Mission leader Hans Finzel identified a failure to prepare for succession in his book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. “Pride tightens the grip on leadership; humility relaxes and lets go.” He cited Moses and Joshua as a positive counterexample: “The plan worked, the transition was smooth, and the followers immediately transferred their allegiance to Joshua, because his predecessor had in humility placed his hands on Joshua and prayed for God’s blessing on his leadership. That is leadership maturity in the final hour, when it probably counts the most.”
Joshua’s anointing took place after the second census of Israel. The first census had been of the first generation of Israelites that failed to enter Canaan and died in the wilderness by God’s decree (Numbers 1–25). This second census counted the second generation, which was preparing to enter the land in faith (Numbers 26–36). One purpose for the census was to count potential soldiers; another was for future land allocation (26:52–56). This census also served as a reminder that God had been faithful through the years of wilderness wandering, for the total population had remained basically the same (26:51, 63–65).
Since Moses knew he could not enter the land due to his sin at Meribah, this was also the appropriate time for a transition in national leadership. God would graciously allow him to see the land and gave him time to prepare for his death (27:12–14). Commendably, after hearing this news Moses’ first concern was for the people. He didn’t want them to be “sheep without a shepherd” (27:15–17). At God’s command, the mantle of leadership was therefore passed to Joshua (27:18–23). The nation’s ultimate leader remained the Lord Himself (27:21).