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Joshua Is Appointed Leader Three Times: But Is He in Charge?

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https://thetorah.com/article/joshua-is-appointed-leader-three-times-but-is-he-in-charge

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Zev Farber

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Joshua Is Appointed Leader Three Times: But Is He in Charge?

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Joshua Is Appointed Leader Three Times: But Is He in Charge?

Before Moses dies, he requests a leader who will “come and go” before the people. God’s response is clear: appoint Joshua. However, as the narrative continues, God says that Joshua himself will “come and go” at the word of Elazar the priest. And this is only one of three accounts in the Torah in which Joshua is appointed leader. 

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Joshua Is Appointed Leader Three Times: But Is He in Charge?

Moses Giving the Charge to Joshua. Die Bibel in Bildern by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1860

As a consequence of their sin at Mei Meribah, God tells Moses and Aaron that they will die in the wilderness and will not enter the land (Num 20:12-13). At the next stop after Mei Meribah, at Mount Hor, God gives the instruction that Aaron should go up the mountain and die. Moses goes up with Aaron and Elazar, Aaron’s oldest surviving son, and Aaron hands over the priestly garments to his son who will be his successor and dies (Num 20:22-29).

In Numbers 27, upon arrival at Mount Abarim, God tells Moses to go up the mountain see the land and then die. Unlike God’s command about Aaron, however, God does not tell Moses who his successor will be. Moses reacts in panic[1] and requests a successor be appointed before he dies. God then informs Moses that his successor will be Joshua, and that he should stand him before Elazar the priest and the people and appoint him, which Moses does. This is, however, only one of three places in the Torah in which Joshua is appointed.

Joshua’s Appointments in Deuteronomy

In his farewell address in Deuteronomy (31:1-8), Moses introduces Joshua as the Israelite’s new leader (vv. 7-8).

Moses Appoints Joshua before the People

 ז וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לְעֵינֵי כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְ-הֹוָה לַאֲבֹתָם לָתֵת לָהֶם וְאַתָּה תַּנְחִילֶנָּה אוֹתָם: ח וַי-הֹוָה הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ לְפָנֶיךָ הוּא יִהְיֶה עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ לֹא תִירָא וְלֹא תֵחָת:
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that Yhwh has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. 8 It is Yhwh who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”[2]

Elazar is completely absent here.[3]

God Appoints Joshua in the Tent of Meeting

The same holds true of the scene later in the same chapter in which God appoints Joshua:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה הֵן קָרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת קְרָא אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַאֲצַוֶּנּוּ וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. טו וַיֵּרָא יְ-הֹוָה בָּאֹהֶל בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן וַיַּעֲמֹד עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן עַל פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל. // כג וַיְצַו אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תָּבִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָהֶם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ.
14 Yhwh said to Moses, “Your time to die is near; call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, so that I may commission him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting, 15 and Yhwh appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud; the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance to the tent. // 23 Then Yhwh commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”

Here Joshua is appointed directly by God at the Tent of Meeting, privately, rather than in front of the entire congregation, with only Moses and Joshua in attendance. God tells Joshua that he will lead the people into the land and that God will be with him. Here too Elazar, or any priestly figure, is absent.[4]

Joshua’s Three Appointments and the Documentary Hypothesis

The above three scenes overlap with each other and seem unaware of each other’s existence. Each one seems to be a self-standing description of the appointment of Joshua. Source critical scholars have attributed each scene to a different source (P, D, and E).[5]

  • Joshua Appointed at Moses Request (Num 27) – The scene in Numbers, which begins with God telling Moses that he will die because of the sin in Mei Meribah, comes from P. The scene includes Elazar as a prominent character and refers to the people as עדה, the preferred term in Priestly texts.[6]

  • Moses Presents Joshua to the People in his Final Speech (Deut 31:7-8) – The first scene in Deuteronomy 31, which has Moses present Joshua to the people, is part of the genre of Moses farewell speech and comes from the D source.

  • God Appoints Joshua Directly – The second scene in Deuteronomy 31, which describes God appearing in a pillar of cloud (and E motif) while Joshua stands before the Tent of Meeting (a term that appears nowhere else in Deuteronomy), continues the description of Joshua in that source, as someone who remains in the Tent (Exod 33:11) and comes from the E source.[7]

Moses’ Conception of the Next Leader

A careful look at the Priestly text’s appointment-of-Joshua scene in Numbers brings out a dissonance that exists between Moses’ conception of the job of the next leader and God’s. Fearing that God will not appoint a successor, and that the people will be lost and leaderless,[8] Moses asks God to appoint a leader with the following characteristics:[9]

  • Who shall go out before them and come in before them (אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם)
  • Who shall lead them out and bring them in (וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם)

This is similar to the description of what David did as he began to become famous and popular among the people as a successful military commander (1Sam 18:16):

וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וִיהוּדָ֔ה אֹהֵ֖ב אֶת דָּוִ֑ד כִּֽי ה֛וּא יוֹצֵ֥א וָבָ֖א לִפְנֵיהֶֽם:
All Israel and Judah loved David, for he goes out and comes in before them.

The phrase לצאת ולבוא, “to go out and come in,” has military connotations, referring to a leader leads his people in battle. This works well as a description of Joshua’s and David’s careers as described in the Bible.

Moses’ request and depiction of a leader seems clear, especially in context. The conquest of the Transjordan just occurred in chapter 20 and the Israelites are poised to enter a land filled with militant inhabitants and they will need someone to lead them in battle.

God’s Complicated Structure for the Future Leadership

God responds to Moses’ request but the organization of leadership that God envisions is more complex than Moses imagined: 

יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה קַח לְךָ אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶת יָדְךָ עָלָיו: יט וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְלִפְנֵי כָּל הָעֵדָה וְצִוִּיתָה אֹתוֹ לְעֵינֵיהֶם: כ וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: כאוְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן יַעֲמֹד וְשָׁאַל לוֹ בְּמִשְׁפַּט הָאוּרִים לִפְנֵי יְ-הֹוָה עַל פִּיו יֵצְאוּ וְעַל פִּיו יָבֹאוּ הוּא וְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִתּוֹ וְכָל הָעֵדָה:
18 So Yhwh said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him; 19 have him stand before Elazar the priest and all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. 20 You shall give him some of your splendor, so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey. 21 He shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the decision of the Urim before Yhwh; at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the Israelites with him, the whole congregation.”

God’s response begins with what seems like a clear answer to Moses’ request — appoint Joshua as the leader. But then the verse continues and Moses is told that Joshua will not really be the leader in a full sense since he will stand before Elazar the high priest. At first this sounds merely like a ritual requirement, something akin to the modern day benediction at a presidential inauguration, but the continuation of the passage belies this reading.

In verse 21, God uses the same expression as Moses, “to go in and come out,” but instead of Joshua (the appointed leader) going out and coming in before the people as their leader, or the people following Joshua in and out, the people will go out and come in before Elazar the priest and so will Joshua. Elazar, in turn, will issue commands only after making use of the Urim oracle, meaning that God will be directly in charge of all decisions.

The section ends with Moses fulfilling God’s command and performing the ritual as required (vv. 22-23).[10]

The Priestly Version of Joshua’s Appointment

Given the important place Elazar holds in the narrative, it is likely that the account in Numbers is the Priestly version of Joshua’s appointment. By making Joshua subservient to Elazar, the author puts the high priest in pride of place, above any other “governmental authority” like a king or a governor. Moreover, by making it appear as if only Elazar could have access to divine knowledge, through the Urim, Joshua’s standing as a prophet is severely limited. This all strengthens the place of the priest in comparison with the prophet.

  • Bearing this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the discontinuity between Moses’ request and God’s answer, and see if we can explain why the text reads awkwardly.

  • In v. 18, God tells Moses to appoint Joshua in what sounds like a private ceremony (no other people are mentioned at this point), yet in the next verses (19-20) he is told to have a public ceremony. Why the doubling?

  • If Moses places his hands on Joshua in v. 18, what is he accomplishing in v. 20 when he gives some of his glory to Joshua. Are these not identical acts?

  • What does the requirement “to command Joshua in the people’s presence” mean in context? It doesn’t connect in a clear way to the theme of granting Joshua some of Moses’ glory.

  • The text states that Joshua will stand before Elazar twice (vv. 19 and 21).

  • The meaning of verse 21 is unclear. Are the people supposed to come in and go out at Elazar’s word directly, as the grammar implies? If so, of what use is Joshua—he isn’t even a middleman! If not, then why doesn’t the verse state clearly, in the singular, that Joshua will go out and come in before Elazar and the people will go out and come in at Joshua’s word?

  • The description of Joshua going out and coming in before Elazar is very awkward. The plural command “they will go out and come in before him [Elazar]” is followed by the attempt to force Joshua into that rubric “he and all of the Israelites.” Why not just write “Joshua and the Israelites will go out and come in before him” and drop all the verbiage?

  • The ending of verse 21 is even more awkward. Having already established that the people will go out and come in before Elazar (together with Joshua), the verse says it again twice, “both he and all the Israelites with himand the whole congregation.”

A Redaction Critical Solution to the Account in Numbers

Academic scholars have a number of methods they use to understand how the Torah was put together. One method is source criticism, which is based on the idea that the redactor combined multiple complete, largely independent sources to form the text as we have it. Since the redactor tried to keep the original phrasing the each text as true to the original as he believed possible, the seams between the texts and the inconsistencies in language and storyline remain visible to the careful reader.

The most famous hypothesis based on the source critical method is the Documentary Hypothesis, and, as we saw above, it offers a good explanation for why the Torah contains three different versions of Joshua’s appointment.[11] Nevertheless, source criticism on its own, does not seem to hold promise for solving the internal problems of Numbers 27.

Redaction criticism posits that the editor or redactor would add material, like explanatory glosses or other changes, into the text. Thus, instead of a unit being comprised of various complete sources, it is comprised of one or more stories to which material was added—this material does not read as a complete source. This method seems the most promising for explaining the development of the appointment of Joshua in Numbers 27.

A Doubly Redacted Text

The text in Numbers was redacted twice. I will first offer a schematic look at the layers of the text and then discuss the meaning and possible purpose of each layer.

  1. Layer 1 – standard print
  2. Layer 2 – indent and bold
  3. Layer 3 – double indent and italics
טו וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְ-הֹוָה לֵאמֹר: טזיִפְקֹד יְ-הֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה: יז אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם וְלֹא תִהְיֶה עֲדַת יְ-הֹוָה כַּצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר אֵין לָהֶם רֹעֶה:
15 Moses spoke to Yhwh, saying, 16 “Let Yhwh, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of Yhwh may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה קַח לְךָ אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶת יָדְךָ עָלָיו:
18 So Yhwh said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him;
יט וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֹתוֹ
19 have him stand
לִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְ
before Elazar the priest and
לִפְנֵי כָּל הָעֵדָה וְצִוִּיתָה אֹתוֹ לְעֵינֵיהֶם:
before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight.
כ וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו
20 You shall give him some of your splendor,
לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey.
כא וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן יַעֲמֹד וְשָׁאַל לוֹ בְּמִשְׁפַּט הָאוּרִים לִפְנֵי יְ-הֹוָה
21 He shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the decision of the Urim before Yhwh;
עַל פִּיו יֵצְאוּ וְעַל פִּיו יָבֹאוּ
at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in—
הוּא וְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִתּוֹ וְ
both he and all the Israelites with him, and
כָל הָעֵדָה:
the whole congregation.”

Layer 1 – The Primary Layer

The primary layer of the text reads well and is a direct response to Moses’ request: 

טו וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְ-הֹוָה לֵאמֹר: טזיִפְקֹד יְ-הֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָהיז אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם וְלֹא תִהְיֶה עֲדַת יְ-הֹוָה כַּצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר אֵין לָהֶם רֹעֶה:
15 Moses spoke to Yhwh, saying, 16 “Let Yhwh, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation 17  who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of Yhwh may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה קַח לְךָ אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶת יָדְךָ עָלָיו: // כ וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו// עַל פִּיו יֵצְאוּ וְעַל פִּיו יָבֹאוּ // כָלהָעֵדָה:
18 So Yhwh said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him; // 20 You shall give him some of your splendor, // at his word shall go out, and at his word shall come in // the whole congregation.”

In this text, Moses complains that there will be no one to go out and come in before the congregation (עדה) and God responds by telling Moses to appoint Joshua. The man already has spirit; adding to this, Moses will put his hands on Joshua’s head and give him some of his own glory and the congregation will go out and come in at his word. The ceremony is private, just as the ceremony with Elazar and Aaron is done in private.

Layer 2 – The Public Ceremony

The first major addition to this text appears to be a verse that turned the ceremony from private to public.

*וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי כָּל הָעֵדָה וְצִוִּיתָה אֹתוֹ לְעֵינֵיהֶם
*have him stand before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight.
*לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
*so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey. 

This layer contains two additions to the text, each with the same basic thrust: the ceremony of the appointment of Joshua was public and not private in order for the Israelites to see it and agree to follow Joshua. Perhaps this redaction was made in reaction to the D text, which envisions a public ceremony.[12] If the people are to follow Joshua, shouldn’t this be announced publicly and marked in some sort of ceremony?

Layer 3 – The Elazar Redaction

This final layer includes one main redaction and two derivative redactions. The main redaction comes in verse 21:

וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן יַעֲמֹד וְשָׁאַל לוֹ בְּמִשְׁפַּט הָאוּרִים לִפְנֵי יְ-הֹוָה.
He shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the decision of the Urim before Yhwh;

This verse establishes the hierarchy as Joshua reporting to Elazar and Elazar in communion with God by way of the Urim. This addition required the redactor to add two further adjustments. First, in verse 19 he added Elazar into the verse about Joshua standing before the people, to make it clear that Joshua would also have to stand before Elazar. This addition brought about the double reference to standing before Elazar. Moreover, the redactor did not add any further details about what Elazar would be doing during this ceremony.

Finally, because the redactor reimagined the words of “they will go out and come in by his word” to be a reference to Elazar and not Joshua, he had to add in the end of the verse that Joshua would also be going in and coming out at Elazar’s word, and this led him to add the awkward phrase “both he and all the Israelites with him.”[13]

Conclusion – Why Elazar?

According to the model suggested above, the three references to Joshua’s inauguration stem from three separate sources. These sources did not necessarily remain in a pristine condition, but later redactors added material to them. In this piece we concentrated on the Priestly text in Numbers 27, and noted that the latest redaction concentrated on adding Elazar into the hierarchy in a way that placed him above in Joshua.

Most scholars believe that the Priestly text in its final form dates from the Second Temple period, though it may incorporate some First Temple material. During the Persian period, the province of Judea was ruled both by a governor appointed by the Persians and a high priest.[14] It seems likely that the interest in placing Elazar in such a prominent role in comparison to Joshua could be linked to the desire to place the high priest in position of authority—at least religious authority—in comparison with whatever government official may have been the titular leader of Judea. Thus, the Priestly text become even more “priestly” as time went on. 

Published

July 7, 2015

|

Last Updated

November 17, 2019

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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter, BZAW 457) and the editor of Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid).