Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. (Joshua 1:2)
God worked mighty signs and wonders through Moses and granted him special experiences and revelations. By him, God announced his Law and constituted Israel as a nation. Through it all, Moses remained humble and reverent. He never abandoned God and turned to idols. He was, indeed, a great man.
As great as he was, he was still a man. He was mortal, and could not lead God’s people forever. And now he was dead. His body was lost. I think he even took his staff with him. Still, God does not say to Joshua, “Moses is dead. Get ready, because things will go downhill from here.” But he says, “Moses is dead. Now then, you and these people move forward!”
Christian theologians often define entire epochs by human personalities. When Abraham died, this and that changed forever. When Moses left, it concluded something else. When they buried David and Solomon, they took half of God’s kingdom down with them. Then the prophets died, and such and such vanished forever. Things were a little better when Jesus arrived, but then he left, and when the apostles perished, it was as if all the powers of heaven were shut down! This kind of thinking marks the difference between spiritual winners and losers, those who could lead and those who could barely see their way clear to follow.
God was unfazed by the death of Moses. And in Joshua he has found – no, he has made – a leader in touch with the mind of God. While God’s weaker people were wailing and complaining, Joshua said, “Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:9). Now Joshua has to know God for himself, and follow God for himself. This has always been the case, but now it has become more obvious than before. And he is ready for it.
Moses had a unique role. God revealed the Law through him. However, the Law was not really the words of Moses, but the words of God, and God is not dead. So God spoke his words through Moses, and even though Moses is now gone, God’s words remain, and the God who spoke them remains. So Moses split the Red Sea? Joshua will split the Jordan at flood stage (3:14). So Moses performed signs and wonders? Joshua will vanquish tens of thousands, subdue entire nations, crush the wall of Jericho, and command the planets to pause for him (10:12-13)!
The message of Jesus Christ is one that goes from faith to faith and from glory to glory, and not from faith to unbelief and tradition, from glory to darkness and defeat, or from miracles to a cessation of power. The prophets are dead, but God sits on his throne. The apostles are dead, but Jesus Christ is alive forevermore. The Church Fathers are dead, but the Holy Spirit is active and endues us with power. The Reformers are dead, but I am not dead. The faithful servants of God of the past are dead, but you are still here. Men of unbelief and tradition tell us that God’s mighty gifts and powers have ceased. But Jesus Christ calls us to move forward and perform even greater works by the power of his Spirit.