Philippe R. Sterling
The Book of Joshua presents the historical fulfillment of God’s promise made to the patriarchs and Moses to give Israel the land of Canaan.
God had promised to bring his people into the land of Canaan where they were to be a light to the other nations of the world. The Book of Joshua records the fulfillment of that promise. Israel entered the land and began to occupy the land. But since her obedience was only partial, the promise of God was not fully realized.
The book covers a period from the death of Moses in 1405 B.C. to about 1380 B.C. at the conclusion of the conquest of the land and prior to the death of Joshua. Internal evidence indicates that Joshua is the author of much of the book. For example Joshua 24:26 in reference to his farewell charge to the people records that “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God”. Some editorial comments were added later by others such as the one about the death of Joshua in 24:29-31.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Conquering the Land: In accordance with the promise of God and the power of God the tribes of Israel conquer the land of Canaan (1:1—13:7).
A. Preparation for Conquest: Israel prepares militarily and spiritually for the conquest of Canaan (1:1—5:15).
1. Leadership Preparation: God prepares the leader who will prepare the people for the conquest of Canaan (1:1-18).
a. Preparing the Leader: God commissions Joshua exhorting him to rely upon him and his word and to be strong and courageous (1-11).
b. Preparing the People: Joshua commands the people to prepare to possess the land which God is giving them (10-15).
c. Affirming the Leader: The people affirm the leadership of Joshua and exhort him to be strong and courageous (16-18).
2. Physical Preparation: God displays his power and puts fear in the hearts of the Canaanites as Israel expresses its faith in him (2:1—5:1).
a. Sending of the Spies: – The spies and Rahab exhibit faith in God (2).
Joshua sends out two spies to view the land. In contrast to the spies Moses sent out at Kadesh Barnea, these spies come back with a good report. They are helped by a Canaanite prostitute, Rahab, who expresses faith in God (2:9-14). Her house was situated by or on the wall of the city and may have functioned as an inn. It was a place where people came and went. She tells the spies that the people of Jericho were terrified of Israel and their God. She asks for the Israelites to spare her and her family when they conquered the land. The spies agree and ask her to put a scarlet rope in the window of her house when the Israelites came. The NT upholds the faith of Rahab (Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). She becomes the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz, the great-great-grandmother of David, and the ancestress of the Christ (Matt. 1:5). She is an example of God’s grace to believing Gentiles.
b. Crossing the Jordan: God miraculously enables Israel to cross the Jordan into Canaan (3--4).
The nation moves out behind the ark, the symbol of God’s presence. As God had divided the waters of the Red Sea for their deliverance from Egypt, now God heaps up the waters of the Jordan for their crossing into Canaan. God instructs Joshua to set up twelve memorial stones in the midst of the Jordan to commemorate this monumental event. God wants us to remember his great acts and tell of them to our children.
c. Fear of the Canaanites: The Canaanites have great fear when they hear of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan (5:1).
3. Spiritual Preparation: Israel consecrates itself to God (5:2-12)
a. Circumcision at Gilgal: God requires that the new generation undergo circumcision which was the sign of the covenant with Abraham.
b. Observance of Passover: The Israelites observe the Passover, commemorating their redemption from Egypt, and eat of the produce of the land which results in the cessation of the manna.
4. Appearance of the Captain of the LORD’s Hosts: The Captain of the LORD’s hosts appears to Joshua and indicates that this is a theocratic war (5:13-15).
Joshua and the Israelites were to recognize that God was their commander. Victory would come as they obeyed his orders. It is the LORD’s army who will conquer the land. The Captain of the LORD’s hosts may well be the pre-incarnate Christ.
B. Conquest: Relying upon God Israel conquers the land (6:1—13:7).
1. Conquest of Central Canaan: The first campaign is in the central portion of the land beginning with Jericho (6:1—8:35).
a. Victory at Jericho: Following God’s instructions Israel takes Jericho (6).
The walls of Jericho were not overcome by military strategy or tactics. God brought the walls down as Israel did what he instructed.
God commanded Israel to exterminate the Canaanites. God had waited for hundreds of years giving the exceedingly wicked inhabitants of Canaan time to repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). When their iniquity was “full” divine judgment fell (Gen. 15:16). Any believing Canaanite such as Rahab could be spared. The extermination was a direct command of God to the nation of Israel which was directly ruled by God. No other nation before or since has been a theocracy and thus this command was unique to Israel at that time in its history. The weapons of the church are not of the flesh but of the Spirit (see 2 Cor. 10:3-4). God eventually judges those who reject him. He will not tolerate evil forever.
b. Defeat at Ai: Achan covets and takes items under the ban which brings about the defeat of the nation at Ai – lapse of faithfulness (7).
The defeat at Ai shows that God is the one who grants victory or defeat. Achan violates the prohibition against taking plunder from Jericho and incurs the judgment of God on the nation and himself. The sin of an individual believer affects the whole congregation. Joshua says to Achan, “Why have you troubled us?” The appropriate punishment of the violator clears the way for victory.
c. Victory at Ai: Following God’s instructions Israel captures Ai (8:1-29).
d. Worship and Reading of the Covenant: The nation worships God and recommits itself to the Covenant – 1st Covenant Renewal (8:30-35).
After the victory at Ai the people build an altar to God and read the law on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Through the building of the altar they recognize that it is God who gave them this initial foothold in the land of promise. Through the reading of the law they recommit themselves to the Covenant.
2. Conquest of Southern Canaan: The second campaign is in the southern portion of the land (9:1—10:43).
a. Deception of the Gibeonites: Israel fails to seek the counsel of God and is deceived into an alliance with the Gibeonites – lapse of faithfulness (9).
b. Victory over the Amorites: Relying upon God the Israelites gain victory over the Amorites (10).
3. Conquest of Northern Canaan: The third and final campaign is in the northern portion of the land (11:1-15).
Through the three campaigns the land came under Israelite control. There still were pockets of resistance. The next stage of total control was to be carried out by the individual tribes in their allotted territories. Act in faith in the promises of God to claim everything that God has given.
Summary Verse: So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:23).
God enabled Joshua and Israel to complete the work he had given them to do. God will enable us to do whatever he gives us to do.
4. Summary of Conquered Territory and Conquered Kings: Joshua reviews and records Israel’s success in reliance upon God (11:16—12:24).
5. Unconquered Sections of Canaan: Portions of the land remained unconquered but are apportioned to the tribes (13:1-7).
II. Distributing the Land: In accordance with God’s direction the tribes of Israel receive their individual allotments of the land of Canaan (13:8—21).
A. Phase 1: In accordance with their request two and a half tribes receive their allotments east of the Jordan (13).
B. Phase 2: The tribes west of the Jordan receive their allotments (14—19).
1. First Set of Allotments at Gilgal: God establishes the boundaries of Judah and the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh of the sons of Joseph (14—17).
Caleb asks for Mt. Hebron where he intends to take on the sons of Anakim. Joshua blesses him and gives him Hebron for an inheritance. The text makes note of three lapses of faithfulness. The Jebusites are not driven out of Jerusalem (15:63). The Canaanites of Gezer are not driven out (16:10). The Canaanites in the area of Manasseh are not driven out (17:12-13).
2. Second Set of Allotments Made at Shiloh: God establishes the boundaries of the rest of the tribes (18— 19).
C. Phase 3: God establishes six cities of refuge and gives the Levites forty-eight cities amongst the tribes (20— 21).
There were six cities of refuge. Three of them were west of the Jordan and three of them east of the Jordan. Someone who accidentally killed someone could find protection in a city of refuge. The Levites had forty-eight cities amongst the tribes. They would be dispersed among the tribes and available to teach the law and mediate disputes.
Summary Verse: So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:43-45).
III. Continuing in the Land: God will allow the tribes of Israel to remain in the land of Canaan so long as they remain faithful to the Covenant (22—24).
A. Altar of Witness: A misunderstanding arises concerning the altar built by the tribes east of the Jordan which is resolved when it is understood that the altar was to be used as a witness that the LORD was their God (22).
B. Charge of Joshua to the Tribes: At Shechem Joshua reviews the history of Israel and charges the leaders and the people to keep the law of God and serve him so as to remain in the land which God gave them, and the people pledge to serve the LORD – 2nd Covenant Renewal (23:1—24:28).
These two chapters focus on the renewal of the Covenant. The covenant renewal involves a restatement of what God has done and what the people are to do if they are to remain in the land. The people pledge to serve God.
C. Burial Notices: Three notices tell of the death and burial of Joshua, the burial of the bones of Joseph, and the death and burial of Eleazar the son of Aaron (24:29-33).
The notice of Joshua’s death and burial includes the statement that Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua and that of the elders who survived him (24:29-31). He had prepared the next generation to be faithful to God. Likewise we are to pass on the faith to the generation that follows us.
The key theological ideas of the book concern the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his covenant promises and the importance of his people’s faithfulness to the covenant. God keeps his promises. God’s people experience victory and success when they follow him faithfully. God blesses his people when they are faithful to the covenant and disciplines them when they are unfaithful.
Messianic Prophecy and Typology
Joshua’s name in the Hebrew is Yeshua which means “Yahweh is salvation”. It is the equivalent of the name Jesus. He leads his people into their possession of the land foreshadowing the One who will bring “many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).
The scarlet cord that Rahab ties to her window may typify safety from God’s judgment through the blood of Christ. Rahab appears in the genealogy of the Christ (Matt. 1:5).
The Captain of the LORD’s army (5:13-15) who meets Joshua may well be the pre-incarnate Christ. We have victory in Jesus.