Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15-17)
Elders Like Joshua
The children of Israel had been free from Egypt for more than forty years. Only Joshua and Caleb remained to enter the land of promise of the adults twenty years and above that walked through the Red Sea. Moses was forbidden to enter Canaan, and a new leader must be chosen. He knew he would die, and the people would possess the land without his leadership. Choosing a man to lead Israel was a daunting task, and few men would be able to meet the challenge. Moses implores the Lord to choose a man to take his place, and the Lord selects Joshua, son of Nun.
Moses has endured the challenges of the wilderness for forty years. After the failed invasion at Kadesh Barnea, he guided a rebellious, complaining, and murmuring nation of discontents. As the nation’s leader, Moses knew the complexities required to guide the people of God across the Jordan and the challenges of driving out the people of Canaan. The nation needed a man that could take the role of leadership and accomplish what the Lord committed to him. Joshua was a strong candidate for the role of leading the people of God. The son of Nun would take the nation across Jordan and complete the conquest in less than seven years.
When Moses described the work of the one who would lead the nation, he described a unique man of specific qualities. The leader would go out before the people. His task would be to guide God’s people and lead them into battle. This man would also go in before them to engage with them. Like a shepherd leading his flock, the leader of Israel would guide the flock of the Lord through the conquest of Canaan. Joshua took the mantle of leadership and became the leader of God’s people. He shepherded the nation to defeat the stronghold of Jericho and to build up the faith of the people after the losses at Ai. His faith guided the armies of God to win victory after victory as the Canaanites fled before the presence of the nation of God. He went out before them, and he went in before them. His role is much like the roles found in the leadership of the church.
Jesus Christ is the head of the church. His authority is absolute. The Father gave Jesus all authority, and through that authority and the work of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament church was established and organized according to the plan of God. One of the pivotal roles in the church is that of leadership. Strong leadership is needed to guide the local church for the purpose designed by God before time began. The New Testament describes the leaders of the church as elders, pastors, bishops, overseers, and shepherds. Each one of these qualities of character defines the work of the leaders of the church. Like Joshua of old, the elders have an immense task ahead of them as they lead the people of God to conquer the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And like Joshua (but in the multiple), they must be men willing to go out before the brethren and to go in before them. Joshua led by example and authority. He went before the people for all to see. His leadership was visible to the congregation. Joshua went in before them, engaging with them. He was personal. His work was a success because he knew the quality of leadership was to be among his people.
Elders must learn the craft of shepherding. Smelling like the sheep requires engagement with the sheep. The constant nourishment and care of the shepherd’s hands upon the flock will endear them to the flock. When battles must be fought, the overseers take the lead in directing the defense of the church with truth and righteousness. There will be times of defeat, as Joshua experienced at Ai. Rooting out sin is a most difficult task, but men of faith must take action. Joshua did not give up or give in. At the end of his life, Joshua said that not one thing had failed of all the good things which the Lord had promised. He guided the people with the courage of a faithful heart to go before them and go among them. The work of an eldership shepherding the flock of God must have the same zeal. Go before them and go among them. Let the people see and know you care for them and will protect them. Rise up and be like Joshua.