Leadership in the Bible
Class Notes 2 - Joshua

Leadership in the Bible - Joshua


Introduction - Joshua’s mission: a) to inculcate people with truth of God’s protection, victory, prosperity if they maintain their allegiance to God  (they’re at peril, if not), b) gain their confidence and loyalty, c) lead them in battle and imbue them with conviction that warriors can’t neglect their religious and moral responsibilities, d) assure that Canaanites who refused to make peace would not be allowed to survive, e) divide the land and assure borders, g) push national unity and tribal diversity.

Entering the Land

 Read Joshua 1:6-9. 

Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors.

“Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the Instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t deviate even a bit from it, either to the right or left. Then you will have success wherever you go. Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it. Then you will accomplish your objectives and you will succeed. I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

1.      God charges Joshua and affirms his leadership upon Moses’ death. a) “Be strong and of good courage,” God tells Joshua, “for it is you who will cause the people to inherit the Land…” (Gets Moses’ title, “servant of God.” Joshua was Moses’ attendant - student, disciple, servant - absorbing lessons. Joshua was to moon as Moses was to sun. God promises no one will stand up to Joshua (which was better than it was for Moses). b) Be VERY strong and of good courage to see that the people observe and do according to Torah, which he should contemplate day and night to do so. c) Be strong and of good courage so as not to fear and lose resolve, for God is with him. 

2. Rashi explains the three-time use of the phrase, “be strong and of good courage,” to relate to three tasks: dividing the land among the tribes, observance of the commandments and study of Torah, and conquest of the Land. Note the “very” (muh-od) when it comes to observe what God has commanded. This is crucial to attaining the highest level of human accomplishment, coming close to God’s wisdom. It’s to productivity in life as is effectively planting and nurturing crops.

3. Joshua, as leader, speaks to the people upon the end of mourning period for Moses:

 Read Joshua 1:10-11. 

10 Then Joshua gave orders to the people’s officers: 11 “Go through the camp and give orders to the people. Say, ‘Get supplies ready for yourselves because in three days you will be crossing over the Jordan to enter the land and take it over. The Lord your God is going to give it to you as your possession.’”

12 Then Joshua addressed the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh:13 “Remember the command that Moses the Lord’s servant gave you: ‘The Lord your God will give you rest and give you this land.’ 14 Your wives, children, and cattle may remain in the land that Moses has given you on the east side of the Jordan. But all you brave fighters, organized for war, must cross over in front of your fellow Israelites. You must help them15 until the Lord gives a rest like yours to your fellow Israelites and they too take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you may return and take over the land that belongs to you, which Moses the Lord’s servant has given you on the east side of the Jordan.”

a)     Ordering the marshals to circulate among the people and encourage them to prepare provisions to go in and take possession of the Land God has promised them,

b) Reminding Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 Manasseh of their promise to fight on          behalf of all before returning to their land east of the Jordan. They affirm their duty and go further to affirm their strong and total support for him on condition that he has God’s support. They conclude these commitments with, “ONLY be strong and courageous,” which the commentary suggests means either that their support is contingent on his leading consistent with God’s direction and way OR that strength and courage will be required to lead the people effectively. 

Read Joshua 2

Joshua, Nun’s son, secretly sent two men as spies from Shittim. He said, “Go. Look over the land, especially Jericho.” They set out and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab. They bedded down there.

Someone told the king of Jericho, “Men from the Israelites have come here tonight to spy on the land.”

So the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab: “Send out the men who came to you, the ones who came to your house, because they have come to spy on the entire land.”

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. Then she said, “Of course the men came to me. But I didn’t know where they were from. The men left when it was time to close the gate at dark, but I don’t know where the men went. Hurry! Chase after them! You might catch up with them.” But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the flax stalks that she had laid out on the roof. The men from Jericho chased after them in the direction of the Jordan up to the fords. As soon as those chasing them went out, the gate was shut behind them.

Before the spies bedded down, Rahab went up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land. Terror over you has overwhelmed us. The entire population of the land has melted down in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea[b] in front of you when you left Egypt. We have also heard what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. You utterly wiped them out. 11 We heard this and our hearts turned to water. Because of you, people can no longer work up their courage. This is because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. 12 Now, I have been loyal to you. So pledge to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal loyally with my family. Give me a sign of good faith.13 Spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, and sisters, along with everything they own. Rescue us from death.”

14 The men said to her, “We swear by our own lives to secure yours. If you don’t reveal our mission, we will deal loyally and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.”

15 So she lowered the spies on a rope through the window. Her house was on the outer side of the city wall, and she lived inside the wall. 16 Then she said to them, “Go toward the highlands so that those chasing you don’t run into you. Hide there for three days until those chasing you return. Then you may go on your way.”

17 The men said to her, “We won’t be responsible for this pledge you made us swear18 unless, when we come into the land, you tie this red woven cord in the window through which you lowered us. Gather your father, your mother, your brothers, and your whole family into the house with you. 19 Those who go outside the doors of your house into the street will have only themselves to blame for their own deaths. We won’t be responsible. If anyone lays a hand on those who are with you in the house, we will take the blame for their death. 20 But if you reveal our mission, we won’t be responsible for this pledge you made us swear.”

21 She said, “These things will happen just like you said.” She sent them away and they went off. Then she tied the red cord in the window.

22 The spies went out and entered the highlands. They stayed there for three days until those chasing them came back. Those chasing them had searched all along the road but never found them. 23 Then the two men came back down from the highlands. They crossed the Jordan and came to Joshua, Nun’s son. They told him everything that had happened to them.24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has definitely given the entire land into our power. In addition, all of the land’s population has melted down in fear because of us.”

Discussion: Joshua sends two spies (maybe Caleb and Phinehas) to observe the land and Jericho and bring back a report, presumably for strategic or military purposes. (We can’t help but think about the failed mission 39 years earlier.)  They go to the inn of a woman named Rahab, who is an amazing leader in her own right. Tradition has it that she repents of her ways (a courtesan), becomes Jewish, marries Joshua, has eight descendants who are prophets, including Jeremiah and Ezekiel!

The king hears of the spies, but Rahab protects them at some considerable risk. She acknowledges God’s mastery and role in their mission, commits to support them, and asks for their support to protect her and her family. The scarlet thread in the window becomes their sign. The spies return and report to Joshua that great fear of God’s hand had permeated the people, as Rahab reported to them. 

Read Joshua 3:5-7. 

Joshua said to the people, “Make yourselves holy! Tomorrow the Lord will do wonderful things among you.” Then Joshua said to the priests, “Lift up the covenant chest. Go along in front of the people.” So they lifted up the covenant chest and went in front of the people.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you great in the opinion of all Israel. Then they will know that I will be with you in the same way that I was with Moses.

Discussion: The people cross the Jordan with the Ark leading the way. Israel is led by the Torah. God assures Joshua that that day God will show that He is with him as He was with Moses. And there was a splitting of the Jordan as there had been with the Sea under Moses. 3,4. 

The “living God” was with them, suggesting that the God to whom we seek to be near in life is there, giving us a spiritual surge of closeness to the Divine. Rashi says this knowledge came from being positioned so close to the Ark in the midst of crossing. 

Read Joshua 4:1-7. 

When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”

Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift up a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.”

Discussion: God tells Joshua to direct 12 men, one from each tribe, to obtain 12 stones, bring them to where they camp, build a memorial of the miracle. (Don’t we create memorials around significant events, especially those that commemorate the victory of those ideals we hold most dear, and for the primary purpose of educating and inspiring future generations? Here the memorial commemorates God, the Divine Way, and the miracle living true to it has brought about.

Recall the intelligence the spies brought Joshua. All this spectacle surely was built upon it and had effects predicted by it. The leader gets, uses, and builds on intelligence.  In 5:1, we see that the hearts of the Amorite and Canaanite kings melted. 

8. Joshua is exalted. 

9. The circumcision of those yet uncircumcised. Whatever we make of this ritual, there had to be a mutual commitment to God’s ways, shared by all, as the enterprise began. (Isn’t this a basic truth as to success? For instance, the offerings, which were instrumental to drawing close to God, required circumcision of the offerer. How can a group go forward with hope of success unless there are fundamental common bonds?) 

10. The people begin anew, vindicated from the past in Egypt, and able to function fully in growing their produce, undertaking prescribed rituals, and living in the land.    

Preparation for the First Battle and the Battle of Jericho - Chapter 5

Joshua 5: 13-15

13 When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up. He caught sight of a man standing in front of him with his sword drawn. Joshua went up and said to him, “Are you on our side or that of our enemies?”

14 He said, “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!”

Then Joshua fell flat on his face and worshipped. Joshua said to him, “What is my master saying to his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s heavenly force said to Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy.” So Joshua did this.

Discussion: An angel appears as a man with a sword drawn (Michael? Gabriel?) to guide the way of the battle, but first Joshua, as Moses before him, was to remove his shoe for the place where he stands is holy. Jericho would fall, not entirely by physical means, but principally through God’s miraculous power. 

Read Joshua Chapter 6

Circle the city with all the soldiers, going around the city one time. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry seven trumpets made from rams’ horns in front of the chest. On the seventh day, circle the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.

“Have them blow a long blast on the ram’s horn. As soon as you hear that trumpet blast, have all the people shout out a loud war cry. Then the city wall will collapse, and the people will rise up, attacking straight ahead.”

Discussion: God directs Joshua in a plan to take Jericho: marching around the city around the city for six days and on the seventh seven times, with the Kohanim blowing shofars. This is the famous story about marching around Jericho as a preface to taking it. We will only show the above verses.

A few views of note from commentary:

a)     No support showed up for Jericho, confirming Rahab’s intelligence;

b) There is a sense that Israel grew in might and spirit through the circumventions;

c) While the shofar awakens Israel to repent and turn back to God, it isolated Jericho from its quite different source of spiritual survival.

d) This manner of causing the city’s wall to fall reflects the place of God’s miracle in the victory.

3. All but Rahab and her family were destroyed.

The Conquest of Ai - Read Chapters 7-8

Yet, the Israelites were defeated in the much easier battle at Ai. This is said to be because of God’s fury at the people’s sin, which turns out to be one man’s sin - Achan, who took consecrated property against command from Joshua.

The idea of losing an “easy” war and why is fascinating, generally and in the study of leadership. The problem here was more than the bad acts of one man, some say. His sin was a reflection on the community in several ways, including the likelihood that some knew and didn’t restrain him or force him to disgorge it or report and punish him. Such deficiency in a people weakens them. The leader and all the people bear responsibility to be strong and true. Further, their straying would have consequences on future generations.

Joshua appeals to God: why bring us here only to be defeated? The other side will be emboldened and that will damage God’s name. God replies: the loss was due to sin, and it was time for Joshua to act.

This contains the lesson that one should never let setbacks make one depressed. One must always see them as springboards for new initiatives. Some sages see inadequacy in Joshua as partly responsible for the loss.

But it’s mainly around Achan, who took contraband against God’s command. He’s found out and executed publicly. It seems very important for the emerging nation to understand the wrong of sin, to ferret out and punish the wrongdoer, and to set the standard for living in the way going forward. This happened at the Valley of Achor (troubling).

In the conquest of Ai, with God’s support this time, Joshua does what a good leader should do. He devises and implements a strategy conducive to success, counting on God’s help but doing his part. (Ralbag). He mobilizes a very large force and uses an elaborate, solid military strategy, including dispatching them at night and leading them himself from the front to draw the enemy out as before while the main group takes the city from the rear. The community had to be united!

God directs him not to fear and lose resolve (crucial), indicates that Joshua has Divine support BUT is also to do his part, and have his main group attack through ambush from the rear. Also, God indicates this time they will be able to share booty.

Joshua builds the altar at Mount Ebal in the tradition of Moses; they brought elevation and peace offerings and inscribed on the stones the Torah. This constituted a new acceptance of Torah and allegiance to God. The ritual of two groups, one on one mountain and the other on the other, with the blessings read toward one and the other curses toward the other is played out here. (Was this before the battles or immediately upon entering the land? Many think it was before and that it’s only recorded here.)

The Gibeonites - Read Chapter 9 

1.  It’s important to know that Joshua sent an offer to all Canaanite kingdoms ahead of, and in lieu of, possible war, offering options: a) to flee, b) to live according the Noahide laws, pay taxes, and perform national service, or c) accept terms.

2. Israel’s loss to Ai emboldened some. Israel’s victory over Ai emboldened some as well on the idea that it was not due to God’s hand. They didn’t like the terms, so most decided to fight and in an alliance. 

3. Gibeon tries to deceive Israel into thinking they were making peace terms as “distant travelers” . A deal is reached, though apparently Joshua did not seek Heavenly approval. A dispute arises about the legitimacy of the agreement as well as whether it was void because it was made as part of a ruse. A decision is made that they should honor the deal that was made because it would be a desecration of God’s word to break it. 

They became woodchoppers and water drawers (suggesting lowly positions), but Joshua changes status to service in that capacity as non-Jewish slaves supporting the Temple. Some say there was a hope they would turn to Torah in the environment. (Maybe my notion of woodchoppers and water drawers still holds.). (The outcome of the Gibeonites in David’s time takes a worse turn.) 

Conquest of the South - Read Chapter 10

Joshua defeats the other nations in alliances on battlefields, leaving towns intact.

The alliance attacks Gibeon. Joshua consults God and saves Gibeon through miracles. Joshua and troops arrive from Gilgal overnight instead of the customary 3 days. God confounds the enemy. The fleeing enemy is pummeled by hailstones. Joshua asks the sun to stand still. It does (much commentary around that), consistent with the Book of the Upright (Torah). 

Torah referred to in these terms before ancestors were upright in the way they cared for others, including wicked neighbors. This seems to reflect as well Joshua’s decision to defend Gibeon, even though it tried to deceive him and the people.

The sun stood still mainly to show that God did battle for Israel. 

The nations were defeated, and the kings were executed. Once God grants victory, Malbim argues one can’t let it slip through one’s hands. This sends a demoralizing signal to the others, to discourage further conflict and save lives. 

Now we see again the words, this time from Joshua, “do not fear, do not lose resolve; be strong and courageous.”

Conquest of the North - Chapter 11 

There’s a lot of commentary on 11:6: God’s instruction to Joshua to burn the chariots and hamstring the horses. This actually, among other things, was sound military strategy in that these assets were quite strong and needed to be disabled for the Israelites to win.

Also, Joshua fell upon the enemy suddenly (in 7) and fell upon them. In 10, Joshua attacked the most powerful of them, which demoralized the rest (10). 

it was a drawn out war, but one in which Joshua conquered the entire land. (16).

By tradition, it took 7 years to conquer the land and 7 to allocate and distribute fully. 

Inventory of the Territory and Deposed Kings - Chapter 12

Division of the Land - Chapter 13-22 

Joshua is old, well on in years. The Hebrew, bah bayyamim, is understood by the Zohar and Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 59) to mean a person who grew day by day with a constant striving to come ever closer to God. After meriting bringing the people into the land, he now merited allocating it to the people. 

The promise to Reuben and Gad and half of Manasseh on the east side is honored as soon as the land was conquered. This holds true to a commitment, and as a matter of the first importance. Indeed Reuben gets its portion first to commemorate that tribe’s atonement for its original ways. Honoring big principles - here repentance and turning - is crucial to leadership. 

After the east side is allocated, mention is made of the role of the Levites. Caleb claims God’s promise of Hebron (because of loyalty and service), an area that still required military effort to conquer. “I am still as strong today as I was on that day.” (Joshua 14:11). What was deserved was what was hard and necessary to achieve, thus, both an honor and a burden for Caleb, the great leader.

Judah’s territory. Chapter 15. Some say Judah came second because their ancestor also took responsibility for wrong (with Tamar). This rewarding of people/leaders who turn back to the right path is significant. Caleb is also within Judah, this territory.

Joseph’s territory, including Ephraim. Chapter 16. A very important leader from whom future royalty would come gets a reward for the past and a sense of future leadership.

Manasseh’s territory. Chapter 17. Comes after Ephraim, based on Jacob’s blessing, thus true to principle of past commitment.

Machir, the first son, is mentioned as a man of war. His territory, strategically, is east of the Jordan, to protect a weak flank. In reflecting upon the expectations upon the Machirites, we recall Moses’ thinking in wanting to maintain a strong familial tie across the border and to keep both strong spiritually as well. This planning is reflective of strong leadership.

Specific mention is made of land devoted to daughters of Zelophahad. This reflects honor to those women who stepped forward and sought their father’s share, with God’s agreement, and the deal that was made with them.

Manasseh complains that it needs more land because of great growth in population. Jacob denies request because of imperatives of original Divine allocation and fairness to others but does propose a strategy: clear the forests and fight the enemy, which they can better do with their numbers to make for more land for themselves.

The remaining tribes - begins in Chapter 18. A crucial matter is addressed: The tabernacle is moved from Gilgal to Shiloh, where it would remain for 389 years as a center of spiritual life. Without sanctity, without God’s presence, settlement of the land would be useless. Be’er Moshe.

A delay in the division of the remaining 7 tribes. Many reasons possible. Joshua urges action and lays out a process for moving ahead.


Simeon, located within Judah, partly to reflect Jacob’s blessing, and, according to Rashi, to ply trade as teachers and scribes among others. (Also, with Levites, a redemption story. Jacob saw and disliked the impetuous behavior of their ancestors but wanted their love and concern for their fellows to be able to be displayed broadly with them, and their descendants chose to do so through service and teaching.)

Chapter 19.

Zubulun. Issachar. Asher. Naphtali. Dan. Joshua, finally.

Cities of refuge. Chapter 20. Emphasis shown here reflects God’s concern, and ours, with justice, especially a concern about the unwarranted taking of human life and the idea and need of rehabilitation and turning. Six cities.

Cities of the Levites and Kohanim. Chapter 21. Text says in addition to 6 cities for refuge, another 42 were for the Levites, of which 13 went to the Kohanim. These were allotted from among all the tribes, which says that all were near them and all contributed to them.

Recognition in Chapter 22 of the fulfillment of the 2 1/2 tribes and a blessing of them in their journey to their land across the Jordan.

But fear and concern arose over an altar the departing people built as they were about to cross the Jordan. Would this compete/distract/lead in another direction from God for them or for all? A delegation is sent to find out/express concern and even to re-divide the 9 1/2 portions into 12 and bring them back to avoid offending God and their covenant. (We bear responsibility for the waywardness of others in our community.)

The response: they fully intended to follow God, and they express their commitment in the most eloquent way. Joshua 22: 21-29. The altar was simply to show loyalty to God and their continued alliance with the other tribes.

Good will replaces suspicion. The explanation “was good in their eyes.” 22:30. (Ah, if issues were resolved in such a process today!) God is with us when we do not commit treachery against God or each other, including falsely maligning others, and working to assure unity.

Joshua’s Farewell - Joshua 23. 

Joshua worries as he approaches the end of his life about the degree to which they still had not taken the whole land. He implores them “to strengthen yourselves very much to observe and to do all that is written in the Torah…Cling to Hashem….” It was God, not they alone or he as leader who made for their success. He warns if they turn away and cling to the rest of the nations by intermarrying, etc., God will not give them the whole land, and the others will be a snare and thorns in eyes, and you will be banished. God holds true, so must you.

Strength is a key word to describe Joshua.

Transgressing the covenant and serving and bowing down to other gods will stir the wrath of God and the people will perish from the goodly land God has given us.

Second Assembly - Joshua 24.

Joshua summons the nation as did Moses, telling them that God has been generous with them and they must reciprocate with love of, and loyalty to, God and Torah. Idolatry was a clear and present danger. They can rely on God or idols. This assembly takes place at Shechem, site of Abraham’s first station, Jacob’s great miracle, first land Jacob bought, where Jacob ordered all idols of household to be divested (note on p. 109). Use of historical/symbolic places - crucial to leadership.)

They have largely conquered the land. The challenge ahead, many sages say, is to conquer themselves now.

As with Moses, Joshua recounts the narrative of how they got here, which we do when we recount his farewell address. Another sign of great leadership - putting people in mind of their traditions, the rich blessings God has bestowed on them, as a way of remembering and keeping ones’ ways, though severely tempted to go other appealing ways.

“I took Abraham.” 24:3. God takes us all and moves us toward covenant and the land, and we are to move and grow and serve God, as did our ancestors.

After the people pledge to follow God, Joshua says “you bear witness upon yourselves” in that choice, and they say, “We are witnesses.” “We shall serve HaShem, our God, and we shall heed His voice.” Joshua then goes back through God’s instructions and wrote down the words of (this) book and placed them with the Torah and put it in a permanent place in the Tabernacle.

What a finale! And what an example for leaders, especially as they pass from the scene of their enterprise. He lived a life of total service, one of duty to God and people, strength, and great success in that regard. He had profound concerns at the end, brought the people together, made his case eloquently, led the people to commit and to witness, embodied their story and principles in sacred text that was left in a sanctified place as a witness. “Then Joshua sent the people forth, each man to his heritage.” 28.

Joshua - Service to God was his only aspiration. What a model for all of us. 

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