I have always been fascinated by the biblical account of Israel entering the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Joshua had made a career of being the right-hand man to Moses. But through disobedience Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land and God tapped Joshua as the successor to lead the people into this new destiny. I have blogged before about leadership succession and I used these two leaders as my context.
It is not easy to be the next leader.
In this case Joshua is succeeding an icon in the man Moses. Yet it was Joshua’s task to take this million plus people across the Jordan River and into Canaan. Four times in eighteen verses Joshua is exhorted to be courageous. You would need a healthy dose of courage too if you were leading over a million people into a hostile land. And remember, this large, rag tag bunch did not have the best track record for obedience. And, for added pressure, this is your first role as commander and chief. But what stands out to me within these four exhortations to courage is not how they relate to Joshua’s weaknesses, but rather how they relate to his mission.
1. Courage For The Mission Matters. Two of the four charges to courage are directly related to the objective. V. 6 states, Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. The land, the promised land, is part of a covenant relationship between Yahweh and his people. This goes all the way back to Genesis 12 and the story of Abraham. Even today there is little that is of more importance to the Jewish nation than the promised land. Yet, the land in Joshua’s day was occupied and those occupants would have to be displaced. God promises to be with Joshua every step of the way, yet it will still take courage to fulfill God’s will. V. 9 says, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Again, this command to courage is related to the going. It is tied to the leadership task that Joshua has been given. There will certainly be days when Joshua will be tempted to be afraid and dismayed. But God says that he can take courage for the very reason that the God of the universe goes with him. It is God’s idea and God intends to use Joshua to fulfill his plans. The missional objective is clear and God expects Joshua to step into it.
2. Courage In The Method Matters. The other two exhortations to courage are directly related to how Joshua carries out the mission. It is not easy to stick to moral principles. It is not easy to lead consistently out of core convictions. V. 7 states, Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Notice that God knows that it will take courage to accomplish God’s plans God’s way. Yahweh does not want Joshua to depart from his teaching, recorded in the Law. Apparently it matters to God how a task is accomplished as much as it is accomplished. In the final verse of the passage, v. 18, we read, Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous. This a recorded response from the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh. They had decided to take up residence east of the Jordan, but promised to help their brothers in conquering all that was west of the Jordan. Notice again that their call to courage relates to how the mission is accomplished. These tribes believed that if Joshua was closely following God’s commands then no one person should disobey Joshua as God’s representative. Both the what and the how of leadership in this situation mattered.
This should inform us too when it comes to leading in God’s kingdom.
Our calling to lead should rightly include God’s leading toward a clear vision and mission.
Our calling to lead should rightly include a proper means towards that accomplishment.
What we lead people toward and how we lead them both matter.
May our courage and strength to lead well be found in the grace that is Jesus Christ.