A military historian exploring the story of Amalek’s attack on Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17) may be a little disappointed. The narrator omits most of the military detail. We don’t know how many soldiers were involved on either side, we don’t know how many of them were injured, and we don’t know much about the details of either side’s strategy, although there is a note in Deuteronomy that throws some light on the opportunistic nature of Amalek’s attack – attacking when Israel was weary and focusing on those who were lagging behind.
Exodus is more interested in drawing attention away from the battlefield, where Joshua is operating (and will eventually triumph) with the sword, to the top of a newly hill where an 80 year old Moses is holding out a shepherd’s staff. Remarkably the outcome of the battle is connected to the fact that he was able to hold out the staff until sunset. Not that he was able to manage on his own: it took the support of Aaron and Hur to keep his weary hands steady.
What appears to be no more than an ordinary staff is actually ‘the staff of God’. God has transformed something ordinary and made it extraordinary, the means by which his power is mediated. It’s the same staff that invoked the power of God to divide the Red Sea, and the same staff that produced water from the rock.
Because of what it represents, the staff is more significant than the sword. To translate that into our day to day, what we invite God to do is more significant than what we do.
Could it be that we spend more time than we ought on tools and tactics, and less time than we should on seeking God?
Joshua only accomplished what he did because of what Moses was doing. And Moses was only able to do what he did because of the support of Aaron and Hur, and – more importantly, because God had transformed the ordinary into something extraordinary, a vehicle for his power.
While it may well be true that significant elements of our lives are shaped by the decisions of others, leaders can expect that their leadership journey will toss up some defining moments when they need to make their mind up about their identity and the direction of their life. Who are you? Why are you here? Why should you choose this path and not another? Why turn down some opportunities and accept others? Why should you draw a line here and not there? These are vital questions for anyone to ask, never mind leaders.
The answers will not always make sense to other people. Why should someone turn down the prospect of a well-paid job to lose themselves as a missionary somewhere or because they know that the job may require further choices that will conflict with their deepest convictions? Why would you turn your back on a comfortable existence to give your life in the service of people who have nothing of material value to give you in return? At various times we will need to ‘nail our colours to the mast’, perhaps when our colours are not in fashion! It’s part of deciding who we are.
I’m not particularly into musical theatre in general, but I have watched the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables on several occasions. It is full of powerful and poignant moments. There is the old priest who forgives Valjean for exploiting his hospitality to steal from him: his redemptive act sets up Valjean’s new life. There is the dramatic suicide of Inspector Javert who has been let off the hook by Valjean but as a firm believer that ‘the law is the law and the law is not mocked’ finds himself unable to live ‘in the world of Jean Valjean’. There is the moving moment at the end of his life when Valjean is reunited with Cosette and Marius.
And there is a dramatic scene where Valjean, now known as Monsieur Madeleine, and a successful factory owner, realises that someone else has been mistaken for him and is on trial. To say nothing condemns an innocent man, but to reveal his true identity puts the livelihood of his workers at risk.
In one of the show’s many memorable songs he weighs it all up before deciding to come clean and announce that he is Jean Valjean.
Who am I? Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean. And so Javert, you see it’s true, That man bears no more guilt than you! Who am I?24601.
Defining moments are those moments when we need to decide who we are and what we stand for.
The guest on this week’s podcast episode is Marcus Honeysett, executive director of Living Leadership, an organisation that aims to encourage the development of disciple-making leaders who have learned to live in the grace of God. Living Leadership’s website will give you more information about the organisation, including links to a podcast and other resources. Marcus is the author of several books, including Fruitful Leaders.
One of Living Leadership’s recent initiatives has been the development of an online network with fortnightly gatherings via Zoom for encouragement and refreshment.
In our conversation Marcus talks about some of people who invested in him in his early years as an emerging leader, about ambition and saying no to major platforms, about the importance of a biblically-informed understanding of Christian Leadership, and about grace.
Among the advice Marcus would share with his twenty-year old self is the need to grow in deep-rooted spiritual habits, to have a biblically-shaped definition of leadership, and to avoid the temptation to establish ‘success metrics’.