Joshua: Called to Lead

Dr. Brian Allison

God commanded the nation of Israel to 'go in and possess the land' of Canaan, the land which He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In issuing such a command, God called Joshua to lead Israel in the carrying out of this command. We read in Joshua 1:1-4, "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, '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. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. 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."

God calls and commissions His man

When God has a specific mission to accomplish, or a particular ministry to fulfil, or an important job to perform, He typically raises up and calls a person. God is pleased to accomplish His will by working through one man. For instance, when God's people were oppressed by the Midianites, God raised up one man, Gideon. When God's people were oppressed by the Philistines, God raised up one man, Samson. During the 'dark period' of the history of the Church when the Roman Catholic Church exerted much control over Christendom and perpetuated false doctrine, God raised up a man, Martin Luther, to spearhead the Reformation. So, God raised up His man, Joshua, to lead His people into Canaan.

God used Moses to deliver His people out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. God used Moses to establish Israel as a nation, but then God used another man, Joshua, in order to bring His people into the Promised Land. Now, the important point is this: one man cannot do everything. One man alone is not qualified to accomplish all the aspects of the plans which God has for His people. God is pleased to use different people for different tasks. God determines who will lead His people at any given time. It is God Who calls, Who commands, and Who commissions; and Joshua was God's man to lead Israel. Deuteronomy 31:14, reads, "The LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting that I might commission him.'" It is God's doing. So, God wants His people to be guided and led in a certain way; and He does that through His man.

Now, in Joshua 1:1, God gave a charge and command to Joshua, who had been called and commissioned. Notice that God spoke directly to Joshua. He did not speak to Israel, He did not speak to the elders, He did not speak to the priests. No, God had called Joshua to lead His people and God spoke directly to him. Practically speaking, if God has called you to lead, if God has given you a mission or a ministry to perform, be prepared to listen to Him because He will speak to you. He will speak directly and personally to you; and I do not mean audibly. But God will impress on your heart what you are to do, how you are to do it, and when you are to do it. When God calls His man or woman to lead, He speaks to them. Seek to hear Him. You will discover that many well-intentioned people will offer their suggestions and opinions to you (and that is okay, you should weigh those suggestions and opinions), but the bottom line is this: you must listen to God alone. Again, God never calls a man or a woman to lead His people, at any point in history, without also speaking to them and sealing the orders so that they might know exactly what God wants done.

God spoke directly to Joshua; and in His speaking, God gave this command to Joshua – "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" (1:2). God, in effect, says, "Joshua, get up, move out. It is time for you to take my people into the Promised Land." So, God uttered a command; and often when He speaks to us, having called us, He commands us, and thus it is binding. When God speaks by way of command, you should not discuss or debate it. Your only response is one of obedience, regardless of what people think or say. When God speaks and commands, the only acceptable response is: "Yes, Lord. Speak, Lord, for your servant hears." Accordingly, if God has called you to fulfil some calling, then that word which He speaks in that calling will be branded on your soul and you will experience an inner constraint to do His will. At that point, my Christian friend, you had better obey. God does not come to negotiate; He does not come to discuss or debate; He comes and commands.

Notice, further, that with the command, God is pleased to give the assurance of success and victory – "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses" (1:3). When God calls you to perform a mission, He will be with you, and His purposes will certainly be fulfilled. It may not look like success or victory in the eyes of the world, but from God's perspective, there is always victory. That is why the called Christian leader should move ahead in faith. My Christian friend, if God has called you to do some important job, your assurance is that He will go with you, and that success and victory are already secured; and you need to simply respond in faith.

God prepares His man to lead

So, Joshua had this momentous duty and challenge to lead a great mass of humanity into the Promised Land. What a calling, what a commission! He was God's man for the hour – the successor of the great Moses. What big shoes Joshua had to fill. God spoke to him and said that Moses was dead, and that now he would have to carry the baton of leadership. Do you see what that tells us? God's program is not dependent on any one person. The people of Israel may have said, "What are we going to do when Moses dies? We have only been used to his leadership and he was a great man." Clearly, no one was able to rise to the stature of Moses. But when he died, God's program did not come to a screeching stop; there was no need for people to 'pull out their hair', and to 'push all the buttons'. God's work, His program, continued unhindered. God uses different people, according to their gifts and talents; but absolutely no one is indispensable. Do you believe that? God always provides and supplies. God's plans are never frustrated. Remember, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God" (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

God Himself prepares the man; He prepares the person for the mission or the task at hand. Now, with Joshua, his preparation began 40 years earlier. Good, effective leadership takes time to develop. Joshua is first mentioned in Exodus 17. Israel had just come out of the land of Egypt. They were camped at Rephidim, preparing for battle with the Amalekites. Moses instructed Joshua to round up some men and to go out and fight. He overwhelmingly defeated the Amalekites. Even as a young man, Joshua showed leadership ability and responsibility. He clearly demonstrated that he had the potential to lead. Many say that leaders are born and not made, and there is truth to that; and yet, on the other hand, leaders need to be shaped and finely-tuned.

Interestingly, after Joshua was commanded by Moses to go and fight the Amalekites, we read 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.'" God instructed Moses to record this battle in anticipation of Joshua one day becoming the leader of the nation and having a similar, but greater, task to perform in going into the Promised Land and battling. The day would come when Joshua would have to be reminded of God's power to bring about victory, and as a result be encouraged and strengthened so that he would persevere. Accordingly, God is pleased to remind us of past victories so that we may not falter nor waver when new difficulties confront us, so that we may be encouraged and strengthened to press on, remembering that God indeed does exploits for us, doing 'exceedingly, abundantly above all that we may ask or think' (Eph. 3:20).

I became discouraged a number of years ago in the slog of the ministry; and at that time the Lord reminded me of a particular truth. His Word became like an arrow to the heart, flooding my mind with light. Here is the word that He spoke directly to me: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:57). I tell you, that was part of my 'salvation' at that hour. That verse provided me with strength and perseverance. I typed that Scripture in large letters and stuck it on my wall so that I would be constantly reminded of God's word to me, and to remember His past faithfulness. God is pleased to have certain truths recorded, and to bring certain truths to remembrance, so that we may not falter nor waver; and so it was with Joshua.

God prepares servants to be leaders

While he was Moses' warrior, Joshua became Moses' attendant or minister. Joshua was a man of valour, leading the armies of Israel, having military prestige, and yet he became the servant of Moses. Now, in becoming the servant of Moses, I want to suggest to you that as Moses' servant, Joshua had a very close relationship with him. For instance, Exodus 24:12,13 reads, "Now the LORD said to Moses [the Israelites are camped at Mount Sinai], 'Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.' So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God." Moses ascended the summit of the mountain alone, but Joshua faithfully waited for him at the base. Further, when Moses went into the tent of meeting, Joshua was there. Obviously, there was a intimate friendship between Moses and Joshua.

Accordingly, no doubt, Joshua learned much from Moses. Moses discipled Joshua in preparation for his taking the reins of leadership one day. Leaders are developed and trained by being discipled and nurtured by leaders. Potential leaders must spend quality time with experienced leaders; and that is exactly what Joshua did. Wasn't that the developing and training program of the Lord Jesus? He chose His twelve disciples, so that they might be with Him. They walked with Him, they talked with Him, they ate with Him, etc. They knew His habits, His interests, His behaviours; and they learned from Him. In God's economy, His leaders are to be trained by leaders, which involves not simply the passing on of information, but rather the communication of a life.

Moreover, in God's economy, a good leader must first of all be a good servant. Saul, the first king of Israel, was a man of massive stature and incomparable beauty (see 1 Sam. 9:2). When he is introduced in 1 Samuel 9, do you remember what he is doing? He is looking for donkeys. When David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16, he is attending sheep. Before Abraham Lincoln entered into an illustrious lawyer career, and eventually into the presidency of the United States, he was a railsplitter who built a fence around his father's farm, and then he was a flatboatsman, and then he was a storekeeper. The road to good, effective leadership is the path of willing servanthood. Do you want to lead people, then you must first learn how to serve them. He who is the greatest of servants becomes the greatest of leaders. Jesus said, "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Mt. 23:11).

God's leaders have certain needs

Now, the very fact that Joshua was a servant indicates that Moses himself required ministry. Joshua was always available for Moses. Joshua was to address both the official and the personal needs of Moses. In Exodus 33:11 we read that Joshua never left the tent of meeting. He was always there when Moses came in order to fulfil his task and his calling at that time. Accordingly, the principle is this: even leaders have needs and require ministry. But not everyone is equipped to provide the kind of ministry that leaders need. Often leaders require a special kind of ministry.

Yet, paradoxically, even though leaders have particular needs and require ministry, leadership often entails isolation and aloneness. J. Oswald Sanders has a section in his book, Spiritual Leadership, entitled, 'Loneliness' (I would say 'Aloneness'). He writes:

It was Nietzsche's contention that life always gets harder towards the summit – the cold increases, the responsibility increases.

From its very nature, the lot of the leader must be a lonely one. He must always be ahead of his followers. Though he be the friendliest of men, there are areas of life in which he must be prepared to tread a lonely path. That fact dawned painfully on Dixon E. Hoste when Hudson Taylor laid down the direction of the China Inland Mission and appointed Hoste his successor. After the interview during which the appointment was made, the new leader, sensible of the weight of responsibility that now was his, said, "And now I have no one, no one but God!" In his journey to the top he left behind all his contemporaries and stood alone on the mount with his God.

Human nature craves company, and it is only natural to wish to share with others the heavy burdens of responsibility and care. It is often heartbreaking to have to make decisions of far-reaching importance that affect the lives of loved fellow workers – and to make them alone. It is one of the heaviest prices to pay, but it must be paid. Moses paid the price for his leadership – alone on the mount, and alone in the plain; the crushing loneliness of misunderstanding and criticism and impugning of motive. And times have not changed....

The loneliest preacher today is the man who has been entrusted with a prophetic message that is ahead of his times, a message that cuts across the prevailing temper of the age....

"Most of the world's greatest souls have been lonely," wrote A. W. Tozer. "Loneliness seems to be the price a saint must pay for his saintliness." The leader must be a man who, while welcoming the friendship and support of all who can offer it, has sufficient inner resources to stand alone, even in the face of fierce opposition, in the discharge of his responsibilities. He must be prepared to have "no one but God" (pp. 144f.).

God's leaders require encouragement

In preparing Joshua to take the reins of leadership, Moses also ministered to Joshua. Moses encouraged Joshua; he endeavoured to foster strength and courage in Joshua. Deuteronomy 1:38 reads, "Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there [i.e., the Promised Land]; [but you, Moses] encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it." The Lord instructed Moses to uplift Joshua's spirit because his calling was great and the challenge was massive. Similarly, Deuteronomy 3:28 reads, "But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he shall give them as an inheritance the land which you will see." Now, strength and courage are essential qualities of good, effective leadership, if you are to do exploits for God. If God has called you to lead, He wants you to be strong and courageous.

Leadership is challenging and there are heavy responsibilities. You ought never to enter into leadership viewing it lightly or undertaking it recklessly. When you begin to consider the heavy responsibilities and when you begin to realize the great difficulties, there may be the tendency to shrink back; and that is why God calls for encouragement – encouragement designed to foster strength and courage. Deuteronomy 31:7,8 reads, "Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous for you will go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.'" Again, Joshua's moral mandate was to be strong and courageous. Now, how was it possible for Joshua to be strong and courageous? Moses gave the promise and the assurance of God's presence. Moses reminded Joshua that God was going to be with him. When he would clash with the Amalekites, when he would confront the Hittites, when his comrades would be falling on his left and on his right in the heat of battle, when it would seem that he was 'between a rock and a hard place', Joshua would have to remember that God was with him.

We can realize how absolutely critical it is that God's leaders possess strength and courage (because the calling and task is so great) as we consider not only how often such an exhortation was directed toward Joshua, but also by the very fact that God Himself exhorted Joshua in this vein. So, Deuteronomy 31:23 reads, "And He [God] commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, 'Be strong and courageous [you cannot say this enough to a leader], for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you'." Accordingly, when God calls you into leadership, and (spiritually speaking) you are to assume leadership into your Promised Land, God will speak to you the same word of the need to be strong and courageous, both through His Word and by impressing that truth upon your spirit.

The greatest asset of God's leaders is spiritual

After 40 years with Moses, his mentor and model, Joshua was then ready to assume the reins of leadership. He was ready to go from a ministry to one to a rulership over millions. What a promotion! Moses had trained him. Moses had prepared him. Moses had taught him. Now, one of the greatest endowments that Moses passed on to Joshua was spiritual; and that would prove to be the greatest asset that Joshua would require in going in and possessing the land. Moses was a righteous and godly man, keeping the ways of the Lord. Joshua was exposed constantly to those virtues, and thus would be positively shaped and affected by them. However, the basis for Joshua effectively modeling Moses was that he too had the Spirit of God. Concerning Joshua's commissioning, we read in Numbers 27:18ff., "So the LORD said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him...And you shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him'." Joshua was a spiritual leader, and we know that to be true by his unwavering devotion to the Lord. For example, of the adult populace which came out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the Promised Land; and they alone were allowed to enter because they followed the Lord wholeheartedly. They were fully committed. We read, "So the LORD's anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, 'None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the Lord fully'" (Nu. 32:10-12). Every true and great leader of God is foremostly a spiritual person. God's great leaders are not necessarily political pundits or charismatic gurus or rhetorical geniuses. No, God's leaders are spiritual servants. They possess the Spirit, even as Joshua did. God had given Joshua His Spirit; and I submit to you that if God has called you to some great task (and He has), that He will also equip and endow you with His Spirit (and He has); and that will make you great. God's calling and His commissioning is to a spiritual work and so His Spirit is required. The Spirit is all you require to achieve God's calling in your life. He alone will supply your every need.

So, God had His man. Joshua had been prepared. Only God could equip and endow him with what was needed for the particular mission in view. The hour had finally come. God had forged His leader in the fires of the wilderness and had trained him in the school of obedience and he was ready to lead the nation and to go in and possess the land. God, in effect, said to Joshua, "Get up now! It time to do battle." Maybe God has been forging you in the fires of the wilderness and in the school of obedience. And now He is saying to you that it is now time to arise and to enter in and to possess the land; that the time of rest and passivity is over; that the time of complacency and indifference must end; that it is now time to be active and to diligently serve the Lord. Is God calling you to leadership? Then lead. He has set the land before you. Obey His voice, and thus receive His victory.