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Leading Against All Odds

(This post is part of an ongoing series on leadership in the book of Joshua. To see a complete listing of the posts in this series click here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 11:1-9. Key verses: Joshua 11:6, 9.

If you thought the southern campaign in chapter ten was wild, just read through the first nine verses of chapter eleven. As had happened in the south, the major ruler in northern Canaan (Jabin of Hazor) hears of Israel’s advance. He sends for the kings of Madon, Shimron, Achshaph, kings in the northern hill country, kings in the lowlands south of the Sea of Galilee, kings in Naphoth-dor, and just about everyone he could find (cf. v. 3). The opposition to Israel comes out “like the sand that is on the seashore,” a vast and innumerable group, with their horses and chariots. They camp together somewhere in the northwestern Galilee region to make war against Joshua and Israel.

Continue reading “Leading Against All Odds”
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Leadership in Joshua Series

This series of blogs examines the biblical book of Joshua and draws leadership lessons from the text. Joshua is called by God to take up the responsibility of leading the nation of Israel across the Jordan to invade and conquer Canaan. The book gives us many examples of what godly leadership looks like today, ultimately directing us back to the Leader of all leaders, God himself.

This is a running list of all the posts in this series in order.

  1. Joshua 1 – On Leading and Following
  2. Joshua 2a – Leaders, Trust Your Followers
  3. Joshua 2b – Leadership Lessons from a Prostitute
  4. Joshua 3 – Where Leaders Come From
  5. Joshua 4 – The Best Leaders Learn from the Past to Impact the Future
  6. Joshua 5a – The Irrationality of Spiritual Leadership
  7. Joshua 5b – Manna, Fruit, Sandals, and Leadership
  8. Joshua 6 – The Key to a Godly Leader’s Strength
  9. Joshua 7 – When A Leader Fails
  10. Joshua 8a – Recovering From Failure in Leadership
  11. Joshua 8b – Faithfulness: The Key to Leadership
  12. Joshua 9 – How to Convert Bad Decisions into Positive Outcomes
  13. Joshua 10a – God First, People Second, Mission Third
  14. Joshua 10b – Is the God of the Old Testament the Same as the God of the New Testament? On Consistency in Leadership
  15. Joshua 11a – Leading Against All Odds

The Trinity and the Incarnation

In the Christmas season those who are followers of Jesus tend to concentrate their cognitive efforts on the inexplicable miracle of the condescension of the eternal Son of God to appear in human flesh and blood. Our minds gravitate to the baby in the manger. Christ becomes the focus of our praise and worship, so that our sermons and songs all consider the visitation of God to his people. This is not wrong, by any means. And yet sometimes we may get the impression that when the infant Savior burst onto the foreground of world history, God the Father and the Holy Spirit were relaxing backstage, enjoying some much-needed time off.

Continue reading “The Trinity and the Incarnation”

Ephesians 1-3: A Commentary in Tweets

The following commentary for Ephesians was written between January and April of 2021. It was written primarily in connection with the ESV translation of the Bible. It is meant to be a short and succinct but textually faithful synopsis or interpretive supplement to be read in conjunction with (but not taking priority over) the biblical text.

Introduction (1:1-2):

1:1       Paul, King Jesus’ apostle as ordained by God the Father, writes to the Ephesian saints, called faithful. True believers are faithful to Christ.

1:2       Grace (charis, a play on the Greek greeting of the day) and peace (shalom, Hebrew greeting) have their origin with God our Father and come to us through the work of Jesus, our God and king.

Continue reading “Ephesians 1-3: A Commentary in Tweets”

Is the God of the Old Testament the Same as the God of the New Testament? On Consistency in Leadership

(This post is part of an ongoing series on leadership in the book of Joshua. To see a complete listing of the posts in this series click here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 10:16-43. Key verses: Joshua 10:24-25.

One of the more popular accusations against Christianity is that it is inconsistent in its presentation of God. This is commonly expressed in the assertion that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and wrath and violence, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love and peace and joy. People are quite comfortable with Jesus who is loving and kind to others during his ministry, but quite uncomfortable and put off by the Yahweh of the Old Testament who puts offenders to death for what sometimes seems to be whimsical reasons. Think about Uzzah who was killed by God in 2 Samuel 6:6 for trying to keep the ark of the covenant from falling off its cart. Or, more direct for this present study, the innocent Canaanite women and children of Joshua’s day who were to be slaughtered during the conquest. How could a God who is loving do such things?

In Joshua 10 we have an example of a passage where someone could call into question the methods used by the Israelites in their conquest. In verses 16-27 Joshua traps the five kings who had gone up to fight against Gibeon in a cave at a site called Makkedah. Then he has these kings brought out and has his war commanders put their feet on the necks of these five kings. After this little demonstration, the kings are executed by Joshua and hanged from five trees. This seems a little barbaric for the people of God. Why would God condone this type of behavior? Why execute people who had surrendered? And the broader question to deal with is why would/how could a loving God command his people Israel to destroy entire groups of people during this conquest? Isn’t this mass genocide?

Leadership Principle 10.3: Godly leaders strive to be consistent in their character and actions. Let me suggest that this was neither inconsistent on the part of God, nor a case of divinely mandated genocide, for at least two reasons. First, God had already warned the Canaanite people about a coming judgment. He had predicted this judgment all the way back in the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:12-21). The sin of the Amorites, according to the Lord in that passage, was incomplete, meaning that God was willing to endure their sin and not judge them for quite some time to come. But judgment would be coming. The conquest of Canaan in the time of Joshua was not primarily an act of killing, but was first and foremost an act of God in judgment on those particular people groups. The Bible is clear that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and that sin rightly demands death (Romans 6:23). As God, he is right to judge any portion (or all) of humanity at any given time. The fact that he chooses not to is a powerful display of his mercy.

Second, the character of God as set forth in Scripture is one that is simultaneously loving and just. God does not morph from a vindictive tyrant in the Old Testament to a loving grandfatherly type in the New Testament. He is the same holy, righteous, loving, merciful, just God throughout human history. Consider God’s love in the Old Testament: how the Lord listened to Moses when he asked him to spare the people of Israel after they had sinned against him with the golden calf (Exodus 32-33). Or Jonah’s confession that it was because of the Lord’s gracious and compassionate character that he had fled from his commission to preach to the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). Or think about God’s wrath against sin in the New Testament: remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)? Or how about Herod Agrippa being eaten by worms (Acts 12:20-24)? And how can we forget all the horrific tribulation judgments of Revelation?

The judgment of the Lord does not stand in opposition to his love and mercy. God is love and God is just. His love does not outweigh his justice, nor does his justice overpower his love. He is always and forever perfectly both simultaneously. Thus his judgments are right and true. Anyone who attempts to accuse him of inconsistency will be proven false. God is the most consistent being who has ever lived. As human leaders seek to emulate their divine leader, they should strive for consistency both in their relationships with others and in their personal lives and relationship with God.

What should we make of Joshua and the leaders of the people of Israel standing on the necks of these five kings who had opposed them? Rather than Joshua gloating over his triumph, this is an intentional symbolic action taken to demonstrate to his officers that the Lord would be faithful to his word and give them utter victory, putting all their enemies under their feet. “Joshua then said to them, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies with whom you fight,'” (Josh. 10:25). The kings of the Canaanites were not innocent here. Their intention was to destroy Gibeon, just as they would like to destroy Israel. If they had been left alive, in direct disobedience to the word of the Lord, who knows what kind of further complications they would have caused for Israel. God’s ways are higher than ours.

Leadership Principle 10.4: Good leaders are faithful to God’s word when it’s easy and when it’s hard.  Leadership involves taking actions and making decisions for the good of your group or organization. Sometimes those decisions are rather easy. Other times they may be extremely difficult. Joshua had the difficult task of conquering Canaan. In one sense, it was a joyous act as Israel took the land God had promised to them. In another sense, it would have been extremely difficult to kill so many people, many of whom were women and children. Through it all Joshua was faithful to God’s word, to fulfill what God had asked as far as the extent of conquest and destruction. Remember that Israel was God’s weapon for dealing judgment upon the Canaanites at this time.

God does not desire that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and yet he will not overlook sin and let it go unpunished. His judgments are right and just. He does not override our stubbornness if we determine in our hearts to defy him. He will in love abandon us to the outcomes of our own decisions. No one can accuse God of injustice.

Godly leaders understand they must make difficult decisions. Yet they do not make them in their own strength, but focusing on the commands and examples of Scripture. God calls us to be counter cultural, and sometimes this means taking stances that will not make us popular. In the end, however, faithfulness to the Lord will bring its own reward, just as Joshua’s faithfulness resulted in the complete conquest of Canaan.

Summary in a Sentence: Godly leaders seek to emulate the Lord in his consistent character (he has not changed from one testament to the next) and exhibit faithfulness to his leading even through hard circumstances.

 

God First, People Second, Mission Third

(This is part 13 in an ongoing series on leadership in the book of Joshua. See all the posts here.)

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.

 

Faithfulness: The Key to Leadership

(This post is part 12 in an ongoing series on leadership in the book of Joshua. See all posts here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 8:30-35. Key verse: Joshua 8:35.

I once had an employer that constantly lied in small ways. They told me they would be on the job at a certain time, and when I arrived at that time they wouldn’t be there. They told me they would have certain materials on the job needed for the work, and when I arrived those materials were nowhere to be found. Once, after waiting about fifteen minutes for this boss to show up, I left to move on to other responsibilities. When I next spoke with him, he had the audacity to reprimand me for not being at the job at the time we had agreed upon! His lack of faithfulness to his word made me lose both respect for him as a leader and confidence in his ability to lead.

At the end of Joshua 8, after the victory at Ai, Joshua leads the people of Israel on a very important mission. It’s a very small section of the book, but records a highly significant event in the early life of Israel.

“Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel,” (Joshua 8:30-32).

Leadership Principle 8.5: Faithfulness is a vital leadership characteristic. Moses had commanded the Israelites to perform this sacred ritual when they entered into the promised land. Half of the people stood on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Ebal as the book of the law was read. Just as Moses envisions it in Deuteronomy 27, Joshua accomplishes it in Joshua 8.

It may have been tempting for the people of Israel to set this aside and just not worry about it. Or maybe they might have said, “let’s do this covenantal renewal ceremony once the land has been completely taken.” But this is not the way of Joshua as a leader. He makes a bee-line for Shechem and these two mountains of the central hill country. Why? To keep a promise to his mentor, and fulfill the word of the Lord. As difficult as it would have been to march all the people of Israel up into these highlands of Ephraim and Manasseh, the reward was worth it.

Joshua kept his promise to Moses. The people of Israel kept their promise to Moses. God kept his promise to Israel, in bringing them out of the wilderness and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Faithfulness is one of if not the key themes in the book of Joshua. Faithfulness is so important to the Lord, because it expresses a divine attribute. It tells us who God is, at least in part (but a large part). God always, always keeps his word. He is constant and consistent, never breaking a promise. His words never fall to the ground; they are never spoken without purpose and precision.

The godly leader today must exhibit this kind of faithfulness in their life. It reflects God’s ultimate leadership and authority. It builds confidence and trust among followers. There are at least two applications here. A leader should not make promises lightly. That means we must think about and weigh the things we say, no matter how great or small. Tasks, relationships, partnerships should not be entered into that cannot be carried out or completed. The leader is responsible to be faithful to their word from the initial promise or agreement.

The second application is that it is important to follow through and complete what is started in leadership. As difficult as it might be to follow through with a task or endure through a difficult relationship, it is God-like to be faithful to one’s word. This applies to all areas of life: schooling, business, employment, management, marriage, and I’m sure many more. When I was at college, far from home, in the midst of difficult classes and new people, there were many times I felt like quitting. In those times, my father encouraged me to finish what I started. Even though he didn’t point to a particular verse for this principle, I knew he was right. Here in Joshua (and throughout the Bible) that principle is supported. God finishes what he starts, and it is good for us to persevere in our work and relationships as well.

Imagine being an Israelite child on one of those mountains, and the wonder of occupying a land that did not belong to you, and hearing the words of the law that would govern you read aloud while you verbally consented to each portion. Imagine knowing that God had been faithful to you through your years of wandering in the desert and now had kept his promise by bringing you into Canaan and driving out its people before you. Wouldn’t you follow that God, and Joshua, to the very ends of the earth?

Summary in a Sentence: Leaders must concentrate on the overlooked characteristic of faithfulness; faithfulness to God, to others, and to their word.

How to Convert Bad Decisions into Positive Outcomes

(This is post 11 in our Leadership in Joshua Series. See all posts here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 9:1-27. Key verse: Joshua 9:14.

“Pride comes before a fall.” We have seen this old adage play out already in the book of Joshua. Achan deceived himself into thinking he could take some of the spoil of Jericho without consequence. He then deceived Israel by putting it in his tent and hiding the plunder. But God cannot be deceived. Achan’s selfish pride resulted in Israel’s initial defeat at Ai, and later the execution of Achan and his household for his disobedience against the Lord.

In Joshua chapter 9, the people of Israel again decide they can make decisions on their own without following the Lord’s leading. They are visited by the men of the cities of Gibeon (within a day’s journey or so of Ai) who pose as travelers from a far country begging to make a treaty with Israel. They go all out, wearing worn-out clothing and bringing old sacks and wineskins. They even present dried up bread as proof of their long journey. Joshua makes a covenant with them to let them live in verse 15. Yet their condemnation is recorded in verse 14:

So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. (Joshua 9:14)

Leadership Principle 9.1: Spiritual leaders take their direction from the Lord. This point has been made repeatedly in this series, but cannot be stressed enough. The best leaders do not act of their own initiative but take their advice, counsel, direction from the Lord, who is their leader. In some ways this takes a great deal of pressure off of the human leader, because they are ultimately followers of a greater leader, whose leadership is perfect! The best way to follow the Lord as ultimate leader is to stay in constant communication with him, which Joshua and his leaders of Israel fail to do here. The author of the book makes very clear that he should have asked the Lord for his opinion when the men of Gibeon arrived.

Leaders today can be tempted to make decisions quickly and without thinking things through. Often many decision must be made on the fly, without a lot of time for thought or consideration. Certainly this case in Joshua was probably once such instance. The men of Gibeon had arrived looking like they were starving and desperate. Perhaps Joshua’s compassion for their plight led him to make a covenant quickly with them without asking the Lord’s advice. Nevertheless, leaders must find ways, even in a split-second, to call out to the Lord for help, or recall his word to their minds for clear direction. Joshua, to his credit, probably remembered the words of Deuteronomy 20:10-12, but did not weigh it properly with God’s command in Deut 20:17.

Leadership Principle 9.2: Spiritual leaders keep their promises. The men of Israel make a covenant with Gibeon to let them live. Three days later they find out that they have been deceived. The people of Israel want to put the people of Gibeon to death for this deception. But the leaders of Israel, Joshua included, make sure they do not go back on their word. This was a bad decision on Israel’s part, but they knew that violating their covenant would be an even worse decision, since they had sworn to let Gibeon live before the Lord.

Good leaders keep their promises even when it hurts. Israel should never have made this pact with Gibeon. But one bad decision would not be undone by another unfaithful action. There are applications today. Many enter into a marriage relationship perhaps too quickly or without thinking through the ramifications of that choice. Then later, they decide to “correct” the bad decision by leaving the relationship, being unfaithful, or seeking divorce – another bad decision! In the business world, a bad partnership entered into may have been an extremely bad choice, but violating the terms of the partnership would be another bad choice that will not undo what has been done in that partnership. Israel should be commended for their faithfulness to their covenant made, even if it was a bad decision in the first place.

Leadership Principle 9.3: Good leaders deal with the consequences of their actions, and can convert bad choices to good outcomes. Israel, and Joshua specifically, made a poor decision in covenanting with Gibeon. It would have ramifications for them in the future. But in the mean time, they were going to live with the consequences of their actions. Gibeon would be employed as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the people of Israel at their tabernacle sanctuary. This was not ideal in that God had told them to wipe out the sinful people of the land. And yet they were able to make the most of a bad situation. In fact, as we will see in chapter 10, God was able to use Gibeon and Israel’s treaty with her people to bring himself glory. More on that in the next post.

Summary in a Sentence: Spiritual leaders don’t act of their own initiative, but take their direction from the Lord, keeping their promises, dealing with the consequences of their actions and even seeking to find ways to use bad initial decisions to produce positive outcomes.

Recovering From Failure in Leadership

(This is the 10th post in the Leadership in Joshua Series. See all posts here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 8:1-29. Key verses: Joshua 8:1-2.

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to recover from a failure. Whether the nature of the failure involved people or production, the mistakes that were made soon become visible to all and raise questions about the leadership capacity of the person making those calls. The next time that leader gives direction you can be sure that their followers will be internally questioning if they actually know what they’re doing.

In Joshua 8, the leader of Israel has to recover from a difficult and discouraging defeat at Ai because of the sin of Achan. Joshua doesn’t let the discouragement of the events of chapter 7 shape the outcome of his future in chapter 8. Instead, he looks to the Lord for the path forward.

Leadership Principle 8.1: To recover from a mistake, first make it right with God and others. Before this chapter ever begins, Joshua bows in the presence of the Lord to find out why the Israelites were defeated at Ai. Then, once the Lord reveals to him the sin of Achan, Joshua acts courageously to restore his relationship with the Lord and take care of the mistake of Achan. When a leader fails (and, to be clear, this was not solely Joshua’s mistake, though partially he was at fault) they should confess their sin before the Lord first and then reconcile themselves to others who may have been hurt or offended by their actions. This shows a posture of humility that is so beneficial and so absent from many leaders today.

Leadership Principle 8.2: To recover from a mistake, learn from that mistake. In chapter 7 Joshua had not inquired of the Lord before sending his warriors to Ai. In chapter 8, he learns from his mistakes and listens intently to the Lord’s direction. He allows the Lord to speak and set the parameters for the confrontation at Ai. He also obeys the Lord (and makes sure the people obey the Lord) in lighting the city on fire but taking the spoil and plunder of the city. Leaders cannot allow past failures to resurface by making the same mistakes repeatedly. Instead, they should learn from their past failures and make improvements in their management style for the future.

Leadership Principle 8.3: To recover from a mistake, take a different approach going forward. I enjoy watching football, as most red-blooded Americans do. But one of the most infuriating things is to watch a football team call the same play repeatedly with no resulting yardage gained. Can you remember seeing a team run the football right up the middle of the field over and over again just to be stopped by the opposing team’s defense? Doesn’t it just make you want to scream, “Call a different play already!”

When you make a mistake as a leader, many times it is necessary to try a new approach going forward. It’s time to call a different play. That’s what God does here with Israel at Ai. He doesn’t send them right up the main path to the city once again, but has them wait in hiding behind the city until the warriors of Ai leave the site undefended. This change-up maneuver helped the people succeed in their capture of the city. Leaders can sometimes best recover from past mistakes by “calling an audible” and doing something different in their organizational or management techniques.

Leadership Principle 8.4: Once you recover from a past mistake, make sure you never forget. Joshua had the king of Ai killed and then heaped a mound of stones up over his body at the entrance to the city of Ai for all to see. This would serve as a reminder of the events that had transpired at Ai. In future generations, Israelites would warn their children about Achan’s sin and selfishness, and yet about the Lord’s forgiveness and faithfulness to Israel. They would make sure it was not forgotten.

Leaders should not too quickly move beyond mistakes once they are corrected, but should remember their failures for two reasons. One, it keeps leaders humble to remember they are not infallible and can make mistakes. Two, it helps to give confidence that mistakes can be moved past by a leader and their organization. Remembering mistakes and failures, as unpleasant as they are, can forge humble and reflective leaders who learn from the past.

Summary in a Sentence: Every leader will make mistakes; the best leaders learn from their mistakes and later reflect on them creating humility and a retrospective self-awareness.

When A Leader Fails

(This post is part 9 in our Leadership in Joshua Series. See all posts here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 7:1-26. Key verses: Joshua 7:8-9.

It has often been noted and lamented that frequently after great victory comes great failure. So here in Joshua 7, just after such a great victory of Israel over the powerful city of Jericho, they find themselves defeated by the smaller city of Ai. This defeat leads them to question God’s plan and their strategy for invasion of the land. Joshua himself had a great victory at Jericho in directing the hearts of his people toward the Lord. In this chapter the failure of Israel leads him to question the Lord.

We can often learn as much about leadership by looking at examples of what not to do as we can by looking at positive examples. Joshua provides us with both positive and negative examples in this chapter, for the first time in the book.

Leadership Principle 7.1: The danger of self-reliance. In chapter 7 we see Joshua, in the first five verses, sending spies to the city of Ai, as he had for Jericho. The spies return and report to Joshua that he should not send up nearly as many people, but just a small company to take the city. Perhaps this was over-confidence on the part of the people of Israel after their great victory over Jericho. Joshua does not know that one of his people has sinned against the Lord by violating the ban on Jericho and taking some of its possessions.

Joshua does not interact with the Lord in his initial assault on Ai. Instead, he follows the advice of his spies and their assessment. Perhaps this shows a self-reliance on both the part of the people of Israel as a whole and Joshua as a leader. Great victories can lead to the temptation toward over-confidence and self-reliance. Our victories should not make us proud or lead us to conclude that we can operate in our own power apart from the Lord.

Leadership Principle 7.2: Leaders know how to work through failures. Joshua falls on his face before the ark of the Lord (v. 6) and puts dust on his head. At this juncture his words betray a lack of faith in God, accusing God of bringing Israel over the Jordan only to destroy them by the hand of the Amorites (v. 7). He doesn’t know about Achan’s sin. Negatively, Joshua is an example of one who doubts the Lord here. He expresses his doubt openly. Every leader will struggle with doubt at some point, but here Joshua’s doubt comes without any accompanying thought that there might be something else going on, like hidden sin.

Positively, Joshua doesn’t abandon his position or his people, but seeks to work through the difficulty of failure to identify what has gone wrong and seek to correct it. Good leaders know how to move forward when the team has failed, as difficult was it might be. When working as a carpenter for a decade of my life, my father would sometimes say to me, “A good carpenter is not one who never makes mistakes. He is one who knows how to fix his mistakes.” The same goes for leaders. They will have failures, perhaps even substantial mistakes in leadership. But they should recognize the steps that need to be taken in order to correct those mistakes. Joshua takes the first of those steps in going to God with his failure.

Leadership Principle 7.3: Leaders are not afraid of hard conversations. Joshua is now faced with a difficult task: to find out which of his people has been unfaithful to the Lord and meet them with the punishment that is due them. He does not shy away from this responsibility but meets it head on. Knowing what the Lord’s consequences for this person will be before the nation is gathered together (v. 15), Joshua calls the people of Israel together and selects by lot the tribe, family, and household, eventually narrowing down the offender to Achan. He gives Achan the opportunity to speak for himself, and Achan explains what he did, confessing to his sin (without asking forgiveness).

Leaders must be courageous to have the hard conversations needed. Sometimes this will be for the benefit of the individuals with which they are speaking. At other times this may lead to a more negative outcome for the individual or individuals involved. Either way, leaders don’t back away from uncomfortable and even awkward situations, but courageously engage with their followers when necessary.

Summary in a Sentence:  Leaders are not immune to mistakes and failures, but do not allow those mistakes to have the final word on their leadership style or legacy.

The Key to a Godly Leader’s Strength

(This is part eight in the Leadership in Joshua Series. See all posts here.)

Today’s reading: Joshua 6:1-27. Key verse: Joshua 6:27.

Joshua chapter 6 is a key chapter in the book. So far Joshua’s leadership has not been largely tested and proven in the face of a significant enemy. In this chapter that changes. The people of Israel face the people of Jericho, a city protected by an inner and outer wall that reached high into the air. Would Joshua’s leadership ability be enough to lead the people of Israel to a successful victory over Jericho?

Really, this chapter is largely about how the people of Israel respond to the Lord’s commands and Joshua’s leadership, and less about Joshua as a leader. They follow Joshua in what could at best be called a non-traditional form of warfare against nearly impossible odds, and they do it willingly. What is the key, the secret, to Joshua’s success in motivating and leading his people in this unorthodox style of attack?

Leadership Principle 6.1: The people follow Joshua because Joshua is following the Lord. The beginning of this chapter shows the Lord as the ultimate leader who is directing Joshua behind the scenes. The Lord tells Joshua how the city is to be taken, and although it did not make much sense to Joshua at the time, the man obeys his God. The people in turn follow after Joshua because of what had happened at the Jordan river. God had exalted Joshua in the eyes of Israel so that they knew God was with Joshua.

A godly leader will motivate people to follow their leadership not based on their own ability but based on their passion and desire to follow after the Lord. Christians want to follow godly leaders who are in pursuit of Christ. The leader’s first priority, then, is to make sure they are a good follower of Christ.

Leadership Principle 6.2: The best leaders direct their followers toward the Lord. Joshua does this by making the ark the focal point of the daily procession around Jericho, at the Lord’s direction. The ark, remember, is the visible power and presence of the God of Israel, and now the ark is going before them into battle against Jericho. Joshua later on the 7th day will warn the people against taking anything from the city of Jericho, since it had all been placed under the ban, devoted to destruction. In this way, he directs the attention of his people toward the holiness of the Lord. He views the Lord as holy and wants his people to view him the same way by refusing to sin against him.

Leadership Principle 6.3: Perseverance in a task builds confidence and trust. I’m sure by the 7th day the people of Israel were questioning Joshua’s tactics and perhaps even his ability to lead. However, their perseverance in obedience to their leader (who was following his Leader) paid off in the end. Good leaders will help their followers persevere in a task through adversity, building their confidence and trust both in themselves as workers and in their leader as capable to lead.

Leadership Principle 6.4: The leader’s source of strength. Joshua 6:27 says, “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.” The Lord was the one who accomplished the capture and defeat of Jericho. The Lord is likewise the one who would spread Joshua’s fame throughout the land of Canaan. Leaders today do many things to try to build their name and reputation. But those endeavors are better left to God. Joshua’s faithfulness to the Lord brought the Lord’s blessing on his life. Better to be a faithful leader in obscurity and ambiguity than a renowned leader who deviates from God’s word.

Summary in a Sentence: The key to Joshua’s success against Jericho is that he follows hard after the Lord, directs his followers to the Lord, helps them persevere in faithfulness to God’s word, and is rewarded by God for his faithfulness.

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