Moses to Joshua: Passing the Baton of Leadership


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Moses is considered one of he greatest leaders in the Old Testament. God used Moses to free the people of Israel from the chains of Egypt. It was Moses who led them through the wilderness and toward the promised land of Canaan. But ultimately Moses was not going to be the one to lead the people of God into the promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:28 God instructs Moses to “. . . charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.”

At the end of Deuteronomy 3, Moses makes one last plea to God to allow him to pass over the Jordan into the promised land. But God, in no uncertain terms, says absolutely not. This stems back to an incident in Numbers 20 where Moses strikes the rock when he was suppose to speak to the rock–to draw out water for the Israelites. Numbers 20:12 reads, “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me,to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.'” That last statement by God is a whole other lesson. But because of that incident Moses was denied access to the land that was a part of God’s covenant with Abraham, passed down to Isaac and Jacob, a land for the people of God. But there was one last task for Moses to do. He was to prepare Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the promised land. What we must take note of are the three descriptive words used to instruct Moses toward that preparation: charge, encourage, and strengthen. I believe that this provides us as 21st-century leaders with some tangible insights about how to prepare those who will and should succeed us.

To “charge” in the Hebrew language means to appoint, ordain or give charge.

The idea is to assign one to a clear role, task or function. In other words, the next leader needs to clearly know what is in front of him or her, what you are asking them to do. Many times it appears to me that “next leaders” are left with little clear direction or clear responsibility. New leaders need to know what and who they are to lead.

To “encourage” (ESV translation) in the Hebrew means more literally to be hard, or harsh.

The connotation can include the idea of having the ability to accomplish what is intended, also implying the element of resolve. A new leader needs new leader skills. There is a sense of competency that is required. There is also a sense of determination that must be added. New leaders must have certain specific abilities. But all abilities can be enhanced and improved. And any leader who secedes another will need resolve to follow God and cut their own path. The old leader “encourages” the new leader through improving the new leader’s abilities and infusing a sense of resolve.

To “strengthen” means to marshal force or to be courageous.

If “encouraging” was primarily about improving abilities then “strengthening” is primarily about attitude. It carries the idea of focus. No leader is worth his or her salt without focus. As I have said before, the key to complexity is not simplicity but focus. Old leaders need to help new leaders focus, to marshal all that God has given them for a God given task. Succeeding leaders can easily become distracted. The outgoing leader must help the new leader rightly focus on the task ahead.

Here is a summary of how Moses was to aid Joshua in taking over as leader of the people of Israel: make the task as clear as possible, help him improve his God given abilities with a sense of resolve, and help him step out in courageous faith with an unwavering focus.

Deuteronomy 34:9 says, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full ofthe spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

As the new leader Joshua led the people of Israel into the land that God had promised so many years ago. And Moses helped to prepare him for this glorious task. How are you preparing the leaders around you? Who are you raising up to take your place? Will they be ready?