In Deu.31.1f, Moses takes Joshua in the sight of the entire nation and inaugurates him to be the next leader of God’s people. He underscores that the promises made to the nation concerning the land before them would be fulfilled by God with Joshua at their helm (v.3-6). He next publicly charges Joshua to lead Israel to their promised possession (v.7-8). Moses then commands the people to observe a public reading of the Law at the Feast of Tabernacles in the Sabbath year so that every new generation would have the Word of God impressed upon them (v.10-13). Finally, God calls Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle, where He appears in the pillar of cloud and inaugurates the new leader (v.14-15), while offering a rather dark prophecy about the future faithlessness of the nation, offering the Song of Moses as a testimony to His faithfulness and their disobedience (v.16f).
The transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua must have been fraught with uncertainty for the Israelites. Clearly, God had been with Moses, evidenced by the many works which God wrought at his hand. But what about Joshua? The land of Canaan lay before them and it had not changed in the forty years of their wandering. The giants were still there. The walled cities were still there. The terrain had not changed. The obstacles which cowered their parents remained for the children who were about to enter the land. But unlike their parents who were born in captivity in Egypt, this generation was born of faith, having been led by God from their birth. They had eaten the manna, drank from the rock, seen the pillar of cloud/fire on a daily basis, and learned to trust God. Now, His human representative had changed. And God allayed their uncertainties, especially in two remarkable events.
First, He suspended the flow of the Jordan so that they might cross the flooded river on dry land (Josh.3-4) – a clear imitation of God’s people crossing the Red Sea. And then He had them march on Jericho, a prominent walled city rising out of the plain of the Jordan valley (Josh.5-6). His plan of attack was unique to say the least. God told Joshua to have the people take the ark and march quietly around the city once a day for six days, with seven priests sounding trumpets of ram’s horns (Josh.6.1-5). On the seventh day, they were to repeat this odd stratagem seven times, culminating in a great shout at which time God would cause the wall to fall down before them (Josh.6.5).
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the priests when Joshua relayed these instructions? Or the reaction of the men of war who were to carry out this odd behavior? Nonetheless, they followed Joshua’s lead and instructions and watched as God caused the wall to “fall down flat” (v.20). Inspired by such, it is no wonder that they would follow Joshua in the pursuant conquest of Canaan.
The period of time covered by Joshua is in many ways a high point in the history of Israel, and there are numerous lessons to be gleaned from this section of scripture. But of particular interest for our purpose is the leadership of Joshua. He is a remarkable character and, in many ways, unique in the line of men who led God’s people. Like Samuel, he is a transitional character, bridging the gap between Moses and the judges. He is one of the few adults who witnessed the exodus and the conquest. He lived among a faithless people, and among a faithful people. He arguably witnessed more of God’s might and power than any other leader. He had to replace the most revered character of the Old Testament. And he was effective and successful in all that he did.
Why? Because his leadership was rooted in God’s Word.
There are some valuable lessons to be learned about leadership from Joshua, and those who lead God’s people in our increasingly difficult times would do well to study him carefully. He inherited his job from a great leader. He led a people with a history of rebellion. He led in difficult times. He faced obstacles that appeared insurmountable. He was asked to do things that seemed impossible. Yet he led consistently in faith and with a devotion to the will of God, and to the God behind that will. Please consider a few things that might be learned from Joshua’s leadership, and particularly in the events surrounding Jericho.
God’s leaders have learned to be good followers. We are first introduced to Joshua during trying circumstances in the life of Moses. Joshua is tasked with attacking the Amalekites in Ex.17.8f, leading a group of faithless slaves against an oppressive army. In Ex.32, he stands with Moses in the incident with the golden calf, watching as God punished the rebellious nation. And in Num.13, he and Caleb are the two spies who stood up for God and Moses regarding the taking of Canaan. The people tried to stone him until God intervened. Joshua had a tough apprenticeship, but witnessed firsthand the seriousness of God about His word. He understood the blessings of obedience and the curses of rebellion. He had been among those who were tasked with difficult jobs, had lived among a nation in transition, had watched Moses struggle with consistent opposition, had crossed both the Red Sea and the Jordan River. He learned obedience by the things he had suffered. Leaders are not immune from obedience, but are to be the first ones among God’s people to roll up their sleeves and get to work. There are no bosses in the kingdom. Thus the demands of God are as significant to a person of influence as a disciple as they are as a leader. God called Joshua to have the Israelites circumcise themselves and their children when they entered the land (Josh.5.2f). For forty years they had neglected this symbol of God’s covenant promises. He had allowed them to die in the wilderness, and perhaps the nation refused to circumcise their children in response. Perhaps they no longer believed that God would give them the land. It was an antiquated custom – a ritual from a former generation and former leader all of whom were now gone. Yet Joshua does not hesitate to “make flint knives for himself” (v.3). He respected the promises, institutions, covenants, leading the people back to their roots in both circumcision and the Passover celebration (v.10) because he was a man who had learned obedience among a disobedient generation. So it should be with anyone who stands before God’s people. He must be the first to follow, and do so publicly, boldly, and passionately. “Follow me following God” must be the leader’s mindset.
God’s leaders humbly look to God for direction. In Josh.5:13f, we find Joshua standing in the proximity of Jericho, perhaps surveying the city with the intention of finding some way to overtake it. Suddenly he looks up and “a man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand” (v.13). Joshua asks if he is friend or foe, to which the angel identifies himself as “commander of the army of the LORD.” Joshua’s response is most telling. He falls upon his face and asks, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” If there was ever a question that describes the ideal leader of God’s people, this would be it. For an elder, a preacher, a teacher, an influential person in the Lord’s church, such should be the question that proceeds every action, every judgment, every intention, every decision. “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Those who lead are tasked with helping others in the service of God, teaching or guiding or overseeing with the eternal destiny of others in mind. And yet, how often are leaders overwhelmed with their own sense of import or consumed with their own opinion and ego? A good leader should find himself constantly on his face before God, looking to find direction from the proclamations of God. When a leader is no longer pursuing God’s will, he ceases to help God’s people to redemption. In an age where human judgment and subjective reasoning has supplanted the objective truth of God’s Word, we are desperately in need of leaders who look to God’s will as the final authority.
God’s leaders are careful in their promotion of God’s will. God prefaced His instructions concerning the attack upon Jericho by telling Joshua, “See! I have given Jericho into your hand…” (Josh.6.3). What followed must have seemed most odd – go march around the city one time each day, and then on the seventh day, march around seven times; blow the trumpets and shout; the wall will fall. One of the peculiar aspects of the Mosaic Law is the details that accompany so many of God’s demands, be it the number of times the blood is sprinkled on the veil, or the details about cleansing from leprosy, the specifics about clean and unclean animals, or the dimensions of the tabernacle. One cannot study the Word of God without being impressed by God’s attention to detail, so the commands about Jericho should come as no surprise. Clearly God wanted Israel to see that He had given them the city and not think that they had taken it by their own power. But the method of the week long siege had nothing to do with God’s power, and everything to do with their faith and attention to His word. In Josh.6.6f, Joshua communicates God’s will in careful detail, underscoring God’s demand that they be silent until the final march of the last day (v.10,16). Moreover, he was pointed in his warning that they take no spoil from the city, but consider it dedicated to the Lord, and that they spare Rahab while utterly destroying everything else in Jericho. Some of God’s demands must have seemed almost silly – the daily circumference of the city and retreat. Other of God’s demands must have been horribly difficult – the execution of “man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey” (v.21). In our day, people are quick to question God’s Word. “Why do I have to march around once a day and then seven times on the last day? That seems ludicrous. Surely God knows my heart and can destroy the city without that silliness.” “How could God have wanted everyone killed? I thought He was a God of love and mercy? I see no love and mercy there. I can’t serve such a God.” Leaders are often prone to giving in to such subjectivism and human questioning of God’s will. We might hesitate to stand up for the details, the intricacies, the difficult demands of the Word. But good leaders – God’s leaders – are careful in their defense and promotion of what the Book reveals. We may not always understand God’s wisdom or reasoning and we may not always like what He says. In fact, we may find difficulty, opposition, and discouragement. After all, God does not bring down every wall. But men of faith act and lead in just that – faith.
God is with leaders who uphold His word. One of the overlooked aspects of the Jericho narrative is the statement found in the last verse of the chapter. “So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country” (Josh.6.27). God uses good leaders. God appreciates good leaders. God knows their name and values their work. Hebrews 11 is a testimony to all of those who stood up for God, His Word, and His people. And while the end of that chapter notes that many are unnamed in history, they are not unnamed in the mind of the LORD. No matter the outcome of hard decisions, challenging circumstances, or difficult campaigns, God is with those who stand at the fore of His children. Such is hard to remember when leadership is trying, burdensome, frustrating. But it is important to remember that God stands with His leaders.
We live in a politically correct world where hyper-sensitivity, individuality, subjectivism, and distrust of religion and those who lead therein pervades. It is hard to stand up and lead God’s people in such an environment. Hardship is almost guaranteed. Yet God’s leaders have faced great obstacles before. Barren deserts, flooded rivers, and walled cities are no obstacles to God – nor to His leaders who faithfully follow His word.