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Etching of Moses holding up the stone tablets

Leadership Lessons from Moses

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Posted by John Cheeseman, 9 Nov 2018

The late John Cheeseman explores Joshua's apprenticeship in spiritual leadership in this article from the Spring 2014 edition of Crossway

It is often said that the Christian church lacks leaders, especially in this country. Those of us in the Church of England think of a leader such as John Stott and ask: Where is there someone of his stature today? The television series The Apprentice is a quest to fi nd people who will succeed in the business world, but what are the qualifications for success in that programme? Ruthlessness, self-promotion, arrogance – even at times downright aggression. This forms a great contrast with the model of leadership advocated in the Bible.

I want to consider the man God chose to succeed Moses as the leader of Israel – Joshua. In particular, I’d like to look at various experiences in his life which enabled him to become a godly leader.  The first mention of Joshua comes in Exodus 17:8-9. After the Amalekite attack on Israel, Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ Moses went up the hill and whenever he lifted up his hand – presumably in prayer – Israel prevailed, but whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. And when Moses got tired, Aaron and Hur came to support his hands, as a result of which Israel eventually won the battle (Exodus 17:12-13).

The lesson for Joshua, who was engaged on the field of battle, is one of the most important he could ever learn. Jesus spells it out for us: ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). We can have the most wonderful ideas and strategies, but if we are relying on ourselves and our own strength, we are wasting our time. The backbone of any work done for God is prayer. How contrary this is
to many current ideas about leadership (even sadly in the church), where the emphasis lies on the leader’s magnetism and charismatic personality?

A few chapters further on in the experience of Joshua, we have the account of Moses going up Mt Sinai to receive the Law of God. Joshua was with Moses for six days, when the glory of the Lord rested on Sinai (Exodus 24:16), and then on the seventh day Moses went on alone to the top. During this time, Joshua saw a vision of God, and ‘under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness’. In verse 17, ‘the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel,’ including Joshua. An appreciation of the holiness and the majesty of God is vital if we are to be effective spiritual leaders. Many years ago, JB Phillips wrote a book entitled, Your God is too Small. That is a
statement that could be written over much that passes for Christianity today. Why is it that so much religion today fails to produce a deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility and a proper spirit of worship? It is because it fails to make people God-centred in their thoughts and consequently God-fearing in their lives. Joshua was a fine spiritual leader, because he had a vision of the awesome greatness of God. If we want to follow in his footsteps, we need to tread the same pathway.

When Joshua was serving as assistant to Moses, he received news that the elders Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp (Numbers 11:26-27). As far as Joshua was concerned, this
was a threat to the leadership of Moses, because Moses was the number one prophet in Israel. However, Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people
were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ This was another vital lesson for Joshua to learn, before he took over from Moses. Sadly, church leaders have not always heeded this principle. I have been at ministers’ conferences and detected envy and jealousy of those who seemed to be doing well, and almost delight when hearing about things going wrong for others. Jealousy is a terrible thing, and it has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

In the famous story of the spying out of Canaan (in Numbers 13 and 14), all the spies agreed that the land was fertile, but 10 of the 12 spies said it couldn’t be conquered because some of the people were giants and the cities were well-fortified. However, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said that with God’s help, conquest would be possible (Numbers 14:6-8). In fact, the rest of Israel sided with the majority report, and even tried to stone Joshua and Caleb. As a result of this, the people came under God’s judgment and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. The lesson is surely clear as it relates to spiritual leadership. The majority is not always right. In fact, it is very often wrong. Truth is not to be decided by the counting of heads. Let us not be intimidated by the crowd or
the philosophy which says: Come on, everybody else is doing it. Therefore, it must be right. Let us rather follow the example of Martin Luther, who stood virtually alone against the might of the established church which condemned him as a heretic. Of course, a current issue, where we need to contend against what seems the majority view, concerns the matter of homosexual practice, but there will be others.

In the final piece of the jigsaw, Moses climbs to the top of Mt Nebo, where he can see the promised land but is not allowed to enter it (Deuteronomy 34:4). Entering the land was a privilege reserved for his successor, Joshua (verse 9). So although Moses was a very great leader, he was not indispensible. God did not need Moses to lead the people into the land of Canaan. This is a very humbling truth for all leaders to grasp. God does not actually need us! He is perfectly capable of carrying out his plans without us. Of course, the wonder is that in his grace he does choose us to be his fellowworkers. What an amazing privilege! But at the same time we need to recognize that we are not indispensable. Sadly, many Christian leaders seem to think they are indispensable. This usually means a reluctance to delegate, as well as an unwillingness to plan for their future succession.

May God enable us to put these principles into practice for his glory and the good of his church.

John Cheeseman was a former member of the Church Society Council and long-standing member of Church Society, who served as Vicar of churches in East London, Kent and Eastbourne before his death in 2017.

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