Torah Portion for week 41: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Pinchas (Phinehas: Dark-skinned)
Is God unfair? Life can sometimes feel unfair when we look at people around us who seem to be more successful or somehow win more favor from God – especially if we judge things according to their outward appearance. But if we take a step back for a moment and look into things with closer examination and better understanding, we will find that the term “unfair” doesn’t really exist when God is in the picture. This truth is revealed in a powerful way in this week’s reading portion.
One of the highlights of this passage is the handing over of the leadership role from Moses to his successor Joshua, the son of Nun, which takes place prior to the entry of the people of Israel into the Promised Land. We read the following in Numbers 27:12-18:
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.”
First, it is important to note that God in his kindness made sure that Moses would see the promised land with his own eyes before his death. We at times have the privilege of seeing the fruit of our hard labor, but at other times it is only the next generation that will reap what we have sown. Another important note from this passage is the heart of Moses as a true shepherd who isn’t so much concerned about self-pity at this point; rather, he is concerned about who will be the next shepherd of Israel. It would be wonderful to see more of this type of care in the world today, especially in our leaders.
But regarding the punishment Moses receives, you might say, “God is really unfair!” Why does Moses, the great leader of the Exodus from Egypt, the prophet of God and faithful servant of his people, miss out on entering the promised land just because of one mistake?” There is a very crucial reason for this. Moses, without a doubt, had God’s calling on his life and played a major role in the birth of Israel as a nation at Mount Sinai, and in delivering the laws and commandments of God for Israel to follow.
But Moses, spiritually representing the giving of the law by God, cannot be the one to bring the people of Israel into the promised land because of the deeper meaning of this event. Israel’s entering into the promised land is a picture of the spiritual entry each person must go through into a right relationship with God. Paul the Apostle explains in Romans 3:20 that the law reveals our sins but cannot save us from them: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” This is exactly why religion and keeping the law can never be the way to bring us to God so that we may spiritually enter the promised land.
But now, God in his love and mercy will appoint a new shepherd named Joshua – which means in Hebrew, “the Lord will save” – to bring his people into the land. While Moses represents the law of God which reveals our sins and our need for redemption, Joshua represents the saving hand of a good shepherd who will lead his people into “the land.” Joshua’s name foreshadows the greater name that is above all names with exactly the same meaning – Yeshua (Jesus) – “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).
Are you struggling with God or feeling things are unfair in your life? The truth is that, like Israel and even Moses, we all deserve to die and be judged because of our rebellion and sin; but praise God for the picture of Joshua! He is a clear picture of Messiah Yeshua, the Good Shepherd, who is the only one who can take us into God’s presence in the eternal promised land.