Moses & Joshua

Scriptures: Exodus 17:8-13; 33:11; 24:13; 32:17;

Numbers 11:25-29; 13:1-14:10; 27:18-20


Title: Moses & Joshua



  • Introduction – Intergenerational relationships
  • Symbiotic relationship
  • Mentoring relationship

o   Showing and telling

o   Inviting reflection

o   Providing a catalyst

o   Investing authority

  • Conclusion



On the wall here we have a picture of a pair of oxen or bullocks

–         In the old days when they wanted to train a young ox to pull a load they would yoke it with an older well-trained ox

–         The younger ox would learn what to do and how to follow directions by walking alongside the older ox [1]

–         In a way the older ox was a mentor to the younger beast


Today we begin a new sermon series on intergenerational relationships in the Bible

–         An intergenerational relationship is exactly what it sounds like – a relationship between two people from different generations, someone older and someone younger

–         We find a number of intergenerational relationships in the Bible

–         For example: Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth

–         The aging priest Eli and the young prophet Samuel

–         King Saul and King David

–         As well as the apostle Paul and his protégé Timothy


Our focus this morning though is on the relationship between Moses and Joshua

–         No disrespect to Joshua and Moses but in some ways Joshua is like the younger ox learning from Moses, the older more experienced ox, while the Lord God is the one giving the directions, leading them both


Symbiotic relationship:

Please turn with me to Exodus 17 – page 78 near the front of your pew Bibles

–         Joshua was Moses’ personal assistant – his aide

–         Joshua was probably about 50 to 60 years younger than Moses

–         We don’t know exactly how they met, but it seems they had chemistry – a special kind of rapport

–         We first hear about Joshua and Moses working together in the wilderness, following the Israelites’ escape from Egypt

–         From Exodus 17, verses 8-13, we read…


[Read Exodus 17:8-13]


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us


A healthy intergenerational relationship is mutually symbiotic – or mutually beneficial, in other words

–         Symbiosis comes from a Greek word meaning “living together”

–         From a scientific point of view a symbiotic relationship is ‘the living together of unlike organisms’  [2]


An example of a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship, in nature, is that of the sea anemone and a clown fish (from ‘Finding Nemo’ fame)


The clownfish supports the life of the sea anemone by feeding on small invertebrates that otherwise have potential to harm the anemone,

–         What’s more the fecal matter (or the poos) from the clownfish provide nutrients (or dinner) to the sea anemone.

–         The clownfish receives the benefit of being protected from predators by the anemone’s stinging cells, to which the clownfish is immune.

–         The clownfish also emits a high pitched sound that deters butterfly fish, which would otherwise eat the anemone [3]


The anemone and the clown fish are unlike organisms but they support each other in a mutually symbiotic relationship

–         We need each other and we need each other to be different


At their best intergenerational relationships are mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships

–         We see this mutual symbiosis in Moses’ and Joshua’s relationship


In Exodus 17 (which we just read) the young Joshua goes into battle against the Amalekites to protect Israel at a place called Rephidim

–         Rephidim means support [4]

–         Moses, who is most likely in his 80’s at this stage, is not physically fit enough for hand to hand combat – he relies on Joshua for that

–         But Joshua and the Israelites are the under dogs in this fight

–         Israel has just spent the last few hundred years in slavery – the people are vulnerable and relatively weak

–         They need God’s help and God lends them a hand through Moses & Joshua working together


Moses supports Joshua and his soldiers by raising his hands in the air

–         We are not sure how this helps – but it does

–         As long as Moses’ hands stay up Israel gets the advantage – but as soon as Moses’ hands droop, the Amalekites start winning

–         In the end Joshua wins, not by his own strength but by the hand of God and Moses supporting him


Why did God do it this way?

–         Why not just zap the Amalekites with lightning from heaven or have the ground swallow them up, or drown them like he did the Egyptians?

–         Well, perhaps God is teaching Israel to work together symbiotically


Moses needed Joshua and Joshua needed Moses and they both needed God

–         By working together as they did Moses & Joshua are a living parable to Israel of how God wants the people to function as a nation


So that’s the first thing about Moses’ & Joshua’s intergenerational relationship – it was symbiotic or mutually beneficial, not just to each other but also to the wider community


Mentoring relationship:

The second thing we observe is that Moses became a mentor to Joshua

–         Now not every intergenerational relationship is necessarily a mentoring relationship but they can often develop that way


A mentor is a wise and trusted advisor who guides a protégé and helps them to develop their potential

–         Mentoring is more than simply teaching a particular skill set

–         Mentoring is about developing the whole person

–         Moses does at least four things in his mentoring of Joshua


Moses mentors Joshua…

–         By showing and telling

–         By inviting reflection

–         By providing a catalyst for change

–         And, eventually, by investing his authority in Joshua


Let me give you some examples from the books of Exodus and Numbers to illustrate how Moses does these things. Firstly, showing and telling


Telling is when the mentor gives the protégé instructions to follow

–         (Whether the protégé follows those instructions or not is the telling part)

–         And showing is when the mentor demonstrates to the protégé by his own example


In Numbers 11, verse 28, we read that Joshua had been Moses’ aide (his personal assistant) since his youth

–         This means that Joshua was sort of like Moses’ first lieutenant

–         In this role, as Moses’ aide, Joshua did what Moses told him to do – just as a lower ranking officer would follow the orders of a general

–         Some religious orders require their priests & nuns to take a vow of obedience

–         Obedience is not a very popular word or discipline these days but learning to follow instructions is essential for any man or woman of God

–         That Joshua was willing to obey Moses was very telling – it demonstrates that he is capable of following God’s instructions


Joshua’s role as Moses’ assistant also meant he went everywhere with Moses

–         So when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the 10 commandments Joshua went with him, not all the way but far enough [5]

–         Likewise when Moses met with God in the tent of the Lord’s presence  Joshua was close at hand [6]

–         Wherever Moses went Joshua followed and so Joshua was continually exposed to Moses’ example in leadership


More than just showing Joshua what leaders do (the tasks of leadership), Moses was, by his presence, actually showing Joshua how to be a leader

–         Character is more caught than taught

–         We tend to become like the people we hang out with

–         As adults we need to be careful in the example we model for the young among us

–         Our children will learn more from what we show them, through our actions, than they will through what we tell them with our words


After nearly 40 years living and working with Moses, Joshua had perhaps one of the longest apprenticeships in history

–         But by the end of it he had a pretty good handle on what was involved in obeying God & leading the nation

–         Not only that but he had developed, and imbibed from Moses, some vital character qualities like patience and faithfulness and integrity


As well as showing and telling, Moses also helps Joshua to think for himself by inviting him to reflect on his experience

–         A good mentor doesn’t always spell out the answer for their protégé

–         Sometimes it may be necessary to explain things but often it is better to teach people to figure things out for themselves and let them draw their own conclusions


Turn with me to Numbers chapter 11, verse 25 – page 142 in your pew Bibles

–         This little story is relevant for the season of Pentecost that we are in

–         Incidentally though it also shows Moses inviting Joshua to reflect on his experience – from Numbers 11, verse 25 we read…


[Read Numbers 11:25-29]


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us


You may remember me telling you the story of when I went to Cubs as a boy and attempted my ‘Duty to God’ badge

–         Most badges were supervised by the Cub leaders but the ‘Duty to God’ badge had to be supervised by a minister

–         There was a chaplain at my school so I approached him and asked if he would supervise me – to which he replied…

–         “You can never do your duty to God”

–         I was 10


The Chaplain wasn’t telling me off but nor was he willing to explain what he meant – he was inviting me to reflect on what I was doing

–         It seems I’m still reflecting on it some 36 year later


Joshua was loyal to Moses and was worried I suppose that the elders prophesying in the camp might undermine Moses’ authority

–         But Moses doesn’t feel threatened

–         He doesn’t reprimand Joshua for his outburst, nor does he seek to explain the meaning of God sharing his Spirit

–         Instead Moses sees a teachable moment here and invites Joshua to reflect on the experience, and his response to it, by saying…

–         “…I wish that the Lord would give his Spirit to all his people…”


I’ll leave it with you to figure out what that could mean


The third thing Moses does in mentoring Joshua is he provides a catalyst for the young man

–         A catalyst is something which causes or precipitates a change in the protégé’s identity and thinking


Some catalysts can be quite pleasant – like when you get married, your identity and consequently your thinking changes

–         Other catalysts can feel less pleasant

–         Just as hot water is a catalyst for drawing out the flavour in a tea bag

–         So too when we find ourselves in hot water over something – this becomes a catalyst drawing out what is inside of us


Moses does two things to precipitate a change in Joshua’s identity and thinking:


Firstly, in Numbers 13 verse 16, he changes his protégé’s name (and by implication his identity) from Hoshea to Joshua

–         This name change is a relatively pleasant / feel good catalyst

–         Hoshea means salvation while Joshua means The Lord saves  [7]

–         I wonder if Moses is making the point here that it is not Joshua who will save the people – it is the Lord God who saves

–         This change in thinking would lift a huge weight off Joshua and would remind everyone (including Joshua) to put their trust in the Lord


Incidentally, the Greek form of the name Joshua is the same as that of the name Jesus – so Joshua points to Jesus, the ultimate successor to Moses


The second thing Moses does to precipitate change in Joshua is send him to the Promised Land with the other 11 spies to scout things out

–         By doing this Moses is putting Joshua into a new and unfamiliar situation

–         How will Joshua respond in a foreign culture?

–         Will this new experience draw out faith or fear?


Ironically Joshua doesn’t find himself in hot water until he returns to the Israelite camp in the wilderness

–         Ten of the Israeli spies give a bad report, spreading fear among the people

–         Only Caleb and Joshua respond in faith by essentially saying, “with the Lord on our side, we’ve got this”

–         Despite being under tremendous pressure Joshua & Caleb provide an unpopular minority report and the people are ready to stone them

–         But God intervenes

–         Joshua’s character proves true to his name: the Lord saves


You know, when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon it doesn’t just slip out easily – the butterfly has to struggle to get out

–         But the struggle is necessary to get the fluid pumping into its wings – without the struggle the butterfly wouldn’t fly

–         It wouldn’t have been easy for Moses to see Joshua in hot water with the people – but it was necessary for Joshua to go through this struggle

–         The whole experience acted as a catalyst to precipitate a deep change in Joshua – it strengthened his resolve and showed everyone what Joshua was made of


One of the things we notice about the butterfly’s struggle to emerge from the cocoon is that it happens in stages, not all at once

–         So in providing a catalyst, little steps are usually best

–         For example, if you are a leader in Sunday school you could develop the potential of your helper by providing the catalyst of extra responsibility

–         Don’t throw them in the deep end by making them prepare the whole lesson – rather start by asking them to organise one game or one craft activity, then gradually give them more responsibility as they are able

–         A bit of extra responsibility might feel like a struggle for them at first but they will grow into it – step by step


Providing a catalyst for change requires wisdom from the mentor

–         Knowing when to step in and help and when to hang back and let our children and our protégés fend for themselves – it’s not easy


Okay – so far we’ve seen how Moses mentored Joshua by showing & telling, by inviting reflection and by providing a catalyst


Now let’s consider how Moses invests his authority in Joshua

–         Investing authority is about the mentor letting go (when the time is right) and passing the baton of responsibility to the protégé

–         It’s about handing over the keys for good


If power is the ability to do something then authority is the license or the permission to do it

–         You may know how to drive a car but without a license you don’t have the authority to drive

–         You may be a very capable administrator but without winning an election you don’t have the authority to make decisions in public office

–         You may be able to climb through the window of a house but without a deed of ownership or a rental agreement you have no right to be there


Towards the end of Israel’s long sojourn in the wilderness God tells Moses he is going to die and Moses responds, not by thinking of himself, but by thinking of what is best for the nation. [8]

–         Moses knows that the people need good leadership – he doesn’t want them to be left alone like sheep without a shepherd

–         So the question is: who will become the new shepherd of Israel?

–         Who will guide and protect the fledgling nation?


To his credit Moses doesn’t assume anything

–         He doesn’t assume one of his sons will succeed him as leader of Israel

–         Nor does he assume that because he has been mentoring Joshua all these years that Joshua will automatically succeed him

–         Instead Moses asks God to appoint his replacement and God chooses Joshua because Joshua is capable

–         After all those years of mentoring, Moses had given Joshua the ability to lead the nation

–         But by asking God to choose his successor, Moses was giving Joshua the authority to lead – and it was a rock solid authority for no one can argue with God’s decision


Moses formally transfers his authority by publicly laying his hands on Joshua’s head and proclaiming Joshua as the new leader of Israel


Moses’ and Joshua’s mutually symbiotic relationship has come full circle

–         Joshua needed Moses to prepare him for leading Israel and Moses needed Joshua to pick up the mantle of leadership for the sake of the nation


Joshua went on to be a wise & courageous leader during a time of great change

–         He transitioned the nation into the Promised Land – no easy task

–         The surprising thing is that, as far as we know, Joshua didn’t mentor anyone else after him

–         And if the book of Judges is anything to go by the nation suffered for it



Here at Tawa Baptist we are blessed with a diversity of ages – all the generations are represented

–         Not all churches are as lucky as we are in this respect

–         We want to encourage people to grow healthy relationships together – not just with people of the same age but also with people of a different generation – we need each other and we need each other to be different


To help people deepen their relationships we sometimes run lunches after church – like the Count Me In lunches we are having today

–         I encourage you to attend one of these lunches and get to know someone in a different age bracket to you

–         You don’t need to force the conversation but if you find a natural chemistry with someone older or younger than yourself then look for opportunities to develop the friendship

–         You might not end up in a full on mentoring relationship like Moses & Joshua but your life will probably be richer for it


Let me leave you with two questions…

–         Who is your Moses?

–         Who is your Joshua?


[2] Heinrich Anton de Bary, 1879.


[4] Refer George Knight’s commentary on Exodus, ‘Theology as Narration’, page 122.

[5] Refer Exodus 24:13 and 32:17

[6] Refer Exodus 33:11

[7] Refer the footnote in the NIV Study Bible

[8] Refer Numbers 27:15-20