The LORD told Moses that his time to die had drawn near. Moses did not object, but he expressed his concern for those he would leave behind. He implored, “Appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17). The LORD told him to lay hands on Joshua the son of Nun to designate him as his successor.
The mystics interpret Moses’ request as a prayer for the coming of the Messiah: “Moses our teacher asked for the kingdom of David and the Messiah—that he would come to be the redeemer and redeem Israel from the exile.”
From a Messianic Jewish perspective, the story has obvious Messianic implications that point toward Yeshua of Nazareth. The appointment of Yehoshua as “the man over the congregation” alludes to the appointment of his namesake, Yehoshua of Nazareth, the Messiah and King of Israel, the head over the assembly.
The LORD took some of the Spirit that rested on Moses and He bestowed it upon Joshua. This solved the problem temporarily. Joshua, however, was destined to die a generation later, leaving Israel like sheep without a shepherd once again. The petition of Moses, “Appoint a man over the congregation,” could not be fulfilled in perpetuity until God appointed a shepherd who would not succumb to death. Yeshua (who is named after Joshua) is the man that God has appointed over the congregation of Israel.
The term “man over the congregation” invokes several apostolic passages about the Messiah and His assembly. For example, Paul says, “The man is the head of the woman even as Messiah is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). The English word “church” mistranslates the Greek word for “assembly” or “congregation.” “He is also head of the body, the congregation” (Colossians 1:18). Peter told the congregation of Israel assembled in the Temple that “Yeshua [is] the Messiah appointed for you” (Acts 3:20). He is “a Man whom [God] has appointed” (Acts 17:3) and “the One who has been appointed by God.” (Acts 10:42).
Moses appoints Joshua over Israel, foreshadowing the ultimate man appointed by God over the nation. Both Joshua and Yeshua serve as the successors of Moses who bring fulfillment to the promises of God.