When Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock, “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them”
Aaron had died and the Promised Land loomed on the horizon. Moses knew his days were short so he faithfully “appealed to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all, appoint a man over the community who will go out before them and come back in before them, and who will bring them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s community won’t be like sheep without a shepherd’ ” (Numbers 27:15–17).
Talk about big shoes! Who could possibly take Moses’s place? Who could shepherd the sheep-like nation into Canaan? Who could step into the leadership role in Moses’s absence?
Even before Moses prayed, God had an answer.
“The Lord replied to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Have him stand before the priest Eleazar and the whole community, and commission him in their sight’ ” (Numbers 27:18–19).
Joshua, born in Egypt as a slave, had successfully led the Israelites into battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16). Joshua was Moses’s servant (Exodus 24:13) and had been on the mountain when Moses received the Law (Exodus 32:17). Joshua had been mentored by Moses. The younger man had even been invited into the sacred spaces of Moses’s intimate relationship with Jehovah-God. “The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend, then Moses would return to the camp. His assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent” (Exodus 33:11).
Joshua was also one of the twelve spies Moses sent to investigate Canaan (Numbers 13:8). While ten of the spies whimpered about the giants living in the land, Joshua and Caleb reported, “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:7–9).
To the nation, Moses announced, “I am now 120 years old; I can no longer act as your leader. The Lord has told me, ‘You will not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God is the one who will cross ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will drive them out. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, as the Lord has said” (Deuteronomy 31:2–3).
God also had a message for Joshua. “Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For the Lord your God is the one who will go with you; he will not leave you or abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
That promise, the promise of God’s abiding presence, is our promise. We can “be strong and courageous” because the Lord our God has promised to go with us!