Two Types of Courage


Joshua Davis on Flickr

Courage is a valuable trait in a leader.

Merriam-Webster defines courage as the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. Real leadership deals in the currency of courage on a daily basis. Yet there are different kinds of courage. Some forms are more valuable than others.

One of the most epic stories in the Bible is the narration of Israel, not only becoming a people, but becoming a nation by inheriting the promised land. In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham to become the progenitor of a people who would become Israel. After some 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God led over a million Israelites out of bondage by the hand of Moses. It was time for Israel to have a land of its own. But by the end of the book of Deuteronomy, there was a necessary leadership succession. Joshua, the ever present lieutenant to Moses, was to be installed as the next leader of the people of Israel. It would be Joshua who would move to the front in taking this rag-tag group of people across the Jordan River and dispossess those who resided there. Moses had been God’s chosen instrument to fulfill the promise of redemption from slavery. Joshua would be God’s chosen instrument to fulfill the promise of possession of the land.

Joshua 1:1-9 provides us with God’s charge to this new head of state. Moses was dead and it was time for Joshua to lead. Three times in nine verses God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” Verses 2-6 define the first type of courage that Joshua would require. Verses 7 and 8 define the second type of courage that Joshua would need. Verse 9 provides the foundation for the two types of courage that God called Joshua to exhibit.

Strategic Courage

Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. (v.2)

Throughout the Bible God chooses different individual leaders to move his salvation history forward. Joshua was to be God’s leader to take the people of Israel into this great land. The borders were predefined. The promise of victory was already given. The reality of God’s presence was assured.

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (v.6)

To possess the land would require great strength and courage. To settle 12 tribes of people in a land that was already settled by others would require planning, insight, and right steps. Strategic courage was necessary. It was what the people of Israel, led by Joshua, were to do.

Moral Courage

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. (v.7)

The law that was given to Moses was God’s moral code for the people of Israel. It would mark the Israelites as God’s people and make them distinct from all the other people on earth. Strength and courage would be required again. The people who Israel would dispossess worshiped false gods–idols. There was the opportunity for Israel to turn away from the one true God and fall into pagan ways that were incredibly destructive. The word “success” in verse 7 refers to the idea of wise living. If Israel followed God’s moral code they would have real success, not just material prosperity based on superstition. It was what the people of Israel, led by Joshua, were to be.

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. (v.9)

There would be many opportunities to be afraid or to be discouraged. Strategic courage and moral courage, leading by “doing” and leading by “being,” brings on many challenges. That is why leadership is difficult and dangerous. The final charge to be courageous is anchored in the sure knowledge that God’s “withness” is real and always present.

May I suggest that “being” always precedes “doing.” Moral courage is in short supply today. There is no lack of perceived strategic courage. But if one wants to lead others into circumspect thinking and wise living, one must be wise and display true character. Moral courage and strategic courage, based on God’s principles and his strong presence, will display God’s goodness and wisdom to a world in desperate need.

Don’t miss that this is covenant stuff. The Law and the Land were critical aspects to the Old Covenant. But in v.9 there is also the foreshadowing of another who would not only be “with you” but “among you” and “in you.” The New Covenant inaugurated in Jesus was coming–and is here!

The Benefits of Delegation & Empowerment


Exodus 18 is a well known passage about delegation. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, observes that there is a great inefficiency in how the people are receiving justice. Moses is acting as the lone judge, with every daily dispute being brought before him from morning until evening. No matter how big or how small, the cases came to Moses alone. Moses alone was the keeper of the Law and he alone settled every dispute. In verse 17 Jethro declares, “What you are doing is not good.” Jethro has enough foresight to see that both Moses and the people will become exhausted by this judicial process. Jethro has some prescriptions to set things right.

First, Jethro encourages Moses to educate the whole of Israel as a people concerning the Law of God. 

Second, Jethro tells Moses to find able men. These are to be men who truly fear God, who are trustworthy, and who hate a bribe. 

Third, Jethro exhorts Moses to take such men and place them as chiefs over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. The title “chief” can carry a broad range of leadership meanings. But all of these titles require delegated authority and power. These men are to judge those allotted to them on any small matter at any time. Only the large matters will come to Moses. The expression of their delegated power is that they are able to vindicate or punish those who have been brought before them.

In verses 22 and 23 Jethro lays out two clear benefits in light of this form of delegation and empowerment. These benefits are worthy of our attention as well. When we educate, delegate, and empower others we will experience the same benefits.

1. The “For” and “With” Principle

Jethro states the first benefit this way, “So it will be easier for you. And they will bear the burden with you.” When leaders delegate clear responsibilities to others and empower them in decision making, their load becomes lighter because others are getting under the rock with them. 

2. The Peace and Prosperity Principle

Jethro goes on to say, “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” The follow through on this advice promises God’s direction, most likely because Moses will no longer be so distracted and in a better position to hear from God. The follow through also promises endurance for Moses and peace for the all of the people. What leader does not need staying power? Part of the answer is in shared leadership. The ultimate benefit is the shalom of the people, which not only means the cessation of anxiety, but the prevalence of prosperity.

Everyone is blessed when a leader wisely delegates and empowers others. And every now and then a father in law may have some really wise advice.

(photo credit)

God Uses Leaders

imgresPsalm 77 and Psalm 78 have something in common that you may have never noticed before. They both end with a declaration of God leading His people by means of chosen leaders. Both Psalms are attributed to Asaph, most likely a member of the priestly line of Levite who was also a part of the temple singers. The Psalms are Hebrew poetry and often could be sung as a way of instructing the people and as a form of praise back to God.

Psalm 77 depicts a person in trouble. His sorrow seems unable to be comforted. He turns to remembering God’s past deeds as hope towards present deliverance. Ultimately he recounts God’s mighty actions in saving the Israelite nation from the Egyptians as they passed through the Red Sea. The Red Sea experience is a climatic moment for the nation of Israel. It is referenced often throughout the Old Testament. But notice how it ends.

Verses 19-20 state, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

With their backs against the Red Sea and the Egyptians baring down on them, they were struggling to discern the path by which God would lead them. God chose to use two leaders to provide the way. Moses and Aaron were the human instruments of deliverance. They were the ones who made clear the way and will of God in the midst of desperate circumstances.

Psalm 78 also recounts a portion of Israel’s history in the Old Testament. It reveals the gracious dealings of God and the resulting acts of unfaithfulness on behalf of israel. This Psalm also makes reference to the Red Sea experience. But it takes Israel’s history a step further in recounting the provision of the Promised Land. Yet, Israel continued in her rebellion and sin. God used the surrounding nations as prods to call Israel to repentance. Ultimately we see God’s grace in abundance again as He chooses to deliver Israel from her intruders by way of a human leader.

Verses 70-72 say, “He chose David his servant and took his from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”

There is much we could ruminate on in both of these Psalms related to leadership. Sometimes God acts unilaterally. Most of the time He uses leaders. When Israel was in need of great deliverance, God used leaders to make his will known and his rescue sure. When Israel was hopeless, God used leaders to advance his salvation history and point his people toward a certain future. It has always been this way. God constantly chooses leaders, both great and small, known and unknown, to advance His kingdom and bring hope to His people. Take heart in that He wants to use even you and me.

Courage & The Next Leader

medium_475035174I 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.

Lead well!

(photo credit)

A Leader’s Sin

I was recently reading in the Old Testament about the life of Joshua-who of course succeeded Moses.  I was actually struck once again about a particular reference to Moses and why he did not get to enter the promised land of Canaan.

At the end of Deuteronomy 34 Moses is referred to in glowing terms.  The text actually states in verse 10 that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses.”  This is high acclaim.  But there was a clear reason why Joshua succeeded Moses and why Moses did not get to enter Canaan.  We find that reference in Deuteronomy   33:51.  In reality the verse states that there were two reasons why Moses did not get to cross the Jordan River.  The verse says it was “because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh . . . and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of all of the people of Israel.”  As a man, Moses broke faith with God and he did not treat God as holy.  As a leader, he did these two things “in the midst of all of the people of Israel.”  The incident in question is revealed in Numbers 20.  This is during the time that Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and towards the promised land.  But the people were not easy to lead, to say the least.  There was great complaining on more than one occasion.  In Numbers 20 the people confronted Moses and Aaron about their thirst.  They question God’s goodness and providence.  They question the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  Moses seeks God’s counsel as to what to do.  God tells Moses to speak to a certain rock in view of the assembled people and water will flow from the rock to meet their needs.  On one other occasion Moses had drawn water from a rock in the eyes of this congregation by striking the rock.  Moses disobeys God and strikes the rock rather than speak to it.  Water does come out and quench the thirst of the people-but Moses was severly rebuked by Yahweh for his disobedience.  Numbers20:12 states, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel . . . you shall not being this assembly into the land.”  There are the two sins.  Moses did not act in faith on what God had clearly told him to do.  He struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock.  And, therefore, he did not treat God as holy.  But the leadership sin was that this was public.  At the very moment when the people needed a clear demonstration of faith and righteousness they received neither.  Anyone could have sinned in a manner similar to Moses, the man.  But only Moses, the leader, could have a truly multiplied impact through his sin.  He was their leader and he did this in their midst.

I believe this is why God takes a leader’s sin so seriously.  We all sin.  But a leader’s sin is leveraged.  A leader’s sin has a multiplied impact.  A Christ-centered leader is to be about correcting sin and demonstrating faith and righteousness to a the flock as a model.  Ultimately I think the sins of Moses stemmed from pride.  In Numbers 20:10 Moses addresses the congregation and says, “. . . shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Moses obviously is appealing to himself and Aaron-not Yahweh as he carries out the task.  Pride by definition is trust in self and leads to treating God as less than holy.

This thinking about a leader’s sin is also echoed in the New Testament.  In 1 Timothy 4 Paul admonishes Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching . . . for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  Later on in 1 Timothy 5 Paul instructs Timothy that if a church leader persists in sin that he is to rebuke them in the presence of all.  Because a leader’s sin is public, the rebuke must be public.

A leader is never going to be perfect.  And there will be times when a leader will sin in such a way that it will call for public confession.  But a leader dare not take sin lightly.  In one sense, there is no such thing as private sin because all sin will effect those around you and will become evident.  But a leader’s unchecked and unconfessed sin has a leveraged affect.  A Christian leader lives out his or her leadership in the midst of others.  May we fall upon the grace of God and take sin seriously.  God does.

Moses to Joshua: Passing the Baton of Leadership


Gary Paulson on Flickr

Moses is considered one of he greatest leaders in the Old Testament. God used Moses to free the people of Israel from the chains of Egypt. It was Moses who led them through the wilderness and toward the promised land of Canaan. But ultimately Moses was not going to be the one to lead the people of God into the promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:28 God instructs Moses to “. . . charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.”

At the end of Deuteronomy 3, Moses makes one last plea to God to allow him to pass over the Jordan into the promised land. But God, in no uncertain terms, says absolutely not. This stems back to an incident in Numbers 20 where Moses strikes the rock when he was suppose to speak to the rock–to draw out water for the Israelites. Numbers 20:12 reads, “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me,to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.'” That last statement by God is a whole other lesson. But because of that incident Moses was denied access to the land that was a part of God’s covenant with Abraham, passed down to Isaac and Jacob, a land for the people of God. But there was one last task for Moses to do. He was to prepare Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the promised land. What we must take note of are the three descriptive words used to instruct Moses toward that preparation: charge, encourage, and strengthen. I believe that this provides us as 21st-century leaders with some tangible insights about how to prepare those who will and should succeed us.

To “charge” in the Hebrew language means to appoint, ordain or give charge.

The idea is to assign one to a clear role, task or function. In other words, the next leader needs to clearly know what is in front of him or her, what you are asking them to do. Many times it appears to me that “next leaders” are left with little clear direction or clear responsibility. New leaders need to know what and who they are to lead.

To “encourage” (ESV translation) in the Hebrew means more literally to be hard, or harsh.

The connotation can include the idea of having the ability to accomplish what is intended, also implying the element of resolve. A new leader needs new leader skills. There is a sense of competency that is required. There is also a sense of determination that must be added. New leaders must have certain specific abilities. But all abilities can be enhanced and improved. And any leader who secedes another will need resolve to follow God and cut their own path. The old leader “encourages” the new leader through improving the new leader’s abilities and infusing a sense of resolve.

To “strengthen” means to marshal force or to be courageous.

If “encouraging” was primarily about improving abilities then “strengthening” is primarily about attitude. It carries the idea of focus. No leader is worth his or her salt without focus. As I have said before, the key to complexity is not simplicity but focus. Old leaders need to help new leaders focus, to marshal all that God has given them for a God given task. Succeeding leaders can easily become distracted. The outgoing leader must help the new leader rightly focus on the task ahead.

Here is a summary of how Moses was to aid Joshua in taking over as leader of the people of Israel: make the task as clear as possible, help him improve his God given abilities with a sense of resolve, and help him step out in courageous faith with an unwavering focus.

Deuteronomy 34:9 says, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full ofthe spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

As the new leader Joshua led the people of Israel into the land that God had promised so many years ago. And Moses helped to prepare him for this glorious task. How are you preparing the leaders around you? Who are you raising up to take your place? Will they be ready?