“Your beliefs should be in line with your pastor’s”, the leader of a Bible study group I was in said in the group’s first meeting of the school year. “I believe in church authority, so the minister has a right to tell the church to read the Book of Joshua”, an evangelical once told me. I think all of that is bull, for such a mindset is authoritarianism, pure and simple, and it grossly disrespects my rights and my ability as an adult human being to make my own decisions. But, as I read the Book of Joshua recently, I appreciated the concept of at least respecting authority, and of obeying it when I am in a group that is working on a task.
When Moses died and Joshua took over as the leader, Joshua had big shoes to fill. It’s not always easy for new leaders to enter into their role, for they have to gain the respect of the people and actually step forward and direct rather than sitting back and letting someone else do so. Moreover, leadership can be a burden because every decision the leader makes can have consequences for others, for good or for ill.
But, fortunately, in Joshua 1, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, as well as the half-tribe of Manasseh, affirm their support for Joshua. For one, they agree with Joshua’s request that they fulfill their obligation of going into Canaan to help the other Israelites in battle, when these two-and-a-half tribes already had their inheritance in the Transjordan and thus would not gain any land for themselves in the Conquest. This request was Joshua’s first act of official leadership over Israel, and the two-and-a-half tribes cooperated with him. But the two-and-a-half tribes also expressed their hope that God would be with Joshua as God was with Moses, and they said, “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1:18 KJV). That sounds pretty severe, but I’ve got to admire these two-and-a-half tribes for offering support and reassurance to Joshua when Joshua was a new, relatively inexperienced, and perhaps insecure leader. In my opinion, the way that I should apply this story to my own life is by respecting, praying for, and offering support for my pastor. Do I have to agree with him on everything? I don’t think so. But I should at least respect him and his authority.
Another passage in the Book of Joshua that caught my eye was Joshua 3:3-4: “And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore” (Joshua 3:3-4 KJV). There’s a practical application for me here, as well. The Israelites in Joshua 3 could not afford to be know-it-alls, for they knew nothing about the route that they were about to travel, and so they needed to obey their leaders. Similarly, there are times when I need to follow directions because of my own limitations in knowledge. I’m not talking about a mindless fundamentalism, a notion that I should simply accept conservative Christian doctrines due to my own limitations in knowledge and a sense that someone’s harsh version of God knows best. Rather, I’m saying that there are people who know more than I do about certain issues, and so I should be open to their wisdom rather than being a know-it-all.