Background: God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants who multiplied in Egypt but became enslaved. God called Moses to lead them and God delivered Israel out of Egypt leading them through the ‘Red Sea’ on dry ground while drowning the Egyptian army. The Lord led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire and miraculously cared for them despite Israel’s grumbling. At Mt. Sinai the Lord established His covenant with Israel and gave them the 10 commandments. Israel fell into idolatry by making a ‘golden calf’, but Moses pleaded with the Lord and the Lord forgave the Israelites and promised to go with them (Ex. 34:1-9). The Lord lead the Israelites to the border of their promised land and they ‘twelve spies’ into Canaan. The spies confirmed that it was a land flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 13-14), but some of the spies spread a ‘bad report’ and Israel refused to enter the land. That generation would wander forty years and die in the desert but their children would enter the land. Then when the Israelites tried to enter Canaan without Moses and against the Lord’s decision the Canaanites living in the hills came down and attacked the Israelites and beat them back at Hormah (14:39-45). The Lord confirmed that the priests must descend from Aaron by causing the earth to swallow those opposing Aaron and by causing Aaron’s staff to miraculously blossom and produce almonds (16-17).
After Miriam, Moses’ sister, died the second generation came to a place where there was no water. They gathered against Moses and Aaron so the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock and water would pour out for the people and their livestock to drink. But Moses said, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses struck the rock twice and water gushed out. However, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that they would not enter the land because they failed to honor the Lord as holy before Israel. Aaron died on Mount Hor and Moses transferred Aaron’s priestly garments to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. When a Canaanite king attacked Israel and captured some of them the Israelites vowed to destroy them if the Lord would deliver them into Israel’s hands. The Lord did and Israel completely destroyed them. These were the very people that had driven the Israelites back forty years earlier when the first generation tried to enter the Canaan without Moses and against the Lord’s command (Numbers 14:44-45, 21:4-5). Then when some of the Israelites complained against Moses and against the Lord the Lord sent venomous snakes that bit the people and many Israelites died. They confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray to the Lord to take away the snakes. Moses prayed and the Lord told Moses to make a snake and put it up on a pole. Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole and all who looked to the bronze snake on the pole lived (Jn. 3:14–15). This brings us to the story of the ‘death of Moses’ (See Deuteronomy 31-34).
Moses Dies and Joshua Succeeds Moses.
Moses’ life task had come to an end (1:37–38; 3:23–29). He was 120 years old and no longer able to lead Israel but only because he had failed to honor the Lord as holy at Meribah. Not Moses, but the Lord would cross the Jordan and destroy the inhabitants of the land. God would go before Israel so Israel was to trust God and be courageous (6, 8). This was something they had failed at badly in the past (1:26–36). With God promising to go with them and to destroy the land’s inhabitants Israel was to do all that Moses had commanded and they were to take possession of the land. They were to rid the land of its idolatrous worship and keep God’s covenant (Deuteronomy 31:1–8).
The Lord would go before Israel and Moses’ aid, Joshua, would cross over the Jordan and would lead them. Moses exhorts the Israelites to ‘be strong and courageous and not to be afraid of those in the land’. They need not be afraid because the Lord their God was with them (Numbers 14:6-9) and He would never leave them nor forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:5-6, Hebrews 13:5). Then Moses exhorts Joshua before all Israel to ‘be strong and courageous’ Joshusa was to go with Israel into the land the Lord swore to give their forefathers and he was to divide it among the Israelites as their inheritance. Why should Joshua not be afraid to lead Israel into the land and take possession of it? Joshua need not be afraid for the same reason he and Caleb were not afraid to take the land forty years earlier. The Lord their God was with them (Numbers 14:6-9) and would not leave or forsake him (Deut. 31:5-6, Hebrews 13:5).
Moses would soon die so the Lord had Moses commission Joshua as Israel’s new leader. Moses and Joshua went to the ‘Tent of Meeting’ and the Lord appears in the ‘pillar of cloud’ (15). The Lord spoke to Moses first saying that while Moses would rest with his fathers the Lord would bring Israel into the land He promised their forefathers. Yet, despite God faithfulness the Israelites would turn to other gods and forsake the Lord’s covenant (16). Then the Lord spoke to Joshua commanding him to be courageous (23). Joshua had demonstrated this courageous faith when he wanted to take possession of the land forty years earlier (Nu. 14:30, 38).
The Lord would go before Israel and destroy the land’s inhabitants and Joshua would lead them into the land the Lord promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then Joshua would divide the land among them and they would eat their fill and thrive there. The Lord would fulfill His promises but Israel would prostitute themselves to other gods and break God’s covenant. As a result the Lord would turn His face from Israel and disaster would fall on Israel. Now despite this the Lord exhorts Joshua to be strong and courageous to bring the Israelites into the land and encourages Joshua that the Lord will be with him.
Moses climbs to the top of Mount Nebo in obedience to God’s command (32:48–52). There the Lord gave Moses a vision of the land but he would not be able to set foot on it. The time had come for the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled but Moses would only get a glimpse of the land (4; Gen. 12:1; 15:7). It was now time for Moses to die, but his death was no tragedy. Moses was still strong (7, 10–12) and he had lived faithfully before God. Moses’ eyes are strong enough to see the land but he dies without being able to physically enter in. The Lord buries Moses outside of Canaan in an unknown grave somewhere in Moab. Moses was 120 years old and his body was strong enough to climb Mount Nebo and his eyes were strong enough to see the land from afar. Then the Israelites, who had been such a frustration to Moses, grieved for Moses for thirty days (Deuteronomy 34:1–12).
Israel’s new leader Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on Joshua. So the spirit of wisdom was upon Joshua and as a result the Israelites listened to Joshua as he exhorted Israel to obey the word of God given to Moses. There had never been another prophet in Israel who knew the Lord face to face like Moses. No prophet ever did such miraculous signs and wonders as the Lord did through Moses in the land of Egypt and no leader demonstrated such power as Moses did in the sight of all Israel. There was no one like Moses, neither before nor after, whether as prophet or as powerful leader—that is until the coming of the prophet ‘like Moses’ the Lord Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15, Acts 3:22-23).