Hebrews 13:20-25: The Shepherd of Peace

Read: Hebrews 13:20-25

The author of Hebrews wraps up his letter to a persecuted people whose faith is wavering under the persecution (Hebrews 10:25). Verses 20 and 21 comprise benediction that offers hope to these persecuted people. The subject of the benediction is “God” and the verb is “equip”. But between these two words are several remarks, notably a remark concerning “peace” which indicates tranquility and Jesus as a shepherd who was raised from the dead. Jesus is like the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. In New Testament times, the shepherds were the ones who spent every waking hour of the day with sheep. They practically lived with the animals in stables and out in the open. They would watch the sheep during the day and at night, when it was hot and dry and when it was rainy and cold. The shepherd had a vested interest in every sheep’s well-being. A hired hand, however, was not like this. When the season was right for sheering or taking the animals to market, the owner of the sheep would hire hands to assist in this process because it was more labor intensive than watching the sheep alone. The shepherd still guarded the sheep while this was happening, but this was not the responsibility of the hired hand. Jesus is like the shepherd because he is with the sheep all the time in every way. They know him, and he knows them (John 10:1-18). To a persecuted people, having the God of peace to lead them as a Shepard leads his sheep is intended to offer a final word of comfort to these wavering believers. The author entreats God to equip the believers to do good works to please God and bring glory to Jesus.

The author follows this benediction with a few closing remarks encouraging the believers to stick to what he has written them concerning the current state. He doesn’t want them to give up the riches of Christ because of some temporal persecution. He mentions Timothy, probably to also encourage the believers too, because he was imprisoned for a while but was released. In the same manner, they too may endure persecution for a while, but will be released from it. He makes note that he wants to come see the believers soon and encourages the believers to greet their leaders. This is the 3 times in chapter that the author makes reference to leaders (Hebrews 13:7,17,24). The authors concern for the believers and their relationship to their leaders is remarkable in this too is to help them overcome the temporal crisis that they are dealing with. 1 Peter 1:1-5 shows that while Jesus is the “Chief Shepard”, churches also have leaders that too are charged with the care of a flock as a shepherd. Faith is homed through trials, and such who have passed these test can help those who follow also endure (Hebrews 12:11). The entire letter of Hebrews was written to show the supremacy of Christ to all things that the Jewish audience once knew, and certainly it is better to continue in the way of Christ than it is to continue in the ways of what they came from.

Christians today find themselves in a many circumstances in which they will be tempted to shrink back into what they find to be familiar and comfortable. Perhaps it is an old lifestyle or a place where one isn’t bold about his or her faith in Jesus. Regardless of these things though, Christians can look to Jesus – the Chief Shepherd – who will lead them through whatever circumstances that believer may be going through. Jesus can also be found in those who are “shepherds” in his or her church as examples too and learn from them. God wants his people to be equipped to do good deeds in all things, whether times are good or bad, and look to Jesus in all things (Psalm 23).

Lord, you are my God of Peace and my Shepherd.
Help me to follow you not matter what happens!

Joshua 6:1-5: Receiving God’s Commands

Read: Joshua 6:1-5

Joshua in the previous chapter had encountered the presence of God when he met the commander of the Lord’s army outside of Jericho. The text does not say whether or not that the man was God incarnate himself, but regardless of that, Joshua responded in humility, asking of the man what he should do. Some scholars think of the last part of Chapter 5 as an introduction to chapter 6, which is where Joshua receives explicit instructions from God. It is likely that Joshua was planning a military strategy when he was looking on to Jericho, but God had other plans. Jericho had heard of the works that God was doing on behalf of the Israelites, so they sealed the city so that none went in and none went out. God gives Joshua specific instructions to march around the city once one time per day for six days, then on the seventh day, march around the city seven times. Then seven priests would blow seven rams horns. Then the people would shout and the walls would fall.

As a leader, Joshua was a conduit through which God gave his instructions. He had been recognized by God, by Moses, and all the people. God had made Joshua mighty in the sight of the people and in sight of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua 3:7). The people had accepted Joshua as their leader too (Joshua 1:10-18). The instructions that God gave Joshua were not an orthodox military strategy. Hebrews 11:30 calls the actions of Joshua and the people of Israel an act of faith – that is they believed that God would act according to the way he said he would. Rather than act according to his own plans, he listened to what God had to say and obeyed the commands.

Christian leaders and followers alike are like Joshua in the sense that they sometimes receive commands from God to give to the people of God. And sometimes, the plans that God gives do not make sense according to conventional wisdom, but nevertheless require faith to believe and act upon. Faith, however, is not blindly doing something with no good reason to do it. God had acted mightily on behalf of the Israelites and had exalted Joshua in their sites. Joshua was obviously anointed by God and God was using Joshua. Joshua had seen God act mightily through Moses on numerous occasions and was seeing God act through him. What this does require on the part of the Christian leader is humility and reverence towards God. And when God does speak, the one whose heart it tuned towards God will know and can act accordingly!

Lord, humble my heart so I can hear you speak and act accordingly.

Joshua 1:10-18: Recognizing Godly Leadership

Read Joshua 1:10-18

Joshua was Moses’ selected leader and was commissioned by God to lead the Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua had been commissioned in front of all of Israel while Moses was still yet alive in Deuteronomy 31:7-8. Moses commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous in the context of obeying the Law. God had said the same thing to Joshua in Joshua 1:1-9. Now, Joshua was taking up this task that he had been appointed to do. He gathers together the leadership and tells them to make ready their provisions to enter the Promised Land. Joshua tells them to be valiant and battle ready when they cross the Jordan, but reminds them it is God who is going to give them the land. The people respond, accepting Joshua’s leadership. They promise to follow his leadership as they followed Moses. And lastly, they commend Joshua to be bold and courageous too.

From Joshua’s recognition, some principles on how godly leaders are recognized:

  • Leaders are recognized by God. God recognized Joshua and appointed him as leader of the Israel, telling him the same sort of message Moses did: to be bold and courageous and obey the commandments of the law.
  • Leaders are recognized by their predecessors. Moses recognized Joshua saw in Joshua the qualities needed to be a leader of the people of Israel, and raised up Joshua to succeed him after he was parted. Moses tells Joshua to be bold and courageous and obey the commandments of the law.
  • Leaders are recognized by their followers. When a leader ascends to a leadership position, the followers pledge to obey and follow the leader. But even they ask their leader to be bold and courageous as God and Moses had done.

All those who recognize leaders want their leaders to be bold and courageous rather than lacking in principle and faith. Leaders who are bold and courageous are not necessarily brash and wild people, rather they are willing to do what is necessary in accordance with the principles of God to accomplish the mission of God, even if some of the decisions they make are not popular or otherwise.

Christian leaders should be recognized in the same manner that Joshua was recognized: by other Christian leaders, by God, and by those who will follow. The calling to lead the people of God is a high calling and the qualities of such people are steep. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 outlines the qualities Christian leaders ought to exhibit. In short, leaders are to be mature and wise believers. At the same time, Christians should be willing to stand behind their leaders and be obedient to their authority. Leadership is a consensual relationship that requires buy in from both the leader and the lead. Subversive action on the part of the leader or the follower is detrimental to not just one person, but the whole church. Ultimately, all are under the leadership of God, and it is God’s authority to whom everyone must submit. God will hold leaders accountable for their leadership and followers accountable for their obedience.

Lord, help me to recognize leadership whether I am leading or being lead!