Messianic Education Trust
(Num 25:11 - 30:1(29:40))

B'Midbar/Numbers 27:16-17   Let the L-rd ... appoint a man over the assembly ... and do not let the assembly of the L-rd be like a flock for whom there is no shepherd.

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View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

These words are spoken by Moshe, immediately after The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem tells him that he will shortly be gathered to his people, a common euphemism for dying. Following the incident at Meribah, where Moshe and Aharon struck the rock to bring out water for the people rather than speaking to it as instructed, Aharon has already died (B'Midbar 20:22-29) and Moshe is similarly shortly to die, although a few battles and the book of D'varim are still to happen first. Instead of the human response that might have been expected, Moshe's first thought is for the people; who will lead them and look after them: "Let the L-RD, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the L-RD's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd" (B'Midbar 27:16-17, JPS). The middle provides a functional job description for Moshe's successor, but two jussive verbs form the two active brackets for this text. is the Qal prefix 3ms form of the verb , a root with a wide range of meanings: visit, punish, muster and here, appoint; "let him appoint". is the Qal prefix 3fs form of the verb , to be; "let her be". The ancient rabbis comment that Moshe "exemplified the merit of the righteous who at the time of their death do not concern themselves with their personal deeds but with the needs of the community" (Sifre 138). However the Midrash regards Moshe's initiative with less favour, putting this response in HaShem's mouth: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: ... 'Instead of charging Me to attend to My sons, command My sons about Me'" (B'Midbar Rabbah 21:2).

Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch points out that Moshe is making good sense. "G-d knows where to find the right man to be the successor of Moshe; let Him appoint him. For even if there is no longer a necessity for Moshe and Aharon to remain, it still requires a man to carry out the divine mission which is now to be realised." The word is most frequently translated 'man', but Gunther Plaut, following the JPS translation 'envoy', suggests that "the story line evokes the occasional sense of as 'appointed agent'." Here, he says, "[the] noun is relational; it denotes an affiliation." The book of D'varim explicitly refers to "Moshe the man of God" (D'varim 33:1), and both the prophet Elijah and Elisha are later to be addressed as "man of G-d" (1 Kings 17:18, 2 Kings 4:7), making the relationship clear. Joshua is to be both G-d's appointed agent and the "man of G-d" in his generation.

From the time of leaving Egypt, Moshe has been in the role of shepherd (under G-d) to Israel. This is commemorated in a number of texts, such as: "Then He remembered the days of old, of Moshe and His people. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put in the midst of them His Holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:11, ESV) and "You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moshe and Aharon" (Psalm 77:20, ESV). Now, Moshe is concerned that without another leadership figure who will fill that role as a shepherd, walking before the people, that Israel will be "like a flock without a shepherd" and be scattered or dispersed. This picture also re-appears in later Hebrew Scripture texts: "[Micaiah, the prophet] said, 'I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the L-RD said, "These have no master; let each return to his home in peace"'" (1 Kings 22:17, ESV) and "So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them" (Ezekiel 34:5-6, ESV). Jacob Milgrom comments that "Both this image and the preceding one are reworked in a description of David: 'When Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel in war; and the L-rd said to you: "You shall shepherd My people Israel"' (2 Samuel 5:2 and 1 Chronicles 11:2, ESV). Thus the image of David is forged along the Mosaic model." It is also used in the Greek Scriptures: "When [Yeshua] went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34, ESV).

Yeshua Himself is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), fulfilling both the vision of the prophets: "And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the L-RD, in the majesty of the name of the L-RD His G-d. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:4, ESV) and the Davidic image: "And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd" (Ezekiel 34:23, ESV). Yeshua has delegated the role of shepherds to leaders within His church: "And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11, ESV). Notice how the ESV has translated the Greek word , 'shepherds', instead of the more traditional 'pastors' which comes from the word used in the Latin Vulgate 'pastores', which used to mean "someone who fed or grazed sheep or cattle", but didn't take on the Christian 'ministry' meaning until the 14th century1. Peter uses the same vocabulary to demonstrate that elders2 are to take on this shepherding responsibility within the church: "I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of G-d that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:1-3, ESV). and Rav Sha'ul tells Titus, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" (Titus 1:5, ESV); every town, every church is to have elders who shepherd the people.

But what does this involve? Rav Sha'ul lists the qualification for elders in his letters to Timothy and Titus, but what does the shepherd do? Rabbi Hirsch provides the answer: "A man is required who is in the forefront, going about as an example for public and private life, and generally by his influence bringing the people to faithfully fulfill all public and private duties - the activity of a shepherd is devoted to the thriving and welfare of the flock." This echoes Peter's comments about oversight and being an example, but emphasis the motivation of the shepherd in a helpful way. Unlike the shepherds described by Jeremiah, who are "dull and did not seek the L-RD; therefore they have not prospered and all their flock is scattered" (Jeremiah 10:21, JPS), or by Ezekiel, who "tended themselves instead of tending the flock" (Ezekiel 34:8, JPS), leaders in the Body of Messiah - from clergy and house-group leaders in churches and parishes, to teachers and theologians in colleges and seminaries - are to be concerned with the good of the flock, of those whom G-d has placed in their care, rather than their own careers, businesses and well-being. That is not to say, of course, that those in full or part-time work should not be paid an appropriate salary, for "the worker is worthy of his support" (Matthew 10:10, NASB), but that the work of the kingdom must be carried out faithfully and honestly to serve the people, not just to earn a wage.

Those in churches and congregations where there is transition in leadership, or no effective leadership should cry out to the L-rd in the same words as Moshe: "Let the L-rd appoint the right man, lest the people be like sheep without a shepherd" (B'Midbar 27:16-17, my paraphrase). Do not give up or settle for the wrong man - however convenient that may be, or however desperate you may feel - for that will block the work that the L-rd wants to do in your midst. Those seeking or being called into a position of leadership should cry out in the same way, putting the interests of the flock before their own, however attractive the post or the salary may be, lest you block the work that the L-rd wants to do among His people.

1. - The same Latin word 'pastores' is also used, for example, in "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:20, ESV), where it is clearly the correct translation.

2. - A minister, pastor, vicar or clergyman is a specific instance of an elder.

Further Study: John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; Matthew 20:25-28

Application: If your church or congregation is in leadership transition, why not get together with others in the fellowship and use Moshe's words as your prayer for G-d to appoint His man into your situation. Then be ready to act upon His response, for answer He most certainly will!

© Jonathan Allen, 2014

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