God First, People Second, Mission Third

Today’s reading: Joshua 10:1-15. Key verse: Joshua 10:6-8.

Joshua chapter 10 illustrates an important principle in spiritual leadership: people before production. In this chapter, the people of Gibeon who had deceived Joshua and Israel in chapter 9 are now attacked by a confederation of city-states in southern Canaan. They want to make Gibeon pay for pledging their allegiance to Israel. The leader of this confederation, a king from Jerusalem named Adoni-zedek, says to the kings of other southern cities, “Come up to me and help me, and let us attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the sons of Israel,” (Josh 10:4).

When the attack commences, the men of Gibeon sent a message back to Joshua at Gilgal (where they had first crossed the Jordan river) asking him to save them from the Amorite confederation. At this point I’m sure Joshua was thinking, “Oh great. We’ve made a covenant with these people and the next thing we know they are under attack and asking us to rescue them!” Joshua had a choice to make as a leader. He could choose between the mission of the conquest of Canaan, or the covenant he had made with Gibeon.

Leadership Principle 10.1: People are more important than production or outcomes

Joshua doesn’t hesitate in the text. After the Gibeonites ask for help, the very next verse shows the leader of Israel setting out to help. Not only do they march straight through from Gilgal up into the Judean mountains to reach Gibeon, they do it through the night:

"So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him and all the valiant warriors. The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal" (Josh 10:7-9).

When Joshua set out, he may well have thought, “This is it. The end of our conquest. All our plans are being thrown to the wind.” But the Lord reassured him that victory would belong to Israel. There are times when leaders will need to choose between focusing their attention and resources on their people or their tasks, goals, and mission. Joshua could have very well reasoned that he must not assist Gibeon for the sake of the conquest mission. In doing so, however, he would have been forsaking the covenant he had made with Gibeon. People should always take priority over production or mission in a leader’s mind.

Leadership Principle 10.2: God honors faithfulness

Joshua kept his word to Gibeon, and as a result God kept his promise to Israel. The Amorites were slaughtered at Gibeon, but that was just the beginning of the victory. The Lord allowed Israel to chase their attackers down into the southern arena, and even held back the normal rotation of the earth to provide his people with more time to strike down their enemies (Josh 10:12-14). This rapid campaign allowed for the overturn of the southern arena from Canaanite possession to Israelite possession almost overnight.

In just the last chapter, Gibeon had deceived Israel, and Israel had not consulted their God before making an alliance with Gibeon, which was itself an act of covenant unfaithfulness to the Lord. Yet now we see what Gibeon meant as deception to preserve their own life, God allowed to work for good so that Israel might vanquish their enemies in record time. Joshua’s faithfulness to the promise he had made to Gibeon, and unwavering trust in the Lord as his protector, made this conquest possible. The Lord honors those who are faithful to him. Christian leaders should be shining examples of God-like faithfulness.

Summary in a Sentence

Spiritual leaders who prioritize God above all, then people before mission, demonstrate confidence that the Lord honors these choices.

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.
Blog: jjroutley.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JJ_Routley