“And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 31:1-2)
Moses was eighty years old when he began to lead Israel. About a year after they left Egypt, the people were complaining and accusing him of not caring or even trying to destroy the people. When God commanded him to speak to the rock and water would come out, in frustration, he demanded of the people, “must we bring water out of the rock?” implying it was he and Aaron doing it, rather than God. As a result, God had said he would not be allowed to enter the land of Canaan. In addition, he had reached the age of a hundred twenty and it was becoming increasingly difficult to physically lead the people.
“The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said. And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed. And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you. Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:3-7)
For forty years the people had depended on Moses to tell them what to do, Moses is trying to make them understand that God would be with them and lead them even though he would no longer be there. Joshua would be taking Moses’ place, but it was God who was the real leader, and would provide the victories just as he had in the past. They just needed to depend on God.
“And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)
Moses makes the transition to new leadership as easy as possible, reassuring the people of his confidence in God to care for them. He also makes it clear that he is confident in Joshua’s ability to follow God and complete the plan God has for them, publicly describing the responsibility to go into the land God had promised them and reminding him that they needed to depend on God.
Since Joshua had served as Moses’ assistant throughout the years in the wilderness, frequently taking the leadership, it was obvious that he understood and was committed to the same goals as Moses, and they were not going to be forced into a totally different direction. The people were familiar with his ability to lead, and he was familiar with what they would expect. Surprises seldom make for smooth transitions, and by handling it this way, there were no surprises.
Changes in leadership are some of the most dangerous times for any organization. There are always people who see taking over an existing organization as a short cut to accomplishing their own agenda, which may be in opposition to the original goals of the organization. Some of those who want to run the organization lack leadership skills, and others simply have a philosophy that is incompatible with the organization. These things may not be immediately apparent and can result in division or even collapse. Our present political situation highlights the problems.
The most successful businesses have used Moses’ approach in changing leadership, resulting in ongoing success, often for a century or more. Churches which have used a similar approach usually are more stable and survive longer than those who call some outsider after the former pastor leaves, because they minimize the stress caused by a change of leadership. A dramatic change of leadership is only justified when the previous administration has obviously not done their job properly.