On Leading and Following

Today’s reading: Joshua 1:1-18. Key verses: Joshua 1:7-9.

The book of Joshua begins with a change in leadership for the people of Israel. Moses, the great servant of the Lord (a phrase used to describe how the ancient Israelites talked about their leaders) had died. There is an immediate disjoint between what has previously happened in the Pentateuch and what will now occur in the following narratives. Yet there is continuity in the Lord who is the ultimate leader of the people of Israel. It is not finally Moses, Joshua, or any other figure who is in command of the nation. Yahweh is their leader.

Leadership Principle 1.1: The best human leaders are God-followers

This point is emphasized in Josh 1:2-9, where the Lord directs Joshua’s thoughts toward himself. Yahweh is Joshua’s leader, and the true leader of the nation and the narrative. God first gives Joshua confidence through his promises in vv. 2-5. He promises to give Israel the land of Canaan as their possession in its entirety. He even uses the past tense (“I have given it to you,” v. 3) of the conquest as if it has already occurred. In verse 5 God promises victory over enemies, his abiding presence, and his faithfulness to his word. These words would have given Joshua great comfort and confidence as he prepared for battle.

Then God directs Joshua’s attention toward his part of the deal. God offered his promises graciously as Joshua’s sovereign, now Joshua needed to fulfil his part, which was to adhere to the law of the Lord. He was to be strong and courageous, not in warfare, but in his keeping of the law given through Moses (Josh 1:7-9). He is to audibly meditate on God’s word, contemplating it and keeping it, so that he will have success in the conquest. This brings us to:

Leadership Principle 1.2: The word of God is central, not peripheral, to godly leadership

The best leaders today are not necessarily those who have mastered the newest and best managerial or financial practices. Joshua was not to rely on his own power but to be strong and courageous in his pursuit of the Lord. The best leaders pursue God passionately, and to do that they must immerse themselves in his word. I would much rather follow a leader who is single-mindedly chasing after Jesus Christ than one who has proven experience in leading a business or ministry but fails to demonstrate a devotion to the word of God. The best leaders are Bible-obsessed.

Joshua then begins to rally the troops with the message the Lord has given him. They are to prepare themselves to begin the invasion of Canaan in just three days (v. 10). Do not miss this next small but important point:

Leadership Principle 1.3: Godly leaders direct their followers to the Ultimate Leader

Joshua reminds his people that this is the land that the Lord their God was giving to them as a possession (v. 11). In so doing, he recalls to their minds that he is not their ultimate leader, but Yahweh. The best human leaders do not hoard authority for themselves, but through their service point toward their leader in heaven.

Joshua calls for the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who had made a deal with Moses to dwell in the Transjordan (east of the Jordan river). He calls for them to keep their pact with Moses and send their fighting men over with the other tribes to war. The 2.5 tribes answer Joshua affirmatively, pledging their allegiance to him as long as the Lord goes with him. They tell Joshua, “only be strong and courageous,” (v. 18). They were not telling him to man up and channel his inner Chuck Norris, but to courageously pursue the Lord as he led the nation. This final point leads us to:

Leadership Principle 1.4: People want to follow leaders who follow the Lord

The 2.5 tribes are happy to do all that Joshua says as long as he demonstrates he is a leader who is himself in pursuit of a greater leader. The best thing any leader can do for his or her followers is direct them to the Lord, his character, and his word.
When we study the book of Joshua, we see his imperfect attempt at leadership. We view his successes and failures. We observe that his times of greatest leadership are those when he himself is whole-heartedly following after the Lord. And we come to realize that the true leader behind the story of the conquest is not Joshua but the Lord himself. If you study Joshua and focus solely on Joshua’s leadership, you miss the point. The Lord is the perfect model of leadership.

Summary in a Sentence

Human leaders should follow the Lord by saturating themselves in his word and directing their followers to follow him.

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Jonathan J. Routley (JJ) serves as Professor of Bible and Theology at Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, Iowa. JJ also serves on the Board of Directors for the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR). He holds a PhD in Theological Studies from Columbia International University, South Carolina. JJ and his family reside in Dubuque, Iowa.
Blog: jjroutley.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JJ_Routley
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