“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
Joshua 23:14 (NIV)
When I was a young man, I was part of an organization that had enjoyed strong leadership for a number of years. In fact, it was one of the strong leaders who invited me to participate. It was obvious that over time the organization had grown, enjoyed repeated success, and became increasingly influential. I learned a tremendous amount in my first few years. Some of the lessons have helped me throughout my entire life.
Then the senior leadership left the organization.
It was one of the first experiences in my journey (there have been others) in which a change in leadership completely changed the system for the worse. In this case, the new leadership was tragically unprepared for the role they’d been given. Over the course of a few years, I watched the entire system implode.
In today’s chapter, we’re reaching the end of Joshua’s life. Since Moses showed up to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, the tribes have benefitted from having a strong leader in charge. Moses led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land then Joshua led them to conquer the land and settle in it. Having finished the task, Joshua knows that his earthly journey is nearing its end. He calls the nation together to deliver a final message to them.
We’re on the verge of a massive change in leadership.
Joshua structures his message to the people as nations in that day structured treaties with one another. In presenting this treaty, Joshua assumes the role of God’s representative who is making a treaty with the nation. The people are reminded of all that God has done for them, reminded of God’s command to have no other gods, and warned that failure to keep those commands will have disastrous consequences. Just as God has kept his promises, Joshua explains, He will also make good on His warnings should they fail to keep their end of the covenant.
There is a major issue looming in the background as we approach the end of the Joshua administration. There’s no succession plan.
The fledgling Hebrew nation is made up of millions of people, scattered into twelve tribes, each made up of numerous family clans. Think of it as the 48 contiguous states in America with no central federal government. What’s going to keep them together? What happens to the small tribes when there are no checks and balances on the power and influence of the larger tribes? How do you keep tribal relationships from breaking down into feuds and civil wars?
Humanity is still in the toddler stage of development and relationship with God. Today’s chapter reads like a parent laying down the law with a three-year-old: “Do what I tell you because I know what’s good for you and have your best interests at heart. If you don’t do what I tell you, there will be consequences you’re not going to like.” Having parented a couple of three-year-olds, I can tell you confidently that eventually there will be willfulness, disobedience, attitude, stubbornness, and tantrums. There are always tantrums.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling some of the best leaders I’ve worked with along my life journey and the things I learned from them. I’m whispering prayers of gratitude for all that I’ve learned through both relationship and example. As I have trekked along this life journey, I have learned that for the good of the group I’m leading, it’s important to try and have a succession plan, whenever I knew I would be leaving a leadership position. I’ve experienced both success and failure in that department.
And, I’m thinking about the Hebrew tribes, about to lose their central leadership with no succession plan. The next stage in their national development is not going to be pretty.
There will be tantrums.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.