Numbers 13: 16: And Moses called Hosea, the son of Nun, Joshua

The Bible contains many treasures. Some are not obvious by first reading. Here is such a treasure, found by my wife Brigit.

The Israelites are sending twelve spies in the land of Canaan. In Numbers 13, verses 4 to 15, these twelve men are listed. Verse 16 then tells:

These are the names of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.
If you look to the Blue Letter Bible website, you may note there is not much difference between the different translations. There are small differences in the way the Hebrew words are written with our alphabet.

It is interesting to look at the words as they appear in the original Hebrew text. Nowadays, it is possible to look at the original texts of the Bible, without having to know Hebrew or Greek, but using tools like Interlinear Bibles, or a website like the Blue Letter Bible. (Of course, actually knowing these languages is better, but for the layman like me, tools that let you study original texts are great.)

Hoshea is written as follows:

picture of word Hoshea in Hebrew

Joshua is written as follows:

picture of word Josua in Hebrew

As you can see, the name change is a play of words: the names are very similar, but the new name has a few additional characters. The names also have meanings. Hoshea means salvation. Joshua means He is salvation, or God is salvation: the additional "J" in the name points towards the first letter of the name of God (Jahweh or Jehova), see Exodus 3: 14.

Joshua was one of the two spies that has enough faith in God to believe that the excellent land they had seen would be given to the people of Israel by God (see Numbers 13 and 14.) Later, Joshua would be the successor of Moses, i.e., with Joshua as leader, the people of Israel move into (after a long stay in the desert) Canaan. This is described in the Bible book named after Joshua.

I think the verse tells us the following. When Moses renamed Hoshua to Joshua, this was not only a play of words. Moses saw that Hoshua/Joshua knew where he could find his strength and his salvation: Moses saw that Hoshua/Joshua was "going for God": was trusting God. With the name change, Moses did a few things. At one side, Moses confirmed that we should trust God in our difficulties At the other side, the name change was a blessing and an encouragement to Joshua: with the name change, Moses told him: I see in you a man that trusts God in his difficulties.

There are more examples where people get new names in the Bible, and often, the renaming is a form of "prophetic blessing": the new name means something positive and gives a glimpse of the good plans that God has for the person. In Genesis 17:5, Abram is renamed by God to Abraham: exalted father to father of a multitude, or father of many nations. Mark 3: 16 is explained in an excellent way by Knuth in his book 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated. Jesus there renames Simon to Petrus. Knuth explains that Petrus was not in use as a name; Petrus means Rock.

All too often, people (and Christians not excluded) only say what they see as bad things in other people. But that is not as God wants us to treat each other. See Matthew 5:22.

In the text from Numbers, Moses tells Joshua that he sees that Joshua trusts God as his salvation, and that God indeed will be the salvation of Joshua. But, of course not, only the salvation of Joshua, but God will save each person that wants that God saves him/her.

Christians should speak out what they see as the good things that God has put in the other person, should speak words of blessings. If we are "calling names", let these be names that express all the good plans that God has with us.

Hans Bodlaender, November 24, 2007