Thirty-eight years is a long time to take getting somewhere (Deut. 2:14). You could just ask anyone in the unfaithful generation of people whom God brought to the edge of the Promised Land the first time under Moses—if they were still alive, that is (Num. 14:22-23, 32-35). But there are two men and their families who were allowed to enter because they proved faithful even when all others were faithless: Caleb and Joshua/Yeshua (Deut. 1:35-40). In particular, the text emphasizes Joshua as the one who “shall cause Israel to inherit [the land]” (v.38).
Up until Numbers 20, the reader has likely assumed that it would most certainly be Moses that led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Why wouldn’t it be? It was Moses who was chosen by and spoke to Yahweh personally in Exodus 3. It was Moses who spoke to God regularly face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11). It was Moses through whom God performed great signs in Egypt, astounding slave and royalty alike, as proof that Yahweh was the unmatched sovereign over all creation. It would only stand to reason that this greatest of all prophets—the savior of Israel—would be the one to lead the people into the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey.
But, alas, the early savior of Israel is only a pointer to the latter and greater Savior of the world. Moses cannot lead the people into the earthly Promised Land any more than he can lead them into a spiritual Promised Land. He can only show the way. He is flawed. He succumbs to the common plight of unfaithfulness and failure to treat God as holy as many good men before and after him (Deut. 32:51). Because of this, he will only be able to see into the Promised Land from the final geographic locale of his life but he will not be able to lead God’s people into the gloriousness of their new future home, himself (Deut. 32:52; 34:1, 5).
Yet the hopes of the reader are not dashed. He (we) has a knowledge of whom he is to look to as Moses’ successor. Deuteronomy 18:18-19 speaks very specifically to how this void will be filled. It will be with a (1) prophet like [Moses], (2) an Israelite, (3) whose words will be directly from God, as were Moses’, (4) who will speak to the people all God commands, (5) and any disobedience to whose words—as they come from God—will result in God’s reckoning with the one who fails to obey. This prophet would be great indeed to live up to such lofty standards set by the one who would remain not just the first, but the greatest of all Israel’s leaders for well over a millennium. Even the people of Jesus’ day still awaited “the Prophet” that might possibly fit the bill seen in Deuteronomy 18:18 (John 1:21; 6:14; 7:40). Certainly, those very people will see the prediction fulfilled in spades through signs, wonders, and a greater redemption from captivity than could have possibly been imagined before its fulfillment was ultimately experienced. Let the “Hallelujah!”s resound!
But before leap-frogging too quickly over the sixth (let alone seventh through thirty-ninth) book of holy Scripture, we are still left with a rather obvious question: what about historical context? Who did the people of Israel get to lead them into their Promised Land after Moses? The answer: Why, Yeshua, i.e., Joshua, of course.
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was a man who remained at the tabernacle, even when his predecessor was away (Ex. 33:11). It is the later Yeshua (Jesus) who is noted as having a ministry greater than all who came before him as priests for he is the one who always lives to intercede on our behalf in the presence of the Father (Heb. 7:25).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was a man appointed specifically by God to lead the chosen people (Num. 27:16-17). Likewise, the later Yeshua receives a specific calling on his life from God to be the one through whom the Father will lead His people to their ultimate salvation (Matt. 1:21; 17:5; Luke 1:35; 4:18-21; John 17:4).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses would keep the people from becoming like sheep without a shepherd (Num. 27:17). It is the later Yeshua that recognizes the people are like sheep without a shepherd, feeding and protecting them (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34; John 10:7-18).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was a man on whom was the Spirit of God (Num. 27:18). The later Yeshua is a man on whom God’s Spirit rests, accomplishing the purposes for which the Savior has been set apart (Luke 4:18,21; John 1:32).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses would go into the Promised Land ahead of God’s people (Deut. 31:3). The later Yeshua would go ahead of God’s people, both into death and the resurrection to life (John 14:2-3; 1 Cor. 15:20).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses put the people of God in possession of the new kingdom and all that came with it (Deut. 31:7). The later Yeshua causes people to understand and receive the Kingdom of God which can only be received through him (Luke 10:22; John 16:14-15, 23; Eph. 2:6-7).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses will have authority over every place that his foot treads upon, even as Moses did (Josh. 1:3). The later Yeshua would have all things put under his feet as he becomes crowned King of all creation (1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:22).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was a man before whom no man could stand (Josh. 1:5). The later Yeshua had understanding and authority far above any of his contemporaries and, ultimately, they became silent in his presence, unable to give an answer to his superior reasoning and questioning (Mark 1:22; 3:4; 12:34; Luke 2:46; 20:26; 21:15). The spirit enemies of the new Kingdom were equally impotent in the presence of the later Yeshua, having their every enticement refused, begging for mercy and being driven away with only a word from his mouth (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 8:16; Mark 5:7, 10).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was a man whom God accompanied unfailingly, always being available and attentive, even as he was for Moses (Josh. 1:5; 3:7). The later Yeshua was and is intimately connected to the Father in heaven and where one is present, so the other is fully concomitant (John 5:19; 10:30; 14:9; 17:11; Col. 2:9).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses caused God’s people to inherit all their fathers were promised by God (Josh. 1:6). Through the later Yeshua, all God’s promises are fully realized and the extent of blessing among his children is finally revealed (2 Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:11, 14, 18-19; Col. 2:3; 3:24; Heb. 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses was told he would prosper in his leadership unfailingly so long as he kept the Law of God faithfully (Josh. 1:7-8). The later Yeshua kept and fulfilled God’s law perfectly, bringing about the fruition of God’s great plan as written since the time of Moses (Luke 24:44; John 1:1; 15:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). In the words of James Jordan, Jesus, the New Joshua, says the same thing when He says that He does nothing except what the Father has told Him to do (John 5:19ff.)” ((James Jordan, Thirty-Eight Years by the Sheep Pool, (December, 2000).))
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses began his days of leadership with a three-day period of preparation before guiding the people into the Promised Land and leading them in victory over all their enemies (Josh. 1:11; 3:2). The later Yeshua was dead in a tomb for three days before being raised up in victory over death and fullness of power to lead God’s people into their spiritual Promised Land (Matt. 12:40; 17:23; Mark 8:31; 10:34; Luke 24:46; Acts 10:40).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses received the people’s complete allegiance upon entrance into the Promised Land. Failure to dedicate oneself fully to Yeshua’s leadership would result in death (Josh. 1:19). The later Yeshua is to receive full allegiance of all who will enjoy the glories of eternal life in God’s Kingdom lest they be condemned to the second death (1 Cor. 15:27; Phil. 2:10; Heb. 2:8; Rev. 5:9-14; 21:8).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses called twelve men to set up stones that would serve as witnesses to what God had done on the day Yeshua first led the people into the Promised Land (Josh. 4:2). The later Yeshua called twelve men to be his specially commissioned witnesses to the world, proclaiming his eternal kingship and the ever-extending Kingdom of God (Matt. 10:1-2; Mark 3:14; Luke 9:1-2; Acts 1:8).
The Yeshua who succeeded Moses performed a new circumcision on the people who crossed over into the Promised Land under his leadership (Josh. 5:2-3). The later Yeshua performs a circumcision on all who enter into the Kingdom of God under his kingship (Col. 2:11-12).
A great deal of other connections between the former and latter Yeshuas have been made which are convincing and far-reaching in their implications. These are here presented in simple form to once again remind the biblical reader that every word of the text is as filled with import and expectation as early Christ-followers, as well as Church Fathers, believed. The serious reading of even the final few chapters of Deuteronomy and the first few of Joshua can reveal abundant information about Jesus and the glorious ministry of liberation and fulfillment his leadership accomplishes ((Peter Leithart, Joshua’s Jubilee), January 19, 2009)).
A final note to add before closing that may bring a bit of new light to the subject for many comes with a closer look at the name of Joshua’s/Yeshua’s father. In fact, Joshua’s father is the only “Nun” named Scripture. The name is defined as “fish” or “posterity,” essentially. What kind of name is “Fish,” anyway? Are we to take something from this strange moniker and the fact that Joshua—the new Moses who so clearly prefigures Jesus—is so closely tied to the name of this one-and-only Nun throughout Scripture? We are reminded of the connection some twenty-nine times, after all.
In fact, the Hebrew word of the same spelling is used only one time in scripture, in Psalm 72:17. In speaking of Israel’s king, the psalmist states: “May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” With the translation continue, the ESV has sought to capture the ongoing and ever-increasing sense of the term.
As with many terms in Hebrew, different seeming definitions for the same word can often be linked through a closer look at what is being implied rather than the strict term as defined with a simple surface reading. This word is no different.
The single use we have in the Bible of the term outside of the name of Joshua’s father is clear contextually in its meaning of “greatly increase” or “continue.” No such connection of nun in Hebrew to simply the word “fish” has been made, though it is possible that a Syrian or Chaldean root (nuna) may have this correlation (Nun,). In Hebrew, however, “posterity” and “offspring” are clear definitions, either of which can easily be paired with “increase” or “continuation” since to have offspring is to increase and to continue one’s name and family line.
We would humbly propose that the connective tissue is not so much to be found with the animal, itself, as with what the animal does ((See Hebrew name translation explanation and rationale, To Be Is To Do by Abarim Publications)). Fish lay eggs, and not only a few, but often thousands (some, millions) in a season! The translation should not point to the fish, per se, but to what the fish does—it multiplies, and that in masse, to put it mildly. This fits perfectly with the widely acknowledged Hebrew definition, posterity.
Returning to Joshua, the son of Nun, of whom virtually every detail of his life is a pointer to the later and better Yeshua to come, and to his father who is the only “Nun” in scripture, we find that Joshua, far from being the son of Fish, is instead the son of the One Who Increases, or One Who Multiplies Offspring. Surely, the pointer to Jesus is heard clearly though this oft-used title which speaks not of simple connection to a water creature, but in connection to a Father whose desire and ability to produce offspring is both abundant and continual. Through this, we find not simply a name but a destiny for all of humankind, being brought into the household of the Father who multiplies offspring perpetually and whose Son’s fame will only continue to increase.
The early Yeshua points to the latter, to be sure. In nuances that we are likely yet to discover, the story of Israel’s first battle general is a blinking neon sign alight with the name of the one whose war is already won. As we enter the Promised Land behind our faithful Savior whose actions blaze a trail for all who would follow his lead, we are confident of the victory that has already been secured for us through his blood and the peace that comes to our hearts because of unswerving devotion to his Father’s cause. Through this, we know we are his children for we have been made such by the only Son who could ever secure our peace through His victory won in surrender.
Eric Robinson lives in Lubbock, Texas, and is the author of Jesus in the Shadows and Over Our Heads: Meeting Jesus in the Layers of Scripture