21:4-9 as the people continue their march on the last leg of the journey to the Promised Land skirting around the land of Edom [descendants of Jacob/Israel's older brother Esau] and traveling near the Gulf of Aquaba, Moses is given a sign to test and strengthen the faith of the new generation of Israel.

Question: What is the mood of the people?

Answer: Rebellious grumbling and complaining.

Question: Of what do the people accuse Moses and Yahweh?

Answer: Of purposely bringing them out of Egypt into the desert to murder them!

Question: What punishment does Yahweh send against the people to bring them into repentance? 

Answer: Yahweh sends poisonous "fiery serpents" among the people. It is difficult to interpret if the serpents themselves were "fiery" or if their bite felt like fire.

Question: What is the result of this affliction?

Answer: The people repent and once again Moses intercedes for the people.

Question: What does Yahweh command Moses to do?

Answer: to make an image of the fiery serpent out of bronze and to raise it on a standard.  If the people who are bitten look at this image they will be saved.

The image of the serpent was a parallel sign of the snake that came from Moses staff in the snake miracles before the throne of the Pharaoh, a story the new generation of Israel had heard since their birth [see Exodus 4:3, 30].  The purpose of the parallel between the "sign" of the snake before Pharaoh and the people and the present "sign" is to underscore the basic themes of the Book of Moses.  In both narratives the emphases is on the necessity of the people's response of faith in God's sign.  They must look to the sign in faith before they can be delivered [see Exodus 4:30-31; Numbers 21:8]. 

Question: What does Jesus teach in the New Testament when He applies this same lesson of faith by connecting the sign of faith in looking up to the serpent raised above the people to the salvation brought about by His own death on the cross? Hint: see John 3:14-15.

Answer: Jesus said to the crowds"..as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."

Question: The serpent is a curious sign for God to use.  Perhaps He used it because the people had accused Him of being a murder like Satan, the ancient serpent.  In any event does the command to make the image of the serpent violate the prohibition against making images in Exodus 20:4?

Answer: Some scholars have observed that in the literal Hebrew God's command to Moses in 21:8 did not specifically say he was to make an image of the snakes but rather Moses was to make an image of the fire.  We do not know if God intended Moses to make an image of the snake or if Moses wrongly interpreted the command.  As far as the command against the prohibition of making images is concerned that command concerns not making images intended to be worshiped as an idol or as an image representing Yahweh or false gods.  The snake was clearly not to be worshipped and God did command the creation of the images of the cherubim on top of the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

Even though the bronze serpent was intended as a aid to faith and healing it should be noted that later in Israel's history in the period of the monarchy, the people had begun to offer incense to this same image and had named it "Nehushtan" [see 2 Kings 18:4]. It is listed among the idolatrous objects of worship that good King Hezekiah of Judah destroyed during his reforms.  That there is a similarity or word-play between the Hebrew words for "snake" and "bronze" may also have influenced Moses' choice of materials.

Please read Numbers 25:1 – 18 The Sin of Baal of Peor / Covenant of the Perpetual Priesthood:

The tribes of Israel move up from the south, avoiding the land of Edom, rounding the Dead Sea and come to the country of Moab just to the southeast of the Dead Sea.  Moab was a descendant of Lot in his incestuous union with his daughter.  When the Children of Israel arrive on the plains of Moab the Moabite King Balak is naturally concerned.  He decides to hire a prophet/ "hired-gun" in the person of Balaam and pays him to curse the people of Israel.

Question: Like the Pharaoh of Egypt who also stood in opposition for God's plans for Israel, Balak makes three unsuccessful attempts to thwart God's blessing for Israel [see 23:1-12, 13-26; 23:27- 24:9].  What happens with each attempt to curse Israel?

Answer: Each attempt is turned into a blessing in 23:11-12, 25-26; 24:10-11.

Balaam's oracles are also thematically parallel to Pharaoh's three attempts to suppress God's blessing on Israel in Egypt:

Pharaoh's attempts to subdue Israel Balaam' oracles
#1. Israel's fruitfulness: Exodus 1:11-14 "..the more were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread" [vs. 12] #1. Israel's fruitfulness: Num. 22:8, 10 "How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?..[..] :Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel."
#2. The strength of the people: "The Hebrew women are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." Ex. 1:19 #2. The strength of the people: "God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox..." Num. 24:8:
#3. The order to cast the "promised seed" of Abraham into the Nile results in the coming of the future redeemer, Moses. Ex. 1:22 #3. The promise of a future redeemer: "I see him-but not in the present, I perceive him--but not close at hand: a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel." Num. 24:17

Notice that Balaam gave more than three oracles but the prophetic statements have been arranged into three attempts to curse Israel.  Balak himself reflects this in his complaint to Balaam in 24:10 where "Balak flew into a rage with Balaam.  He struck his hands together and said to Balaam, 'I brought you to curse my enemies, and you have insisted on blessing them three times over!"

Question: Balaam warns the king and gives one final prophecy concerning Israel.  What are the main points of this prophecy? See Numbers 24:15-19

Answer: In the future a mighty king will come from Israel who will conquer both Moab and Edom. 

In the ancient Near East a star signified the birth of a king and usually as a king who becomes deified as a god.  King David is seen as a fulfillment of this prophecy and his emblem became the sign of the 6-pointed star, perhaps from the inversion of two of the Greek letters for "D", a triangle, placed one over the other. David did conquer Moab in 2 Samuel 8:2 and Edom in 2 Samuel 8:14. 

Question: In addition to David is there another son of Israel who fulfills this prophecy?

Answer: In association with Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 Christians saw this prophecy as fulfilled in Christ and the star that pointed the way to the town of Bethlehem, King David's birthplace.  If this prophecy was repeated to King Herod when the Magi came looking for the "king born under the sign of the star" in the Gospel of Matthew it would have made Herod very fearful.  Herod was a native of the land of Edom, known as Idumaea in the 1st century BC.

There is one final test for the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab.  According to Numbers 31:16 this incident as brought about by the evil counsel of Balaam. The sanctuary of the god, Baal of Peor, on the frontier between Canaan and Moab was the site of a fertility cult that practiced ritual prostitution. The discovery of the Canaanite mythological tablets of Ugarit by archaeologists have yield much information about the cult of Baal, all of which conforms to the Biblical accounts.  The title 'baal' or "lord" was applied to several gods but in general the name signified the storm god Hadad or Aliyan.  As the storm god who rules the weather this god was also believed to be the giver of fertility.  Archaeologists have discovered that the worship of Baal of Peor involved frenzied participation in all bodily emissions.  As part of the worship the sacrifices offered on the altar to Baal were eaten in a ritual meal accompanied by a ritualistic orgy. 

Question: How do the men of Israel fail the sexual purity restrictions of the Covenant?

Answer: They are seduced by the women of Moab into participation in Baal worship.

But this is more than simply lust...this is also rebellion against Moses and the leadership of Israel as well as rebellion against Yahweh by the new generation of the Exodus.

Question: What harsh command does Yahweh give Moses?

Answer: They must execute their own people who have participated in the rebellion.

Question: Why is this is a crisis of leadership.  Paralyzed with anguish what are the faithful people doing?

Answer: No one is taking the initiative to obey Yahweh's commands. The people are crying at the entrance to the Tabernacle.

Question: What is the climax of this episode?  What is the significance of the Israelite prince of the tribe of Simeon bringing the Midianite princess Cozbi into his tent?

Answer: Moses' wife is the daughter of a Midianite prince.  This action may be a slap in Moses' face, insinuating that his wife is no better than a prostitute.  While the older leadership is paralyzed with fear Phinehas, son of the high priest Eleazar and grandson of Aaron takes a lance and impales the offenders during their act of sexual immorality.

Question: What is the result of Phinehas' action? See Numbers 25:8-9

Answer: The plague resulting from the sin of Israel ends.

Question: Because of his courage Yahweh establishes a Covenant of Peace with Phinehas.  Why does this act of violence result in a covenant of peace?  What promise does Yahweh make in the formation of this 6th covenant?

Answer: Phinehas' action, although violent, ended what would have been a greater violence, the destruction of the entire people.  For his faithfulness and bravery Yahweh promised a perpetual priesthood as a promise for all generations.  The promise of this covenant of the priesthood continues today in Christ, our High Priest who is mediator to His Covenant people before the throne of God [see Hebrews 7-10], and in Christ's representatives, the ministerial priesthood who continues to serve in Yahweh's sanctuary.

Numbers 27:12-23

Yahweh's judgment on Moses in the matter of his disobedience and lack of belief in  striking the Rock instead of calling on the Rock for life-giving water was that Moses would die in the desert wilderness [see Numbers 20:12], but in His mercy Yahweh allows Moses to view what his people have been promised from the time of Abraham.  In Numbers 27:12 Yahweh tell his servant Moses "Climb this mountain of the Abarim range, and look at the country which I have given to the Israelites.  After you have seen it, you will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was."

Question: What is Moses' last request to Yahweh?  See Numbers 27:15-17

Answer: That Yahweh gives Israel a leader, chosen by Him, to shepherd the community.

Question: How does Yahweh honor the request?

Answer: Yahweh tells Moses to "lay your hand on" Joshua, a man in who the spirit dwells.  Moses is to bring Joshua before the High priest to be anointed as Moses'

successor, and Moses is to tell the people that it is now Joshua who will be Yahweh's covenant mediator.

Question: What is significant about the name of this Covenant mediator?  What does his name mean in Hebrew?

Answer: Joshua's name in proto-Hebrew is Yah-shua , "Yahweh saves". Later, in the 1st century AD this name will be expressed in Hebrew and Aramaic as Yehosua'we translate this name into the English from the Greek Iesous as "Jesus".

Note: In Numbers 27:21 the priest is to inquire into Joshua's appointment by the judgment of the Urim. The Urim ["lights"?] and Thummin ["integrity"?] are describes as objects worn in the breastplate, or ephod, of the high priest.  See Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; and Deuteronomy 33:8. They were cultic oracular objects, perhaps stones, by which Yahweh can be consulted. They are also mentioned in 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65, and were probably consulted in 1Samuel 23:9 and 2 Samuel 2:1.  In Ezra and Nehemiah a cultic problem is postponed until a priest can consult the Urim and Thummim.  In this passage in Numbers 27:21 the priest is to confirm Moses' claim that Joshua is to be appointed his successor by consulting the Urim.  It is assumed that each object had a "yes" and "no" side and in casting them, as one throws dice, the objects determined by lot the will of God in certain matters.  In choosing a successor for Judas Iscariot in Acts 2:26 the Apostles made the selection by casting "lots".  This, however,  was not the Urim and Thummin which seems to have disappeared sometime after the period of the Babylonian Exile.

Question: When God the Holy Spirit came to the Church at the second great Pentecost [Acts chapter 2] such devices were no longer necessary.  Why?

Answer: At Pentecost the Church received God the Holy Spirit to teach and guide her.  Such devices as the Urim and Thummin or casting lots as in Acts 1:23-26 were no longer necessary.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: In the New Covenant Church our ministerial priesthood no longer descends from the Levites and the descendants of the High Priest Aaron.  Why has the designation for the ministerial priesthood changed? See Hebrews 6:19-7:3; 7:11-28; Numbers 4:3; 8:23-26.

Answer: The Holy Spirit inspired writer of Hebrews asks the same question in Hebrews 7:11.  He answers the question in the verses that follow.  Christ has become our High Priest and the one mediator between man and God.  His priesthood is of a higher order than the hereditary priesthood of the Kohathites'His priesthood is that of Priest-King, like the Old Testament Priest-King of "God the Most High", Melchizedek who Jewish Oral Traditions identifies as God's Noachide Covenant mediator, Shem, righteous first born son of Noah [see Genesis 9:26-27; 14:17-20 & Lesson # 4].  Both Melechizedek and Jesus were directly chosen by God as Covenant mediators'their appointment did not depend on the purity of being born from a father who was a descendant of Aaron or of an Israelite mother who could prove her Israelite pedigree back 4 generations [Leviticus 21:1-24], nor was the priesthood of Melechizedek and Jesus limited by age [the service of a Levitical priest of the Old Covenant began as a deacon serving in the Tabernacle at age 25 and full service at age 30, but he had to retire at age 50 [see Numbers 4:3 and 8:23-26]

Question:  Jesus came to fulfill the 3 major Covenant leadership offices of the Old Testament.  Each of these offices required that the office holder be anointed by God and therefore, each member of these offices was in essence a "messiah" –"anointed one"'with a small "m".  What are these 3 offices whose ultimate fulfillment as Covenant Mediator was found in Jesus the Messiah? See Exodus 40:12-15;Leviticus 8:12; 21:10; 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kings 1:34, 39; 19:16; Isaiah 61:1

Answer: Priests, Kings, and Prophets as God's Covenant representatives had to be anointed.  Jesus came as Yahweh's divine Prophet, Priest, and King of Kings and was anointed by the Priest John the Baptizer, son of the priest Zechariah, and God the Holy Spirit at His baptism by water and the Spirit at the Jordan River.

Question: In Numbers chapter 27 Moses anoints Joshua as God's Covenant mediator by "laying hands" on Joshua.  When one is confirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church, the Bishop, as Christ's representative, extends his hands over the group of confirmands (those being confirmed into the Catholic Church) and prays over them. Then the Bishop confers the Sacrament through an anointing with chrism oil on the forehead, which is done by the "laying on of the hand".  When this Sacrament is celebrated what supernatural event takes place in the life of the confirmer believer and what is the significance of this event?  See Catechism of the Catholic Church #s 1299-1305.

Question:  To receive power from the Holy Spirit is one thing but to apply that power in one's life is another.  A television may be plugged into a power source but until the power is applied by turning on the switch that controls the power nothing visible happens.  When one is "plugged in" to the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation how does one "turn on" to the power of the Holy Spirit? 

Question: In the Sinai Covenant God has ordained one man as His representative to the people: first Moses and now Joshua.  Both men worked in cooperation with the High Priest and the Levitical ministerial priesthood to serve God and guide the people.  Do you see a repetition of this pattern down through Salvation History extending into the 1st century New Covenant Universal [Catholic] Church founded by Jesus of Nazareth which continues in the Roman Catholic Church today?  What are the similarities and what are some differences? 

Answer: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is in 2 parts'the heavenly Kingdom and the earthly Kingdom, both of which are patterned from the Davidic earthly kingdom. The Catholic Church is the earthly kingdom.  She is guided by a ministerial priesthood who serves the community as God's representatives.

Question: What is Jesus' role and what is the role filled by Peter and his successors? Who is the Covenant mediator in the New Covenant [see 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; and 12:24]?  Who is our High Priest [see Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; 8:1-5; 9:11] and does he offer a sacrifice? As in the days of the Old Covenant there is still one man who is God's representative to the people of the Covenant.    What is the Pope's official title as Christ's representative?  Hint: see Isaiah 22:2-23 and Matthew 16:19.

Answer: Jesus is our King, our High Priest, our Prophet and the one Covenant Mediator between the New Covenant people and God the Father. As our High Priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice of the Cross to the Father in the heavenly Jerusalem for our sins.  He is both Priest and living sacrifice as His perfect offering of 2,000 years ago is present at every celebration of the Eucharist.  And just as in the Old Covenant'the sacrifice must be eaten. Then too, as the King of Kings Jesus has a Vicar or Prime Minister who guides the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth while Jesus serves in the heavenly kingdom.  It is this man, the successor of the first Vicar, St. Peter, who serves as Christ's representative to His people and to His ministerial priesthood.

Resources and recommended reading:

  1. Many Religions--One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, [Ignatius Press, 1999].
  2. Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, [Ignatius Press, 1988].
  3. Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J.,[Bruce Publishing Company, 1965].
  4. Tanach, edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, [Mesorah Publications, Ltd,, 1998].
  5. Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, [William Morrow, Inc., 1991, 2001].
  6. The Navarre Bible Commentary: the Pentateuch
  7. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Leviticus
  8. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Numbers
  9. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy
  10. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Joshua
  11. The Pentateuch as Narrative, John Sailhamer
  12. Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant
  13. "Crosses in the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Waystation on the Road to the Christian Cross", Jack Finegan, Biblical Archaeology Society, [November/December 1979].
  14. "What's in a Name", Jeffery Tigay, Bible Review, pages 34-51, [February 2004].
  15. The Jewish Festivals, Hayyim Schauss, [New York Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938, 1965].
  16. The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard, Marvin Rosenthal, [Thomas Nelson, 1997].
  17. Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament, J. H. Kurtz, [reprinted

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.