These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said to them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.
The Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. They have enjoyed a few victories in battle. And, as the census reveals, there is not one person left of those who had been numbered in the census taken in Sinai. This is an entirely new generation, with three exceptions.
The first is the obvious: Moses. He is not yet dead. But God has told Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land, so Moses has to know that it is only a matter of time for him. I imagine him taking this last census with a mixture of relief and sadness. He knows that God is almost done using him in this world. He knows that the Promised Land is close and that this generation is ready to go in and take possession of that land. That must provide him with some relief. But I imagine it being tinged with sadness, as he knows that he will not be there to enjoy the Promised Land himself. He knows that he has to pass on before the Israelites can enter into the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.
The second is Caleb. Caleb is one of only two people who brought back an encouraging report the first go around. Caleb, then in his forties, wanted to go into the land and take what God has promised them. He saw giants and fortified cities, just like the other spies, but he saw them in the light of God having promised that land to him and the rest of the Israelites. He saw a conquest just waiting to happen, not because the Israelites were such amazing warriors, but because their God is that amazing. Not only was Caleb promised that he would get to go into the Promised Land, but he was promised a particular parcel within the land. This census must have him about ready to burst with excitement to see what God has in store.
The third is Joshua. I do not know if Joshua knows for certain that Moses is going to hand the reigns of leadership to him, but Joshua has to be aware of the possibility. He, I think, is probably seeing this census before entering the Promised Land as bittersweet. He has served as an assistant to Moses for over forty years. That is a long time to get to know someone and learn how they do what they do and why. And there was an effective communication of spiritual life from Moses to Joshua, because Joshua depends on God as he leads the Israelites and challenges the Israelites to choose whom they will serve when he retires from leadership. Just as Moses reminds the Israelites of the Law in Deuteronomy, Joshua reminds the Israelites of Who it is that gave them victory in their conquest of the Promised Land. There was an effective transmission of spiritual life there, but that, I think, must have left Joshua sorrowing over the impending departure of a man to whom he had probably grown very close.
Whenever God does something new, it seems that these three are present somewhere.
There always seems to be the person God used to lay the groundwork for the new thing He plans to do and this person often knows that they cannot be a part of the new work. It is not that God has ceased to love them or use them, but that they have served the purpose for which God called them to that work and he is going to move them on to something else.
There always seems to be the eager servant, someone who was ready to do the work back when the outgoing leader shared the vision in the first place and they are positively aching to get to work now that God has said things are ready. These people energize a work in a unique way. Plenty of people will serve — God is more than capable of staffing His endeavors — but not all with the same unbridled enthusiasm.
And there always seems to be the new leader; the person whom God is raising up to take the work forward now that everything is ready for the new thing He plans to do. This leader may be reluctant and may be frightened of the shoes they feel that they must fill. The reality is that God has a whole new pair of shoes that is custom-tailored to the person who He wants doing His work.
Father, please prepare me for whichever of these roles You want me to fulfill. If the eager servant, then please prepare me for whatever work You have in store. Please strengthen me for that work and equip me with whatever I may need. If the new leader, then please place a desire in my heart for that work and give a vision for where You want that work to go. I suspect I must first be the new leader before You can call me to be the outgoing leader, so I need not pray for that for myself, but I ask that You comfort the hearts of those leaders whom You are currently moving from an old work to a new. Transition can be difficult and Your comfort is a necessary balm for the aches that come with off-loading any burden that You placed on us — light as Your burdens are.