Joshua: A Model of Spiritual Leadership

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Poimenas

A young man was forced to abandon his military career in disgrace. For seven years he failed in several business attempts. He faced bankruptcy on multiple occasions. He was even forced to sell his pocket watch, his last remaining possession that had value, to provide Christmas gifts for his impoverished family. When war broke out, his application to rejoin the military was rejected. He finally took a job selling bread to the Army as a way to help the war effort. The young man was an unlikely candidate to actually lead the Union Army to victory during the Civil War and at the age of 46 became the youngest man to be elected president of the United States. His name was Ulysses S. Grant.[1] Many leaders are not born into privilege; oftentimes, they are shaped through difficulty.

What characteristics are found in an individual that enable him to progress from a slave to the leader of millions of people?  Joshua is considered by some as one of the greatest military leaders of history.[2] Frequently, significant leaders start with humble beginnings; such is the case with Joshua. The age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?” has a resounding answer when we examine the life of Joshua. Commonly leaders are molded and shaped through challenging times and struggles in life.  Joshua is an excellent example. His life provides today’s spiritual leaders with practical principles that produce success.


Joshua was born in Egypt. History reveals little about his family except for the name of his father, Nun (Num. 11:28). He was born into the tribe of Ephraim, most likely in the area of Goshen in the Nile Delta.  He was born a slave during the Israelite oppression by the Egyptians (Ex. 1:8-17). Joshua’s early memories were not pleasant ones as the people of God were persecuted by the Egyptian task masters. Gene Getz writes, “Like any young Hebrew man, there were times when he could have lost his life.”[3] However, God preserved Joshua and the Israelites, and under Moses’ leadership God led them out of bondage (Ex. 12:33-42). Joshua would become a personal assistant to Moses and would learn under this mentor during Moses’ transitional leadership of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to the threshold of conquest in the Promised Land.[4] Joshua would be the leader who would direct the Israelites in taking over the Promised Land (Josh. 1:1-9). 


Throughout Joshua’s mentorship under Moses and his management of the Israelites, several critical leadership principles surface for today’s spiritual leaders to learn from and implement.

Principle 1: Spiritual leaders realize that power comes from God.

As Israel journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, they experienced a conflict with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16). The Amalekites were a nomadic, marauding people who lived in the Negev. The Amalekites, ruthlessly and without provocation, attacked the Israelites when they arrived at Rephidim. The attack was not only cowardly but was also directed at God (Ex. 17:16). Moses called on Joshua to be the General of the Army to attack the Amalekites as he went up the mountain to receive direction from God. As Moses raised his staff, the Israelites prevailed. When he lowered his staff, the Amalekites prevailed. With the assistance of Aaron and Hur, Moses was able to keep his hands raised, and in the end, Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and won the battle.[5] Joshua learned an important lesson during this battle. Power is not simply the power of a general and his army, but rather power comes directly from God.[6]

Principle 2: Spiritual leaders maintain a heart of service to others.

The next time Joshua is mentioned in Scripture, Moses, the author of the Pentateuch, would write, “And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God” (Ex. 24:13). An important word is used to describe Joshua: minister (sharat). The Hebrew word means “to be an attendant, to wait on, to serve, or to minister.”[7] The idea is one who personally assists another in his/ her duties. Joshua, in his preparation for leadership, was willing to serve Moses. No task was beneath him. Before one can lead, he must be willing to serve. 

Principle 3: Spiritual leaders fix their eyes on the goal not the obstacles.

In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve men to spy out the Promised Land. Among the twelve spies was Joshua. Upon returning from the task, Joshua and Caleb were positive that the Israelites could conquer the land through the power of God. Joshua saw the goal and prize. However, the other ten spies saw only obstacles to success. The ten spies were frightened by the fortified cities and giant warriors in the land. Joshua and Caleb implored the Israelites to rely on God and the prize would be theirs.[8]

Sadly, the Israelites followed the ten spies’ fearful report. Joshua stood firm on the vision God had set before the people.

Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us– a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Num. 14:6-9).

Others were overwhelmed by the potential obstacles. Joshua saw the goal that God had set before him.

Principle 4: Spiritual leaders are courageous even when the task is daunting.

The assignment given to Joshua by God was daunting. He was to replace a successful, dynamic, and powerful leader, to conquer a land of giants behind fortified walls, and to direct people who didn’t want to be led but rather coddled. Joshua was tasked to replace Moses as the leader of Israel and to lead the Israelites in the possession of the Promised Land. Obviously, Joshua had trepidation as he embarked on this new directive from God. God, knowing Joshua’s fears, stated the following to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). Joshua needed to depend upon God in the face of difficult circumstances. God called him to be courageous. This lesson would be learned and exemplified in Joshua’s leadership of the nation of Israel. David Howard writes regarding the importance of this command: “The need for Joshua to be strong and resolute was acute because he was the instrument for the people to inherit the land. The Hebrew grammatical construction here highlights Joshua himself: if he, of all people, was weak and irresolute, then the cause was in deep trouble.”[9] Spiritual leaders must be courageous as they direct others to accomplish extraordinary goals.

Principle 5: Spiritual leaders consistently depend on God’s Word for direction and success.

During Joshua’s commission God reveals what Joshua must do to have success. With the daunting task before Joshua, God places before him the keys to victory in leading His people.

Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Josh. 1:7-8).

God’s directives were clear. Success was not bound to military might or strategy. Rather, success was tied to Joshua’s obedience to God’s Word. Howard states,

It is striking that God’s instructions here to Joshua are not about military matters, given that Joshua and the Israelites faced many battles ahead. However, the keys to his success were spiritual, directly related to the degree of his obedience to God. The keys to Joshua’s success were the same as those for a king: being rooted in God’s Word rather than depending upon military might.[10]

If Joshua would obey God’s Word, success was his. Spiritual leaders understand that wisdom comes from God through His Word. 

Principle 6: Spiritual leaders obey God’s directives even when they appear counter-intuitive.

Familiar to any student of Scripture is the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho (Josh. 6). The task would be a monumental military achievement. The walls of Jericho were impressive and impenetrable. God, however, provided a unique plan to conquer the city. This battle plan would never appear in a military strategy guide; but God told Joshua His plan, and Joshua simply obeyed God’s directives. Schaeffer summarizes the battle strategy,

The people were to march for six days around the city, going around it once each day with the priests leading the way.  On the seventh day everyone was to march around the city seven times.  Then the priests were to blow the rams’ horns and the people were to cry out.  When this was done, God said, the walls of the city would fall down flat and everyone could ascend up “straight before him.”[11]

One can only imagine what occurred in Joshua’s mind as he heard God’s battle plan. Though the directive was counter-intuitive, Joshua obeyed, and God won the victory. Spiritual leaders understand that sometimes God’s plans are not man’s plans. We are not called to understand but rather to simply obey.

Principle 7: Spiritual leaders consult God before making important decisions.

Not all lessons are learned the easy way. In Joshua 9:1-15, Joshua would learn a lesson the hard way. God wanted the Israelites to completely remove the nations from the Promised Land. The Gibeonites, realizing they could not defeat Israel, sent emissaries disguised as weary travelers from a long journey to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. Joshua failed to take the matter before the Lord and signed the peace agreement. Donald Campbell writes the following in a commentary edited by Walvoord and Zuck,

Caught off guard by the cunning strategy of the Gibeonites, the leaders of the Israelites concluded a formal treaty with them. But Joshua and the Israelites made at least two mistakes. First, in sampling their provisions they accepted as evidence things that were highly questionable. If the visitors were true ambassadors with power to conclude a treaty with another nation they should have had more substantial credentials. It was foolish of Joshua not to demand them.  The second and primary reason for Israel’s failure is stated in verse 14: The leaders did not seek direction from God. Did Joshua think the evidence to be so beyond question that they needed no advice from Yahweh? Did he think the matter too routine or unimportant to “bother“ God with it? Whatever the cause it was a mistake to trust their own judgment and make their own plans.[12]

Joshua learned that a spiritual leader cannot lead through his own intuition. A leader must always pray and ask God’s direction when making decisions. Prayer is critical to spiritual leadership.


These seven principles about spiritual leadership are simply a sample of the principles that we can learn from the life of Joshua. His life speaks to the importance of being faithful to God. Joshua was not a great leader because of anything within himself; rather, he was a great leader because God empowered him to do great things. Joshua allowed himself to be a vessel for the Master’s use.


[1] H. Blackaby and R. Blackaby, Called to be God’s Leader: How God Prepares His Servants for Spiritual Leadership. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson), p. 1.

[2] J. O. Sanders, Promised-Land Living. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 3.

[3] Gene Getz, Joshua: Defeat to Victory. (Glendale, CA: G/L Publications, 1979), p. 15.

[4] Blackaby and Blackaby, Called to be God’s Leader, p. 8.

[5] Sanders, Promised-Land Living, pp. 3-4.

[6] Francis A. Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), p. 10.

[7] W. L. Holladay,  A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament: Based on the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner. 10th corr. impression. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 384.

[8] Getz, Joshua: Defeat to Victory, p. 20.

[9] D. M. Howard. Joshua. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), p. 85.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, p. 103.

[12] Donald Campbell, “Joshua,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy Zuck. (Wheaton, IL.: Victor Books, 1985), p. 349.


Andrew Burggraff is Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Shepherds Theological Seminary. He also serves as Director of Student Services. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Maranatha Baptist University, a Master of Divinity degree from Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, and a EdD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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