SynopsisIn this passage, the LORD prepares Moses to be “gathered to his people,” since he is not to be allowed to enter the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelites. (Because of his and Aaron’s sin in Numbers 20.)
Now that the Israelites are very close to the land, God instructs Moses to go up onto the top of a mountain, so that he can see the Promised Land, before he dies. However, Moses is concerned about who will take over the leadership of the Israelites, once he’s gone:
Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (verses 15–17)
So God commands Moses to lay his hand on Joshua, and then have Eleazar and the Israelites commission him. He tells Moses to give Joshua some of his authority, so that the Israelites will obey him. (I find it interesting that the LORD tells Moses to give Joshua some of his authority.) Joshua, the leader, and Eleazar, the High Priest, are to work together: Eleazar is to obtain decisions from the LORD by using the Urim, but Joshua is the one who is to command the Israelites.
So, as instructed, Joshua is commissioned to lead the Israelites, once Moses is gone.
ThoughtsMoses doesn’t actually die, in this passage. This is just preparation for his death. We still have the rest of the book of Numbers, plus the entire book of Deuteronomy, before he will actually be “gathered to his people.”
The Urim is mentioned here, as the means by which Eleazar is to get decisions from the LORD. For more information on the Urim and the Thummim, see my entry for Exodus 28. (I don’t know why this passage specifically mentions the Urim, and not the Thummim.) Note how this style of seeking the LORD’s will—obtaining decisions from the LORD through this device—contrasts with Moses’ privilege of speaking with the LORD face to face.