Joshua 3:7-17 - link to the NRSV text
"After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun" (Joshua 1:1).
Next Tuesday in the United States will mark the beginning of a new era, a new time in our country's history. Regardless of one side's attempts to link their opponent to President Bush and argue that it will be more of the same (I will not go into whether that is true or not in this space), power will change hands. A new administration will be selected and a new thing will begin.
The truth is that time and again, change happens. At the beginning of the book of Joshua, that change is happening to the Israelites. "After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD..." Moses is dead, and they were soon to leave the wilderness areas they had known for a generation and enter into a new land. Though they believed the land was a good land, the truth is there was probably a little uncertainty. For while change is inevitable, and even when it is welcome and anticipated, change is also frightening.
"...the LORD spoke..." Yet when change happens, when new eras emerge, when times are different, again God breaks in and speaks to God's people. And not just that God speaks. "...the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun..." God speaks to people and does not just blindly shout into the chaotic whirlwind of this world.
After centuries of slavery, God spoke to Moses. Now, God speaks to Joshua. Down the road, time and again, God will speak to the judges. God will speak to Samuel. The word of the LORD continues to break in and interrupt the way things are going in order to announce that God is doing something new.
Which sets the stage for Sunday's reading in chapter 3. The LORD says to Joshua (there's that speaking thing again!): "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses."
Joshua needs a pedigree. He's got a little clout, he was Moses' side-kick for a good long while after all. Back in chapter 1, the Israelites had banded behind Joshua (see 1:16-18), but maybe there were some murmurings. This people had shown their ability to turn from their leader in a heartbeat before, after all, and Joshua needs to shore up his credientials.
So God says to Joshua, "You are the one who will command..." (3:8, emphasis mine). No longer is it Moses' responsibility, but it nows falls to Joshua. It is now his job to give the commands, to lay the course, to see it through, and here God is reminding Joshua of that responsibility.
But it does not all fall on Joshua, for the reason for this event is not just about Joshua but a reminder to the people who is their true leader. Sure, Joshua is the face and name, but it is the LORD who goes before them and to prove to them that God will remain with them even without Moses there. As Joshua puts it: "By this you shall know that among you is the living God" (3:10).
As leadership changes hands, as new eras begin, as the future unfolds, who goes with us? Who is among us? Or more correctly, who do we know is among us? Will we despair if our desired canidate is not elected as we want, or do we cling to a higher hope that in all times and among all leaders the living God is among us and continues to speak?
"After the death of Moses...the LORD spoke to Joshua..." O LORD, speak to us again and remind us that you, the Living God, are truly among us in all things, in all times, and in all ways. Amen.