Joshua is the first book after the Pentateuch. It is titled after its main character, Joshua, who, you may recall, was commissioned by Moses to lead the Israelites into the Land of Promise (Deut. 1:37-8). The name "Joshua" means, "The Lord is salvation." (The Greek form of this name is Jesus.) The book of Joshua, then, continues the story of salvation that began with the exodus from Egypt and ends with the taking of land in Canaan, at which point the Israelites evolve into the nation of Israel. As a group, the first five books of the Bible are known as the "Mosaic teachings" or Torah. In the Hebrew Bible, the next section is designated as Prophecy, not because there is an emphasis on visions describing the future, but because of the way the Torah is illustrated in everyday life. The prophetic books are divided into two main segments designated as the Former and the Latter Prophets. Joshua is the first of four books, known as the Former Prophets. (The others are Judges, Samuel, and Kings.)
Lest we think, however, that Joshua is the beginning of something brand new, let us consider the connections with the previous books. Joshua is all about taking over the land that had been promised to Abraham in Genesis. God's promises to Abraham included descendants (possibly 2 million people have traversed the wilderness for forty years), land (which they are about to receive), and "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:3) The Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, are finally realizing this promise of land. There are also connections to Exodus. Just as the Israelites crossed the Red (Reed) Sea to freedom and a new life, they will now cross the River Jordan to freedom and a new life. God intervened on their behalf against Pharaoh; God will now intervene on their behalf against the Kings of Canaan. In Numbers, Joshua (the person) emerged as a dissident, albeit faithful, voice against the report of the spies, who felt it was too risky to enter the Promised Land. And in Deuteronomy, Moses commissioned Joshua to be his successor. The book of Joshua, then, stands as a pivotal link between the promises that have sustained the Israelites to this point and their fulfillment.
It is in Joshua that we begin to see an orderly unfolding of events, starting with the invasion of Canaan, and moving on to the conquest, and ultimately to the division of the land among the twelve tribes. Throughout, God's presence is intimately connected to the successes and failures of the Israelites. When they are obedient and faithful to the covenant, they are successful; when they disobey, they do not prevail. It is a stunning illustration of God's faithfulness to His people. He gave them the gift of land, but it would not be theirs without a struggle. He was part of that struggle.
And therein, of course, lies the precise problem with the book of Joshua. It's one thing to rejoice in their successes and in the fulfillment of God's promises. It's quite another to realize how these events came about. The bottom line is that this land was fully occupied when they arrived. There were no "For sale" signs out. Nonetheless, this was land promised to them by God, and in this book God delivers. Modern readers have a hard time accepting the view of God presented in Joshua. This God would seem to have no problem commanding violence against the inhabitants of the land or promoting the hatred of foreigners. These events do not meld with the command to "love the stranger for you were once strangers in Egypt" (Deut. 10:17-20). Indeed, there are some scholars who believe the words of Joshua have been used through the ages by those seeking to colonize (Christianize) lands of "inferior" peoples. It provides a warrant to invade, conquer, and settle - all in the name of Christ.
Some of the modern offense can be muted by acknowledging that the events described in this book cannot be proven to be historically accurate. There is no archaeological evidence to support a large-scale invasion of Canaan during this time period, roughly 1200-1400 BCE. Some of the cities mentioned in Joshua wouldn't even be inhabited for another 200 years. Because of this, scholars feel the "invasion" was more likely to have been a peaceful infiltration of peasants and farmers who settled down to agriculture and herding. Their shared devotion to God set them apart from their neighbors and, ultimately, they were able to develop a God-centered rural village culture.
The book of Joshua, then, is a story that was written centuries later by those who held certain beliefs about their ancestors, beliefs that allowed them to justify their presence in Canaan and explain their devotion to God (Yahweh). Modern readers of this book will surely find lessons in courage enabling them to face daunting challenges encountered by God's people. It might also provide hope for fulfillment of God's promises.
There are three primary sections: Invasion of the land (1-12); division of the land (13-21); and commitment to staying on the land (22-24).
Invasion of the Land - 1-12
- God prepares Joshua
- Message from God to Joshua
- Joshua prepares the people
- Tells them to take provisions
- Request and response from Eastern tribes
- [You will recall that Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh opted to stay east of the Promised Land. They were allowed to do that because they promised to help other tribes fight for their portion of the land west of the Jordan, if needed.]
- Having been reminded of their agreement, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh pledged their lives with Joshua.
- Spies in Jericho; saved by Rahab (a prostitute)
- Joshua sends out two spies to "look over the land, especially Jericho"
- Meet Rahab, spend the evening there
- Rahab extracts a promise from the spies saying they will spare her family
- Rahab helps spies escape by letting them down through a window
- Rahab is told to put a scarlet thread out her window, then her family will be saved.
- Spies return with a favorable report - land is ready to be possessed
- Crossing the Jordan
- The people prepare to march across the Jordan; God promises help
- Instructions are given re: the Ark of the Covenant
- Priests move forward with the Ark - a symbol of God's presence and leadership.
- The wonders of crossing the Jordan
- When the feet of the priests hit the water, the water staunched.
- People crossed the dry riverbed passing by the Ark of the Covenant
- Memorials for crossing the Jordan
- A representative from each tribe was to take a stone from the river to memorialize this event.
- When all the people had passed through (including the armies of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh-roughly 40,000 warriors), the priests were called out of the river bed. As soon as their feet touched land, the waters flowed again.
- The name of the place was Gilgal.
- Preparations for war
- The kings of Canaan were totally disheartened when they heard what had happened.
- While in camp at Gilgal, the people are circumcised.
- Celebration of the Passover
- End of manna; people can now eat from the fruit of the land.
- Appearance of the "commander of the Lord."
- Tells Joshua to take off his shoes, for the place is holy
- Echoes of Moses. Shoes are symbols of power and strength
- Fall of Jericho
- Details of the "battle"
- People will march around the city every day for six days
- People will march in silence; priests will blow trumpets daily.
- Instructions re: conquest; only Rahab is to be spared
- Nothing is to be taken under threat of Israel's destruction
- Jericho is taken
- On the seventh day, people shout and wall falls flat
- Psychological maybe; gift from God definitely
- Rahab and her family are saved; city is burned
- Pronounces a curse on anyone who tries to rebuild city
- Joshua's reputation spreads
- Failure at Ai
- Achan of the tribe of Judah disobeyed orders, took forbidden booty
- Joshua sent spies whose report was a bit over-confident
- A few thousand men were sent and resoundingly defeated Israel was devastated (Hearts melted and became as water)
- Achan's sin is discovered and punished
- Sinner was stoned; stones remain as visual warning
- Capture and destruction of Ai
- God promises to deliver Ai
- All goes exactly as expected
- Joshua builds an altar at Mount Ebal Story changes from battle to worship
- Treaty with the Gibeonites
- Nations begin to band together against Israel
- Gibeonites plan a ruse to convince Israel they are from far-away lands and are not a threat
- Joshua makes a treaty with them, but does not consult the Lord
- Turns out they were neighbors all along
- Joshua tells them he will honor their treaty and will not destroy them, but they would "serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the community"
- Gibeonites learned a lesson of humility and were not destroyed
- Neighboring kings form coalition against Gibeon
- Kings go to war against Gibeon
- King of Gibeon runs to Joshua for help
- [Consequence of not consulting the Lord before entering into treaties!]
- Joshua now consults the Lord and is told to fight
- Poem from the book of Jashar
- Memories of divine action include hail and "the sun stood still"
- The battle is won
- Cleaning up in the South
- "Joshua took all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel." (Josh 10:42)
- Completion of the Conquest
- As goes the south, so goes the north
- List of the defeated kings (31 in all) Listing of victories gives praise to God
Division of the Land - 13-21
- Further instructions about the land that remains to be conquered
- Joshua is getting along in years.
- Others must be prepared to complete the work
- Leadership will be passed to individual tribes and their designated leaders
- Division of land east of the Jordan
- Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh are given land east of Jordan
- Inheritance of the land would be by lot
- Caleb is first, receives Hebron
- Judah is next
- Boundaries are very specific
- Caleb has portion in Judah
- Promises his daughter in marriage to the man who conquers Debir
- [Caleb is advanced in years, too]
- Othniel does so, and marries Caleb's daughter (see Judges 3:9)
- Listing of towns within this boundary
- Notation that Jebusites lived in the land
- Judah could not conquer them
- Inheritance of Joseph's sons - Ephraim and Manasseh
- Inability to conquer Gezer
- Division of land to Manasseh
- Daughters of Zelophehad ask to preserve their inheritance
- Failure of Manasseh to take certain towns
- Did not drive out the people
- Complain bitterly that they didn't receive enough land
- Joshua tells them to make do with what they have
- Remaining tribes at Shiloh
- Remaining land was surveyed Lots were cast at Shiloh
- Cities of refuge
- God commanded Moses to set up cities of refuge
- Six cities were designated as regional centers of asylum
- People who commit murder could go to the city and await verdict of elders of that city. Provided for a "fair trial"; prevented feudal killing
- Levites have no land allotment
- Are given cities to live in and land for cattle to graze
- And there was "rest in the land."
- All of the Lord's promises came to pass
Commitment for Staying on the Land - 22-24
- Last days of Joshua
- Tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh are blessed and go back home across the Jordan
- They build an altar at the Jordan
- Unity of tribes is threatened when remaining tribes determine to war against them. See this new altar as competition for altar at Shiloh
- Send an envoy of priests and chiefs to dissuade them, present the charges
- Leaders in the East react with humility
- Did not intend any disrespect or rebellion
- Feared they would be shut out of worship in West and, hence, from the Lord. Wanted an altar in the east to maintain integrity before God
- Explanation is acceptable. Negotiated by Phinehas. War talk ends.
- Joshua's farewell speech
- Reminds them God gave them the land; he helped with allotment of it
- They should remember God's deeds during future challenges
- Repeats words spoken in Joshua 1
- God will fight and protect them; they must "love the Lord your God"
- Cautions them against losing their need for God as crises subside
- Cautions against intermarrying, worshiping local gods, and breaking the covenant
- Misbehavior will lead to the loss of their land
- Renewing the covenant
- Review of Israel's past, beginning with Abraham
- Choose this day whom ye will serve!
- People pledge their loyalty to Yahweh
- Renewed the covenant at Shechem
- Wrote the words on a stone, which was a witness for all time
- Burial of Joshua
- Death of elders. Burial of Joseph's bones, and death of Phinehas
The leadership of the second generation has all passed away. Given their celebrations, their bold promises, and their experiences, one might expect that these descendants would get it right. They would carry on with full knowledge of their duties and responsibilities for continued blessings and occupancy of the land. Their relation to God has been solidified by his wondrous deeds; they have a clear understanding of what's expected of them. Next month, we will explore the book of Judges, which continues the story. Let's see how this young nation grows up….
Hamlin, E. John. "Joshua, Inheriting the Land." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1983.
Auld, A. Graeme. "Joshua, Judges, and Ruth." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
Nelson, Richard. "Joshua." Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1997.
Harris, J. Gordon. "Joshua." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody,MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
Dummelow, J.R. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1977.
Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon,GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.
Buttrick George, ed. Interpreter's Bible. New York, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press,1953.