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The Leaders God Chooses: Joshua and Caleb

July 26, 2009

Sermon: 7-26-09
Text: Numbers 13, Joshua 1, 24

Last week, we entered into a series of sermons that considers the qualities of the leaders God chooses. I started with Moses because we really think of him as a transitional figure who was the first judge of Israel. You will notice that these leaders really cover the spectrum in terms of age. Moses was eighty years old when God called him to lead the people out of Egypt. He served in that capacity for forty years. Today, we come to two men who assumed leadership probably about the time they were forty and continued to serve into their eighties. We will conclude the series with Samuel, another transitional person, because he was, in many ways, the last of the Judges and the first of the Prophets.

Why is this series important? The people whose lives we consider in these sermons demonstrate to us the kind of qualities God looks for in selecting leaders today. It is important because every single one of us – each teenager who sits here, as well as each senior adult who believes they are too old to do anything – is called to be a leader. It is the reason, as I pointed out last week, that we say in our literature that all members of the congregation are ministers. Because we all have leadership responsibility, we must understand the qualities, the characteristics that God looked for in His leaders of the Old Testament.

We will consider today two men who served as influential guides: Joshua and Caleb. We pick up their story in the book of Numbers, Chapter 13. Moses became quite good at cultivating leadership in other people, encouraging the younger generation to assume control. Verse 1: The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” So at the Lord’s command, Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.

Now, the people of Israel were camped at a place called Kadesh-Barnea, just to the south of the area we now call the Holy Land or the Land of Promise. These spies searched out the land. When the twelve returned, they were unanimous in one matter but divided in another. We pick up the story now at Verse 26:

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendents of Anak there.”

The bounty of the land was very evident to all spies who searched the land. They all agreed that the land did flow with milk and honey. All agreed that the land was indeed prosperous. As proof, the twelve men brought back clusters of grapes so large that two men had to carry them on a pole. The twelve also agreed that the land was well fortified and that powerful people lived there. The men referred to Anak, considered the patriarch of all the giants. In fact, Goliath descended from Anak.

The twelve do not agree on the course of action, however. Only two people out of the twelve, Caleb and Joshua, gave a minority report, encouraging the people to go into the land. Verse 30: “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

The majority, ten men, however, disagreed. They told Moses, “We cannot go. The people who live there are powerful, and we are too weak. We can’t do what God has told us to do. The forces are too formidable.” Verses 31-32:

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack these people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All of the people we saw there are of great size…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Some have called this reaction to circumstances the Grasshopper Report or the Grasshopper Complex.

Moses and Aaron, who had led the people to this point, had great despair. Again, the minority tried to persuade the people to enter the land, regardless of the dangers. Chapter 14:5:

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who were among those who explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

When the minority report was not accepted, Caleb and Joshua tore their clothes as an expression of distress and grief. They spoke to the entire assembly, but the majority of the people of Israel ruled and decided not to go into the land. Some of them even banded together and proposed, “Let’s elect a leader who will take us back to Egypt. That is really where we want to go.” Can you imagine? On the threshold of the Promised Land, some are talking about returning to slavery.

The first point I would make today is that because leaders do not always agree with the majority opinion, people do not always follow them.

Years ago when we were living in Louisville, Kentucky, Clare worked as a teacher. She, along with other teachers, attended a meeting with a member of the legislature from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In the course of his discussion with these teachers, this representative made a comment that was unbelievable: “You become a good leader by finding out which way the crowd is going, then rushing to the front of the line so you can take credit for leading them in that direction.” God does not want the kind of leader who tries to please the crowd. God uses a leader who decides what is best, not based on popular opinion, but on wisdom from above. Only Joshua and Caleb wanted to go forward with God’s plan; but because the majority ruled, the entire nation suffered. Let me say that again. The entire nation suffered for forty years because the majority did not want to go in the direction God wanted them to go. As a note of interest, of those twelve spies, ten never saw the Promised Land. God allowed only the two who had given the minority report, Joshua and Caleb, to go into the Land of Promise.

Second, a good leader is also a good follower. For forty years, Joshua and Caleb tromped around the wilderness, following Moses. It was Moses’ time to lead, and they did not try to usurp his authority. They did not try to push him aside, even when Moses grew old and no longer possessed the physical abilities of Joshua or Caleb. Even though Joshua himself was aging, he was obedient to God, waiting for God’s timing. Instead of pushing their own agenda, good leaders wait upon God. The only way they can be effective is if they seek God’s timing.

The time did eventually come for Moses to step aside. This third characteristic is referenced in Deuteronomy 31:7-8, where we read about how the torch was passed, how the mantel moved from Moses to Joshua:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as an inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Fourth, a good leader knows that no one is indispensable. Moses was, without question, one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel. He knew that as a leader, he would be replaced. The reality of leadership is that God needs our skills and our talents for a time, but He is constantly preparing someone else to take our place. A good leader knows that no one is indispensable. Leaders become ineffective when they believe that people just cannot do without them, that people cannot get along without them. The best leaders do not act like the Lone Ranger. They know that they are part of a team.

We can consider the fourth principle in one of two ways. First, leaders are part of a team simultaneously. Other people lead as they lead. Moses selected twelve spies because he needed others to work with him. Moses also selected others to serve as judges of Israel. The other way to look at this is that this team leadership is also sequential. A good leader knows that they have developed their abilities based on guidance from someone before them. In Moses’ case, Jethro mentored him. Good leaders leave behind some sort of legacy. Those who follow them continue the leadership. Leadership is shared, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequentially. Good leaders encourage others to step up and assume their leadership place.

I would like to share with you an example that is very important to me. Mike McGee served this church for seventeen years as pastor. For the past thirteen years, he has been a tremendous encouragement to me. He is an example of a leader who knows a time comes when it is necessary to step aside, not with bitterness but with an attitude of encouragement for whoever follows. That ability is one of the hallmarks of the kind of leader God chooses. When it is time to turn over the key, a good leader does so with confidence.

The truth is that God needed a special type of leader to bring His people out of bondage in Egypt and to guide them through the wilderness wanderings. God needed someone who could give these people the laws He had bestowed upon them at Sinai and lead them to think about God’s presence among them, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle. God needed someone who could nail that group of rag-tag slaves into a nation. Moses was just that kind of leader.

Following Moses, however, God needed a different style of leader, one who did not work in the shadow of Moses. Joshua did not try to be another Moses. Joshua was his own man with his own leadership style. According to the book of Joshua, the people going into the land of Canaan had a mission of conquest. They needed a military leader, someone who was forthright, decisive, unafraid. God chose Joshua because he was not like Moses. He was like Joshua and Joshua alone.

God spoke to Joshua in Joshua 1:2-5:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert of Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The people had been wandering around the wilderness for forty years. Tired and weary, they were standing on the threshold, preparing to enter the Land of Promise. They still needed to cross the Jordan River. They knew that the cities ahead were fortified and that they would meet opposition. They were not trained as fighting people, however. They needed, most of all, a leader who had vision. Joshua possessed this fifth quality. Joshua could see God’s purpose. He could see the extent of this Land of Promise, covering land from Lebanon to present-day Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” mentioned in Verse 4. He could see the vision, the big picture.

Not everybody in the group of Israelites could see what the future held, but they did not have to see it. They merely needed the knowledge that their leader saw God’s purpose and possessed the courage to direct them. We are told right here at the first of Joshua that they followed him without fear and without swerving to either the right or the left.

One of my favorite passages, Verses 6-9, addresses the sixth point. Some of you will remember that when I first came to Morningside, Rabbi Sam Cohan sang the following Scripture from the Old Testament in the Hebrew language and then read it in English during my installation service:

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. 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. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The sixth principle is that leaders worth their salt know their own weaknesses. They know their own frailties. They know their blind spots. No one can lead for God in his or her own strength. They can only lead for God if they recognize their limitations and recognize that God can do impossible. God can make a way where there seems to be no way.

Joshua was a man of valor. He was a man of humility. Joshua was a military leader, but he accepted as truth the book mentioned here, God’s Book of Law. He meditated on it. He followed it. He believed God would keep His promises. When God said, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you,” Joshua took it to the bank. He was a strong leader with both confidence and humility.

A Southern gospel song says it is very hard to stumble when you are on your knees. That is exactly right. If we spend enough time praying, we will not make nearly as many mistakes. God’s working through us, not our wisdom or our strength, provides the guidance and direction we need in order to be the kind of leader God calls us to be.

The seventh point about leadership is found in Joshua 6, following the group’s miraculous crossing of the Jordan River and its entering into the Promised Land. Joshua made time to commemorate the event by setting up an altar made of stones.

According to the book of Joshua, perhaps Joshua’s greatest victory is the battle at Jericho. Some opinions differ on this claim. Kathleen Kenyen spent her entire life excavating Jericho, perhaps the oldest city in the world. Jericho was a walled, fortified city at several points during the history of Jericho. Most archeologists believe that when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, however, Jericho had no wall. This discrepancy creates a real puzzle for biblical scholars.

For today, we will just take it the way the Bible gives it here in these passages. We will simply say that Joshua had this tremendous task of bringing down a fortified city. God had told him, “By the way, a harlot in the city is going to befriend you. You will know where she is by a scarlet ribbon she will dangle out the window. Joshua, you are not to hit a lick. Just march around the city, blow your trumpets, and uncover lamps.” Do you think that Joshua ever scratched his head and asked, “Are you kidding me? Is this really the way we are going to take this city?” Joshua led the people of Israel to do just that.

Can you imagine what the people inside the city must have thought when they saw these crazy Hebrew people circling the walls of the city, getting dizzy? Can you imagine what they thought when the wall came tumbling down? It was perhaps the greatest victory in the book of Joshua. The victory did not occur because Joshua was such a great military strategist. The victory occurred because Joshua obeyed God, because he knew God’s plan was the right one.

I love Isaiah 55: 8, which says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are my ways your ways.” The Living Bible words that, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Joshua, just as other leaders God chose, had an experience just like that.

In his seven-year military campaign, Joshua conquered thirty-one kings. By any measure, he was a successful military leader. Joshua’s most difficult job might have been dividing the land into segments and allotting it to twelve tribes. My friend Yossi Liebowitz says, “Two Jews, three opinions.” Joshua had the difficult task of dividing the land among all twelve tribes so that they would agree on the size and location of their parcel of land. His plan came off without a hitch. That feat might have been a greater accomplishment than all of his military victories. The eighth principle is demonstrated in the fact that Joshua was able to achieve his tasks because he was dependent on God. He sought wisdom from above through the life of prayer. In doing that, he is remembered as a great leader.

We see the ninth principle in Caleb, who has not appeared in the Scripture since the book of Numbers. At that time, Caleb had stood up and said, “Folks, we have to go in.” Not one mumbling word about Caleb was included in the Scripture until Joshua 14. Had you forgotten about poor ole Caleb? Where was Caleb during all of this? He was right beside Joshua.

I want to mention three men who have died recently and then ask you two questions. I am mentioning their names with nothing pejorative. Neither am I mentioning them as shining examples. Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite. Which one of those three received the most notice upon his death? Which one received the least notice?

The sidekick does not generally receive any headlines. The person who plays second fiddle does not earn the spotlight very often. Caleb was a sidekick. He played second fiddle. He was right by Joshua’s side, tromping those same wilderness wanderings and fighting those same battles. Scripture does not make reference to him again until Chapter 14 when he says, “Listen, forty-five years ago, I told you we could do this. Forty-five years ago, I said that we could defeat these people. Now give me this mountain. It is the land of Hebron, the most difficult place to take, the land with the most-feared opponents. This is my fight. This is my battle.” Now at age eighty-five, Caleb gains that land. He had been silently going about his business, being faithful to God and being faithful to Joshua. He was a man of passion and a man of a purpose who never quit. He stuck with it all those years. Senior adults, do not tell me you are too old for leadership.

The last principle of a good leader, as evident in Joshua and Caleb, appears in Chapter 24. After leading the people to conquer the land of Canaan and after dividing up the land, Joshua gathered them at a place called Shechem and gave them a choice. Verse 14:

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Here is commitment. This man of steadfast commitment had promised to serve the Lord. He had served the Lord. Now, he was setting an example for everybody else, calling them to commitment, too. At the very end of the book of Joshua in Verse 29, we read about his death. Look at Verse 31: “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.” Joshua’s unwavering commitment to God held him steady as a leader. In the end, his unwavering commitment steadied the whole nation long after his death. The people continued to follow God because of this man’s example.

I ask you about your own commitment, your commitment to God through Jesus Christ. Have you committed your life to Christ Jesus? Have you asked him to be the Lord of your life? If you have never done that, let this be the day. Let this be your moment at Shechem. Make your commitment.

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2009

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