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The Moses-Joshua Succession From Joshua 1:1-18

Biblical principles of leadership succession and development from Joshua 1:1-18

The transition from Moses’ to Joshua’s leadership constitutes one of the greatest examples of succession in the Bible. The biblical pages record many examples of botched succession; there are fewer examples where succession worked. The call of Joshua (1:1–18) highlights how this transition was choreographed and why it was effective. It will be insightful to begin with a careful look at this powerful passage.

Intertexture in Joshua 1:1–18

Nearly every verse in the call of Joshua hearkens back to an earlier passage in the Pentateuch, frequently in Deuteronomy. Why is this so and what does it mean? The intertexture hermeneutic encourages comparison between the verses in Joshua and those written earlier. The analysis demonstrates a remarkable continuity in the transition of leadership between these two great men and gives evidence that the divine hand was skillfully guiding the succession process.

Texts found in the Pentateuch are utilized in the call of Joshua in two ways. The first is when words are directly attributed to their author. This is called a chreia. An example is Joshua 1:13, where a command of Moses is cited. This serves to remind the people of Moses’ leadership and shows that Joshua’s leadership cleanly follows Moses’.

The other way earlier texts are used in Joshua is that they are recontextualized. This means that they are quoted, but no reference is made to their original author or context. This happens frequently in Joshua’s call, as shall be seen. Cultural intertexture, which is insider knowledge, would have enabled the Jews to recognize these imported texts.

Examples of Recontextualization in Joshua 1:1-18

Passage in Joshua

Refers back to


1:1 The book begins with the conjunction “and.”

The entire book of Deuteronomy.

This shows continuity between the two books and thus the continuity of leadership between Moses and Joshua.

1:1 Joshua as Moses’ aide

Exodus 24:13; 33:11

This firmly links Joshua to his predecessor, as do the repeated references to Moses in the Joshua passage.

1:2 Joshua to lead the people across the Jordan River

Exodus 14:15–31 Moses leading the people across the Red Sea

Joshua’s crossing would remind the Jews of their previous crossing of a body of water on dry ground.

1:2 The Promised Land

Genesis 12:7 God promises Abraham to give the land to his descendents

Here is continuity not only with Moses, but all the way back to Abraham.

1:3,4 The breadth of the land

Genesis 15:18–21; Exodus 23:31; Numbers 34:3–12; Deuteronomy 11:24

This is the same land that has been promised for generations.

1:5 No one to stand against you. I will be with you.

Deut. 7:24; 11:25

In both Deuteronomy verses, Moses is speaking to the congregation.

1:6 Be strong and courageous; inherit the land

Deuteronomy 31:7,23

In the first Deuteronomy verse, Moses commands Joshua. In the second, it is the Lord’s command to Joshua.

1:7 Do not turn away from the law

Deuteronomy 28:14 Do not turn away from the commands

The Deuteronomy command is given by the Lord to the congregation. The law referred to the book of Deuteronomy (1:5 and 31:9–13).

1:8 Prosperous

Deuteronomy 5:29

The Deuteronomy verse was spoken by God to the people.

1:9 Do not be terrified or discouraged; the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Deuteronomy 31:6,8

Deuteronomy 31:6 is Moses commanding the people; Deuteronomy 31:8 is Moses commanding Joshua.

1:13–15 Joshua refers to Moses’ command to the 2 ½ tribes.

Numbers 32:20–22; Deuteronomy 3:18–20

See the chreia above.

Biblical Principles of Leadership Succession and Development From Joshua 1:1-18

The intertexture analysis of Joshua 1:1–18 evidences continuity between Moses’ leadership and Joshua’s. This is because God was orchestrating the succession. The plans were His plans; the leaders were also His choice.

In Genesis 12 God made a promise to Abraham that through him God would bring salvation to the world (Gaebelein 1984). Part of this promise was to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan, in which the savior would eventually be born. God called Moses to deliver His people out of slavery in Egypt. This was the necessary first step to giving them the Promised Land. Moses was successful in leading the people out of Egypt, but because of his own disobedience was unable to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 32:48–52). But God’s promise to Abraham was in no way altered by the death of Moses.

On the eve of his death, Moses asked God to provide a successor to lead the people after his demise (Numbers 27:16,17). God directed him to Joshua, whom He had already been preparing for many years. God’s spirit was in him. Forty years before Moses’ death, God had begun to prepare Joshua for the task of leading the people to inherit the land. A careful study of Joshua’s development in the Pentateuch confirms this to be true.

The first mention of Joshua in the scriptures is in Exodus 17:8–16 where Joshua is selected by Moses to lead the Israelite army into battle against the Amalekites (Davis 1986). Moses recognized Joshua’s innate leadership. God was preparing Joshua as a warrior. Joshua’s leadership and warfare skills had to be developed for him to successfully lead the people into the Promised Land.

Joshua is again mentioned is in Exodus 24:13, where he accompanies Moses up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Joshua became Moses’ assistant and Moses his mentor. Joshua was next to Moses when Moses smashed the two tablets (Exodus 32:19).

Joshua guarded the tent of meeting, where Moses met face to face with God (Exodus 33:11). In addition to his military development, Joshua was exposed to God’s direct dealings with Moses, thus enhancing his spiritual development. Joshua would frequently remain in that holy place even after Moses returned to the camp.

Joshua was present when the Lord sent His Spirit upon seventy leaders (Numbers 11:17). When two men were prophesying in the camp, contrary to Moses’ directions, Joshua asked Moses’ to rebuke them (Numbers 11:28). Joshua refused to rebuke his elders (Pink 1981) and was concerned with Moses’ honor (Numbers 11:29).

Joshua was chosen by Moses to be one of the 12 spies sent to spy out the land (Numbers 13:8). Out of the 12, only he and Caleb returned with a good report. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothing at the bad report given by the other 10 and urged the Israelites not to rebel in disobedience against the Lord (Numbers 14:6–9). Because of their faith in the Lord only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:38).

After Joshua had developed and proven his character, been tested in various leadership positions, and experienced direct revelations of God (Keil and Delitzsch 1996) the Lord was ready to ordain him to even greater leadership. This happened prior to Moses’ death (Numbers 27:18–23) and it was repeated and confirmed in Joshua 1:1–18 (following Moses’ death). God had placed His Spirit in Joshua, which shows God’s choice and God’s provision for leadership. Moses had Joshua stand before the priest Eleazar and commissioned Joshua before all the people. Moses laid his hands on him and conferred some of his own authority on Joshua. After this happened, no one could doubt that Joshua was the man appointed to lead Israel after the passing of Moses (Pink 1981).

A Summary of the Succession between Moses and Joshua

In light of the analysis above, it is possible to summarize the succession principles that guided the transition from Moses to Joshua. When Moses realized he would need a successor, he asked God to provide one. God directed him to Joshua, whom God had already prepared for the task. It is important to note that Moses did not choose his own successor, nor was he chosen by popular vote. Rather, God’s choice of Joshua was revealed in Joshua’s ordination.

Joshua was not an unknown at that point. Moses had long before recognized Joshua’s abilities and potential. Moses became his mentor and had given him various leadership tasks to further his development. Prior to his death, Moses formally ordained Joshua to leadership in front of the priest and the people. Following Moses’ death, the Lord reconfirmed the succession of Joshua to leadership.

In Joshua 1:7,8, God assigned Joshua an additional role (Reader’s Digest 1994). Joshua was to closely follow the Book of the Law of Moses. This was the first time anyone had been asked to base his leadership upon another’s writings (Pink 1981). All before Joshua had been governed by words directly from God’s mouth. But a book had been prepared for Joshua; Joshua was to fulfill the words of the book (Exodus 17:14).

The same principles of succession planning evident in the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua are applicable to modern transitions.

A Christian Ethical Response to Succession Planning

The primary truth is that God is in charge of succession. He always has been. Recognizing and developing emerging leaders will continue to be a task of current leadership. However, the choice of successor remains in God’s hands alone. This is because God is fulfilling His purposes through His chosen leaders. God knew when Moses had completed his task. God also realized that a new leader was required for the next stage, which was entering and taking the Promised Land.

The second principle of succession planning is to recognize and develop emerging leaders (Rothwell 2005). Existing leadership should keep in mind the competencies necessary (Metz 1998) to successfully complete the next step of God’s plan. God had given specific instructions as to how the Israelites were to train and prepare the emerging generation of leaders (Deuteronomy 6:6–9; 20–25; Blackaby and Blackaby 2001). However, no promises can be made to any potential leaders at any point in their training (Godevenos 2002). Leaders must rely on God’s guidance to discern in whom He has placed His Spirit.

The third principle of Christian succession planning goes farther than the second. Not only are potential leaders to be developed, but they must personally be mentored by the existing leader (Ready and Conger 2007). Programs are one thing; personal attention is quite another. Moses mentored Joshua for nearly 40 years before the leadership transition took place. Precisely because contemporary leaders do not have this much time for mentoring, they must maximize their mentoring in the time that they do have.

The fourth Christian ethical response to succession planning is for the leader to recognize his/her limitations. While this is not encouraged in the United States’ “can do” culture, it is nonetheless important. Moses knew that he would die before entering the Promised Land because God told him. Not many leaders are given this kind of advance warning, yet all leaders will eventually leave their positions for one reason or another. The wise leader realizes that one day he/she will step down from leadership and passes off leadership when it is time, even before he/she is forced to do it.

The final principle of succession planning is to share leadership. God told Moses to share some of his authority with Joshua so that the people would begin to obey Joshua (Numbers 27:20). It takes a strong leader to share authority and allow his people to follow another.


Succession issues and leadership transition is always a challenge. When succession is handled according to biblical principles, it can launch the organization into the next phase of God’s purposes for it. A competent leader will carefully study the succession principles found in the pages of God’s word to prepare for the inevitable transition to a new leader. In addition to the succession between Moses and Joshua, excellent examples of succession include Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and his disciples, and Paul and his. “It’s no coincidence that great spiritual leaders follow in the footsteps of great spiritual leaders” (Blackaby and Blackaby 2001).