In one of Moses’ final recorded prayers, he asks the Lord to “appoint a man over the congregation [of Israel] who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep without a shepherd.” That man whom God instructs Moses to appoint in his stead is, of course, Joshua. Joshua is “a man in whom is the Spirit.” He is to be invested the authority to command and lead the people according to God’s guidance. In the near future, Joshua will be the man to shepherd God’s people as they cross through the flood waters of the Jordan River and enter the land that God has promised to them as an inheritance.
There’s an interesting phrase that’s used three times in this short passage describing Joshua’s commission. Three times it is said that Joshua will be the man who will lead the people out and bring them in. In and out. Out and in. This phrase is what is called a semiticism—a Hebrew idiom. And it’s used as a way to describe the entirety of someone’s life—every aspect of it—from waking to sleeping—from birth to death—and everything in-between. The whole kit and caboodle we might say using a more familiar idiom. Every aspect of Israel’s going in and coming out was to be under the watchful and loving care of their shepherd Joshua.
Now if this phrase sounds familiar, then that’s no accident. It’s the capstone phrase of Psalm 121. That wonderful psalm of comfort that begins with the line, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” And it concludes with the promise that the Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps will “keep your going out and coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” But you may also recognize this unique idiom from yet another place in Scripture—from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel—or what we often refer to as “The Good Shepherd Discourse.” There, Jesus proclaims that he himself is the keeper and protector of God’s sheep. He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me , he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
And so here, we find God’s definitive answer to Moses’ prayer. Joshua the Son of Nun was appointed for a season. He was commission to shepherd God’s people for a time—to guard their going out and coming in. But Joshua the son of Nun was just a shadow of the true shepherd to come. Not a shepherd who would watch over the people on behalf of the Lord—but a shepherd who would himself be the Lord. And so God answers Moses’ prayer by sending another Joshua—a better Joshua—Yeshua—Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus is the good shepherd who watches over the sheep—who guards their going out and their coming in—who defends them from the wolves and goes after the lost—who brings them salvation by laying down his own life on the cross—who goes before them into the grave—and who leads them out of the valley of the shadow of death by taking his life up again in his resurrection.
Because Jesus is your shepherd, you are completely in his care. His goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life. All your going in and coming out—every aspect of it—from waking to sleeping—from birth to death—and everything in-between. Because Jesus is your shepherd there is never a moment when you are not sheltered by his love and kept by his power. No matter what weakness you are called to endure. No matter what sin still stubbornly clings to you. No matter what persecution the world subjects you. In all your going out and coming in, Jesus is your good shepherd and you are his little lamb—from this time forth and forevermore.