Four Leadership Lessons From The Desert

I found four lessons about leadership while reading from Numbers 13 and 14 in my Daily Bible. Realizing how much I needed to learn them myself, I wrote them out so I could let them soak in. They come from a time in Bible history when the wandering nation of Israel, recently freed from Egypt, was poised to move into Canaan and seize the land God had promised. Unfortunately, they chickened out, failed God, and the entire nation suffered for the next forty years.


Lesson #1: Think about what you say

Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to scope out the best way to conquer the land, but instead of coming back with a battle plan, the spies lost their nerve and convinced the people they couldn’t win against the current inhabitants.

They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. (13:30-33)

They spread more than information; they spread fear. They infected the entire nation with terror and faithlessness. Shame on them. Don’t ever be someone who spreads fear.

The result? Because the people refused to follow Moses into Canaan, God was ready to strike them all down and start over. But Moses pleaded for mercy. God answered Moses’ prayer, but declared that the people would have to wander in the wilderness for forty more years, until the entire fearful generation was dead and buried in the desert. That works out to be at least ten funerals per day, every day, for forty years. (14:1-18)

It matters how we live. Don’t go through life spreading fear. Think about what you say (and post).


Lesson #2: Take your failures to God

After the people refused to confront the Canaanites, and they heard the terms of their punishment, they tried to correct the situation on their own. They ran toward the border to invade the land. But they went without Moses and without God, and they were quickly defeated and turned back. (14:39-45)

I think this part of the story would’ve turned out differently if the people had humbled themselves and appealed to God for a second chance instead of charging up the hill. It would have changed everything. God gave second chances repeatedly, but only when they had a possibility of restoring the relationship.

In this case, when the people charged into battle, it had nothing to do with returning to God, but it had everything to do with proving their own strength.

Don’t try to repair spiritual failures using the strength of your own will. God wants you back. Ask him for another chance.


Lesson #3: Take care of the people God has entrusted to you

I often wonder how many times Moses met with God during the next forty years to complain about sending those spies. Moses could have been the hero, leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Instead, he was stuck babysitting a bunch of whiners, in the desert, for forty years. All because of those spies.

No one who answers God’s call to leadership considers they might end up circling aimlessly in the desert for the rest of their life. As the years ticked slowly along, funeral after funeral, Moses must have hurt over what seemed to be a lost opportunity.

I wonder if Moses ever complained to God, “Darn your scaredy-cat spies,” only to hear God reply, “Hey, you picked them out - they were your spies.”

Yet, Moses stayed on task, guiding the people toward God. God entrusted these people to Moses, and he gave his life to them.

Take care of the people God entrusts to you, regardless of the assignment.


Lesson #4: Don’t research your courage away

One more thought. I think it’s possible to do so much research we can talk ourselves out of doing God’s will. And I say this as someone who likes to research every important decision. Moses knew it was God’s will to invade Canaan, so why send those spies? This story might have been very different if he hadn’t.

I saw this very thing happen many times when I served in city government … a fellow member of the city council would ask for input about a controversial issue, and keep asking and asking, until they eventually heard the safest choice. As a result, they lost their nerve, allowing the fear-spreaders to shape their decision. Instead of voting with the conviction God placed in their heart they allowed fearful opinions to scare them away.

When God speaks, we can and should ask opinions of people we trust, but we should be prepared to move forward on the word of God, even if we move alone. Don’t let too much research steal your courage.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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