Congratulations, we’ve finally finished reviewing the first of 66 books! At this rate, it’s going to take 200 installments to understand the Bible. Fortunately, we’re going to pick up the pace. A lot. In this session, we’ll consider a total of six books of the Bible.
To date, we’ve been introduced to the three main characters (or their representatives). We’ve seen the main conflict take shape, and we’ve seen God’s initial response.
Very early on God created everything out of nothing, and declared that it was good, perfect, without flaw, exactly what He intended. Special out of this creation was Adam, the first human being, whom God created in His image and gave special capabilities and a special role. Adam was to be the on-site manager for the earth. He was to care for it and administer it. We also met the serpent in the garden. The serpent was utterly opposed to God and tricked Eve into breaking God’s commandment. When she invited Adam to follow her in sin, He chose her way rather than God’s way and aligned himself with the serpent.
So how would God respond to the alienation of His prize creation? How would He regain the relationship He had with humanity? Was the world utterly ruined forever?
No, God set about choosing a people to be his. He chose Abram and called him to a special land where God made a one-sided covenant with him. This selection was bound around 4 main promises:
- Out of Abram would come a large nation.
- God would give Abram the land on which he lived as a possession.
- God would take these people and be their God.
- Through them, the entire earth would be blessed.
For three generations, God made this promise to the heir of the family: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At the end of the last session, God miraculously provided for His people by sending Joseph to Egypt to prepare for the famine, then sending the rest of his family to live in comfort there.
Only one problem remained.
God’s people were stuck in Egypt, far from the land God had promised them. And the Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t want to let them go. Something had to give.
Times like this called for strong leadership. And that’s the theme of this session. God chose leaders for His people. Without leaders, the Israelites would have remained stuck in Egypt. God, in His goodness, was going to work through human leaders to lead them out of Egypt, into the Promised Land, and then to defend that land from their enemies who wanted to take it.
We will be looking at three examples of the leaders God ordained in Exodus, Joshua, and Judges.
Part 1: Out of Captivity
We first meet Moses in Exodus 2. Perhaps he is most famous for the story of the basket in the reeds. It was the desperate attempt of a mother who loved him to save him. Pharaoh’s royal decree had mandated population control of the most extreme kind. The net result was that he was functionally adopted into the Pharaoh’s family and raised as a prince of Egypt.
But Moses was deeply flawed. Exodus 2:11-12 briefly tells the story of how he murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave; one of his people. Not a lot of words are spent on it, but it paints a picture of a man with a hot temper, who thought he was above the law.
This one action ruined Moses’ life of luxury. We might have thought that he was on the path to be able to do great things to aid his people. Instead, he was forced to flee lest his adoptive family learn of his actions and bring justice down upon his head.
The next we see of Moses is as he emerged from forty years of herding sheep in the Sinai wilderness. Attracted by a burning bush that wasn’t burned up, he has a face to face encounter with God. At this time God gives him the assignment: Lead My people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10)
Moses would have known how impossible that task was. He knew how many people there were. He knew how Pharaoh would react. He knew the obstacles they would encounter trying to get out of Egypt. He knew they didn’t have an army that could defeat the Pharaoh and the army of Egypt.
Perhaps the younger version of Moses would have jumped the opportunity for action and glory. The older Moses immediately started making excuses and raising problems. What if they don’t believe me? What if they don’t know who You are? What if Pharaoh says no?
God wouldn’t have any of it, and he overwhelmed Moses’ fears with answers and assurances that God Himself would be with Moses. And all along, the bush merrily continued to burn.
Moses’ final objection was that he wasn’t a good speaker. The original language makes it sound like he might have had a speech impediment. Again, God wasn’t put off. He told Moses that his brother Aaron spoke fine and that Moses could bring him along.
It didn’t matter to God that Moses had problems. It certainly didn’t matter to God that the task was hard. It was only hard for Moses. For God, the task of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt wasn’t hard at all. He already had a masterful plan.
From here, the rest is history, as they say. Moses went to Pharaoh and told him to let the people go. Pharaoh, predictably, refused. So God rained down ten plagues on Pharaoh and Egypt. The net result of the plagues was that the Egyptian pantheon of gods was thoroughly mocked and discredited, the Egyptian agricultural economy was ruined, and the firstborn of every household in Egypt were killed. God was comparing himself to Pharaoh, and the comparison wasn’t even close.
To boot, as Pharaoh demanded that the Hebrews leave, God influenced the people of Egypt to give them gold, silver, gems, and garments. On their way out, the people of Israel plundered the Egyptians and walked off with a huge load of booty. Then God set up a situation where He allowed Pharaoh to lead his army into the dry path through the Red Sea and brought the waters back to drowned the entire army.
God had a plan to bring Israel out of Egypt. But He needed a leader to make it happen. The leader was someone the people could see and listen to and follow. The leader modeled the faith in God that the people were to imitate. God spoke to the leader, then the leader spoke to the people, with God’s authority.
Moses’ problems didn’t matter to God. Despite his murderous anger, an abundance of excuses, and poor speaking ability God still chose him and used him in some of the mightiest miracles this earth has ever seen.
The influence of leadership and the closeness of his relationship with God had a profound impact on Moses. In Numbers 12:3 we read “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”
This is quite a far cry from the murderous excuse maker. It just shows that God was bigger than the problem and bigger than the leader himself.
It didn’t matter how many mistakes Moses made, God wasn’t thrown off course nor were His plans ruined. God’s primary requirement for a leader wasn’t political connections, or a can-do attitude, or even persuasive eloquence. God had all those things and to spare.
In Hebrews 11, as we read of Faith’s Hall of Fame, Moses receives seven verses talking about the faith that filled his life (23 – 29). Four times we see that faith was in play in his life. This is what God values in leaders. It’s not what we bring to God, but how willing we are to let God be God in our lives.
Now God was on the move. He was leading His people out of Egypt. Moses, the flawed leader, had been used by a perfect God to put the plan in motion. But this wasn’t the end. More leadership was required.
Part 2: Into the Promised Land
Who wants to follow a hero? Conventional wisdom says that the leader who follows a strong, beloved leader is destined for all sorts of trouble. From continual comparisons to managing the grief cycle, the new leader has their work cut out for them.
This is what Joshua faced. He had been Moses’ lieutenant for almost 40 years. But just on the verge of the Promised Land, God took Moses’ life in punishment for a sin that occurred at the beginning of the wilderness sojourn.
Joshua opens his book with his leadership anointing and the pep talk God gave him. Two things really stand out in the first nine verses of Joshua chapter 1:
- Joshua would not get any warm-up period. He was to immediately lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Of course “over the river into the Promised Land” meant right into the massive wall of the city of Jericho.
- Joshua was to be strong and courageous. God repeats this command three times in the pep talk. Leading these people was not for the weak at heart. Joshua needed to be bold and to rely upon God.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
God wanted Joshua’s attention. This was not Joshua’s chance to try out all the ideas that he’d read in management and leadership books. God wanted Joshua to be courageous because he was operating under God’s wisdom and power. This wasn’t at all about Joshua. This was all about God, and God wanted to make sure Joshua understood.
Coming out of this little talk with God, Joshua didn’t waste any time. He immediately issued marching orders and got the people moving. Guess what two words Joshua used with the people. If you said “strong” and “courageous”, you’d be completely right.
Step one of the Joshua plan was to cross the Jordan River. Normally this was not a huge task. The Jordan River did not rank among the great rivers of the world. But this was flood season, and the waters were raging. Crossing the river with the entire people of Israel was a risky move.
God’s instructions were clear: walk into the river. Just do it. Joshua told the people “The Priests with the Ark of the Covenant are going to walk into the raging river. Watch!” So they did. And God stopped the water of the flooding river so that the nation walked across on dry land. (I address this miracle in considerable detail in Chapter 3 of Faith & Miracles, so I’ll be brief here.)
This freaked out everyone in the land of Canaan. Crossing the flooding river was completely unexpected. It put God’s power on display and made them aware that their gods had never done anything so magnificent.
Step two of the Joshua plan was to take the heavily fortified city of Jericho. This was a huge task. The king of Jericho had seen Joshua and the people coming and he was doing everything he could to protect his city.
God’s instructions were equally clear: walk around the city. This was not in any military handbooks or taught at any of the military colleges of the day. Taking a castle generally meant a siege, and possibly a battering ram, and maybe trying to dig under the walls. But this wasn’t what God wanted.
So Joshua made the people walk around the city every day for a week. On the last day, they packed a lunch and made the trip seven times and then blew their horns loudly. That’s when God knocked the walls down. The people of Israel just had to climb over the rubble to take the city.
At this point, Joshua had been doing very well. He had followed God’s instructions and two insurmountable obstacles had been overcome in very unconventional fashion. But because of that, God got the credit and the region fell deeper into the terror of the Israelites, but even more terrified of their God.
Step three of the Joshua plan for possessing the Promised Land was to move on and take the next city. In this case, it was a much smaller city called Ai. Only this is where Joshua met his first failure. The little city routed the troops he sent to defeat them. They all ran back in shock.
God’s instructions had been very clear: “Jericho is dedicated exclusively to Me.” No one was to take any spoils or plunder. Except not everyone followed the instructions. Achan couldn’t resist some nice clothes and silver money. Tempted by his eyes, he hid it under his tent.
But God knew and withdrew His favor from His people. They suffered their first defeat.
This stunned Joshua and his leadership team. Ai was supposed to be no challenge. How did they lose? Why had God withdrawn His miraculous power?
Before moving on, Joshua pled with God to explain what had happened. And God did. He said that the covenant of Jericho had been broken and the consecrated things were stolen. So Joshua and the leaders of Israel drew lots until they could discover who had done this. And when they found Achan, he confessed. The punishment was death (his sin had caused the death of 36 Israelite soldiers at Ai) because God demanded purity.
Once Achan and his family had been dealt with, the army moved onward and rolled over Ai, as they had expected the first time. God’s favor was back.
In this fashion, Joshua led the people to conquer the land God had promised to Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. Under his leadership, the people subdued almost all of the tribes that lived in the region. They divided up the territory and gave each of the tribes (hailing back to Jacob’s sons) a region to live in.
In general, all was good. The plan seemed to be going just fine. Joshua was a good leader and his willingness to follow God brought about the promised outcome. Finally, the children of Israel had a place to call their own. God’s promise was coming true.
At the end of his life, Joshua gathered the people together and issued this challenge:
“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Me and my house, we will serve the Lord. This was Joshua’s summary of his relationship with God. As the leader, he had learned the lesson that serving God was far better than trying to lead under his power. When he tried to go off on his own, he was deceived by the Gibeonites who negotiated a treaty rather than being subdued. When he served God, he was able to ask and the sun stood still so they could win a great battle.
Joshua was the model of servant leadership. He epitomized the ideal of the leader who knew where their power came from and did not get a big head about it. Joshua was humble enough to let God be big and strong. Joshua didn’t need to take power into his own hands and make it all about him.
Of course, the people answered Joshua “You bet! That’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Everything was going well. It seemed easy to commit to the plan.
But when Joshua died, everything changed. God did not appoint another leader. The people went their way and started living their lives however they wanted. They did not keep their word.
Part 3: Victory over Their Enemies
As long as Joshua was around to lead the people, they followed God. It was easy to look at Joshua and remember the power of God at the Jordan River or Jericho.
And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. (Judges 2:7)
But when Joshua and his leadership team were gone, everything changed. The people turned away from God and they did what was evil in God’s sight and worshipped the Baal’s and gods of the people of Canaan. This made God angry.
How do you punish an entire nation of people who anger you? God chose to bring in foreign military powers to conquer the people and make their lives miserable. He would then raise a leader, called a Judge, who would defeat the conquerors and lead the people back to God.
The book of Judges covers approximately 400 years. Over that span, we see the same pattern repeated over and over. The people disobeyed God, so He brought in an enemy to conquer them. When life seemed to be unbearable, God chose a Judge to free them and bring them back to Him. This lasted a while but then the cycle began again.
Judges 4-5 tell the story of Barak and Deborah. She was a prophetess, someone who spoke to the people on behalf of God. When Jabin, a king in Canaan, began to oppress several of the tribes, She called Barak and told him to gather an army and go drive Jabin out of the land.
Barak did not exhibit good leadership or proper faith in God. He wouldn’t take the assignment unless Deborah came with him. It seems that he did not think God would follow through on the commission he had been given. So he wanted Deborah and her connection to God to come along too.
Deborah agreed but added a stipulation from God. Because Barak lacked the faith to follow God on his own, he would be denied the glory of capturing and killing the enemy commander. God had decided to give that privilege to a woman.
Events happened just as Deborah had said they would. Barak and his army went up against the forces of Jabin. God gave them into Barak’s hand and he routed the enemy. Sisera, the enemy commander fled for his life. Barak pursued, but Sisera escaped.
Sisera ran as far as he could. When he was about to drop from exhaustion, he came across the tent where Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, lived. Sisera asked for water, but Jael craftily gave him warm milk and covered him with a blanket. Being exhausted, he fell asleep. When she was sure he was out, Jael took a tent peg and a hammer and drove it through Sisera’s temple and into the ground.
Barak, along with Deborah introduced a short period where the people followed God. But when they were gone, the people reverted to their old habits. The returned to the gods of the Canaanites and resumed the worship of idols.
Once again, God became angry and brought an army from the kingdom of Midan to punish them. The Israelites would plant crops, but as soon as they harvested, the Midianite army would sweep in from the East and steal the grain.
Finally, the people cried out to God and he heard their pleas. God chose a man named Gideon, the youngest son of a minor family in the tribe of Manasseh to be their leader and defeat the Midianites.
Gideon’s first task was to oppose his father and the rest of his family on behalf of God. This first assignment shows us God’s interest in the spiritual condition of His people over their status as free or oppressed.
Gideon’s family had a sacred pole where they used to go to worship Ashtoreth, a pagan goddess. That night, Gideon snuck out of his tent and cut down the pole, destroyed the altar to Baal next to it and dragged the wood to the center of the settlement. There he built an altar to God, sacrificed one of the family oxen and burned it with the wood of the Ashtoreth pole.
Before Gideon could lead God’s people, he had to be rightly aligned to God. God wanted Gideon’s heart before he wanted his leadership. Once Gideon had revealed the quality of his heart, God was ready to use him.
Gideon proved an effective recruiter, and soon had an army of thirty-two thousand men. The Midianite army was much larger, but God had great plans for this attack. God told Gideon to winnow down his troops to only three hundred men. There was to be no mistake who was behind the victory that God would bring about.
One night while the Midianite army slept in camp in a valley, Gideon deployed his men with covered torches and trumpets around the camp. At a signal, they removed the covers to reveal the torches and blew their trumpets.
When the Midianites woke to the trumpet blast, God caused them to become confused. They couldn’t tell friend from foe and started fighting with one another. Then those who survived turned and fled. Gideon pursued them until he had captured and killed their leaders. The rest of the army scattered.
The children looked at Gideon with hero-worship after that. They asked him to become their king and establish a dynasty of rulers. Gideon declined.
Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23)
Because God had tested Gideon’s heart, Gideon had the right answer when the temptation came to exalt himself over God. He understood that the victory had been all God’s doing. He was just the leader that God had selected to be a part of the divine plan.
For the rest of his life, Gideon judged the people of Israel. While he was alive, they followed God. But when he died, they turned back to the idols of the Canaanites.
Throughout the book of Judges, we see this same pattern repeat. The people sin and worship foreign idols. God brings in an outside army to punish them. God chooses a leader to restore His people. For a time the people follow God, but eventually, they drift back to idolatry.
God Chooses Leaders
Throughout this section of the Bible, we see how God’s focus had settled on the children of Israel. He was going about the process of fulfilling His promise to Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. Rather than waving a divine magic wand, He chose leaders to achieve the results that He wanted to accomplish.
One of the constant lessons that we see from this section of the Bible is that despite divinely appointed leadership, the people of Israel continually choose to ignore God. Whether they were grumbling in the wilderness, giving up on the process of subduing the Promised Land or turning to the local idols the people continually fell away from God.
Fortunately, God was faithful to continually call new leaders to bring the people back to Him. He didn’t become frustrated or weary with this repetitive action. He had a greater plan to pursue, and this was but one part of it. He still had the problem of Genesis three to solve. When the time was right, He needed His people to be ready.