#307. Did Moses already know about Joshua’s election as his successor OR not? (Deut 1:38 vs Num 27:15-17)


Numbers 27:15-23 introduces the election of Joshua as Moses’ successor for the first time, narratively speaking, in the Torah. Chronologically speaking it is presented as happening in one of the months in the last half of the 40th year of the wilderness period and coincides with Moses’ climb onto Abarim (but see #305) before he is to die so that he may see the land that he himself is refused access to.

In this scene, Moses expresses to Yahweh that Yahweh needs to appoint a successor—who will go out in front of the congregation (that is, lead their battles) and bring them to the promised land (Num 27:15-17). This is all presented, of course, as if Moses does not know who that successor is, and it is thus at this time that Yahweh chooses Joshua: “Take Joshua son of Nun. . .” (Num 27:18).

But when we get to the book of Deuteronomy where Moses renarrates this and other events/stories from the wilderness period (which are now preserved in the books of Exodus and Numbers), we learn that Moses had already known that Joshua was his successor—and at that for 38 years now! At least this is what Moses himself asserts.

Thus when Moses renarrates the spying of the land affair which happened about the 2nd year out from the Exodus (at least according to P’s chronology), Moses informs the congregation in front of him on the plains of Moab that Yahweh himself had informed him “at that time” of Joshua’s election as his successor to lead the people into the promised land:

“Joshua son of Nun, who is standing in front of you: he shall go there. Strengthen him because he shall lead Israel to its inheritance.” (Deut 1:38)

So according to Moses, Yahweh had informed him of Joshua’s role as his successor in leading the Israelites into the promised land, “to inherit it,” during the spying of the land incident. This is contrary to Moses having to ask Yahweh to appoint “a man” who will do this very thing in Numbers 27 which chronologically speaking occurs 38 years after the event narrated in Deut 1:19-40.

Finally, the author of Deuteronomy also informs us that Joshua was selected in Moses’ stead precisely because Moses too was not allowed to enter the promised land! This not only harkens back to the contradictory reasons given by P and D concerning why Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land (see #266), but it also clashes with the Priestly writer’s reason for why Joshua was selected to succeed Moses! In fact, Deuteronomy has other surprises in store for us here concerning these verses.

I will tackle this in tomorrow’s contradiction.

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