Who Me? A Leader?

Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.

Background: Joshua was born in the land of Egypt. He and Caleb were the only adult Israelites in the exodus who survived the forty years wanderings in the wilderness and actually entered Canaan. He is mentioned for the first time in Exodus 17:9, where he is introduced most abruptly. It was on the occasion when Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek.” From that brief statement we gather that Joshua had already attracted the notice of Moses, gained his confidence and was therefore a man of valor and competent to be captain over others. Thus the very first time Joshua is brought to our notice it is as a successful warrior. How this brief introduction foreshadowed the great work which lay before Joshua. We see this in Exodus 17:14: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Note that Moses is to recite it to just Joshua, not to Israel. The next reference to Joshua is found in Exodus 24:13: So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Joshua was left alone on the side of the mountain for forty days where he waited patiently for the return of Moses. We see in Exodus 33:11 that, when Moses would leave the tent of meeting after talking with God, he would leave Joshua in charge of the tent. And then the most familiar passage dealing with Joshua is in Numbers 13 with the sending out of the spies into Canaan. Joshua and Caleb were the only two men who showed faith in God’s power to deliver the land into their hands. In Numbers 27 we have an account of the ordination of Joshua to office as the future leader of Israel.

Step Up: Joshua 1:1-5.

[1] Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, [2] “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. [3] Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. [4] From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory. [5] No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”   [NASU]

The book opens with a contrast between Moses as the servant of Yahweh and Joshua as the servant of Moses. Central to the thought of the book of Joshua is the land given by God, inherited by Israel, and conquered by Joshua. The book of Joshua takes up the land theme in dependence upon Deuteronomy and brings the theme to its completion. The promise to the fathers is realized; the punishment of the inhabitants carried through; the hope of the Pentateuch fulfilled; the inheritance from Yahweh is received. Joshua 1:1-9 introduces the narrative of the conquest of the land. At this level the threefold task given to Joshua corresponds to the three major sections of the book: a) conquer the land, chapters 1-12; b) distribute the land, chapters 13-19; c) obey the law, chapters 20-24. This section thus functions as a formal introduction to the book, giving in summary fashion a brief survey of the contents. More than that, it sets the tone for the book, a tone dominated by the divine imperative, directing, demanding and yet encouraging His people into action. Behind all that follows stands the word and will of God, not man.

These verses provide a model of Israelite leadership with five major components. The first is the context of leadership. All leadership in Israel occurs in the shadow of Moses. He has died, but his example and teaching stand before every successor. The Israelite leader must be a servant of Moses. The remaining elements of the model point to what this means. The second component is the divine command to fulfill the promise. Leadership in Israel stands tied to the gift of the land. The leader may not multiply emblems of power for himself, but must remain on equal footing with his fellow Israelites [Deut. 17:16,17,20]. His task is to maintain the land for himself and the people. In so doing, he maintains the true identity of Israel, the people of the promise to Moses [3] and to the fathers [6]. The explicit command to each generation may be different. For Joshua, it was the conquest of the whole land. Israelite leadership fulfilled the command to Moses to possess the land for Israel. The third component is the divine consolation. The divine command, in human perspective, leads to danger and risk. The danger is counterbalanced by the promise of divine presence. The Israelite leader stands not only in the shadow of Moses but also in the shadow of that presence which led Moses from Egypt into the wilderness to the plains of Moab. Such presence guarantees fulfillment of the command. It stands as the basis of the call to courage and certainty [6]. The fourth condition modifies the word of consolation. Divine gift has a human corollary, the call to obedience. The path of obedience was clearly marked. It was the Torah given to Moses. The leader of Israel had no claim to new revelation. The word to Moses sufficed. Only he who obeyed the law given to Moses could expect success in his leadership endeavors [7-8]. The final component of this theology of leadership took up into itself all the others. This was the call to response. In a rhetorical question, God summarized all that He had said and called upon the leader to reflect upon and respond to the divine word. Was the leader willing to walk in the shadow of Moses beneath the larger shadow of divine presence, fulfilling both the promise and the Torah? [9]

[1] The removal of Moses from their head was a heavy loss to Israel. For many years he had been their leader. It was under him that they had been delivered from the cruel bondage of Egypt. It was in answer to his prayers that a way was opened for them through the Red Sea. He was the one who acted as their representative before the Lord and as His mouthpiece to them. But now, when the nation needed him the most, death took him from them. But God’s work is in nowise hindered by the death of His servants. Though the workmen be removed, God’s work goes forward to its ordained completion. It should be noted that Joshua did not push himself forward to fill the breach made by the departure of Moses, but waited until ordered by the Lord to do so.

[2-4] The appointed time had now arrived for God to make good the promises which He had made to Abraham and his children long centuries before. All that had been accomplished through Moses was only preliminary. Here again the Lord emphasized the fact that Canaan was a sovereign and free gift which He made to Israel. It was not a land to which they were in any wise entitled. Neither they nor their ancestors had done anything to merit such a heritage. Nevertheless, though Canaan was a Divine gift to Israel, yet they did not enter into possession of it without effort on their part. The Jordan must be crossed, cities must be captured, battles must be fought, the Canaanites conquered, before Israel could enter into possession of and enjoy their inheritance. God would show Himself strong on their behalf only while they yielded to His authority and conducted themselves according to His orders. The Land was indeed His gift, His free and sovereign gift, to them, yet they would only obtain possession by their own efforts. Just as Abraham believed and obeyed when God called him to go to a new place, so the Israelites must believe and obey in order to enter into the promised land.

[5] Here God includes the promise of His presence with Joshua which will enable him to carry out God’s command for him to lead His people into the promised land. Thus God prepared Joshua for the work that He had called him to do. In this verse God gave Joshua a threefold assurance. (1) No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. (2) Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. (3)  I will not fail you or forsake you.

Stand Firm: Joshua 1:6-9.

[6] “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.[7] Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. [8] This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. [9] Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  [NASU]

[6-7] The Divine assurance received by Joshua was therefore intended as a spur unto energy, as an incentive to the performance of duty. God’s promises are not meant to set aside His commands, but rather are given to encourage us to do with all our hearts and might whatever He has commanded. Assurance of Divine assistance must never be regarded as nullifying our accountability or as rendering needless the putting forth of our utmost endeavors, but instead, are to be taken as so many guarantees that if we be always abounding in the work of the Lord then we may know that your toil is not in vain in the Lord [1 Cor. 15:58]. If our response to God’s promises be that of sloth and carelessness, that is proof we have received them carnally and not spiritually. The use or misuse we make of the Divine promises affords a good index of the state of our hearts. In view of these Divine assurances God told Joshua to be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you. There is an inseparable connection between receiving the Divine assurances and the need to be obedient to God’s commands. Joshua was not to be regulated by his own inclinations nor lean on his own understanding. He was not to be governed by seeking to please those under him. Instead all of his actions were to be in obedience to God’s law. If we do not desire and earnestly endeavor to keep all of God’s commandments we are totally lacking in the spirit of genuine obedience. He who picks and chooses between them is a self-pleaser and not a God-pleaser. Finally, let us notice that the path of obedience is the path of success: do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go

[8] Joshua was to be guided and governed wholly by the written Word, which was something unprecedented. No man before Joshua had received orders from God to regulate his conduct by the words of a Book. This Book of the law comprised the entire Pentateuch. If Joshua was to complete the work which Moses began, then he must maintain the Law which Moses had established. Meditation upon the Word of God is one of the most important of all the means of grace and growth in spirituality. There can be no true progress in vital and practical godliness without it. We cannot expect the God of Truth to be with us if we neglect the Truth of God. Nor is reading it and hearing it preached sufficient. They produce but a transient effect upon us, but meditating on some portion of the Word, going over it again and again in our minds, deepens the impression, fastens the truth on our memory, and sets our hearts and hands to work. Meditation was not enjoined upon Joshua in a general way, but with a specific design: so that. His mind was to be exercised upon God’s Word with a specific purpose and practical end: in order to be regulated by its precepts, through a serious repetition of them upon his heart. Meditation was not to be an occasional luxury, but the regular discharge of a constant duty: day and night. God requires an intelligent, voluntary, and joyous obedience, and if we are really desirous of pleasing and glorifying Him we shall not only familiarize ourselves with His Word, but habitually ponder how its holy precepts may best regulate all the details of our daily lives. Walking in the path of God’s commandments alone ensures success in the spiritual warfare.

[9] For the third time Joshua was bidden to be courageous. In verse 6 the call for courage was in view of the task before him. In verse 7, it was a call for personal and moral courage to be obedient to God’s law. Here in verse 9, the reason for Joshua being courageous is given: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. God’s presence would enable Joshua to be strong and courageous in the work that God had called him to complete.

Give Clear Direction: Joshua 1:10-11.

[10] Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, [11] “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it.”  [NASU]

Once a duty is discovered, it should be discharged. After receiving the command of God, Joshua acted by commanding the officers of the people to prepare to enter into the promise land. The exercise of Divinely-given authority and the requirement of implicit obedience was essential if success was to be theirs. Joshua was fully assured that if he and those under him rendered obedience to the Divine Will they could count upon God’s help.

Establish Accountability: Joshua 1:12-15.

[12] To the Reubenites and to the Gadites and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, [13] “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, The Lord your God gives you rest and will give you this land. [14] Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle shall remain in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but you shall cross before your brothers in battle array, all your valiant warriors, and shall help them, [15] until the Lord gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land, and possess that which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”  [NASU]

Repetition of key terms continues to demonstrate the emphasis of the text. Themes repeated in verses 1-9 reappear: Moses [13,14,15,17], give [13,14,15], land [12,14,15]. Each section then has its own emphasis. Verse 13 introduces the new theme of rest. Verse 14 uses repeated references to military preparations. Verse 15 speaks of possessing the land. Verses 16-17a underline the obedience of the people, while 18a speaks of the consequences of disobedience. The word remember is a call to obedience. Rest is the new word of promise in this section. The text shifts abruptly from preparations to march to an admonition to fulfill a former pledge to fight. Despite geographical separation, Israel must remain one body dedicated to one land. Any part of Israel living outside the land must help those in the land. Rest, peace, security can exist for Israel only when Israel has the land given by Moses.

Questions for Discussion:

1.    What are the five major components of Israelite leadership? Note how Joshua fulfilled each of the five components.

2.    What do these verses teach about the relationship between Divine Promises and human responsibility?

3.    What role did the Word of God play in the success of Joshua as Israel’s new leader? List the commands God gave Joshua in verses 7-8 concerning how Joshua was to use His Word. How can we be obedient to these commands in our own lives?


Joshua, Trent Butler, Nelson Publishers.

Gleanings in Joshua, Arthur Pink, Moody Press.

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