Discernment for Leaders – Joshua the Apprentice
- Joshua the Warrior: How God Equips Us for Battle – Exodus 17:8-16
- Men of God Know Their God – Joshua the Worshiper
- Discernment for Leaders – Joshua the Apprentice
Read Exodus 32:17-18.
Though godly from the outset, Joshua still needed to be trained in spiritual leadership. Here we find Israel’s fall into idolatry. During their festival, both Joshua and Moses heard the people’s voices. Joshua heard the voice of warfare, while Moses heard the voice of singing and thus corrected Joshua. This illustrates why young men of God need mentors; they need to apprentice in spiritual leadership. It is no easy business to lead God’s people, and often the gravest mistakes are made from slight errors in discernment.
Dangers in Discernment
Both Moses and Joshua heard the shouting of the people. They both had knowledge of what they heard. The difference, however, was made in the understanding of what they heard: Moses heard singing, while Joshua heard the sound of warfare. Such a subtle distinction made a vast difference in response. The correct response was anger toward God’s people, but Joshua’s misinterpretation would have led him to war on behalf of God’s people.
Men often hear the same thing but with varying interpretations. This is where the problem often lies. We usually apply our knowledge correctly, but the problem mostly lies in our misinterpretation of the situation. Competent spiritual leaders know how to distinguish the subtle things. Without precision in both Bible study and administration, we are lost. Our problem is not stupidity; it is laziness. This is one danger in discernment, the danger of false impressions.
Another danger is that of personal bias. Notice that Joshua’s conclusion was in line with his personal calling. As a warrior he tended to think in terms of warfare; thus, he hastily concluded that Israel’s shouting was a sound of war.
We must discern objectively, not based on our personality, calling, or even specific experiences. While these experiences and idiosyncrasies can aid us in discernment, they must not form the basis. One says the problem with the church is legalism, while the other says it is compromise. One says we should be more concerned for people, while the other says we should be more concerned for truth. One says the problem is with the young people; the other says the problem is with the generations above them. On and on it goes. Why are there so many different assessments of obvious problems? The reason is that we have each responded to varying experiences, and since human reactions are like the swing of a pendulum, we often have an unbalanced perspective after those experiences. Another reason is that we may feel called to combat a certain error, thus putting everything into the perspective of our mission. Or perhaps we simply like or dislike a certain reality and are blindly opinionated. Whatever the case may be, we must beware of this danger in discernment, that is, the danger of self.
Where the Difference is Made
What made the difference for Moses that Joshua still had to experience? Consider, first of all, the wider experience of Moses. He knew idolatry, having been raised in Egypt. He knew sheep, having spent forty years in the wilderness. He knew God, having spoken with Him directly. These factors combined to properly assess a people who like sheep wandered from God into idolatry. Some things must be taught by experience. This does not make the young leader incompetent, but he must be sensitive to the opinion of the more experienced (1 Kings 12:8).
If experience can make us biased, as we saw before, how is it also necessary for discernment? The difference is made by time in the presence of God. This is the second key. Moses was not acting based on mere experience; he was acting on experience interpreted according to the Word of God. Knowledge is the basic thing, wisdom comes from experience, and understanding comes from the presence of God. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). God Himself is our resource for leadership. If we knew how truly we needed Him we would give fewer opinions and spend far more time in His presence. This is our problem. We know how to recite clichés. We know how to react to frustrating experiences. We know how to say what sounds good. But we don’t know how to pray. This will be the death of us and our assemblies.
The third factor is knowing the heart of the people. When a man can assess a people, he is closer to properly assessing a situation. Knowing a person’s background, tendencies, identity, desires, and such are necessary in leading the person. So with Israel, while the sound could have been one of warfare in a different context, it was certainly idolatry in this context. So then, discernment is a very specific thing. One must take time. One must be a good listener. One must be Biblical and thus able to discern hearts. One must not be a leader over the people but a leader among the people, knowing their hearts as well as their needs. May we strive for this kind of leadership.
What the Response Should Be
Joshua could have responded in anger because of embarrassment. After all, he had proven himself to be a mighty warrior, and now he could not even identify the folly of the people he once led in battle. But he did not respond verbally at all. Rather, he responded in actions. Thus, we find him in the next chapter being inspired by the communion of Moses with God, and “Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” Though Joshua could not discern the people, he did what many leaders fail to do: he discerned the root of his own need and committed himself to improvement. He committed himself to the presence of God. Brethren, neither our youthfulness nor our mistakes are permanent barriers, but we must counter them by knowing God Himself. Embrace improvement. Embrace discernment. Be an apprentice, for none of us has full knowledge. Let us be learners. Let us be worshipers.