Andrews University Seminary Studies 39.2 (Autumn 2001) 191-208.

Copyright © 2001 Andrews University Press, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon College]








Andrews, University


            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 (Gottingen:

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 (Manchester: Manchester

University Press, 1950), 2; Paul Galtier, "Imposition des mains," Dictionnaire de theologie

catholique (1927), 7:1304; H. Revel, "Ordination," Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (1939),

8:318; Everett Ferguson, "Ordination in the Ancient Church, Part 1, " Restoration Quarterly

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, Die Handauflegung im Urchristentum (Leipzig: A. Deichertsche

Verlagbuchhandlung, 1911; reprint, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968),

142; Joseph Coppens, L'imposition des mains et les rites connexes dans le Nouveau Testament

et dans l'Eglise ancienne (paris: Gabalda, 1925), 162-163; Frank Gavin, The Jewish Antecedents

of the Christian Sacraments (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1928;

reprint, New York: Ktav, 1969), 103; Lohse, Die Ordination, 101; and R. Alan Culpepper,

"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. Israel had arrived on the plains of Moab and was

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

Deuteronomy 34:9" (Ph.D. dissertation, Andrews University, 1997), 15-21.



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

       v. 12a

    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 mountain of Abarim

    and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel.

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

    the congregation,

   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 Israel.

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

     His word they shall come in, he and all the sons of Israel

     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

commissioned him

     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

indicating how Israel's next leader is to be installed. It is interesting to

note that the waw perfect construction expresses a series of actions





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 Israel are to listen to him. Finally,

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 9:13; 10:3), when announcing

YHWH's will for Israel to leave Egypt (Exod 11:4), and when Moses dealt with the rebellion

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 Israel's next leader. Third, the imperative "take" initiated

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

Joshua was a spirited man? The answer is yes to both questions. First, Leon

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 11:16-28) 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, Numbers Bemidbar, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia:

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),

1:707-708; Julius H. Greenstone, Numbers, with Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish

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 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1983), 256-257; O. J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon-

Cokesbury, 1949),39-42.

10 Leon J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,




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 Israel into the Promised Land.

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

invading Canaan. Though Joshua's spirit is not specifically mentioned in the discussion of

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

Dicken [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966], 3-7).


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

congregation of Israel out and back in. In section A', YHWH responded by

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 Israel, then "laid" hands on him. By placing hand-laying

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 14:11), two goats are presented before YHWH (Lev 16:7), the scapegoat is


had the dual purpose of giving him to the congregation and doing so in a

judicial setting which established that Joshua was legally Israel's next

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 16:10), 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; 8:13), a suspected adulteress is presented by the priest or her husband before

YHWH for judgment (Num 5:16, 18, 30). See Ashley, 552-553, where he lists ten of the

eleven occurrences.

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 6:20); 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

(Esth 5:1-2).

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 Israel's worship of and maintaining contact with YHWH. The

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 Israel's leadership. With this reminder, Joshua's

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 3:21-28; 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 Jordan

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


20 Milton C. Fisher, "NtanA (natan) give," TWOT (1980), 2:608-609. Because of its

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."



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 11:16-27), 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

Moses "tradition primarily took place in Jerusalem under the kings, who adopted Moses to be the

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. (Toronto:

University of Toronto Press, 1976),324.

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 (London: Shapiro, Valentine,

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"

("Numbers," 2:946).

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 Israel." YHWH reminded Moses

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 Jordan and the conquest of Jericho, priests


25 See Gen 3:17; 1 Kgs 22:19; Ps 81:11[12]. 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 4:23), 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.

28 Jos.h.1:17-18.

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



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 Egypt,

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; 10:12-

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;

8:18; 11:6; 13:1-7; cf. 5:14-15) 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 9:14). Second, whenever Joshua is

mentioned with Eleazar, Eleazar's name appears first, implying a dependency upon him (Josh

14:1; 19:51; 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; 19:51; 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,

A.R.S. Kennedy, Leviticus and Numbers, NCB (New York: Henry Frowde, n. d.), 346; George B.

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.

204                             SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (AUTUMN 2001)



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

(1980), 1:393-394.

34 Horst Dietrich Preuss, "xOB," TDOT (1975), 2:27-30; Elmer Martens, "xOB (bo’) go

in, enter," TWOT (1980), 1:393-394.




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).





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.

Moses' hand enabled Israel to see the "word" of YHWH. While it should be

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 Egypt when the word of YHWH moved Israel at

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-

18; 148:8).

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

primary significance.

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.





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