Principles of Leadership

Joshua 1

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2019

John C. Maxwell says that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”  The state of a church is often reflected by the quality of its leaders.  The state of the country is also reflected by the leaders who are in charge of the country. Joshua 1 is all about leadership.  This chapter is all about a new leader.  Moses is out and Joshua is in.  There’s a new sheriff in town.

In Joshua 1, the mantle of leadership passes from Moses to Joshua.  Moses died at the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7) but when Joshua replaced him, he was not a young man either.  When he left Egypt, he was much younger (cf. Exodus 33:11), now he is much older.  He is around 80.[1]

There is no more challenging passage for leaders than Joshua 1.  Today, we will be looking at eight principles of leadership from this chapter. One of the reasons that we have poor leaders today is that they do not follow the principles found in this chapter.

1) Leaders need to be called

Leaders need to be called to leadership.  Leadership is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8). God called Moses to leadership, even when he didn’t want the job, and now he is calling Joshua into leadership.  Joshua 1 is God’s call to Joshua for leadership.  He was called before.  He was called by Moses.  Moses laid his hands on him and ordained him to be the next leader of the nation.  He commissioned him publicly (Numbers 27:22-23) but in this chapter, he is called by God.

Conquering the Promise Land was NOT Joshua’s idea.  God called him to do it.  God spoke to Joshua.  He said that He was GIVING the Israelites the land.  He says that five times in the first chapter alone (Joshua 1:2, 3, 6, 13, 15).  There may have been people living in it, but God owns the whole earth.  He can give any country to anyone at any time.

If you are a leader, you should feel a call to leadership on the inside. Joshua was Moses’ successor.  Joshua did not ask to succeed Moses.  God called him to that position.  He was the divinely appointed successor to Moses.   Joshua did not elevate himself to the position.  He spoke to Joshua and told him he was to succeed Moses.  God raised him up.

Luke 14:11 says, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (NIV)

On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. (Joshua 4:14 ESV)

Sometimes the ones he raises up come from strange backgrounds (ex-felons, ex-slaves).  God is not just calling Joshua; He is promoting Joshua.  He served faithfully as Moses’ servant for forty years and now he is promoted by God.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23 NIV)

2) Leadership is temporary

We are not here forever.  The Bible tells that it is appointed to man once to die (Hebrews 9:27).  Moses was not a leader forever and neither was Joshua.  This book BEGINS with the death of Moses in the first chapter and ENDS with the death of Joshua in the last chapter.

We think if a great leader dies, there will never be anyone to replace him.  God’s workmen die but God’s work never dies.  As Joseph Parker says, “God can bury any one of us, and continue the history as though we had never lived.”[2] Parker says that “God buries His workers, but His work goes on.”[3] While all of us are unique, none of us are irreplaceable.

3) Leaders are all different

We like to put leaders in a box, but they are all different.  God calls leaders to do different things.  Some are called to preach.  Others are called to do other things.  Joshua was called by God to do a specific task, but it was not to preach.  He was not called to preach.  He was called to be a general.  He was called to lead an army.

God called Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.  He led them out right up to the borders of the Promise Land.  He led them to the edge of it.  God called Moses to take Israel OUT of Egypt. God called Joshua to take Israel INTO the Promised Land. Moses was God’s man to get the Jews out of Egypt.  Joshua was God’s man to get the Jews into the land of Canaan.  One man got them OUT.  The other man got them IN.  Leaders have different jobs and different roles.

4) Leadership requires strength

Many leaders are weak.  Leaders must be strong.  That is why God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous.  God told Joshua to be strong THREE TIMES in the course of four verses (Joshua 1:6-9). Leadership requires strength and courage.

God says to Joshua, “I am asking you to do something hard, BUT BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.  You will face challenges and difficulties, all kinds of problems, BUT BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.  You will hit a wall BUT BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.  You will face enemies and people who hate you BUT BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.  The one person you trusted in is now gone BUT BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.”  This is God’s word for us today, whatever our situation.

Joshua had a big job to do.  God called him to do the impossible.  He called him to get two million people across the Jordan River at flood stage and be ready to encounter opposition after they crossed it and conquer a country.  It was a huge responsibility.

Joshua wasn’t Moses.  Moses was one of the greatest leaders in world history.  Joshua always stood in his shadow.  Joshua did not speak with God face-to-face like Moses did.  God did not speak to anyone else like He did to Moses.  Moses had a unique relationship with God (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10).  Moses had BIG shoes to fill.  God says to Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead.  Now get up and go.  Be strong and courageous.”

After God called him, Joshua assumed command.  He took charge. In Joshua 1:1-9, we see God’s commands to Joshua.  In Joshua 1:10-15, we see Joshua’s commands to the officers.  He says, “Get ready.  We are crossing the Jordan in three days.”

5) Leaders need to be empowered

God called Joshua to do a job, but he did not leave him to do it in His own.  Joshua did not have to do this job in his own strength.  He said that He would be with him.

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Joshua 1:5 NIV).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

Of course, this promise is repeated in the NT.  God promised that He would NEVER leave Joshua (Joshua 1:5).  That is quoted in the NT for us.  Jesus will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

God promised that he would be with Joshua (Joshua 1:5) and that also is quoted in the NT for us.  It is not just a promise for Joshua.  Jesus said that he would be with us always even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

If God calls you to a job, He will be with you.  We do not have to try to lead in our own power. Our pastor says, “When God calls, He empowers.”

6) Leaders need to be developed

This is a big problem for ministers today.  They rush into the job often with no preparation for ministry.  Some start churches and pastor for twenty years and then decide that it is now time for them to go to seminary.  Leaders need to be developed.

Moses has some preparation before he became a leader.  He did not become a leader until he was eighty.  He spent forty years of preparation in Egypt and forty years of preparation in Midian, forty years in the palace and forty years in the desert at the Midian Graduate School.  Moses took a few courses in obscurity and humility, working with sheep, before God appeared to Him and called him.

Joshua had forty years of preparation.  He was Moses’ disciple (Joshua 1:1).  Moses pouring into Joshua. Joshua had a great mentor.  Joshua was trained not in some military academy but by working directly under Moses. Joshua learned how to take orders before he gave them.   He spent forty years under the personal tutelage of, arguably, the greatest leader in all biblical history, Moses.

Not all leaders are good at preparing the next leader.  Some pastors do not spend enough time thinking about what will happen to their church when they die.  When Joshua died, there was no one to replace him.  He did not do as good a job as Moses in developing a new leader.

7) Leaders must have followers

There is a famous quote from John Maxwell.  It says, “If nobody is following you, then you’re not really leading.”  Jesus said, “Follow me” to certain people and they followed him.

Of course, just because people follow you does not mean that you are a good leader.  Many people follow bad leaders but you cannot be a leader unless someone is following you.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-19 NIV).

Joshua gave a command and got a response.  The officers said, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:16-18 NIV)

8) Success is based on obedience

For leaders to be genuinely successful, they have to do one thing.  They have to follow God’s Word.  Many try secular humanistic approaches to leadership.  Joshua gives us a spiritual approach.

Joshua 1 contains one of the most famous verses in the OT.  This verse is one of the most important verses for believers in the whole Bible.  Every Christian should know Joshua 1:8. It gives us a formula for success.  We are going to spend some time seeing what it says.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  (Joshua 1:8 NIV)

God’s Formula for Success

Notice who is talking in Joshua 1:8. It is God. It is not Moses or Joshua.  These are God’s direct words to Joshua.  Is this just God’s Word for Joshua or is it God’s Word for us as we well?  It is God’s Word to us as well.  This same promise is repeated to us.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 NIV).

Notice the similarities.  Both mention meditating on the Law day and night.  Both mention prosperity as the result. Everyone wants to be successful.  Joshua 1:8 tells us how to do it.  It tells us how to prosperous.  It tells us how to be successful.  It gives us a spiritual law that works every time.  This passage gives us a formula of success for leaders.  It is God’s formula for success.

This verse is also one of the most misunderstood verses in Scripture. Prosperity preachers love Joshua 1:8. Does Joshua 1:8 teach the Health and Wealth Gospel?  Does it teach if you follow God faithfully, you will be a millionaire or a billionaire?  No.

There are many atheists who are wealthy who don’t use any of these principles.  Many of the wicked prosper who do not follow God (Psalm 73:3).

What about Joshua 1:8?  Is this verse still true?  It is true but there are two things we need to keep in mind here.

1) God defines success different than the world does.

If you are a billionaire in this life and have everything you want, you are successful but if you are on top of the world for seventy years and spend all eternity in hell, you are a complete failure.  As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

When we think of success, we often think of only one thing; money, wealth.  We think of financial success, winning the lottery.  By this definition, if you are poor, you are not successful.  If you are a billionaire, you are very successful.  That is not the way God views success.

Joseph was successful in prison.  God blessed him in prison.  He prospered inside of a prison cell.  He prospered as a slave.  God gave him success in everything that he did (Genesis 39:3, 23).  Being successful does not necessarily mean that you will not have any problems in this life.  The truth is that success comes in many forms.

2) Whenever you interpret the Bible, you always have to look at the context of the passage.

That is a basic rule of Bible interpretation.  In the context, Joshua 1 is NOT dealing with personal finances.  It is NOT dealing with money.  It is NOT dealing with wealth.  We are NOT specifically told that Joshua became wealthy himself.

“The context of this verse is military, not financial.”[4] It is dealing with military success (success in conquering the Land of Canaan), not financial success.  It is dealing with success for the job that God called Joshua to do for Him.

God tells Joshua what he needs to do to be successful.  Joshua turned out to be one of the greatest military generals of all time.  He is on the list of the top one hundred generals of all time, next to Napoleon, Patton and Alexander the Great.

Joshua used the strategy of divide and conqueror, which is a strategy still used today, but as we see in this passage, he was not successful because of his military strategy.  He was successful because of his spiritual state and because of his obedience to God, not because he was a brilliant military strategist.

How do we become successful in God’s eyes?  We are to be people of the book.  We are to read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, quote it, share it, live it and do it.  Many Christians are anti-study.  In some parts of the church today, Bible study is mocked and ridiculed.  You don’t want to study the Bible too much, because you might become one of the Pharisees.

That is kind of like saying that you should not do evangelism because that is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses are always doing door-to-door and they are a cult.  We don’t want to become like them.  That kind of thinking comes right from the pit of hell.  Bible study is not bad just because the Pharisees did it.  Joshua 1:8 says that we are to meditate on it DAY AND NIGHT.

The problem with the church today is not that we read the Bible too much; it is that most Christians do not read it enough.  Most Christians do not know the Word, especially the OT.  There is a biblical problem with biblical illiteracy in the church today and sometimes it is even the leaders who do not know the Word very well.

God ties success to the Bible.  Success is tied to a book.  God gives Joshua three commands in Joshua 1:8 and He gives us these three commands as well.  To be genuinely successful, we have to do three things.

1) To be successful we have to SPEAK God’s Word

It is not enough to think God’s Word.  We need to speak it.  We need to verbalize it.  Joshua 1:8 says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your LIPS,” not just on your mind.  The ancients had a practice of reading aloud which is reflected here.  We are not just to study and meditate on God’s Word.  We are to recite it.  We are to speak it.  We are to say what God says.  There is power in speaking God’s Word over your life.  There is power in speaking God’s Word over your situation.

2) To be successful we have to THINK God’s Word

We have to meditate on it.  That means more than just reading it.  It is thinking about what you read.  You have to use your mind when you student the Bible.  You can’t just use your spirit, because you have to meditate on it.  Meditation involves the mind.

Biblical Meditation is different from Eastern Meditation.  In Eastern Meditation, you try to empty your mind.  In Biblical meditation, you fill your mind with the Word of God.  It is the exact opposite.  It is filling your mind with truth. Robert Morgan paraphrases this command to Joshua.  God told Joshua to do the following:

“Meditate day and night on Genesis and its opening words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Think of the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Think about the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments.

Think about Leviticus, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves and teaches us about holiness. Study Numbers and its story of the twelve spies. Read and learn the sermons that comprise Deuteronomy. Think of these words when you wake up in the morning, as you go about your day, and as you fall asleep at night.”[5]

Now Joshua only had five books of Scripture to meditate on.  He had the Law of Moses.  We do not just have five books of the Bible to meditate on.  We have sixty-six books of Scripture to meditate on.

3) To be successful we have to OBEY God’s Word

We are not just to read God’s Word.  We are not just to study it.  We are not just to meditate on it.  We are not just to memorize it.  We are not just to recite it and quote it.  We are not just to speak it.  God wants us to DO it.  The Bible is not just a book to be studied.  It is not just a book to be spoken.  It is a book to be obeyed.  We are not just to be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word.

God tells Joshua that he must not all His Word to depart from his mouth.  He is to meditate on it day and night so that he will be careful to do EVERYTHING that is written in it, according to Joshua 1:8.  We are NOT to do some of it.  We are not to do most of it.  We are to do ALL of it.

In fact, Joshua 1:7 says, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (NIV).

Many think that there is only one way to go off but that is not true.  You can go off to the right or to the left.  Some are too liberal and some are too conservative.  Some do not believe all of the Bible.  They reject certain parts.  Other people believe it all but add other things to it and become legalistic.  They require people to do all kinds of things that are not even in Scripture.

Some are not charismatic enough and some are too charismatic. Some are some extreme charismatics who do some crazy things, but other Christians go to the other extreme and say that God is no longer at work today.  He does not do miracles today.  We want to avoid both extremes.  We are not to go to the right hand or to the left hand.

Joshua died at 110 (Joshua 24:29).  He lived in Canaan for 25 years, according to Josephus.[1]  It took about 5 years for Joshua to conquer Canaan (Joshua 14:7-10).  That gives us the figure of 80.  Joshua and Caleb are now the oldest people in the country.  Everyone in the first generation of Jews who left Egypt have died, including Moses

[2] Parker, Joseph. Joshua (The People’s Bible Book 6). Pioneer Library. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses, p. 52


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