Moses:Joshua – Leadership Transitions

We all come to the end of our service or formal leadership at some point. Whether it is retirement, half-time, consulting, or passing the baton for the next leg of the race, there is a time for transitions of leadership.  Today we learn some lessons on godly transitions…

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. 13 After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.” (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)

15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. 19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”

22 Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
Numbers 27:12-23

This story of Joshua’s anointing teaches us a few things about these transitions.  Moses was gracious toward Joshua and humble before God.  That’s our first observation.  When it’s time for us to step down as leaders, may we embrace the end as we embraced the beginning.  May we see the importance of the next phase of life (for us and those we lead) and not hang on, clinging to something from which we ought to let go.

This is like the mother whose daughter is leaving home to marry.  How unhealthy would it be to think that mom can still have the same influence and even control over the raising of her daughter.  This is the time to pass the baton to the daughter.

In the case of Moses, he had raised up Joshua as his understudy.  Joshua was the one.  We don’t read that Joshua knew that he was the one, and that’s a humility for those waiting in the wings. We cannot be sure if we are the next to lead, yet our focus as Joshua’s is to be ready for the call.  I would argue that it is difficult to be ready for the call in a posture of presumption and entitlement.  Why?

Because God could have chosen Caleb.  Because God went through each of Jesse’s sons to get to the last one, David, to find the next king (1Samuel 16).  Because God chooses the poor in the eyes of the world to shame the wise (1Corinthians 1:26-31).  Because our boast ought to be only in the Lord and not in ourselves.

Moses was concerned about his sheep.  He didn’t want them to be without a shepherd.  His concern for the flock, however, didn’t translate into unwillingness to transition.  Rather, Moses’ concern for Israel translated into a request to God for good leadership to replace himself.  If you are that leader, are you praying for God to anoint your successor?

Finally, there was a public transfer of authority to Joshua, before God and the entire assembly in which Moses gave authority to Joshua so that the people would identify him as their leader.  Leadership transitions ought to be explicit and formalized to ensure that there is no confusion or (worse) divided loyalty in the process.

Moses did everything God commanded in his transition, because it was the Lord who was directing his steps.  May we have Moses’ composure and humility and concern for our people when we make our transitions, whatever they may be.  God will be glorified…


Marc Kinna


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