God knew that Moses would be a hard act to follow. Joshua knew it, too, and having heard quite a bit about the attitudes of the people with whom he was travelling, no doubt they let him know that they knew it just as well.
From the start, God let Joshua know that he would not be alone – “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). God has made the same promise to the people, and they are willing to follow; “Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17).
In times of change, which always implies loss, we are anxious. We grieve for the leader who is lost – whether to a new job, a new city, or to retirement or even, as with Moses, to death. Even as we begin to pick up our bags and load up our camels and face forward with the best of intentions to honour the legacies of the past and carry them into the unknown future, that tether, that cord of love and loyalty tugs at our shoulders, so that we shrug them and our packs will not sit comfortably; so that we look back over them, puzzled as to what we might expect to see. Our imaginations of what lies ahead have gaps in them, in the unfocused shape of the one we have lost. His vision no longer paints in the details; they are fuzzy and scruffy and worrisome.
The one whose new job it is to paint us a picture pauses for a moment, brush held in trembling hand, dripping paint.
God speaks. God tells an old story, older than the Exodus, older than Moses, older than Israel, older than the world.
The waters flood. Chaos threatens. The Spirit of God moves over the deep. The waters are gathered together and piled up in heaps, folded like blankets and set aside so that the dry land can rise up to meet the feet of the people of God and they may walk in the way that God has painted for them, leading them forward into the future with the gentle, whispering, threatening, comforting reminder of the waiting waters on either side:
“I am with you as I was with Moses. The living God is among you.”
Joshua is not your new leader. Do not call him rabbi, or the father of your people, your saviour or your Messiah. You have one teacher, one father, one Messiah, one God (Matthew 23:8-10). Changes come, people go, but from the beginnings of the world when the waters rose in chaos to the end, God folds the blankets of confusion, grief and fear aside to lead you through.