By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament

  • The first mention of Joshua is in Ex. 17:9. He was an Ephraimite, the son of Nun. Moses instructed him to choose men to fight against the Amalekites. (This was the battle for which Aaron and Hur helped Moses hold up his arms. When his arms were up, they were winning; when his arms were down, they were losing.)
  • Later on in Ex. 24, Moses took "his minister" Joshua with him up into the mount of God to receive the Law. This sounds as though Joshua might have been his personal attendant.
  • Joshua was not in the camp when the golden calf was made. On the way back down the mountain with Moses, he thought there was "a noise of war" in the camp.
  • Joshua is called "Hoshea" in Num 13:16. Moses then renames him "Joshua," or "Yahweh is salvation."
  • Joshua was one of the spies sent to check out the Promised Land (See Num 13:8; 14:6).
  • He and Caleb were the only dissenting voices. They believed God would be faithful to His word and that they would prevail in battle, regardless of how strong the inhabitants seemed to be. Unfortunately, the people rejected that idea; as a result they were kept out of the Promised Land and were relegated to wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Because of their faithfulness, Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the first generation who were allowed to enter Canaan.
  • In Num. 27:18-23, Joshua was designated to be the successor to Moses.
  • Moses took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and all the people.
  • It was decided that Joshua would be the one to apportion the land among the tribes (Num 34:17) with a little help from Eleazar the Priest.
  • Joshua was told in Deut. 3:21 that he was not to be afraid, that the Lord would fight for him - a hint, perhaps, that this task would be very daunting.
  • Several times Moses was told to "encourage" Joshua because Joshua would be the one to lead the people to inherit the land. No doubt, Joshua needed it. (Dt. 1:38, 3:38, 31:7-8)
  • When the time came for his commissioning, the Lord said to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you." (Dt. 31:23) This is both a command and an assurance for Joshua.
  • After Moses' passing, Joshua was "filled with the spirit of wisdom." This wisdom would be of a practical nature and would enable him to do what was right. He was now equipped for his task. Some might say he was a man in whom was the spirit of God.
  • God speaks directly to Joshua, telling him exactly what to do and how to move the people across the Jordan River. The people had been grieving the loss of Moses, but the time had come to move forward. Joshua surely felt the loss of his friend, Moses.
  • Joshua's task will parallel Moses' activities in several important ways.
Joshua Moses
Crossing the Jordan Crossing the Red Sea
Encounter with the Lord's Commander (5.13) Encounter with the Burning Bush
Acts as intercessor for people Acts as intercessor for people
Holds up his sword in battle Holds up his arms in battle
Conqueror of land Conqueror of land
Distributes land Distributes land (2½ Eastern tribes)
Speaks as a prophet Speaks as a prophet
God will be with him God will be with him
  • The one thing Joshua does not do is parallel Moses' role as lawgiver. He continually refers back to the law that Moses has already given, and uses that as the standard.
  • Joshua is the one to convince Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh that they need to keep their promise to Moses and help the others fight for their lands. They respond to him with the loyalty they showed to Moses. An early victory for Joshua.
  • Before they could enter the land, they had to cross the River Jordan.
  • Joshua assured the people God would provide for them. He told them to prepare: "Consecrate yourselves." To the priests, he said they were to go into the water with the ark. There they would experience God's power.
  • The people thought enough of Joshua to follow these instructions. No one knew for sure what would happen, but the priests did not hesitate. When their feet hit the water, it receded. The people crossed on a dry riverbed.
  • When they had safely crossed, Joshua instructed the tribes to choose twelve men to take twelve stones from the riverbed and pile them up where they camped that first night. Those stones would stand as proof of God's mighty deed.
  • The wonders of crossing the Jordan elevated Joshua's leadership (like Moses), and confirmed God's promise to be with him. It also demoralized the kings of Canaan, who saw the mighty works of Yahweh.
  • When the enemy was without spirit, God commanded Joshua to circumcise all the males. This act identified them as descendants of Abraham. (It is not clear why this had not been done before. Some translations say, "again," but add that this generation had not been circumcised since they left Egypt.) The men were able to recover while the enemy was dispirited.
  • On the eve of battle, the Lord's commander meets Joshua. He comes with sword drawn to deliver a message. In response to Joshua's "Who are you?" question, the messenger tells Joshua to remove his shoes for the place where he is standing is holy. (Remember the burning bush?) Whether or not this was the actual message, it symbolized Joshua's readiness to remove any symbols of personal power and strength. Then he is told that Jericho belongs to God.
  • God repeats His promise to deliver Jericho to the people, but his instructions were unusual. Joshua followed them exactly. He told the priests to carry the ark at the head of the procession; the priests blew horns continually; the people marched around the city once a day for six days in total silence.
  • Additional instructions, including forbidding them from taking anything from the city, were given out around the campsites at night. If anything were to be taken, it would bring disaster to the Israelites. Any silver or gold was to be given to the Lord's treasury. No exceptions.
  • All went according to plan. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times and then gave a great shout. The walls fell down.
  • With the success of Jericho ringing in his ears, Joshua turned towards Ai - and was resoundingly defeated! Reasons were many - Achan stole some things from Jericho, thereby disobeying God's direct command; the spies underestimated the strength of the city. The most damaging reason, however, stems from the information that the Lord's anger was kindled over the stolen booty, and Joshua never consulted with the Lord about invading the territory.
  • God tells Joshua that first he must deal with the sin of disobedience; next he must consecrate the people.
  • Then Ai was delivered into his hands - and they were able to keep the plunder.
  • Lessons learned at Ai include the perils of coveting and disobedience to God; never underestimate the enemy; and lastly, work with God, not independent of God, against evil.
  • Joshua set up an altar at Mount Ebal after these battles to reaffirm the covenant and to celebrate the restoration of the community after Achan's sin had put them in jeopardy. Joshua's role included reading the entire law, and reminding them of all of their obligations, blessings and curses.
  • Word has been spreading about the Israelites. Nations are banding together.
  • Gibeonites plan a ruse to convince Joshua they've just moved in, are no threat to them, and to ask for a treaty. Joshua, again, does not consult the Lord, and agrees to the treaty.
  • Three days later, he comes to regret it when the ruse is discovered. By then, however, the agreement has been accepted, so the decision is to let them live as woodcutters and water carriers for the Israelites. That is how the Gibeonites earned a place as children of God.
  • Joshua is forced to defend Gibeon when Canaanite kings decide to attack them - consequences of entering into treaties that have not been sanctioned by the Lord. This time, however, he does consult God and receives needed support - through hail. A resulting poem adds that "the sun stood still" and "the moon stopped." All the spoils are given to God.
  • In conjunction with the Lord, Joshua successfully claims all the southern cities, one at a time. Then he turns northward, with similar success. Joshua is seen as a great warrior who was able to take control of the land as he had been commanded to do. Though they allowed the Hivites (Gibeonites) to live in the land [and this will cause them problems later on], they were faithful to God's directive. They received the land.
  • At this point, the land "had rest." God told Joshua, "You are old and stricken in years." For this reason, Joshua began the process of turning the leadership over to the individual tribes. As they would take possession of the land, he would no longer be able to direct or monitor their activities.
  • Joshua, in the presence of Eleazar, divided up the land, starting with Caleb and going right down the line. He honored the agreement Reuben,Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh had with Moses, just as they had honored their agreement to help the other tribes fight for their land. They were allowed to return home, back across the Jordan to the east side.
  • The apportionment of the land was done in order - first to Judah, then to Joseph's two sons. The allotment of the remaining seven was decided by casting lots. Not all were happy about their portion, but Joshua was firm and told them to make do.
  • When the task was completed, Joshua was given land in the center of the country given to the tribe of Ephraim. He took the land and built up the city of Timnath Serah.
  • Some unfinished business involved setting up the cities of refuge, which he did, and providing cities for the Levitical priests. It was important that the tribes assume responsibility for the religious leaders.
  • A hint of some of the challenges facing the new reality [Can these motley tribes really become one nation?] include having the eastern tribes build an altar on their side of the river. The response of the tribes west of the river is to declare it to be an abomination against the Lord and to gather for war.
  • War is averted by sending a peace delegation (Phineas, son of Eleazar, the priest) to talk with them about it. They discovered that the eastern tribes had meant no harm or disrespect, but saw their actions as their way of staying faithful to God. Phineas saw their earnestness and apparently was persuaded. War was averted.
  • Joshua assembled all the leaders of the people to hear his final words. He reminds them of God's mighty deeds, how God fought for them and gave them the land. They owe a great debt to God, and he assures them of God's continued support for future challenges. In return they are to remain faithful, to be strong, to obey the laws of Moses, and to swear off worshiping any local gods or getting too involved with the local people. (Though most all of the cities had been destroyed, a few people remained [remember the Gibeonites]).
  • His final act is to renew the covenant one more time. He again reviews their history with God, places their options before them, and commands them to "choose this day whom ye will serve." (24:15)
  • Leaving nothing to chance, Joshua made the covenant, and set them a statute and an ordinance at Shechem. He then wrote the words of the covenant in a book of the Law, and set up a large stone, saying this will be a witness against us if you are untrue to the Lord. (People may forget, but stones are quite lasting.) They will stand as a consistent reminder as to what was promised.
  • Joshua died when he was 110 years old; he was buried in his city of Timnath Serah, in Mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.
  • For the first time, Joshua is called a "servant of the Lord" in his own right. Previously, this term was only attributed to Moses. (Josh. 24:29) It recognizes that Joshua was a servant of the Lord in the tradition of Moses.
  • Shortly thereafter, Eleazar died, and Joseph's bones were buried in Jacob's burial cave as requested. This officially ends the leadership of the religious leaders. Now everything falls to the individual tribes - for good or bad….


Ashby Godfrey. "Go Out and Meet God." Exodus, International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.

Auld, A. Graeme. Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.

Buttrick George, ed. Interpreter's Bible. New York, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press,1953.

Dummelow, J.R. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1977.

Gispen, WH. Exodus, The Bible Student's Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982.

Hamlin, E. John. "Joshua, Inheriting the Land." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1983.

Harris, J. Gordon. Joshua. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Nelson, Richard. Joshua. Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1997.

Noordtzij, A. Numbers. Bible Student's Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.

Sakenfeld, Katharine. Numbers, Journeying with God. The International Theological Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1995.

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