“Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” says the old adage. Many adults find themselves in positions where leaders are needed. Some adults want to lead but doubt they have the necessary skills. Others are reluctant to accept any leadership responsibilities. Some adults are thrust into positions of leadership they neither sought nor want. Many adults think of leadership being the exclusive work of a chosen few; the rest are only followers. However, each adult who is a parent has leadership responsibilities. Only some persons are called to be leaders in highly visible positions of responsibility. All believers need to understand biblical principles of leadership. The Book of Joshua provides some of these principles.
Joshua: The Man and the Book
Joshua is first mentioned in Exodus 17, where shortly after leaving Egypt, he led the fighting men of Israel against the Amalekites [uh-MAL-uh-kights]. He became the servant of Moses and went with him part of the way up Mount Sinai (24:13). He was with Moses when he came down and found that the people had made a golden calf (32:17). He was selected by his tribe of Ephraim to be one of the 12 scouts who explored the land of Canaan (Num. 13:8; “Oshea” in the KJV). Only he and Caleb stood with Moses and Aaron in urging the people to enter Canaan. For this he was told that of the adult generation only the two believing scouts would enter the promised land (14:6, 30). The Lord led Moses to choose Joshua to lead the people into the land and conquer it (27:12–23). After Moses died, Joshua fulfilled this leadership role as instructed (Josh. 1:1–18).
The Book of Joshua tells of the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River (chaps. 1–4), the conquest of Canaan (chaps. 5–12), the distribution of the land among the tribes (chaps. 13–21), and Joshua’s final address to the people (chaps. 22–24).
Search the Scriptures
God invited Joshua to step up into the leadership void created by Moses’ death. He promised Joshua that He would be with him and give him success. God gave Joshua the twofold admonition of acting with courage (derived from God’s presence) in carrying out his leadership task and acting with conviction in obeying the instructions God had given.
Step Up (Josh. 1:1–5)
How does the Bible evaluate the work of Moses? What were Joshua’s qualifications to lead? Why is it often hard to be called to step up to the work of a popular leader? What was Joshua’s task? What promises did God make to Joshua and the people? What promises did God make to Joshua himself? What leadership principles are in these verses?
Verses 1–5: Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, 2Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. 3Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. 4From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast. 5There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
After the death of Moses, God called Joshua to lead Israel. Moses was the only leader the people had even known. Although some of the people had grumbled against Moses in his early leadership years, the ones who prepared to enter Canaan held Moses in high regard. God did not allow Moses to enter the land because of his own disobedience, but He did allow Moses to view the land from a high mountain (Deut. 32:48–52). Deuteronomy 34:10 records, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” Another indication of the Lord’s high regard of Moses is that he was given the title the servant of the LORD.
Joshua was called Moses’ minister (“assistant,” NEB, REB, NRSV; “aide,” NIV). He was the one who helped Moses in various ways. Moses was his mentor, which was good preparation for his later leadership role. God had told Moses to name Joshua as his successor. Moses obeyed and openly announced this to the people. Therefore, although the people grieved the death of Moses, the people were ready to follow Joshua. A leadership void can be a real crisis, but God acted and Moses and Joshua obeyed.
Joshua was faced with a formidable task. He was to lead the people across the Jordan River and conquer the land that the Lord had promised them. Stepping up into a task that had been done by a popular leader can be daunting. Moses had been the human leader through whom God brought Israel out of Egyptian bondage, gave them the law, and led them for 40 years in the wilderness. The announcement Moses my servant is dead could have discouraged the Israelites. They knew of Joshua and of his assistance to Moses, but as their main leader he was an unknown. What were Joshua’s qualifications for becoming the leader? For one thing, he had led the Israelites in battle. This was a plus for someone who would need to lead them in conquering the land. Joshua had proved faithful in all his previous assignments. When most of the people wanted to return to Egypt for fear of the Canaanites, he remained loyal to the Lord. His strongest qualification was the assurance of the Lord’s presence with him to provide strength and courage for the task.
One of the good things about Joshua was that he was content to be himself. He was not Moses, and he did not claim to have all of Moses’ skills. He had his own gifts and abilities, and he was thus prepared for the assignment he was given. Moses had served in his day; now it was time for Joshua to serve. All of us have windows of opportunity to serve the Lord and to do our assigned work, but that window is not open forever. As I have gotten older, I realize how short a time we have to do our work. Generations come and go. People are mortal and time passes quickly. Joshua and the people could have panicked when their leader died, but instead they moved forward under a new leader.
As an example of these principles, let’s take the situation in a church whose long-tenured and highly popular pastor has retired. A committee has recommended a new pastor, and the church has called him. What challenges does this pose for the pastor and for the church? The church will inevitably compare the new pastor to their beloved former pastor. They need to see that God calls pastors to do what needs to be done at a given time. They should not expect the new pastor to be the old pastor; they are two different people.
Benjamin Franklin was very popular when he served as minister to France. Thomas Jefferson was sent to that position when Franklin left the post. When Jefferson presented his credentials as United States Minister to France, the French premier said, “I see that you have come to replace Benjamin Franklin.” Jefferson wisely replied, “I have come to succeed him. No one can replace him.” In the same way, Joshua was called not to replace Moses but to succeed him.
The words you and your in verses 3–4 are plural; the words thee and thy in verse 5 are singular. In other words, verses 3–4 are promises to Joshua and the people; verse 5 is a promise to Joshua. So sure was it that God already had given the land to them that God spoke to the people as if the land were already theirs. He spoke of the land which I do give in verse 2, and He used the words have I given unto you in verse 3. This did not mean that they had nothing to do. They had to conquer it, but they were assured that God already had given it to them.
Verse 4 gives the boundaries of the land God was giving them. The wilderness was the desert region in the south of Canaan. Lebanon was on the north part of the coast. The eastern boundary was the river Euphrates. The western border was the great sea or Mediterranean Sea.
God promised Joshua that no one would be able to successfully stand against him all the days of his life. In other words, “no one will ever be able to defeat you” (CEV). Joshua had witnessed how the Lord was with Moses, in fellowship and in service. Now the Lord promised to be with Joshua in the same way. I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. For Christian leaders this is the secret of whatever good is done through them and the secret for the strength that sustains them under the most trying circumstances.
What are the lasting lessons in Joshua 1:1–5?
The departure of a popular leader creates a crisis for the followers and for a new leader.
New leaders do not replace former leaders; they succeed them.
Christian people follow divine leadership above all human leaders.
God’s people seek God’s will in selecting leaders.
God’s people rely on God’s presence to complete God-given assignments.
Robert J. Dean