The key to successful leadership
Moses was 120 years old and was standing in front of the nation of Israel, sharing his last words with them. As a part of this statement he says the following words found in Deuteronomy 31:2:
“He said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in…”
At first glance the reader might conclude that Moses had become physically weak with his advanced years and was telling his people why he was transferring leadership to Joshua. However, we know from Scripture that this cannot be the case because in Deuteronomy 34:7 the Torah tells us:
“Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was not dim nor his vigor gone.”
So, if Moses wasn’t saying that he was too old and weak to lead Israel anymore what was he saying? One of the best ways to find an answer to a Biblical question is to look through the Bible to see if the word, expression or phrase is used elsewhere. It is important when comparing words and phrases that we make sure the context the word or phrase is used in is similar because context can dramatically change the meaning of a word or phrase.
In this case we do see this phrase used again in a context that is connected to leadership. We find the same phrased used in 2 Chronicles 1:7-10:
That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask! What should I give you?” Solomon answered God, “You have shown great lovingkindness to my father David and now You have made me king in his place. Now, Adonai Elohim, let Your word to my father David be fulfilled for You have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Now give me wisdom and knowledge that I may go out and come in before this people. For who can govern this great people of Yours?”
and 1 Kings 3:5-7:
At Gibeon Adonai appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said: “Ask for what should I give you?” Solomon said: “You have shown my father Your servant David great lovingkindness, as he walked before You in truth, righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You. Indeed, You have kept this great lovingkindness for him by giving him a son to sit on his throne, as it is today. So now, Adonai my God, You have made Your servant king in my father David’s place. I am but a youth. I don’t know how to go out or come in.
Notice that the expression to go out or come in is used in reference to leadership by both Moses and Solomon. It is also important that we notice the direction reference used in these words. First go out and then come in. This seems backwards at first if we are looking at the words in relationship to the people. In other words, if Moses and Solomon were using these words in relation to the people of Israel wouldn’t they say I don’t know how to come in and then go out of the presence of the people? Think about it, neither Moses nor Solomon was concerned with how to come in or go out from the people. It wasn’t going in and coming out that they needed help with. It was going out and coming in. These words are not in relation to the people that G-D had given them leadership authority over. They are in relation to going out and returning to the presence of G-D. Moses was not saying he was old and weak and therefore couldn’t do his lead anymore. He was saying that it was no longer his place to be the mediator for Israel, now it was to be Joshua. This same change of leadership is taking place as Solomon is replacing his father David as king and mediator for Israel. Solomon knew the key to successful leadership was spending time in the presence of G-D and then coming out of G-D’s throne room to the people and then returning to the throne room again. Both Moses and Solomon understood that their job wasn’t about leading the people as much as it was about following G-D.
It is this exact lesson that today’s leaders need to remember. It isn’t about entering and exiting the people that makes someone a great leader. It is exiting and entering G-D’s throne room that does.
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Eric Tokajer is author of With Me in Paradise, Transient Singularity, #ManWisdom, OY! How Did I Get Here?: Thirty-One Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Entering Ministry, Jesus is to Christianity as Pasta is to Italians, God Has No Plan "B", and his most recent book Galatians in Context.