Manna, Fruit, Sandals, and Leadership

Today’s reading: Joshua 5:10-15. Key verse: Joshua 5:12, 15.

Just before the assault on Jericho, the author of the book of Joshua includes two very short sections that reveal key elements of the leadership of the Lord. In 5:10-12, the reader is told that it is on the 14th day of the month that Israel observed the Passover (exactly 40 years after the first Passover in Exodus 12) on the western bank of the Jordan at Gilgal. The very next day they ate some of the produce of the land of Canaan. The following day, the manna from God stopped. Imagine being an Israelite who had only manna and quail for 40 years with little else! How amazing would the fruit and produce of the land of Canaan have tasted!

Leadership Principle 5.2: Good leaders are faithful enablers, not unreliable crutches

God kept his promise to take Israel out of Egypt, lead them through the desert, and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.

"The LORD said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.'” (Exodus 3:7-8)

He provided for them all the time they were in the wilderness. But now that it was time to enter the promised land, God knew Israel was best served to find her own food and take care of herself in that way once again. If God had continued to give Israel food while in Canaan they may have become lazy in their conquest of the land. And I’m sure the Israelites had no problem forgetting about the manna and eating the delicious food of Canaan!
Leaders must provide their followers with everything they need without giving them so much that they actually do them a disservice. Leaders should enable and empower their employees to be able to perform tasks and accomplish goals, but should not cause them to depend so heavily on them that they don’t feel confident doing anything without their leaders around.

My children (who are presently 6 and 8) often ask me to carry them, especially when they are tired. Although I sometimes agree to their request, other times I encourage them to use their own legs and carry themselves. I do them a disservice if I always carry them when they can learn to walk for themselves, even when tired.

Leadership Principle 5.3: The Leader behind all leaders in the Lord

Then Joshua is confronted by a “man” who refers to himself as the captain or commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15). In this enigmatic passage, Joshua is probably presented with a Christophany or an appearance of the pre-incarnate Jesus himself. The “man” tells Joshua to remove his sandals, just as the Lord had told Moses to take his off at his appearance in the burning bush. At the beginning of Joshua chapter 6, we see the Lord speaking to Joshua. It seems that this person is a visible manifestation of God, and since John says “no one has ever seen God [the Father],” (John 1:18), it is most likely that this is the second person of the Godhead appearing to Joshua in bodily form.

The Lord does this to redirect Joshua’s thinking at the verge of the battle for Jericho. Joshua, as good a leader as he is proving to be so far in the narrative, must remember that he is a follower of the Ultimate Leader, the Lord. God is the one in control of the situation, and the one who will lead his people into battle against Jericho. This figure’s sword is drawn, showing that he is ready for action.

Godly spiritual leaders must constantly remember that they are not the ultimate authority. It is tempting for individuals in power to become arrogant or think too highly of themselves. Regular time spent in God’s presence through God’s word is an excellent remedy to our prideful tendencies to elevate ourselves in our own thinking. Good leaders will continually find themselves removing the “sandals” of their pride, bowing before the Lord on holy ground.

Summary in a Sentence

The best leaders follow the example of the Lord, who empowers his followers for service without becoming their crutch, and find themselves continuously with hearts bowed before him in his presence.

JJ Routley

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.
Twitter: @JJ_Routley
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