Copyright © 2001 Andrews University Press, cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JOSHUA'S
RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON
OF HANDS IN NUMBERS 27:12-23
Because Christian rites of ordination regularly involve the imposition of
hands, scholars generally recognize the importance of understanding this
practice. Instituted early in the church's development and thus in close
proximity with its Jewish origins, the imposition of hands has been thought
by scholars to stem most likely from OT roots.l Jewish exegetes and
Pentateuchal critical scholars have often adopted the view that ordination was
performed for the first time when Moses ordained Joshua with the laying on
of hands and that Joshua's installation by Moses became the prototype of
rabbinic ordination.2 It has also been proposed that Christian ordination
originally structured itself on the model of rabbinic ordination, even though
it is also understood that it took on meaning of its own.3 Thus in both Jewish
and Christian traditions, Joshua's installation has powerfully influenced
ordination practice which includes the laying on of hands.4
1 Jean Thierry Maertens, "Un rite de pouvoir: l'imposition des mains," Studies in
Religion 7 (1978): 29. Eduard Lohse suggests that these OT roots are authenticated by the
linguistic relationships evident between Hebrew and Greek expressions for the imposition
of hands in Die
Ordination im Spatjudentum
und im Neuen Testament
Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1951), 18.
2 Lohse, Die Ordination, 29. See also J. Newman, Semikhah: A Study of Its
Origin, History and Function
in Rabbinic Literature (
University Press, 1950), 2; Paul Galtier, "Imposition des mains," Dictionnaire de theologie
catholique (1927), 7:1304; H. Revel, "Ordination," Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (1939),
4 (1960): 128; M. H. Shepherd Jr., "Hands, Laying on of," IDB (1962), 2:251-252; Allen
Howard Podet, "Elements in the Development of Rabbinical Ordination in the Codes"
(Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew Union College, 1964), 50-51.
3 Johannes Behro,
im Urchristentum (
Verlagbuchhandlung, 1911; reprint,
142; Joseph Coppens, L'imposition des mains et les rites connexes dans le Nouveau Testament
et dans l'Eglise
of the Christian Sacraments (
"The Biblical Basis for Ordination," Review and Expositor 78 (1981): 472.
4 Arnoid Ehrhardt, "Jewish and Christian Ordination," The Journal of Ecclesiastical
History 5 (1954): 138. Ehrhardt sees the,OT influence on Christian ordination to be direct,
rather than channeled through rabbinic ordination.
l92 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
While many scholars agree that Joshua's installation has prototypical
influence on Christian ordination practice, very few agree as to the
significance of Moses' laying hands on Joshua.5 Did Moses transfer
anything to Joshua through the hand-laying gesture, and if so, what did
he transfer? Did the gesture merely designate Joshua as the one to be
ordained or, on the other hand, merely identify Moses with Joshua?
Perhaps laying on of hands indicated Joshua as in some way a substitute
or a representative of YHWH or Moses. Finally, were two hands laid on
Joshua or one, and what is the significance of the number of hands used?
In order to answer these questions, one must exegetically study the
two Pentateuchal pericopes which describe the event, Num 27:12-23 and
Deut 34:9. It is the purpose of this article to present an exegetical study of
laying on of hands as presented in Num 27:12-23. The contribution or
Deut 34:9 and final conclusions addressing the procedural techniques,
symbolic meanings, and tangible effects of the hand-laying gesture will be
presented in a subsequent article.
Num 27:12-23 plays an important role in the overall theme of the
book of Numbers.
preparing to enter the Promised Land. The census of Num 26 established
a new generation, who was given permission to enter that land. The
necessity of new leadership to lead this new generation into the land must
be addressed, and Num 27:12-23 addresses this necessity.
An analysis of the pericope's structure provides the starting point
for an interpretation of the significance of the hand-laying gesture.
Numbers 27:12-23 contains four sections indicated by and related to
each other through external, internal, and sequential parallelism. In the
external parallelism, the last two sections repeat a pattern established by
the first two sections, designated as A, B, A', B'. Each of the A sections
presents statements made by YHWH, and each of the B sections present
Moses' responses. In the internal parallelism, each of the four sections
is further divided into four subsections, which generally follow the
pattern established by the four subsections of section A, designated as
a, b, c, d, in section B, as al, b1, c1, d1; in section A’, as a2, b2, c2, d2, and
in Section B', as a3, b3, c3, a4. Each of the "a" subsections introduces the
speaker of that section, each "b" subsection gives a request or response
to subsection "a," each of the "c" subsections addresses leadership issues,
and each of the "d" subsections addresses congregational issues. In the
sequential parallelism, each section responds to issues of the previous
5 For a thorough review of the various scholarly interpretations, see my dissertation,
"The Laying on of Hands on Joshua: An Exegetical Study of Numbers 27:12-23 and
34:9" (Ph.D. dissertation,
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 193
section; in other words, B responds to issues raised in A, A' responds to
issues raised in B, and B' responds to issues raised in A' and may be
designated as A-B-A'-B'. The pericope parallels can be illustrated as
A YHWH Announced Moses' -- A' YHWH Instructed Moses to
Death, vv. 12-14 Install Joshua, vv. 18-21
a Introductory Identifier, -- a2 Introductory Identifier, v. 18a
b Request, v. 12b -- b2 Request, v. 18b
c Leader Issues, v. 13 -- c2 Leader Issues, vv. 18c-20a
d Congregation Issues, -- d2 Congregation Issues,
v. 14 vv. 20b-21
B Moses Requested YHWH to -- B' Moses Followed YHWH's
Appoint a Leader, vv. 15-17 Instructions to Install Joshua,
al Introductory Identifier, -- a3 Introductory Identifier, v. 22a
bl Request, v. 16 -- b3 Response to Request, v. 22b
c1 Leader Issues, v. 17a,b -- c3 Leader Issues, vv. 22c-22a
dl Congregation Issues,
a4 Concluding Identifier, v. 23b
The translation of the pericope:
A a and YHWH said to Moses,
b Go up into this
and see the land which I have given to the sons of
c After you have seen it, you will be gathered to your people,
even you, just as was gathered Aaron your brother,
d because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness
of Zin, in the rebellion of the congregation, to sanctify
me at the waters before their eyes. These are the Waters
of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.
194 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
B a1 And Moses spoke to God, saying:
bl Let YHWH appoint, the God of the spirits of all flesh, a man over
c1 who will go out before them and who will come in before
them, who will lead them out and who will bring them in,
d1 so that the congregation of YHWH will not be as sheep
who have no shepherd.
A' a2 And YHWH said to Moses,
b2 Take (to yourself) Joshua, son of Nun, a man in whom there is
c2 and lay your hand on him, and stand him before Eleazar the
priest and before all the congregation, and commission him
before their eyes, and you shall confer some of your honor on
him so that will listen all the congregation of the sons of
d2 He shall stand before Eleazar the priest and he shall ask for
him by the judgment of the Urim before YHWH.
According to His word they shall go out and according to
word they shall come in, he and all the sons of
with him, even all the congregation.
B' a3 And Moses did just as YHWH commanded him.
b3 and he took Joshua
c3 and stood him before Eleazar the priest and before all the
congregation and he laid his hands on him and he
a4 just as YHWH spoke by the hand of Moses.
This study focuses on the third section of the pericope, A', vv. 18-21.
Sections A and B provide background material to A'. Section A’ gives the
information pertinent to interpreting laying on of hands; B' concludes by
repeating step by step Moses' accomplishment of YHWH's instructions in A'.
Interpreting the significance of the laying on of hands begins by
noting the flow in the subsections of A'. The flow begins in subsection a2
(v. 18a) by identifying the speaker, YHWH. The flow continues in
subsection b2 with YHWH's request, "take to yourself" Joshua. This
imperative then initiates a series of four actions in subsection c2 that relate
to leadership issues: lay, stand, command, and give. The four actions are
tied together by four second masculine singular waw perfect verbs
note that the waw perfect construction expresses a series of actions
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 195
contingent or dependent upon the preceding action and at the same time
establishes a hierarchy: first, "lay"; second, "stand"; third, "command";
and fourth, "give." Subsection c2 concludes with a "so that" clause,
indicating that the actions of the waw perfect verbs have the purpose of
giving status to Joshua--the children of
in subsection d2 the flow moves to congregational issues. First, Joshua was
to stand before the high priest when he needs to know the will of YHWH
for leading the congregation. Second, once Joshua received YHWH's
word, he and the congregation were free to go out and to come back.
Study will now be given to each of these four subsections.
Introductory Identifier--"And YHWH
Said to Moses” (Subsection a)
The Hebrew verb for "said" (rmaxA) appears about 5,300 times in the
OT, never with the purpose of describing the technique of speaking, "but
to call attention to what is being said."6 Frequently, rmaxA is used by God
to introduce revelation, in which he expresses himself and his will: "One
would suppose that this usage emphasizes that God's revelation is a
spoken, transmissible, propositional, definite matter."7 The expression
"thus says YHWH" added authority and importance to any instruction.8
When YHWH spoke, Moses listened and Moses responded.
The instructions of Num 27:18-20 are initiated by YHWH's word.
These are no ordinary instructions, but have the weight of the divine
behind them. The words which describe Joshua's installation, and which
include laying on of hands, are attributed to God himself; they are not
words invented by Moses. The pericope concludes in v. 23 by
emphasizing that all was accomplished according as YHWH spoke (rB,Di),
by the hand of Moses.
The Imperative--"Take Joshua, a Man in
Whom There is Spirit” (Subsection b)
This simple command provides a wealth of information. First, it is
parallel to the commands (v. 12) to "go up" the mountain and "see" the
Promised Land, which had the result of placing Moses in a position where
6 Siegfried Wagner, "rmaxA "amar," TDOT (1974), 1:328.
7 Charles L. Feinberg, "rmaxA (‘amar) say, speak, say to oneself (think), intend,
command, promise," TWOT (1980), 1:55.
8 This phrase was used in talking to Pharoah (Exod ; 10:3), when announcing
YHWH's will for
of the golden calf (Exod 32:27).
196 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
YHWH could give a third command, "take" Joshua. Second, it is also parallel
to Moses' request in v. 16 to "appoint" a leader. YHWH responded that
Moses "take" Joshua, thus communicating to Moses that he too had a role to
play in establishing
a process of subsequent actions, indicated by the series of waw perfect verbs
in subsection c2. Finally, Joshua, son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit,
was the one identified as the one to be taken.
The word for "spirit" in "a man in whom there is spirit" has no article,
making it difficult to develop a simple interpretation of what spirit Joshua
possessed. "Spirit" should be linked to its parallel subsection usage in Section
B (v. 16), which identifies YHWH as the "God of the spirits of all flesh."
YHWH is thus identified as the sovereign Creator. He is the one who gives
breath or spirit; therefore, he is the one who knows what the spirit of a man
really is. Identifying Joshua as a "man in whom there is spirit" indicates that
YHWH knows who Joshua is and can guarantee Moses that Joshua possesses
the requisite spiritual qualifications and skills for leadership.9
Is this spirit Joshua possesses a reference to God's spirit, or to the fact that
was a spirited man? The answer is yes to both questions. First,
Wood argues that the lack of an article attached to the word "spirit" does not
necessarily preclude a reference to the Spirit of God. He uses for support 1
Chr 12:18, where the word "spirit" lacks an article yet obviously refers to
YHWH's Spirit. Wood further argues that Moses was endowed with
YHWH's Spirit, as evidenced by the story of the seventy elders with whom
he shared some of his spirit (Num -28) and by Isaiah's reference to the
"Holy Spirit within Moses" (Isa 63:11). If Moses was endowed with the Spirit,
"one should only expect that his successor would have to be."10
9 Most scholars accept the interpretation of spirit (HaUr) as an endowment for leadership;
for example: Jacob Milgrom,
The JPS Torah Commentary (
Jewish Publication Society, 5750/1990), 235; Walter Riggans, Numbers, Daily Study Bible
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 202; "Numbers," The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed.
Charles F. Pfeiffer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962),147; A. Clarke, The Holy Bible Containing
the Old and New Testaments: The Old Testament (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1938),
Julius H. Greenstone, Numbers, with
Publication Society, 1948), 297; R. B. Allen, "Numbers" Expositor's Bible Commentary
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:946; Martin Noth, Numbers, A Commentary, Old
Testament Library, trans. James Martin (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), 214-215; F. B.
Huey, Numbers, Bible. Study Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981),93-94; J. L.
Mays, The Book of Leviticus, the Book o/Numbers, LBC (Richmond: John Knox, 1963), 133;
F. C. Cook and T. E. Espin, The Fourth Book of Moses Called Numbers, The Holy Bible
According to the Authorized Version, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1877), 759; A. Noordtzij,
Numbers, Bible Student's
Commentary, trans. E. van der Maas (
256-257; O. J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 197
Second, "spirit" (HaUr) can indicate internal elements of an individual.
One particular element referred to is that of ability. YHWH endowed
Bezaleel with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge so that he
could construct the Tabernacle. In Joshua's case, spirit would refer to his
endowed leadership skill. YHWH had already chosen, authenticated, and
endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, knowledge, and insight
to qualify him for the work. Additionally, the word "spirit" can depict a
person's dominant disposition of mind or attitude.11 In particular, "spirit"
is used as a synonym for "courage."12 Designating Joshua as a "man in
whom there is spirit" may in part refer not only to the spy scenario, but
also to Joshua's long service to Moses as well as to the entire
congregation.13 To describe Joshua as "a man in whom there is spirit" is
to describe him as a man full of life.14 As such, YHWH declared that
Joshua has the spirit of life and courage necessary to provide the kind of
strong leadership necessary to lead
To summarize, YHWH, the God of the spirits of all flesh, identified
Joshua, a man in whom there is spirit. Joshua is thus indicated as one with
an indomitable and courageous spirit. But more, as the giver of spirit,
YHWH also identifies Joshua as one to whom he had given a special
Spirit, a Spirit that has changed him and endowed him for leadership.
1976), 49-50. Allen (2:946) states that "spirit" can also refer to the Holy Spirit, noting that
though the word HaUr (spirit) in Num 27:18 is indefinite by spelling, it "may be regarded as
inherently defInite when used as a reference to deity"; see also Clarke, 1:707-708; Greenstone, 297.
11 Spirit describing a dominant disposition can describe the following emotions: crushed
in spirit, broken, forsaken, humble, smitten, troubled, faithful, high, cool, long-enduring,
anger, stubbornness, seat of, and excellence. Norman Henry Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of
the Old Testament (London: Epworth Press, 1944), 146-150; William Ross Shoemaker, "The
Use of HaUr in the Old Testament, and of pneuma in the New Testament," JBL 23 (1904): 13-34;
J. B. Payne, "HaUr (ruah) wind, breath, mind, spirit," TWOT (1980), 2:836-837.
12 Joshua had displayed his courage early in his victory over the Amalekites. Caleb had
a different spirit than the ten faithless spies, meaning he had not angered YHWH by his
obstinacy and rebelliousness like the others, but had instead maintained wholehearted
commitment to YHWH, which resulted in an indomitable and positive attitude toward
Caleb's spirit, the narrative indicates that he shared in that spirit of courageously following
YHWH wholeheartedly. Joshua built upon Caleb's spirit by making the case for invasion
even more specific and serious.
13 For example, Exod 17:8-16; 24:13-14; 32:15-20; 33:7-11; Num 11:26-30; 13:1-14:38.
Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, NICOT, 551-552.
14 W. Vogels argues that though this translation is possible due to Ps 31:6, Joshua has
more than life; he has the spirit of YHWH ("The Spirit of Joshua and the Laying on of
Hands by Moses," in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, trans. E W. Trueman
198 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
Leadership Issues--"Lay, " "Stand," "Command," "Give,"
Congregation "Listen to" (Subsection c2)
To review, the flow in each of the four major sections of Num 27:12-23
first identifies the section's main character, then through an imperative either
makes a request or gives a response to the previous request, and then
introduces matters concerning leadership. In section A, YHWH clarified that
Moses as Israel's current leader would soon die. In section B, Moses indicated
the desire for a leader who had the internal fortitude necessary to lead the
instructing how Moses was to install Joshua as the next leader. The imperative
level (subsection b2)of section A' established a command (take) that was
intended to initiate a series of four actions by which Moses was to install
Joshua as a leader whom the congregation would obey. The four actions were
to lay hands on Joshua, stand (present) him before Eleazar and the
congregation, commission (charge) him, and give him some of Moses' honor.
"Lay your hand on him." The first action to be initiated by the
imperative "take" was that Moses was to lay his hand on Joshua. In order
to adequately develop the significance of the hand gesture, one must first
study all the other accompanying elements. It should be noted, however,
that laying on of hands is the first of the actions indicated by the
imperative "take," even though it was not intended that this hand gesture
be the first action Moses performed in the installation. YHWH's initial
instructions to Moses indicated that Joshua's installation take place in a
public setting, thus creating a situation in which public presentation must
precede any other action. The installation, as recorded in Num 27:22-23,
confirms this conclusion, for Moses first "stood" or presented Joshua to
the children of
first, even though it could not be performed first, YHWH appears to be
stating that all the other actions depend on it. Structural analysis thus
provides a preliminary conclusion. Joshua's public presentation,
commissioning, and reception of some of Moses' honor were to each
somehow find their meaning or expression in the laying on of Moses'
hands. Joshua's installation is rooted in Moses' hand-laying action.
"Stand him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation."
The second action to follow "taking" was that of presentation. Four
observations can be made about the imperative to stand Joshua before
priest and congregation. First, the concept of "standing before" in the OT
can have the connotation of presentation.15 Joshua's formal presentation
l5 R. B. Allen, "dmafA/('amad) stand, remain, endure, etc," TWOT (1980), 2:673. Jacob is
presented to Pharoah (Gen 47:7), the cleansed leper is presented to YHWH at the door of the
Tabernacle (Lev ), two goats are presented before YHWH (Lev 16:7), the scapegoat is
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 199
had the dual purpose of giving him to the congregation and doing so in a
judicial setting which established that Joshua
leader. Second, the physical gesture of standing communicated Joshua's
acceptance of his responsibilities as well as the congregation's and
YHWH's acceptance of Joshua.16 Third, the verb "stand before" indicated
a cultic17 and covenantal18 event. Fourth, the concept of standing before
the priest and "congregation" give indication that Joshua's installation
ceremony took place at the tent of meeting, the normal meeting place of
the congregation. Joshua's leadership is thus connected to the Sanctuary
and to all that it represented in maintaining contact and covenant with
YHWH. His leadership must ever espouse these important principles.
"Commission him in their presence." The third action to follow
"taking" was that of giving a commission. Moses was to "commission him
(Joshua) before their eyes" (Num 27:19).19 The verb is a piel perfect,
second masculine singular of hvc, meaning either "to command" or "to
give a charge." Numbers 27:19-22 uses both meanings, first in Moses'
commissioning of Joshua (vv. 19,23), and second in Moses' obedience of
presented live before YHWH (Lev ), a person is to be presented to the priest (Lev 27:8),
an animal is presented to the priest (Lev 27:11), Levites are presented to Aaron for service
(Num 3:6; ), a suspected adulteress is presented by the priest or her husband before
YHWH for judgment (Num , 18, 30). See Ashley, 552-553, where he lists ten of the
16 After seventy men died as a result of looking at the ark of the covenant, the men
of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand before YHWH" (1 Sam ); YHWH asks,
"What shepherd will stand before me?" (Jer 49:19; 50:44) implying that the shepherds are
not acceptable to himself; YHWH also asks those who have performed all manner of evil
how they think they can "stand before" him, meaning, they are to believe they are accepted
(Jer7:10); and Esther stood before Xerxes after he Indicated acceptance of her presence
17 The OT sanctuary provided the Israelites with a refuge in which to contact YHWH,
and its services gave institutional form to maintaining the covenant between YHWH and his
people. To state that the phrase "stand before" carries cultic overtones is to say that it
represents a ritual involved in
phrase "stand before" carried a cultic connection in at least two areas: (1) "stand before" could
indicate ministry before or service to one of higher authority or to a group, or (2) stand
before" could indicate a representational element in which one representing a group "stands
before" another and intercedes in behalf of the group. In terms of leadership, if there was no
blessing from the high priest, there would be no leader. Including Eleazar the priest in the
formalities underscored the fact that Joshua's leadership of the Israelites was to be one of
cooperation with the high priest. Joshua’s rule was not to be profane; contact with YHWH
was to hold first place in his governance.
18 Joshua's installation ceremony was public, held before the entire congregation
(hdAfe--a term with strong covenantal connections). It is the congregation with whom YHWH has
made a covenant; it is the congregation who requires a leader sensitive to this covenant.
19 KJV, "give a charge"; RSV and NIV, "commission"; NKJV, "inaugurate."
200 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
YHWH's command (v. 22). Why would both meanings be used in so few
verses? YHWH's control and input comprise one of the more important
messages of this pericope. Moses' commissioning (hvc) of Joshua directly
results from YHWH's command (hvc) to Moses. Moses may be the voice
of the commission, but Joshua's commission originates with YHWH.
YHWH instructed Moses to give a solemn charge to Joshua "before
their eyes," the eyes of Eleazar and the congregation. Previously in this
pericope YHWH had used the same expression to remind Moses that he
could not enter the Promised Land because he had not sanctified YHWH
at the waters "before their eyes" (Num 27:14). Moses' public sin
necessitated a change in
commission emphasized a call to consistently responsible leadership to be
maintained in the view of all. The commissioning ceremony as a public
event took place at the door of the tabernacle.
What are the contents of Joshua's commission? Three passages
provide elements of the installation formula: Deut -28; 31:1-8, 14,23;
and Josh 1:1-9. These passages indicate a four-part commission. First,
Moses shared words of encouragement calculated to make Joshua firm and
resolute. Based on past experience with YHWH, Joshua was encouraged
to be strong and courageous, to not fear, or be alarmed, or be filled with
terror. Second, Joshua was commissioned to a task, not a position. He was
reminded that his task was to be twofold, that of
going over the
and into the Promised Land as well as that of appropriately dividing the
land among the tribes. Third, Moses extended YHWH's promise of divine
assistance, sufficiency, and companionship. Joshua was not to attend to
his task alone. YHWH promised to fight for him, go before him, be with
him, and never abandon or forsake him. Moses may have verbalized the
commission, but YHWH personally effected it. Fourth, Moses exhorted
Joshua to read, preserve, and carefully keep the law. He was not ever to
depart from it, but to meditate on it day and night.
"Confer some of your honor on him.” The fourth action to follow
"taking" was that of conferring (Ntn) some of Moses' honor (dOh) on
Joshua.20 One catches "a glimpse of the esteem in which Moses was held"
upon the realization that the word "honor," which describes an attribute
of YHWH and of kings, also describes an attribute of Moses; "his was the
extensive use (around two thousand times) in the OT, Ntn has a great variety of meanings
given in translation. This variety can be reduced to three broad areas: (1) give, (2) put or set, and (3)
make or constitute. Translations include: set, commit, put, lay, fasten, hang, make, appoint,
suffer, bestow, deliver, send, pay, turn, thrust, strike, cast, permit, place, store, attach, and
spend. Its usage in Num 27:20 appears to be mainly connected with the more formal
meaning of "appoint," thus the translation of "confer."
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 201
authority of a king."21 Like kings, Moses too had both external and
internal honor (dOh). But like kings, Moses' dOh came from YHWH, a gift
YHWH instructed him to share with Joshua. However, YHWH did not
intend for Moses to pass all of his honor to Joshua, for his instructions
added a partitive Nmi (of) to dOh (j~d;Ohme). Moses was to give Joshua only a part
of his honor.22 Moses was to remain unique, like the sun, and Joshua,
never the equal of Moses, was to reflect only some of Moses' honor as the
moon reflects the sun's light.23 No matter how important Joshua was to
become, he was never to rise to the level of his mentor.24
Sharing some of Moses' honor with Joshua contributed an important
element to Joshua's leadership. In a similar fashion as sharing some of his
spirit with seventy elders (Num -27), Moses shared with Joshua a
portion of his civil and spiritual authority as well as his honor, charisma, and
prestige. Endowed to Joshua by YHWH, the gift of Moses' honor was
confirmed by YHWH's appearance in a cloud (Deut 31:15). Israel's treatment
of Joshua following Moses' death confirmed that Joshua received this gift.
Result of Moses' actions. The four waw perfect verbs of vv. 18-20, which
follow the imperative "take," culminate in the Nfamal; (so that, in order that)
clause of v. 20. Moses is to lay his hand on Joshua, cause him to stand before
Eleazar and the congregation, give him a charge, and give him some of Moses'
authority, "so that" the whole congregation would listen (fmw) to Joshua. This
reaction of the congregation was not a matter concerning the congregation,
but a matter of leadership. The appropriate response to all the actions of
Moses in establishing Joshua as leader was that of obedience.
21 Riggans, 203; see also Porter, Moses, 1-28. Porter argues that the working out of the
"tradition primarily took place in
link between their new monarchy and the older national traditions which preceded it" (22). He
states that Moses "is unmistakably pictured in terms drawn from the language of Hebrew royal
ideology" and "that Moses is the antitype of the Davidic monarch" (11). Porter's pamphlet discusses
at some length the "role of Moses as king and arbiter of his people's destiny." He, however, carries
his point too far when he claims that dOh, "when applied to the human being is used exclusively of
king" (18), for it also applied to Job and Daniel.
22 The OT commonly employs the partitive Nmi; for example: Gen 4:3-4; Exod 16:27; see
also Ashley, 547; Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, 2d ed. (
23 Rashi, as quoted by Elie Munk, La voix de la Torah: Commentaire du Pentateuque,
vols. 4-5 (Paris: Fondation S. et O. Levy, 1975), 293; Morris Rosenbaum and A. M.
Silbermann, trans. Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Prayers for Sabbath and
Rashi's Commentary Translated into English and Annotated (
1946), Numbers, 134.
24 Allen proposes an additional interpretation, that .the phrase, "some of your honor,"
suggests a gradual shift in leadership, "not unlike a coregency of son and father as king"
202 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
While the verb fmw (listen) basically means to perceive a sound, it
more importantly in this context connotes a listening that pays careful
attention to what is said.25 A call to fmw (listen) is a call to understand and
respond to what is heard.26 Calling for attention and understanding has
obedience as a consequence, as classically illustrated in 1 Sam 15:22, "to
obey (fmw) is better than sacrifice."27 After the death of Moses, at the time
Joshua actually assumed command, the whole congregation pledged that
as they had obeyed (fmw) Moses, so they would now obey (fmw) Joshua and
that all who rebelled against Joshua and did not obey (fmaw;yi-xlov;) his words
would be put to death.28
Matters Concerning the Congregation--Direction
From Eleazar (subsection d2)
To review, the flow in each of the four major sections of Num 27:12-23
first identifies the section's main character, then through an imperative either
makes a request or gives a response to the previous request, and then
introduces matters concerning leadership, and concludes by introducing
matters concerning the congregation. The "congregation" remains a high
priority throughout the pericope, as evidenced by its seven appearances and
three appearances of the phrase "children of
in Section A (v. 14) of the congregation's sin at Kadesh. Moses, touched by
that reminder, pleaded in Section B (v. 17c) for a leader so that the
congregation would not be left as sheep without a shepherd, and YHWH
responded in Section A' (v. 21). Just how was Joshua to lead the congregation
on a day-by-day basis?
Joshua's Action. Not all the privileges Moses enjoyed passed to Joshua,
for he was not to depend on receiving Moses' honor of face-to-face
conversation with YHWH. Joshua must "stand before" Eleazar (Num
27:21) when he needed YHWH's directions. Evidently the unity of
Moses' office was to be shared between Joshua and Eleazar, the high
priest.29 In the crossing of the
25 See Gen 3:17; 1 Kgs 22:19; Ps 81:11. Hermann J. Austel, "fmw: (shama’) hear,
listen to, obey," TWOT (1980), 2:938-939; G. A. Lee, "Hear; Hearken; Listen; Obey," ISBE (1982),
26 Understand (Gen 11:7; 42:23; Isa 33:19), response: of fear (Gen ), of faith (Deut
6:4), of assent (Job 34:16; 37:14).
27 See also Gen 16:2; 34:24; 42:22; Exod 24:7; Deut 1:43; 11:13; 1 Kgs 2:42; Neh 9:16;
Isa 1:19; 42:24; Jer 35:18. The verb is used with the same sense of obedience in the context of
ancient Near Eastern treaties. Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, 147.
29 Philip J. Budd, Numbers, vol. 5, WBC (Waco,TX:Word, 1984), 307. Did the OT ever
record that Joshua used the high priest to obtain information from YHWH? On the one
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 203
played an obvious role in carrying the Ark of the Covenant as well as in
the blowing of trumpets.30 Both Joshua and Eleazar were tasked with
dividing, the land equitably among the tribes.31 Joshua's one-time
experience of installation into office did not remove from him the
necessity of maintaining constant contact with YHWH. He was to
present himself to Eleazar the priest, who in turn presented himself to
YHWH through the Urim, in order to receive guidance for running the
affairs of the congregation.
Result of Joshua’s Action. After having "stood before" Eleazar and
receiving YHWH’s Judgment through the Urim, Joshua as well as the
whole congregation was to "go out" and to "come in" (Num 27:21).
Hebrew frequently uses antonyms to express totality. The expression for
"going out" and "coming in" comprehensively covers all leadership duties
and responsibilities, which include a managing and conducting of one's
own affairs as well as the affairs of state.32 Additionally, when used
separately, the Hebrew verbs translated as "go out" (xcy) and to "come in"
xvb were powerful covenantal reminders for the new leader. Used
frequently of the great exodus event, the hifil (causative) of xcy (go out)
reminded one of the great "going out" event,
the exodus from
which symbolized the mighty redemption of God s people, an event
hand, Scriptures never record a time when Joshua asked for divine guidance through the high
priest. Instead, Scripture points out that YHWH spoke directly to him (Josh 7:7-15; -
14), encouraged Joshua that as he was with Moses he would be with Joshua (Josh 1:5; 3:7),
personally appeared to Joshua in order to give direct instruction about entry into the
Promised Land (Josh 1:1-9; 3:7-8; 4:1-3, 15-16; 5:2) as well as its conquest (Josh 6:2-5; 8:1-2;
; 11:6; 13:1-7; cf. -15) and the establishment of the cities of refuge (Josh 20:1-6).
However, on the other hand, Num 27:21 gives clear indication that YHWH expected Joshua
to work through Eleazar, an expectation supported by two points made in the book of
Joshua. First, Joshua, through Eleazar, should have taken the initiative to contact YHWH
before making a covenant with the Gibeonites (Josh ). Second, whenever Joshua is
mentioned with Eleazar, Eleazar's name appears first, implying a dependency upon him (Josh
14:1; ; 21:1). See also Milgrom, Numbers, 236.
30 Josh 3:2, 6, 14, 15, 17; 4:11, 15; 6:4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16.
31 Num 34:17; Josh 14:1; 17:4; ; 21:1.
32 Deut 28:6; 1 Kgs 3:7; Ps 121:8; Zech 8:10. George W. Coats, Moses: Heroic Man,
Man of God, JSOTSupp 57 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 149-150, Snaith,
Leviticus and Numbers, 147; Horst Dietrich Preuss, "xcAyA yasa’,” TDOT (1990), 6:226-227,
Kennedy, Leviticus and Numbers, NCB (
Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Numbers, ICC (New York: Scribner, 1903),
400.401. Gray points out that "to go out and come in" is an idiomatic method of expressing
activity in general by reference to its commencement and conclusion and is a usus loquendi
similar in character to the frequent periphrases for all which consist of two terms for
opposed classes; i.e., the fettered and the free, the dry and the thirsty, the binder and the bound.
Moses wished his people to often remember.33 On the other hand, XVb
(come in) spoke to the coming and bringing into the land of promise.
Giving of the land as well as coming into possession of the land was
YHWH's method of establishing the covenant.34
Interpreting "Laying on of Hands.”
The instruction to Moses to "lay his hand" on Joshua has its origin
with the Almighty, "and YHWH said to Moses"(Num 27:18). YHWH's
words to Moses commenced with an imperative to "take" Joshua, a man
in whom there is spirit. Laying on of hands, as one of the subsequent
actions initiated by "taking," provided a means for Moses to become
personally involved in the process of choosing Joshua as well as providing
a means for Moses to physically manifest faith in YHWH. A review of
Joshua's life history reveals a man who had a careful and close walk with
his God. It was no common individual who received laying on of hands.
YHWH, the God of the spirits of all flesh, confirmed that this one to
receive the laying on of hands was a man in whom there was spirit. Not
only was Joshua a man with an indomitable and courageous spirit, but
YHWH had given him a special gift of the Spirit that changed him and
endowed him for leadership. Hand-laying is thus associated with a spirited
man as well as with a man filled with the Spirit of YHWH.
How does an interpretation of the phrase "standing before" apply to
"laying on of hands"? First, the hand gesture followed formal presentation
to Eleazar and the congregation (vv. 22-23). Joshua's formal presentation
had the dual purpose of giving him to the congregation and doing so in a
legal setting, thus giving judicial precedence to hand-laying. Second, hand-
laying was associated with the physical gesture of standing that
communicated Joshua's acceptance of his responsibilities as well as the
congregation's and YHWH's acceptance of Joshua. Third, cultic usage of
the term "stand before," reinforced by its association with Eleazar and the
congregation, indicated hand-laying was part of a cultic and covenantal
event. Finally, the term "stand before" also gives indication as to where
Joshua's installation ceremony took place. Presentation to priests and
meetings of the congregation generally took place at the tent of meeting.
Thus, Joshua's hand-laying ceremony apparently took place at the
courtyard gate of the tabernacle.
How does the phrase "commission him in their presence" apply to an
33 Deut 6:12; 26:8. Paul R. Gilchrist, "xcAyA (yasa’) go out, come out, go forth," TWOT
34 Horst Dietrich Preuss, "xOB," TDOT (1975), 2:27-30; Elmer Martens, "xOB (bo’) go
in, enter," TWOT (1980), 1:393-394.
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 205
interpretation of laying on of hands? Hand-laying is associated with a
four-part commission, a commission which encouraged Joshua, described
his task, extended YHWH's promise of divine assistance to accomplish
the task, and exhorted him to keep the law. Hand-laying is thus associated
with a commission verbally spoken by a human, but effected by YHWH.
In the implementation of YHWH's orders, Moses stood Joshua
before Eleazar and the congregation, laid hands on him, and gave him a
charge, but made no mention of giving him honor or authority. Why is
this so? An answer to this question leads directly to laying on of hands.
Note first that the four actions associated with "taking" by waw perfect
verbs form the following chiasm:
A And you shall lay your hand on him.
B And you shall stand him before Eleazar the priest and before the
B' And you shall commission him before their eyes.
A' And you shall confer some of your honor on him.
Lines A and A' are linked by the Hebrew word vylAfA (on him) while
lines B and B' are linked by the Hebrew word Otx (him). The divine
command of v. 20 instructed Moses to place some of his honor "on him"
(vylAfA), meaning on Joshua. Use of vylAfA (on him) corresponds by parallelism
directly to the vylAfA (on him) of the hand-laying instruction of v. 18, in
which Moses was to lay his hand "on him" (vylAfA). "Moses thus establishes
a physical conduit for the transfer of his dOh," which is linked by waw
consecutive verbs to standing Joshua before Eleazar and the congregation
as well as to giving him a charge.35 The physical act of laying hands,
combined with public presentation and giving a charge, became the
actions which effectively passed some of Moses' honor to Joshua.
An analysis of waw perfect verbs provides two further observations
about laying on of hands: (1) its priority with respect to the other actions
and (2) its relationship to the other actions in the installation ceremony.
As noted above, normally waw perfect verbs are thought to continue the idea
communicated by the verbal form of the imperative and express its purpose
or a consequent situation. Placing a waw on a perfect gives the verb an
imperfect sense, which expresses a logical succession of actions contingent or
dependent on that which precedes it. The sense of the imperative of v. 18,
"take," continues with each of the following verbs connected to it by the
waw. At the same time a hierarchy is established: first, lay; second, stand;
third, command or charge; and fourth, give. Each command becomes
contingent on the previous. Hence, the primary action of this series of
35 Milgrom, Numbers, 235.
206 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
commands becomes laying, or the laying of Moses' hand on Joshua.
One other syntactic role of the waw conjunctive/consecutive arises
from what Waltke and O'Conner refer to as the "copulative waw" and
Williams as the "waw of accompaniment." In other words, the waw
introduces a clause describing concomitant circumstances which
coordinate with each other.36 In this case, hand-laying would take place
concurrently with presentation, commissioning, and giving some of
Moses' honor. However, even though all activities may take place
concurrently, the activity listed first, or laying on of hands, retains
primary significance in the hierarchy of all the activities. Though primary,
to be effective, laying on of hands must also be accompanied by public
presentation, giving of a charge, and sharing of honor.
One discovers the further importance attached to laying on of hands by
comparing the order of activities in YHWH's command to Moses (vv. 18b-
20a) with Moses' implementation of the command (vv. 22b-23a). The
importance of hand-laying is emphasized by the fact that it was mentioned
first in YHWH's command even though Moses did not physically lay his
hands on Joshua before making Joshua's public presentation. By placing hand-
laying first in the initial instructions to Moses, YHWH declares its primacy
over all the other actions and its importance in the installation of Joshua.
The pericope's conclusion (Section B') provides a second chiasm
emphasizing the importance of laying on of hands.
A And he stood him (UhdemifEyava) before Eleazar the priest and before the
B And he laid his hands on him.
A' And he commissioned him (UhUecay;va).
Lines A and A' are linked in Hebrew by third masculine singular
suffixes attached to the verbs. In the instructions of section A', the
pronoun "him" had been indicated by the Hebrew word ink, but in the
implementation of the instructions, the pronoun is indicated by a suffix.
However, the description of the implementation for laying on of hands
retains the same Hebrew word for "on him" (vylAfA) that had been used in
the instruction of section A'. Laying on of hands falls into the center,
again an indication of its importance.
36 Williams, 83. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor introduce a history of the
controversy wrapped around understanding the conjunction waw. The variety of terms used
to describe the conjugation gives evidence of the struggle to understand it. Hebraists are not
in agreement and have advanced various theories in a fashion something like the proverbial
five blind men examining an elephant. Each of them has described a portion of the beast
accurately, but they differed in their conclusions because they tried to describe the whole by
generalizing from a part (An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns, 1990], 456-457).
JOSHUA'S RECEPTION OF THE LAYING ON OF HANDS 207
Numbers 27:12-23 concludes by, drawing attention to Moses' hand in
a different fashion. Joshua’s installation took place “just as YHWH spoke
by the hand of Moses” (Num 27:23). Two Important concepts are placed
in juxtaposition with each other, the "word" of YHWH with the "hand"
of Moses.37 Throughout Israel's experience, the "word" of God played a
significant role.38 Walter Roehrs observes that the "word of God denotes
the acts of God’s revelation as embodying and charged with all the
characteristics of God. In and by the word, God acts, conveys, and
communicates Himself."39 Because rbADA (word) "posits the reality which it
signifies," rbADA has been used in contexts where in English we use "thing."40
When applied to the divine arena, the “word" of YHWH comes as a
dynamic "something" with its own distinct reality that is an expansion of
YHWH himself, filled with his personal power. And when YHWH's word
comes, it possesses creative power and effects what it signifies, for when
YHWH posits the word-thing, nothing can prevent its emergence.”41 The
OT also treats the "word of YHWH" as an object or bearer of power which
always accomplishes its mission and thus creates history and shapes the
future.42 Because YHWH's "word" has been treated as an object with such
power, the OT invites YHWH’s people to “see” his word.43
By placing Moses' "hand" in juxtaposition with YHWH's "word," Num
27:23 makes a significant statement about Moses' hand. His hand became a
visible representation of YHWH's communication and of YHWH's power.
noted that thirty-one times the OT states that YHWH acted "by the hand of
Moses," it should also be noted that the expression receives limited usage. It
appears to be no accident that the expression was used in this pericope. Moses'
37 For the importance of the "word" (rbADA) of YHWH, see W.H. Schmidt, TDOT (1978):
3:111-125; Earl S. Kalland, "rbaDA (dabar) to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn,
threaten, Sing, etc.," TWOT (1980), 1:178-181; John L. McKenzie, “The Word of God in the
Old Testament," TS 21 (1960): 183-206; and Walter R. Roehrs, "The Theology of the Word
of God in the Old Testament," CTM 32 (1961): 257-273.
38 Especially during the exodus from
each step from Horeb to Canaan, i.e., Deut 1:6; 2:2,18, 31; 3:1; 3:27-28.
39 Roehrs, 264.
40 Lev 5:2; Num 31:23. John L. McKenzie, "The Word of God in the Old Testament,"
Theological Studies 21, (1960):188, 190.
41 Ibid., 196. By the word of YHWH were the heavens made (Pss 19:2-5; 33:6, 9; 147:15-
42 When YHWH's "word" goes out, it will not return empty but will accomplish its
mission (Isa 45:23; 55:10-11).
43 See, for example, Jer 2:31.
208 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)
act of laying his hands on Joshua became a visible enactment of the "word" of
YHWH with all of its attendant concepts of power and ability to create and
effect what it signifies. Thus it becomes clear why, in the list of actions Moses
is to accomplish in the installation of Joshua, the laying on of hands carried
Joshua's reception of hand-laying along with the critical elements of
public presentation, commissioning, and some of Moses' honor was
calculated to have a certain effect. Joshua was to receive something
further--that is, obedience of the whole community. However, receiving such
recognition did not put Joshua on the same plane as Moses, nor did it remove
from Joshua the need of continually seeking YHWH's will. Though hand-
laying carried high importance, it did not place Joshua in such a position that
he could depend on direct access to YHWH for all of his leadership decisions.
Joshua was to seek YHWH's will by standing before the high priest, Eleazar,
who in turn was to seek that will through use of the Urim. But once Joshua
ascertained YHWH's will, the congregation was to follow his directions.
Numbers 27:12-23 clarifies the importance of hand-laying in Joshua's
installation. The gesture is primary in the procedure and results in the
congregation's obedience. Did the gesture in any way change Joshua? A
careful study of Deut 34:9 will provide an answer.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com