Lessons in Leadership from Joshua

In the small city of Timnath Serah, in the mountains of Ephraim, the great leader Joshua spends the end of his days.  An accomplished man at the end of his life, Joshua would have been able to tell some amazing stories.  Imagine the wonderful things Joshua had seen God accomplish in his lifetime from the Exodus to the giving of the law to the providential generosity of God to the people for forty years.

He lived an amazing life in an incredible time.  By the end of his life he was able to see the fulfillment of promises that God had made at least 600 years before.  The historical record says, “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it…Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel.  All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43, 45).  He was also able to enjoy the rare time in the history of Israel when they serve God faithfully:  “So 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 works of the Lord which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7).

The time of Joshua is a time of great blessing for the people of God.  Why is this?  One of the reasons that this time was so grand is because of the great leadership of Joshua! Everyone who has a desire to lead others should spend time trying to understand what makes Joshua such a great leader.  For the purpose of this article, we are going to notice five leadership qualities that make him such a faithful and successful leader of God’s people.

Lesson #1- Joshua had a Mentor

From the very first time we meet Joshua in Exodus 17, we can see that Joshua has a great relationship with the leaders of Israel.  In Exodus 17, facing the challenge of the Amalekites, the experienced leaders of Israel, including Moses, Aaron and Hur, turn to Joshua.  The support they give is the factor that contributes to the ultimate victory of Israel over the Amalekites.

As we continue to read of Joshua over the course of the years of wandering, we read of a man close to Moses.  In fact, he is sometimes referred to as “Moses’ servant” (Ex. 24:13, 33:11; Num. 11:28; Josh. 1:1).  Joshua’s loyalty to the man God had chosen to lead his people was not universally practiced among the children of Israel.  A rebellion led by Korah had resulted in the death of those that followed him (Numbers 16).  Even Moses’ own brother and sister had challenged his leadership because of jealousy (Number 12:1-12).  But not Joshua.  He was forever willing to serve as Moses’ servant, learning from him every step of the way.

In modern parlance, we would say that Moses was Joshua’s mentor.  The practice of an older and experienced leader training a younger leader is found throughout the Bible.  For instance, we read of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the twelve apostles, Paul and Timothy, Paul and Titus, and Peter and Mark just to name a few.  Those who want to learn to be leaders can take a great lesson here.  God’s plan for developing younger people into leaders involves younger people developing close relationships with older, faithful, and wise leaders.  If you are younger, consider those you are spending time with.  There are lessons that can be learned from a mentor that one will not learn if only spending time with peers.  Follow God’s plan, as Joshua did, and find a strong mentor to help you grow into the leader God wants you to be!

Lesson #2- Joshua was willing to stand against popular rebellion

The next lesson we learn from Joshua is a rather unpleasant requirement of those who would lead well.  In Numbers 13, the children of Israel reach the borders of the Promised Land.  While the nation camped on the borders of this land of promise, twelve “spies,” one from each tribe, survey the land and its inhabitants, preparing to bring back a report.  Clearly, these spies would have an enormous influence on the future of the entire nation.  Their word would guide the decision making process.

When the spies returned, ten of the twelve brought back a negative report finding that the adversaries were too grand and that the goal was therefore beyond reach. They did not believe that the children of Israel could defeat the residents of Canaan.  Two of the spies disagreed: Caleb of the tribe of Judah and Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim.  These men believed that God, who had done what seemed impossible before, could do it again.  They strongly encouraged the congregation to trust God and obey his commands.  While we admire these two men, the Israelites did not.  They disapproved of their counsel so much that they even took up stones to stone them.  Under this pressure, Joshua and Caleb did not relent (see especially Numbers 14:6-10).

In this moment, we see a quality that is vital to making a good leader: Joshua was willing to stand against popular rebellion!  In order to lead, a man must be willing to stand for the truths of God’s word even when others will not. Although good leaders do not desire to be disliked, the truth is that they sometimes will be.  A leader whose primary concern is their popularity will fail in the most perilous of times.  Joshua was an amazing success in this aspect of his life.  Like Joshua, good and faithful leaders will hold to the truths of God’s word, even if it means that they have to stand against popular rebellion.

Lesson #3- Joshua was Willing

When God revealed to Moses that his time to die was soon approaching, Moses immediately thinks of the people.  Realizing that they are not ready to walk alone,  Moses asks God to provide another leader who can direct and care for the people.  God answered this prayer by choosing Joshua as the man who would succeed Moses as the leader of the children of Israel (Numbers 27).

When the time came for Joshua to assume the role of leader, he had already lived a full life.  He had already done many things for God and could have decided to leave it to “the other guys.”  But this was not the choice he made.  Instead, when Joshua was called to serve, he was willing (Joshua 1).

It is interesting to note the importance of willing service on the part of those who would lead well.  The apostles left all to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). Peter writes that elders should serve, “not by compulsion but willingly” (I Peter 5:2).  Timothy was encouraged to, “give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (I Timothy 4:15). The message for our time is that when opportunities come, they need to be ready and willing to serve.

Lesson #4- Joshua was decisive

Once Joshua steps into this new role, there is much to do.  The children of Israel had come a long way, but they still were not in the Promised Land!  The expectations placed upon Joshua were enormous.  Many men have crumbled under the weight of such great responsibility, but not Joshua.  Instead, at this moment, Joshua displays a much needed characteristic- he is decisive.

We find this characteristic on display throughout much of the book of Joshua as they conquer (see Joshua 6) and settle the land of Canaan (see Joshua 18:3-7).  Over and over, the people look to Joshua for direction and receive it.  Each time, Joshua’s directions are clear and the results are mostly positive.  Why is Joshua able to be a decisive leader?

Joshua is a decisive leader because Joshua is a knowledgeable leader.  In every circumstance, Joshua directs the people to follow God’s will.  A decisive leader will need to have a deep knowledge of God’s word.  This deep knowledge will result from a daily study of the Bible, many hours spent listening to sermons, and multiplied conversations with others of like precious faith discussing the manifold wisdom of God.  Years and years of this kind of living will help a person develop the deep knowledge of God’s word needed to be a decisive leader.

Joshua is also a decisive leader because he is credible.  After all, the people come to him.  They trust him.  They look to him for direction.  Credibility results from consistent service to God and God’s people.  A leader will naturally develop credibility as a result of total dedication to the cause of Christ in their local congregation over time.

Knowledgeable and credible leaders are able to be decisive.  Decisive leadership is not necessary every day, but when it is, people will look to a knowledgeable and credible leader for direction through a uncertain time.

Lesson #5- Joshua Was a Servant

Jesus says, “whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).  Paul teaches us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  Great leaders focus on serving those they lead.  Joshua’s life is a constant illustration of the value of leading this way.  We can see this characteristic on display in two decisions Joshua makes at the end of the book that  bears his name.

First, as the nation of Israel was beginning to settle into the Promised Land, Joshua waited.  He did not wait because of any doubt or fear, but because he was selfless.  Joshua put others first.  Once the tribes began to settle, Joshua was then given the privilege of choosing his own setline place.  Looking to the calm and cool hills of Ephraim, Joshua picked a remote place where he could enjoy the final days of his life surrounded by his family.  In true servants’ style, Joshua then cleared the area himself and built his own city and his own residence (Joshua 19:49-50).

Second, having settled in the hill country of Ephraim, Joshua’s life of service was not over.  He never came to a point in life where he surrendered his responsibility.  The long life of Joshua was given entirely to serving the interests of the nation of Israel.  As the dawn of his life began to appear upon the horizon, Joshua continued to lead.  His final acts of servant leadership are recorded in Joshua 23 and 24 where we read of his final speeches to the people.  The first speech (Joshua 23) provides direction to the leaders around Joshua.  He warns them about the dangers that lie ahead.  In the final speech (Joshua 24) Joshua speaks to the people where he encourages them to commit to following the only true and living God.  His speeches bear fruit in that the people continued to follow God for many years after his death (Judges 2:7-9).


Joshua’s life provides us with an opportunity to learn about being a good leader.  Although he was not a perfect man, Joshua does display some important characteristics that will help leaders of all ages as they attempt to lead God’s people God’s way.