Joshua 3-4, Acts 7
Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. – Joshua 3:7 ESV
Joshua was God’s hand-picked replacement for Moses. But it was essential that the people see him as Moses’ equal and not just some unqualified stand-in. Also, God knew that Joshua was going to need some reassurance that his role as leader had God’s “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” So God let him know that He was going to “exalt” him in the sight of the people. He was going to elevate Joshua’s stock in the minds of the people by giving clear and convincing evidence that he was indeed God’s man for the job. It just so happened that the very time of the year that God had picked for the people to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan was the same time of year when the Jordan River overflowed its banks. This was not a coincidence or a circumstance that caught God off guard and unprepared. It was all part of His divine plan. Just when the people of Israel were going to have to cross over the Jordan, God made sure that the circumstances were as difficult and impossible as they could be. They had lost their esteemed leader, Moses. They were faced with the prospect of having to get over a flooded, rapidly flowing river. They were being led by an unproven, novice leader. In other words, the situation was just right for God to work. And He did. He instructed Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the waters of the Jordan and, when their feet touched the water, the river ceased to flow and left them standing on dry ground. The people were able to cross over the river and into the land of Canaan, safe and sound. God had exalted His new leader. He had proven to the people that Joshua was His man for the moment. “On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all that days of his life” (Joshua 4:14 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
God confirms those whom He chooses to act on His behalf. Moses was given the ability to perform signs and wonders, confirming his position as God’s spokesman and deliverer. David was given the ability to defeat Goliath, an adversary far greater in size and strength, and in doing so, revealed that God’s hand was on him. The prophets spoke on behalf of God and their right to do so was confirmed by God’s fulfillment of their prophecies. God exalts or lifts up those whom He chooses. He confirms those whom He calls. But it isn’t always the way we might expect. Not every called one ends up working miracles or performing great signs and wonders. In the story of the early church, found in the book of Acts, we see the rise of Stephen to leadership. He had been recognized as a man of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV). He was full of grace and power. God elevated him to a position of leadership within the church and gave him the ability to speak truth boldly and without compromise. He was clearly God’s man for the hour. Luke describes him as having a “face…like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15 ESV). And yet God chose to exalt Stephen in a way that most of us would find shocking and surprising. This man, whose life was marked by grace and power and who was filled with the Holy Spirit, was stoned to death by the hands of those with whom he attempted to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He was exalted in death. Jesus had warned the disciples that this was going to happen. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9 ESV). Stephen became the consummate leader that day. He gave his life for the cause of Christ and was exalted by God in his death. Again, Jesus had taught His disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 ESV). “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35 ESV). The truth is that God sometimes exalts His chosen leaders through suffering and even death. This was the case with Jesus. Paul writes, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9 ESV). Jesus was God’s own Son, and yet He had been sent to suffer and die. He was the Chosen One, but His role was to be that of the suffering servant and sacrificial Lamb. His obedience “to the point of death” resulted in His exaltation.
What does this passage reveal about man?
We have a warped view of leadership. We have saddled the concept with misconceptions and misunderstandings, turning it into a self-centered and self-elevating notion surrounded with power, position, prominence and possessions. We see leadership as tied to authority and power. And in the world, all these things are true. But in God’s economy, leadership is always about service, humility and sacrifice. Some of God’s leaders, like David and Solomon, held positions of prominence and power. Others, like Stephen, found their tenure short-lived and marked by tragedy. Virtually all of the disciples would die in their service for the Kingdom. There is no doubt that they were chosen of God and served as leaders for the cause of Christ, but their leadership would be marked by suffering and death. There is something attractive to most of us about being a leader like Moses or Joshua. The idea of being God’s instrument for accomplishing great signs and wonders is appealing. We all want to be used by God. We would all love for others to see the hand of God on our lives through the miraculous things He accomplishes through us. But what if God’s exaltation of us involves our suffering and death? What if His calling on our lives is revealed through our suffering in this life? Prosperity, power and prominence are not necessarily the mark of God’s hand on a man’s life. Before David could become the king of Israel, he had to suffer for years, living as a fugitive in the wilderness with a bounty on his head. He lost his job, his wife, his mentor, his reputation – and yet he was God’s chosen one. He had been anointed by God, but had to suffer on behalf of God. Joseph was God’s hand-picked choice to provide a place for the descendants of Jacob to live in the land of Egypt during the time of famine. But Joseph had to suffer humiliation, slavery, false accusations, imprisonment and worse – all before he could experience the exaltation of God. His suffering was all part of God’s divine plan. Stephen’s death was all part of God’s plan. It actually confirmed his calling by God. We don’t understand it. We don’t necessarily like it. But even in his death, Stephen revealed the hand of God on his life, calling out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 ESV). His life was a witness right up until he breathed his last breath.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I must constantly learn to see my role as one of God’s chosen ones, not through the world’s false concept of leadership. I must see that sometimes suffering is God’s form of exaltation. He may call me to suffer on His behalf. He may choose me to walk a difficult path. My life may at time be marked by suffering and shame, but that does not mean I lack His hand on my life. It may be confirmation that He has chosen me for something great. He may be exalting me by making less of me. Paul reminds me, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). That prospect is not attractive to most of us. We would prefer to be Joshua; standing before the people, giving instructions, wielding power and authority, and acting as God’s spokesman. But it may be that our leadership will be marked by suffering, insignificance, pain and even death. I want to be able to say as the apostle Paul did, “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). Whatever God calls me to, I want to honor His Son with my life – whether that means living it or losing it for Him.
Father, exalt my life however You see fit. Help me to see that suffering for You is just as much a form of leadership as accomplishing great things for You. Help me to see that as long as I am living my life in submission to Your will and dependent upon Your strength, I will be living a life worthy of my calling. Then I can leave the results up to You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men