Lessons in leadership
Joshua 3:1-17, 4:1-9
1Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.
2After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it."
5Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you."
6Joshua said to the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people." So they took it up and went ahead of them.
7And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: `When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’"
9Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.10This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD–the Lord of all the earth–set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap."
14So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.
15Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
17The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
Joshua was already a leader within the nation of Israel. Verse 5 shows us that he has authority over the general populous and verse 6 shows that he also has authority over the priests. So, positionally Joshua was already a leader doing his job. However, this passage marks a new phase in his leadership. He already had the respect due his position, respect born of years of faithful service under Moses and the historic victory as one of the spies that went into the land. This chapter marks the move from him from being a man doing a job (or a man holding an office) to a man exalted in the eyes of the people around him – someone who is a leader to the very core of his being.
"And the LORD said to Joshua"
God could very easily have spoken through a priest and had him relay the message to Joshua, or use a big booming voice to announce the message to all people. Either of these other avenues would have resulted in largely the same end result and yet the communication came directly to Joshua, just as it would have done to Moses. Why speak to Joshua directly?
Leadership has both internal and external qualities. Externally, we hold office and perform our duties. People often respect the position and what that represents and not the person who holds the position. Similarly, the person holding a position of leadership will often trust in the external trappings of leadership – uniform, badge, job title, privileges, etc. It is very easy to let the job do the work of commanding respect as opposed to being worthy of respect in and of ourselves by "owning" the position.
However, relying on purely external trappings of authority leaves us empty. We inhabit a shell that is too large for us. What people see and respond to doesn’t match up to what we see and feel on the inside. Someone said that the most draining thing to do in life is live as someone/something you’re not; trusting and living in just the purely external aspects of leadership offers a first-class ticket to burnout.
Verse 7 shows God taking the initiative to build up Joshua’s sense of inner authority. God validates Joshua’s calling to leadership in a very deep way by speaking to him the same way He did to Moses. This experience would have taken Joshua’s perception of Moses’ leadership and his relationship with God (in other words, the external presence and authority of Moses) and internalised it within Joshua. The end result was that Joshua would simply know to the core of his being that he’s a leader, whatever outward appearances may say.
"Today I will begin to exalt you…"
When the internal knowledge of one’s position is missing, when we are rattling around within the shell of external leadership and trusting in the office rather than simply knowing and exerting internal authority problems will result. The middle-ground would be where we keep on doing our job but we doubt ourselves at every turn. We’ll dither and be indicisive coming over as weak, not even trusting in the position’s authority to carry us. If the sence of mismatch is too great, we may simply give up and disbelieve that we can lead at all.
On the other side of the coin, we may try to overcompensate for what we feel is lacking and fall into the trap of self promotion. Because we feel the mismatch between the external and the internal, we feel that something must be lacking somewhere and set about cheerleading (or gathering cheerleaders) to provide external support.
This leads to the situation of wearing a "mask" – to make ourselves look like we are successful and strong as leaders (where in actual fact we’re dying slowly inside – hiding in the dark corner of an inner room hoping the world will leave us alone). Today’s culture is one of success and almost demands that we go down this path. In that position we’ll do almost anything to avoid the risk of exposure. We dont want people to know that the real person is not the same as the perceived image. This causes a blindspot in our choise of action in any given situation: a leader who is comfortable with who and what they are, who’s sense of inner authority matches closely to the external, will have no fear of exposure and will find avenues of action open to them that a mask wearing person might not see. A simple example being the ability to admit mistakes – with an image to maintain, a person might not be as ready to admit their failure or mistake as they otherwise should be.
God takes the initiative to avoid these problems with Joshua. He says that the task of exalting him as a leader belongs to God alone. Clearly, He knows what it coming for Joshua – the battles that he will face and the leadership issues to deal with. He knows that Joshua must spend his energies wisely and therefore steps in to confirm with the people that Joshua is more than just the sum of his leadership position. As a result of the Jordan crossing everyone would respect both the man and the position. It is really something to have the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob say "today I will begin to exalt you" – usually we are told to exalt the Lord and humble ourselves!
"…so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses"
The Passover celebration marks an annual recollection of the miracle of the Israelite escape from Egypt. Within the celebration everyone remembers how God parted the waters, allowed them to pass through, then destroyed their pursuers by dropping the water back into place behind the people of Israel. That’s the sort of miracle people remember for thousands of years.
Parting the waters of the flooded Jordan river would evoke a strong response with the people and the experience would provide an excellent reminder of God’s place in society; the Israelites had wandered in the desert for forty years until a whole new generation was ready to entry the promised land. Parting the waters of the Jordan linked this new generation back to those that had come from Egypt – it connected them to the miracle working God of their parents and brought the whole issue of faith back to the forefront of their lives. This event centred their focus on God much as passing through the parted waters had done for their parents. It also confirmed for all to see, that they should submit to God’s anointed leadership in the days ahead.
So, God deals with both the internal authority of Joshua, telling him directly that he’ll be exalted by God’s intervention, and with the external authority of his position by linking the miracle back to the one commemorated in the Passover celebration: in addition to being a display of God’s control over His creation, the miracle also played on the annual religious festival thereby evoking a deeper response from the people present.
Although God promises to exalt Joshua in the eyes of the people, this isn’t an unconditional gift. The promise is followed immediately by a command that will determines which side of the line Joshua’s on. His leadership is on the line: he can command the priests and thereby demonstrate the inner sense of authority is intact or he could disobey God. By commanding the priests, Joshua demonstrates that although there has been no external validation, he’s holding onto Gods promise by faith ("faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1).
This comes over as a three step process:
- God speaks directly, building up the inner authority of Joshua
- Joshua obeys God’s command without yet seeing a change to the external authority
- God confirms Joshua as His anointed leader by parting the Jordan.
There are no easy answers. Though God promises to exalt Joshua in the eyes of the people, He only does so after Joshua has acted. If Joshua was suffering an inner crisis and was looking to God to be built up, God certainly came through for him. However, in the process Joshua is called to make the decisive leadership decisions before he’s been built up and exalted by God.
Leaders called by God and anointed for the task they are called to will face issues of internal authority where they question themselves. Just as with Joshua, we can reasonably expect God to come through and build us up as people and in our capacity as leaders, but He demands faith. "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
Leadership seems to work in reverse – God asks for acts of faith and asks us to take risks before we feel ready. However, He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us. For Joshua, this meant that he had to command the priests to step out in faith at the water’s edge and only afterwards be exalted in the eyes of the people. God’s promise to exalt him was by no means a cure for insecurities within Joshua. Neither should leadership today be. God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), we can do all thing through God who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), but we must expect to spend time screaming in pain as he challenges our areas of weak inner authority – forcing us to step out despite ourselves. Its a trial by fire – by stepping out and being obedient we overcome ourselves – stepping past what we saw to be a barrier – and discover that the authority of our call to ministry goes deeper that we thought possible. As they say, "hindsight is 20/20".
1When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua,
2“Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe,
3and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe,
5and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,
6to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, `What do these stones mean?’
7tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
8So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down.
9Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
God knows that we forget. He knows that when challenges come in the future, we doubt the high points of the past. The beginning of chapter 4 offers hope though. God commands that the people of Israel all come together in a collective act of remembrance. It specifically recognises that the children of those who passed through the Jordan would be told of what had happened. More importantly though, the stones that they lifted from the bottom of the river were an immediate reminder to the people of what had happened.
To state the obvious: Joshua was counted among the 12 tribes of Israel. He would, therefore, have a stone that represented the trip through the Jordan; he would have a permanent reminder of the step of faith that he took.
God wont lets us forget the steps we take with Him. He wants the best for us and will set marker points in our lives that we can go back to – like the Israelites looking at the stones – which confirm the previous steps of faith that we’ve taken. When we grow into leadership, God is faithful to command us how to set a stake in the ground marking out new territory.