Today’s reading: Numbers 20-27, Ps 20-21
In the last chapter of today’s reading, there is a major newsflash: Moses will not be leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. He will die before they have reached their destination.
The announcement of a leader’s departure has the potential to create crisis in any organization. On the other hand, it also offers the opportunity for healthy transition. Often, it is the actions of the leaders themselves that can make all the difference. Moses’ response to the news that he will not finish the journey with his people offers us some great lessons in leadership.
Moses could have easily chosen resentment over the news God delivers today. He has been the chosen one since the day he stopped to check out that burning bush. He put his life on the line to become the leader God asked him to be. It’s not hard, then, to imagine a very different reaction to God’s decision: “You mean after all I’ve done for you, this is what I get. . .”
We hear none of this from Moses. In fact, his immediate concern is not for himself but for his people. What he asks from God is not a little more time or a grand finale to his own work; he asks God to provide the leader who will take his place. Moses then accepts the direction God gives him, in both the selection of that leader and how that leadership is transferred. In the most public of forums, as an act of worship before the entire congregation, Moses graciously lays his hands on Joshua. In doing so, he paves the way for the whole community to accept Joshua’s leadership as God-given.
For anyone who has been entrusted with leadership, Moses’ actions have much to teach us about how to lead and how to let go.