This is the first in a two-part post series on Joshua and the leadership transition from Moses.
The next book after the Pentateuch, Joshua, carries the name of Israel’s successor to Moses, who is described here as “filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him” (Deut. 34:9). Joshua is an interesting figure, if nothing else than for the kinds of connections that can be made between him and the man who shared his name, Jesus. In this passage—and this post on the blog—though, the focus is on establishing the leadership transition, and designating Joshua as receiving a blessing from God, thus endowing him with obvious privileges.
By the beginning of the Book of Joshua, the Israelites seem entirely credulous about his bona fides as a leader:
16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! ” (Josh 1:16-18).
He has a mandate, as we would say now. But why? The only answers to these questions come from Deuteronomy 31, which is the first appearance of Joshua in the Old Testament. It seemed Moses unilaterally tapped him:
Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. (Deut. 31-1-3).
So apparently Gold told Moses he wouldn’t make it across the river, so he will have Joshua do it. Moses seems to finish his succession plan with a benediction/admonition of sorts for the new leader (Deut. 31:7-8).
The transition seems somewhat shaky to modern views, but the Bible books indicate we must take God’s role in the transition with complete credulity. The text only elucidates the spiritual reasoning for the transition, which seems, according to the author(s) of Deuteronomy and the author of the first chapter of Joshua, to be enough. (The Book of Joshua was certainly not written by Joshua himself—just as the Pentateuch wasn’t written by Moses—if in fact Joshua even existed. That there were other authors has been widely accepted for some time, since John Calvin roamed the Earth.)
This transition underscores an important point to remember throughout this book: Israel is theocratic, and makes theocratic decisions. It’s a through-and-through theocracy. Although Joshua isn’t quite as rich of a source for the modern day argumentative uses of scripture, it’s still essential to remember that Joshua’s quests and the entire idea of Joshua (real or not) is a theocratic one. He is there to lead the flock. And, as we will see, he sure leads them into some interesting situations.