In many countries, the transfer of power is neither regular nor peaceful. Military coups, civil wars, or dictators who refuse to leave office contribute to unstable or violent conditions. We should not take for granted the peaceful transfer in the United States; every four years in January, the occupant of the White House greets the newly elected President and then graciously leaves.
As the time approached for Moses’ death, the transfer of power was peaceful. Joshua was commissioned as Moses’ successor by the command of God. He had been referred to often in Scripture as Moses’ assistant. He had been at Moses’ side at the most crucial times of the Exodus. He had privileges that no one other than Moses had, specifically those that allowed him access to the presence of God. He had met with God at the Tent of Meeting. He ascended with Moses to the top of Mount Sinai. Moses had the confidence to lead the Israelites based on the assurance that God was with him, and this guarantee was now given to Joshua.
Joshua had also proven his capacity for leadership. He successfully led the military effort against the Amalekites. He had also shown courage when the twelve spies returned from their exploratory mission to the Promised Land. He and Caleb were the only ones with the faith to believe that God’s power trumped the giants in the land. He had seen God act miraculously to bring them out of Egypt, and he believed that God had the power to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land.
These were qualifications that Joshua needed to lead the people. Deuteronomy 31 reiterates that God, not Moses and not Joshua, was ultimately the leader of the Israelites. He was the one going before them, the one who ensured their victory.
But Moses recognized that the people were a hapless bunch of lost sheep, and they needed a shepherd. So God invested His authority in Joshua, just as He had in Moses.