12 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) 15 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. 19 Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. 20 You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. 21 And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” 22 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, 23 and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses. – Numbers 27:12-23 ESV
The day Moses had been dreading had finally arrived. He had known for some time that he would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. Because of Moses’ uncharacteristic actions in the wilderness of Zin, God had determined to ban his servant from entering the promised land.
“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” – Numbers 20:12 NLT
In a moment of extreme frustration with the constantly-whining Israelites, Moses had snapped and disobeyed the command of God.
“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT
Rather than speaking to the rock as God had ordered him to do, Moses lashed out in anger and repeatedly struck the rock with his staff. His anger and frustration with the people had caused him to disobey and dishonor God in the eyes of the people. It appears that Moses’ real crime was that he attempted to rob God of glory by claiming responsibility for producing the miracle.
“Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?”– Numbers 20:10 NLT
His attempt to inflate his own identity in the eyes of the people cost him dearly. While he produced water from the rock and probably gained a bit of respect from the people, his little stunt resulted in a permanent ban from the land of promise. He would never have the pleasure of entering God’s rest. Instead, he would die in the wilderness, just as Miriam and Aaron had.
So, with the Israelites on the verge of entering Canaan, God informed Moses that his days on this earth had come to an end. His debt had come due. But before taking Moses’ life, God gave His servant one more chance to see the land of promise from a distance. God led Moses up a mountain and allowed him to take in the view.
“Climb one of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters.” – Numbers 27:12-14 NLT
For nearly four decades, this land had been the focus of Moses’ life. Ever since he had led the people out of Egypt, his life’s mission had been to guide them to this very spot. But now, as he looked out over the fertile valley below, he was doing so for the very last time. He would not be going in and it was time to turn over the leadership responsibilities to someone else.
Ever the consummate leader, Moses begged God to find the right man for the task. He knew from firsthand experience just how stubborn and headstrong the people could be and they would never make it without strong leadership.
“O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”– Nmbers 27:16-17 NLT
While Moses had been required to lead the people across the wilderness, his replacement would be tasked with leading them into battle. The days ahead would be difficult and fraught with danger. The people who had made a habit of whining about the lack of food water and food would certainly find the thought of military service distasteful. So, they were going to need a man who was equal parts warrior and shepherd. He would have to be both a fighting man and a kind-hearted guide who could lead the people with patience and care.
And God already had a man in mind. He suggested Joshua, one of the two men who had been part of the 12-man contingent of spies who had reconnoitered the land 40 years earlier. Joshua and Caleb had been the voices of reason among the fearful and disheartened men who recommended that the people not enter the land of promise. They had deemed it unconquerable and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But Joshua and Caleb had provided a dissenting opinion:
Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:6-9 NLT
And while the people rejected the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, these two men had powerfully declared their faith in God. They demonstrated a belief in God’s power and goodness and called the people to trust and obey.
Four decades later, God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor.
“Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people.” – Numbers 27:18-19 NLT
“This spirit was not something that now came upon Joshua, or was temporary (such as the coming of the spirit on the elders in 11:17, 25-26); it already existed in Joshua and was the basis of God’s choice of him. Deut. 34:9 applies the phrase ‘full of the spirit of Wisdom’ to Joshua, confirming the thought here.” – Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers.
Joshua was God’s man for the moment. He had been chosen by God long before this day arrived, and the Spirit of God had been preparing him for the next phase of Israel’s journey.
But God’s relationship with Joshua would be different than the one He had with Moses. While God had interacted with Moses face-to-face, Joshua would receive his instructions through the high priest and the use of “the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord” (Numbers 27:21 NLT). This new method of communication would feature built-in safeguards, allowing Eleazar, the high priest, to act as a source of confirmation for all decisions. This would prevent Joshua from acting on his own and risking the wrath of God.
So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses. – Numbers 27:22-23 NLT
With new leadership called and commissioned, it was time to begin the final phase of the mission. This generation of Israelites was about to do what their mothers and fathers had failed to do: Enter the land of promise. This had been the goal all along. The wilderness had always been intended to be a means to this end. It was never to have been their home. Their inheritance lay across the Jordan River and waited for them to step out in faith and take it as their own.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.