02 Joshua the man

Text: Numbers 27:12-23 / 1 Chronicles 7:20-29

  1. Joshua’s family background (1 Chronicles 7:20-29)

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun (Joshua 1:1). Joshua was the son of Nun, though his mother is not mentioned. Nun was born as a slave in Egypt, and would have spent some or all of his life in Egyptian captivity.  Slavery was a harsh existence (Exodus 1:14), and this suffering created in the hearts of the Hebrew slaves a desire for freedom. Nun named his son Hoshea, which means ‘salvation’.  It’s possible this reflected a desire in Nun for a national salvation. But salvation would only be possible with the LORD, the God of Israel. Perhaps this is why Moses renamed Hoshea Joshua (Numbers 13:16), which means ‘the LORD is salvation’. 

Picture 1—The Tomb of Nun

The tomb of Nun is located in Israel (the West Bank) (Picture 1), although whether it is really Nun’s tomb is disputed. The tomb of Joshua, which is fairly certain, is nearby. But we know more about Joshua’s family background. Joshua was descended from Ephraim (Picture 2). Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim were adopted by Jacob as sons, and were given an equal portion of the land along with the other tribes.  Ephraim, though the younger son, received a greater blessing from Jacob: his descendants will become a group of nations.(Genesis 48:19). This seems to indicate Ephraim’s sons would be rulers.  But often God’s promises don’t match up with our experience (see Isaiah 55:8-11), and this was true for Ephraim.

There is a little gem of spiritual truth tucked away in the genealogy of Ephraim (1Chronicles 7:20-27). Ephraim had four sons, but two of them, Ezer and Elead, were killed by thugs from Gath (1Chronicles 7:21). This devastated Ephraim and the whole family. Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him (1Chronicles 7:23). But also, Ephraim was probably wondering where God was in all this? Would his seed really become a group of nations? Ephraim had another son, and called him Beriah, which means ‘in misfortune’, or ‘in evil’ (1Chronicles 7:23). This son

Picture 3—The twelve tribes of Israel

was surely a comfort and blessing to Ephraim and the family. But it was from Beriah’s line, 9 generations later, Joshua son of Nun was born. And when Joshua apportioned the land, Ephraim was given land in the centre of Israel and became the leading tribe (Picture 3). God fulfilled His promise in His way and His time, bringing good out of misfortune.

  1. Joshua’s preparation in the wilderness

Joshua does not suddenly burst onto the scene on Joshua 1:1. His name has already been mentioned 27 times. Joshua spent many years in the wilderness which prepared him for his leadership.  The first time we meet Joshua is as he leads the armies of Israel in battle to defeat the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-13).  At the age of not much more than 20 years Joshua was clearly a highly gifted military leader.  Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man and spent 40 years learning from his mentor. Joshua ascended the mount of God with Moses, and it was here he was first called “Moses’ assistant” (Exodus 24:13).

On one occasion Joshua protested that some of the Israelites were prophesying, but Moses rebuked him. Joshua was still learning (Numbers 11:28). However, Joshua was prepared to follow the LORD even when that meant standing out from the crowd. For example, he didn’t participate in the idolatry of the golden calf (Exodus 32:13). Joshua was one of the twelve men sent to spy out the land. But it was only Joshua and Caleb who came back with a positive report: We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it (Numbers 13:30).  The negative report of the other ten spies affected the whole community and caused them to grumble. As a result none of that generation, except Joshua and Caleb, were able to enter the land.  It’s hard to imagine how hard this must have been for Joshua and Caleb.

God used the first sixty years of Joshua’s life, first as a slave in Egypt and then as Moses’ assistant in the wilderness, to prepare him to lead God’s people into the Promised Land.  God is always refining and preparing us for what He has for us next. He wants us to surrender all of our lives to Him and trust in His good timing to use our story, our struggles and gifts for His glory.

  1. Joshua’s commissioning (Numbers 27:12-23)

Joshua was formally recognised as Moses’ successor before Moses died. Moses was not allowed to enter the land because he disobeyed the LORD at the waters of Kadesh (Numbers 27:14). Moses’ disobedience was serious and it shows there are consequences for sin, even though God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). When we sin we should repent and leave the consequences with God (note Numbers 12:3).

Then Moses prayed the LORD would appoint a man over the community (Numbers 27:16), to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17). This shows us the character of Biblical leadership.  Biblical leadership does not lord it over others to control or manipulate, but it is a call to serve, like a shepherd caring for his sheep.  This reflects the heart of God (Genesis 49:24, Psalm 23:1, John 10:9,11). In many ways the leadership of Joshua points to the leadership of Jesus the Messiah, the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18).

There is much we can learn about leadership from Joshua. But we need to exercise some caution. Our focus should be on Jesus our Leader and not on human leaders (servants). We should also note that New Testament leadership (elders and deacons) is always plural. It’s a shared leadership, and remember, Jesus sent his disciples out in two’s. In fact, the word for leadership for believers is only used once in the New Testament (Romans 12:8). Otherwise leadership is only used for Jesus, who leads us out of our sin into the new life of the ‘Promised Land’.

Having said this, there are things we can learn from the leadership of Joshua in Numbers 27:18. First, Joshua was called by God. Joshua spent many years in leadership in the wilderness, but now God was talking him to be Moses’ successor.  We are all called to follow Jesus, but sometimes God calls individuals to specific tasks, such as ministry. Second, Joshua was filled with the Spirit. This is also a qualification for New Testament leadership (e.g. Acts 6:3).  We cannot be involved in ministry without the Spirit who guides us and gives wisdom – impossible! Third, Joshua’s call was recognised and confirmed by Moses and the whole community, and they laid hands on him.  If you have a call from God, at some point it will be recognised by the wider community of God’s people. Paul said, Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (1Timothy 5:22). Those who feel called by God need to follow Joshua’s example by first learning to serve alongside others within the Christian community.