By Dr. Kevin Dougherty –
At a recent Men’s Breakfast at the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, Pastor Marshall Blalock spoke on the leadership of Joshua. While the general topic is a familiar one, Pastor Blalock focused on one interesting and often overlooked aspect of Joshua’s leadership. This was the report in Joshua Chapter 5 of the circumcision of the Israelites at Gilgal.
Pastor Blalock reminded us of the story: As the Israelites had spent their forty years in the wilderness, the men who had been circumcised in Egypt had all died off and the babies that had been born in the desert had not been circumcised. As a result, the Israelites were not in obedience to the Lord. Joshua knew he had to correct this obedience, but the present moment seemed an inauspicious one. With the Canaanite kings quaking in fear in the wake of the Israelite advance, it would seem that now was the time to strike and take advantage of their enemies’ loss of courage. Instead Joshua forfeited this advantage and paused to circumcise his men and then remain in camp while they healed. As a leader, why would Joshua do this?
In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write that leaders who “model the way” take three important steps. To be this kind of leader, you must:
– clarify values by finding your voice
– affirm the shared values of the group
– set the example by aligning actions with shared values (16-17).
At Gilgal, Joshua was a leader who modelled the way by taking these three steps.
Kouzes and Posner explain that before you can influence others, you must know who you are and what your core values are. This is what they call “finding your voice.” In this case, Pastor Blalock told us that what Joshua had come to value was obedience to God. As one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the land of Canaan, Joshua (with Caleb) had implored the people to “not rebel against the Lord” (Numbers 14: 9). When they refused, Joshua had experienced the forty years of wandering that God used to punish the Israelites for their disobedience. When Joshua assumed the role of leader from Moses, God had reminded Joshua to “be careful to obey all the law” (Joshua 1: 7). Obedience was the voice Joshua had found and when God commanded him to circumcise the Israelites, he didn’t question it or hesitate. Joshua was clear in his values. He obeyed.
But Kouzes and Posner note that the leader’s values are not the only ones at stake. Because there are other people involved, the leader must affirm the shared values of the group. To do so, Pastor Blalock explained that Joshua drew on God’s covenant of circumcision with Abraham (Genesis 17:10). As descendants of Abraham, the Israelites at Gilgal were part of this same covenant and by it, Joshua secured the shared value of obedience with the group.
Pastor Blalock noted that Joshua not just heard God; he also obeyed God. In so doing, Joshua fulfilled Kouzes and Posner’s call for leaders to “set the example by aligning actions with shared values.” Joshua not only talked the talk. He walked the walk. Joshua himself was already circumcised, and by his leadership, all the Israelites took action and were circumcised as well.
By modeling the way, Joshua facilitated an alignment even greater than the secular version of Kouzes and Posner. By being obedient to the covenant, the Israelites regained the fellowship with God that their disobedience had diminished. God “rolled away the reproach of Egypt” from the people (Joshua 5:9) and they were now prepared to enjoy the blessings He had prepared for them in the Promised Land.