“Your boss is dead. You’re taking his place.”
Not the words we might expect to accompany a promotion. But that’s how Joshua’s new role began. Here’s how God told Joshua the sobering news:
Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. (Joshua 1:2)
In other words: “Joshua, your first task as successor to Moses — the Moses — is to do the one thing your mentor could not do: take Israel into the promised land.”
How do you think Joshua felt? Competent and confident? Or fearful and timid? The next several verses suggest he was insecure and nervous.
Learning from a Rare Leader
The impending conquest of Canaan had hung over the Israelites for the last forty years, a whole generation growing up in the shadow of their parents’ failure. Therefore, in the first chapter alone, God tells Joshua four times to “be strong and courageous.”
Perhaps an even greater shadow lingered though: the legacy of Moses, his mentor and hero. Moses, who was forty days and forty nights on the thundering mountain. Moses, who spoke face to face with the God beyond facing. Moses, who performed the ten plagues and delivered God’s people from four hundred years of slavery. Moses, who split the sea and proceeded confidently to claim God’s promises.
Joshua was not Moses. The pressure was on. The task was daunting. The responsibility was real, and the need was now pressing. How would he lead?
Perhaps you can relate in some small way. Maybe you’ve recently taken on responsibility. Maybe expectations linger from a previous leader. Or you might be self-conscious of your limitations — in capacity, experience, knowledge, giftings. Maybe you’re stepping into a leadership role at your church. Whatever your responsibility, Joshua offers rich lessons for every leader. In contrast to later judges, Joshua rarely failed morally or practically. So, what might we learn from this remarkable leader?
Among many lessons, consider one: whenever he had to rise to the occasion, Joshua started by rising for the occasion. Which is to say, he got up early.
Joshua Got Up Early
Where do we see this leader rising for the occasion? Four times in the book of Joshua, we are specifically told that he got up early — it’s a refrain in the story. Let’s start with the Jordan River.
1. AT THE JORDAN
Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. (Joshua 3:1)
Can you imagine Joshua standing on the banks of the Jordan? The image of Moses standing at the edge of the Red Sea must have been vivid in his memory. Perhaps the Israelites saw the shadow too. What would happen? Would Joshua falter in the face of an impossible task? Or would he be strong and courageous, and follow the path before him?
Joshua took the step of faith.
But his first step wasn’t into the dry riverbed. It was onto the floor beside his own bed. Though the crowd saw Joshua’s mighty faith, faith that trusted God to part the waters, Joshua didn’t suddenly start trusting God then. He had already been walking in faith — and a small evidence is the detail that he got up early. He knew what his Lord expected of him, and he stepped out in faith.
2. OUTSIDE JERICHO
The momentum of that step carried Israel across the river, all the way to Jericho. God told Israel to march around the city. Joshua followed God’s command — promptly.
Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. . . . So they did for six days. (Joshua 6:12–14)
Joshua continued to trust God. He led the people with strength, courage, and faith. He (and the people) got up early so they wouldn’t delay obedience. Faith in God and faithfulness to God meant, at least on this occasion, a sunrise salutation.
3. AFTER DEFEAT
In the next chapter, we learn Israel was defeated by Ai because of treasure-snatching Achan. God tells Joshua to take inventory. What does he do?
Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. (Joshua 7:16)
You know the rest. Achan is judged, and Israel advances in their conquest.
What if Joshua had been squeamish about the confrontation? What if fear of man had led him to procrastinate? Would more Israelites have perished? I don’t know. But I know he was active in his faith and dealt with the issue swiftly — starting with an early morning.
4. INTO BATTLE
Lastly, after they cleaned house, God strengthened Joshua:
Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. (Joshua 8:1)
Rather than sitting back or sleeping in, “Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai” (Joshua 8:10). He heeded the exhortation to be “strong and courageous” because the Lord was with him. God’s promises were not Joshua’s excuse to sleep in — they were his strength to get up and to get up earlier than he might have otherwise.
Power of Well-Spent Mornings
Hope in God’s word is what ties Joshua’s daybreak discipline to the broader theme of mornings in Scripture. When a leader has important work to do in the Bible, he often begins early in the morning.
Abraham rose early to go and discern Lot’s situation (Genesis 19:27–28). Isaac rose early when it was time to finalize his reconciliation with Abimelech (Genesis 26:31). Moses chose to confront Pharaoh early in the morning (Exodus 8:20; 9:13). Job rose early to intercede for his children (Job 1:5). And this doesn’t apply only to men: Scripture commends the Proverbs 31 woman because “she rises while it is yet night” to set her household up for success in the dawning day (Proverbs 31:15).
Clearly, many leaders in the Bible knew the importance of rising for the occasion. Perhaps they saw what the psalmists saw. God’s poets took unusual (and frequent) delight in the dawn:
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words. (Psalm 119:147)
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust. (Psalm 143:8)
In the New Testament, we get real glimpses of Jesus’s sleeping (and rising) habits:
Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Amid the pressing needs of ministry, Jesus prioritized one thing above all: to meet his Father in prayer. And toward that end, he often found fitting opportunities in the shape of early mornings.
Joshua’s example is not a command to set all alarms for five o’clock. He does hold out, however, a burden of responsibility, a legacy of faithfulness, and a wise pattern of early mornings.
The sunrise is an opportunity. It’s not the solution for everyone, in every moment, for every season. We need prudence in applying this principle. There may be times when refusing to stay up late could be a dereliction of duty. (If Joshua hadn’t marched through the night, for example, Israel wouldn’t have rescued the Gibeonites; Joshua 10:9.) There is a season for everything under the sun — and for every sleeping pattern.
If God has made us a leader and given us responsibility for others, we might ask, How can I be a better steward of those God-given responsibilities? We will be judged more strictly, especially if we lead a local church (James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). So, we must be all the more diligent. Part of the answer might be a commitment to get up early, and go after God and the callings he has given us. Joshua led that way, so why not you and me?