Where Leaders Come From

Today’s reading: Joshua 3:1-17. Key verse: Joshua 3:7.

A big question in the book of Joshua is this: can Joshua measure up to the kind of leader that Moses was? Will Joshua be able to fill Moses’ sandals? Moses was designated as “the servant of the Lord” during his lifetime. Would the same be said of Joshua, or would he prove to be inadequate to lead?

In Joshua chapter 3, Joshua leads the people from the Transjordanian site of Shittim to the banks of the Jordan river. They spend three days preparing, as Joshua commanded in chapter 1. Then Joshua’s officers go through the camp and mentally prepare the people to cross the Jordan by following after the ark of the covenant of the Lord. The ark, the visible representation of God’s power and presence, would lead them into Canaan and to war. Joshua commands the people to consecrate themselves (in this context, make sure they were in right standing with God and not ceremonially unclean in any way) and prepare for the task at hand.

Then the Lord speaks in verses 7-8:
"Now the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” (Joshua 3:7-8)

Leadership Principle 3.1: Leaders aren’t born, or made, they’re appointed by God and raised up by him for his purposes

I know that principle was a little long to read, but every word is important. A century ago, theories of leadership suggested that good leaders were born with innate characteristics or traits that allowed them to be strong leaders. In today’s world, it is more popular to think that leaders can be made, or that anyone can be a leader given enough drive, charisma, and effort put into leading. Both of these views are inadequate, however. All authority is ultimately from God. And all leaders are ultimately appointed by God (Romans 13:1).

Joshua is not born a great leader. Neither does he become a great leader solely through his own effort and experience. God says that he will exalt Joshua in the eyes of the people of Israel so that they would know that God was with him as he was with Moses. God would make Joshua into a great leader. This does not mean that Joshua had no part in it. Joshua, as was seen in chapter 1, needed to adhere to the law of the Lord and meditate on God’s word. But God was going to use the miracle of the Jordan river crossing to raise up Joshua in the eyes of Israel. The Lord makes the leader.

Leadership Principle 3.2: Godly leaders aren’t concerned with recognition

Joshua does not direct his people in this chapter toward his own leadership ability. He doesn’t tell them everything will be okay because of his great military experience and knowledge of Canaan’s inner workings. He points them toward the Lord and his greatness. He doesn’t want to take anything away from God’s working of this miracle. He says, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite,” (Josh 3:10).

Joshua directs his people toward their ultimate leader by focusing their attention on the sign that is about to be given. When the ark of the covenant of the Lord would move into the Jordan river, the waters would be cut off miles upstream, and stand in a heap, allowing for a wide-open area for Israel to cross over. As the people passed around the ark, it would be clear that it was their God who was accomplishing this miracle.

Leadership Principle 3.3: Good leaders remind their followers of past success to increase confidence for present tasks

God used the crossing of the Jordan river to link this time in Israel’s history with an event a generation before: the crossing of the Red Sea. In doing so, he reminded his people of his great power to deliver them from Egypt and bring them through the desert. If God could accomplish those amazing things, then he could also give them the land of Canaan and drive out its wicked inhabitants. The miracle would reconnect Israel with her past and help them remember God’s power and faithfulness to accomplish his word.

Leadership Principle 3.4: Good leaders impart confidence through the support their presence provides

God gave his people comfort going off to war by allowing them to see in a very visible, tangible way, that he was with them. As they passed through the Jordan, they would have seen the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s powerful presence, holding back the waters and allowing them to walk over on dry ground. If God was willing to accomplish this on their behalf, they should be confident that he would be with them in the conquest of Canaan. Israel was not going to war alone. God himself was going to war, using Israel as his weapon to smite the Canaanites.

Good leaders give enough of their presence to their employees or followers to help them have confidence for the task at hand. They walk the balanced line between hovering/micromanaging on the one hand and a laissez-faire, apathetic attitude leading on the other. Yahweh demonstrates his promise of abiding presence through the miracle-sign-wonder of the Jordan crossing.

Summary in a Sentence

The Lord raises up leaders for their service to him. The best human leaders are not obsessed with recognition. Instead, they build confidence in their teams by reminding of past successes and supporting with their personal presence.

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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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