Discovering Joshua

Background

The book of Joshua serves as the sequel to the first five books written by Moses called the Torah (or “Law”). It serves as a climax to all that Moses had written.

Joshua also begins a new Old Testament (OT) section called the Historical Books, which includes: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. They trace the history of Israel from her entrance into the Promised Land to her exile and return to the Land, a period spanning nearly one-thousand years.

These books give historical information in a purposeful way. They reveal important perspectives about God and about people (esp. his chosen people Israel), and they do so in a way that prepares for the coming of Christ. In fact, four hundred years lapsed beyond the events of Nehemiah and then Christ came.

In general, these books paint a majestic view of God but a miserable view of people. The book of Joshua stands out, though, because it offers an optimistic, hopeful view of people, rather than the pessimistic, hopeless view that prevails elsewhere. In all that it says, we learn that God blesses the obedient faith of his people.

Overview

This book features four primary sections, as summarized by the opening lines of the book.

  1. Entering the Land (Chs. 1-5) – “Arise, go over this Jordan.” (Josh 1:2)
  2. Conquering the Land (Chs. 6-12) – “No man shall be able to stand before you.” (Josh 1:5)
  3. Assigning the Land (Chs. 13-22) – “To this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land.” (Josh 1:6)
  4. Serving in the Land (Chs. 23-24) – “Be strong and very courageous … to do according to all the law.” (Josh 1:7)

Entering the Land (Chs. 1-5)

This section records the second generation of the nation of Israel doing what the first generation had failed to do. According to Num 13-14, the first generation had refused to enter the land and then attempted to enter unsuccessfully. In contrast, Josh 1-5 tells us that the next generation entered successfully about 1406 BC.

Conquering the Land (Chs. 6-12)

This section describes how Israel conquered cities and took possession of the land. This campaign transpired over about seven years and ended with mixed reviews.

We read first that Joshua conquered all the land (Josh 11:23). Then we read that much more land remained to be possessed (Josh 13:1). While this may seem to be a contradiction, such is not the case. The first statement describes how Joshua had settled the people into the land successfully to the extent that was possible for that time and generation. Due to his age and to the current size of the nation, they would need to conquer more land after Joshua died and as their population increased.

Assigning the Land (Chs. 13-22)

Though this is the lengthiest section of the book, it may also seem most boring. It describes how Joshua assigned various regions of the land to different groups of Israelites and how he designated certain cities for specific purposes. This process spanned about twenty years.

Serving in the Land (Chs. 23-24)

Though much shorter than the book of Deuteronomy, this section resembles that previous book in many ways. As Deuteronomy was a heartfelt address to the people by Moses before he died, this section was a heartfelt address to the people by Joshua before he died. He too called them to look back at what God had done for them and to go forward in total devotion to him.

Ultimately, the book ends with an open but unstated question. Would the people remain devoted to the LORD as they had promised (Josh 24:21)? All we know from this book is that they did, so long as Joshua and the leaders who assisted him and who had witnessed the events of the conquest were alive (Josh 24:31).

Important Observations and Lessons

God does what he promises to do.

“Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” (Josh 21:25)

In this way, God gave them the land which he had promised to Abraham (Gen 15:18-21), Isaac (Gen 26:3), and Jacob (Gen 28:13) nearly 700 years before. Even Joseph, the great grandson of Abraham, believed this promise and God honored his faith in a detailed way through Joshua (Josh 24:32; Exo. 13:19; Gen 50:25).

This served as a timeless reminder that God blesses his people when they obey him, just as Moses guaranteed in Deuteronomy (Josh 23:14). But if they or future generations would cease to trust and obey God, then they would endure the curses and consequences which Moses had also guaranteed (Josh 23:15-16).

God triumphs over impossible obstacles and over all other gods.

As God delivered the Land over to Israel, he displayed his power over the Canaanite gods just as he had done to the gods of Egypt when he freed Israel from slavery. He also triumphed over the imposing obstacles which the former generation had feared (Num 13:31-33).

  • He led the people through the Jordan River (at flood stage) on dry ground (Josh 3:1-17).
  • He destroyed the walls of Jericho without weapons or machinery (Josh 6:1-27).
  • He slowed the sun and moon’s movement in the sky to prolong daylight during a battle (Josh 10:12-14).
  • Ultimately, he fought for Israel and enabled them to conquer nations which were greater and stronger than them (Josh 23:9-10).

This generation discovered that the greatest obstacles to faith and obedience to God are not the difficult circumstances of life, but the sinfulness and stubbornness of our hearts.

God requires us to cooperate with him through obedience.

The victory at Jericho emphasized this important lesson (Josh 6:1-21). Though God had given them unusual instructions that seemed to place them at a disadvantage., they obeyed him, and he gave them the victory.

The battle at Ai (their second battle) emphasized this lesson in the opposite way (Josh 7:1-8:29. A man named Achan (along with his family) disobeyed God. As a result, the nation lost the next battle because God did not fight for them. Once they identified the disobedience and removed it from them, God led them back into battle and they won.

The theme of obedience to God as a condition for experiencing his blessing appears throughout this book. It appears in God’s instructions to Joshua at the beginning (Josh 1:8-9) and reappears in Joshua’s closing words to Israel at the end (Josh 23:6).

God judges in a just and impartial way.

When you read this book, you may mistakenly conclude that God showed unfair favoritism to Israel by ordering the destruction of the other nations. Though you might feel that God was being capricious, such feelings would be wrong.

Early in Deuteronomy, Moses warned Israel against thinking that God would destroy the people of Canaan because the Israelites were good and the Canaanites were bad (Deut 9:4-6). Instead, he would order the destruction of those people because they had persisted in their wickedness far too long and to a terrible degree.

Centuries before, God told Abraham not only that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, but that they would be oppressed in Egypt for four hundred years first. Why? Because the sins of the Amorites (the people living in Canaan at the time) would not reach their zenith until then (Gen 15:13, 16).

God placed Israel in a queue in Egypt until the wickedness of the current inhabitants had become so bad that they warranted annihilation. This shows the longsuffering of God.

Archeological discoveries have verified the extreme sensuality of these people at the time when Israel conquered them. Their sexual debauchery (Lev 18) coupled with the practice of child sacrifice (Deut 12:29-31) warranted their destruction and expulsion from the land.

God calls individuals and their families to believe and obey him.

Though it is true that the promises of God to Abraham applied to the nation of Israel, men like Joshua and Caleb demonstrate that God also blessed the obedience of individuals within that nation. Even when all their peers distrusted God, these two men believed him anyway. As a result, he brought them into the land. He also gave Joshua a prominent leadership role and Caleb a special piece of property (Josh 14:6-15).

Rahab and her family also show how God blesses individuals and families who believe in him. Rahab expressed her faith in the one, true God by risking her life to save the lives of the two Israelite spies. Not only was she a non-Jew (a Canaanite), but she was a prostitute who embodied the wicked lifestyle that paved the way for Israel to remove her people from the land (Josh 6:17; 2:1-21). Yet due to her repentance and faith, God spared her life and the lives of her family, granting them citizenship in the nation of Israel. What’s more, she would go on to become a great grandmother of Jesus the Messiah (Matt 1:5)!

An excerpt from Joshua’s final words demonstrate God’s blessing on individuals and families of faith. In what is likely the second most well-known verses of this book (second to Josh 1:8-9), Joshua urged individuals (especially grown men) and members of each family to choose for themselves to serve the LORD (Josh 24:14-15). Faith in God is not a group benefit that automatically rubs off on the people around you. It is a decision you must make for yourself and which you must nurture among your sphere of influence.

Conclusion

Today, we must also choose between the sensual and violent culture of the unbelieving people around us or the honorable, moral, and godly lifestyle revealed in God’s Word. To do this requires strong trust in God and courageous obedience to him in the presence of great challenges and ungodly influences. Will you trust in God and obey him in this way?

As we guard ourselves from the wickedness around us, we should not retreat into hiding. Nor should we use weapons and violence to serve the LORD. Those tactics were for another time and for people who functioned as a political nation. Christ forbids such tactics for Christian ministry today (John 18:36).

Instead, we should go into the world preaching the good news of Christ’s victory over sin at the cross (Matt 28:19). Then we should baptize those who believe on Jesus and teach them everything else that he has taught us. Does this not sound a little bit like what God said to Moses (Deut 6:4-5) and to Joshua (Josh 1:8)?

As we obey God in this way, we can rest in his ongoing presence to guide us, protect us, and give us the victory (Matt 28:20, cf. Josh 1:9). If being a public witness for Jesus scares you, then find encouragement in Joshua’s encounter with the Angel of the Lord before he launched the battles for Canaan (Josh 5:13-15). As you worship the Lord and obey his orders, you will experience the victory and protection that the Commander of the Lord’s heavenly, spiritual army provides (cf. Rev 19:11-16).

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