Following the Amalekite war, Moses went through the painful but profitable experience of correction by Jethro, his father-in-law. Moses placed himself in a position of unrealistic expectation, trying to accomplish more than anyone could expect – a mistake common to driven leaders. The result was an overuse of his abilities, a slow draining of all of the creativity and leadership vision by the wearing grind of daily administration. Jethro told him to delegate administration, and in those words, God used a man that could get Moses’ attention, and get him to change the pattern of his work habits to refresh him and pull him back on track (Ex. 18:24). After the departure of Jethro, Moses brought the people to the edge of the Mountain of the Law, as God instructed. The time came that would later be memorialized in Shavuot (or “the Feast of weeks”), a holy convocation instructed in Levitical law (Lev. 23:15). This feast was an agricultural celebration, but its true importance is underscored in the Biblical instruction that included it as one of three mandatory offering appearances before the Lord annually (Dt. 16:16). God did not want this day forgotten! This was a day He gathered the children of Israel and God blew a shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) before them that shook their camp (Ex. 19:16)! God has seldom made Himself so obvious in the affairs of men – this day was not common! They had already traveled fifty days from the departure from Egypt (Ex.12: 15-20) to the time of the arrival at the mountain (Ex. 19:1). The term “fifty days” was captured in the word “Pentecost”, still a holy memorial each year among observant Jews recalling the encounter with God at the mountain, and the giving of the law. The Sabbath days between Passover and Pentecost were counted according to God’s instruction (Lev. 23:15).
God invited seventy elders and a specific guest list of leaders to the mountain to worship Him (Ex. 24:1). They were not allowed to move up the mountain with Moses, but they were instructed to come together for a corporate time of reverence (the Hebrew verb shakhaw means to bow before, prostrate one’s self, or revere, Ex. 24:1) some distance away from Moses. Moses prepared himself for the meeting. He rose early in the morning, wrote down the words God had given him in the previous encounter, raised up an altar and standing stones for the tribes, and sprinkled the blood of offerings on the altar. He read over the words he had written before the people, and they affirmed their commitment to God’s holy covenant. He took the elders and leaders up to the mountain.
The event that followed was unprecedented in human history. God passed by before the men, and they beheld a brightness that seemed like the sun. The mystery in the event was not simply that they gazed upon the path of God, and stood before a striking brightness. The shocking part of the story was their response! They were called there to worship, and yet the text reveals they “saw God, and did eat and drink.” What a response! God came, and they had a banquet together.
At a certain time in the meal, God instructed Moses, “Come up before Me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone…” Moses arose, and took Joshua with him (Ex. 24:13). God made it clear that Moses was to appear alone (24:2) and either Joshua stopped some distance away or was considered necessary by God to help Moses in and out of His holy presence. The text does not say clearly, and only Joshua, Moses and God know for sure. One thing is certain: Joshua learned an important lesson in his preparation to the lead the nation that day.
Having grasped that intercession by a leader was essential, it was obviously not the whole training course. Joshua saw something new at the mountain of God’s appearing. He learned a graphic lesson that Moses heard from Jethro weeks before this encounter. Joshua saw a picture of a communal team that honored God. He ate with the others, drank with them, and communed with them. He saw a team leadership formation in corporate worship. There is a time for personal time with God, but there is equally a time for team.
The passage not only stemmed any uprising concerning the veracity of God’s authorship of the commandments (some might have thought Moses was making the commands up on his own), but it also gave the elders the opportunity to commune together and feast and worship. What an important lesson: Leaders need to lock arms with other leaders. We are not called to be “Supermen” that face the forces of darkness alone, depending solely on our “superhuman” ability or even the work of the Spirit within. We need each other, and grow when we can worship corporately, not only individually. We are stronger in communion, not in “Lone Ranger” mode.
Moses learned this in a rebuke by an older priest and relative. Joshua avoided the painful experience of sapping his own strength and “burning out” by observing the incredible benefit of corporate strength. The team can worship together, eat and drink together, and help to strengthen one another! It is significant that we have no Bible record of Joshua hoarding power, nor of him taking on responsibility that God had not ordained. His record of leadership and delegation is impressive. He may well have grasped the lesson at a banquet on a mountain!
The Divine wisdom penned out in the words of King Solomon recall: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they can have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, KJV)
Joshua’s training included the graphic display of the advantages Solomon later cited. The wise king reminds us ‘Together-
We can accomplish more, so the rewards are greater (Eccl. 4:9).
We can assist and rescue one another, so the endurance is greater (Eccl. 4:10).
We can comfort one another, so the encouragement is greater (Eccl. 4:11).
We can defend one another, so the strength is greater (Eccl. 4:12).’
Often leaders fall into the trap of believing their own press, subscribing to the affirmation of the positive view of their followers and not remembering their own weaknesses. It is part of the fabric of our makeup. We lead – they follow. We know – they don’t. It is a dangerous tendency to distance ourselves from the accountability that helps refocus and redirect us. We need other leaders. Joshua could have duplicated Moses’ mistake, but in this awesome display God accomplished another step in his training. It all happened at the buffet table on the mountain!