Understanding the Old Testament - Lesson 12


The book of Joshua begins with a focus on the protagonist, Joshua, delineating his significance as a successor to Moses and a symbol of salvation akin to Jesus. Geographically, the narrative unfolds as Israel prepares to enter and conquer Canaan, guided by God's promise to Abraham. Four key sections are outlined: preparation, occupation, allocation, and convocation, each illustrating God's fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham. Notably, Joshua emphasizes obedience as pivotal for inheriting God's promises, amidst discussions of holy war and covenant renewal. Ultimately, the book points beyond itself, portraying Jesus as the ultimate fulfiller of God's promises, leading believers to an eternal inheritance.

Miles Van Pelt
Understanding the Old Testament
Lesson 12
Watching Now

I. Introduction to the Book of Joshua

A. Background and Context

B. Meaning of Joshua's Name

C. Role of Joshua

II. Historical and Geographical Context

A. Setting of the Book

B. Timeline

III. Purpose of the Book

A. Inheritance of the Promised Land

B. Fulfillment of Patriarchal Promise

IV. Authorship and Date

A. Anonymity of Authorship

B. Talmudic Attribution

V. Literary Structure

A. Four Main Sections

1. Preparation

2. Occupation

3. Allocation

4. Convocation

VI. Detailed Narrative Overview

A. Entering the Land

1. Joshua Takes Command

2. Spies Meet Rahab

3. Crossing the Jordan

4. Circumcision of the New Generation

B. Taking of the Land

1. Appearance of the Angel of the Lord

2. Conquest of Jericho

3. Struggle at Ai

4. Conquest of Other Regions

C. Allocation of the Land

1. Land Yet to be Conquered

2. Division of Territories

3. Special Roles of Caleb and Joshua

D. Covenant Renewal and Farewell

1. Renewal Ceremonies

2. Joshua's Warning and the People's Response

VII. Themes and Teachings

A. Holy War

1. Command and Rationale

2. Covenant Significance

B. Importance of Obedience

1. Relationship Between Obedience and Blessing

2. Covenant Renewal and Joshua's Warning

VIII. Christological Interpretation

A. Jesus as the True and Better Joshua

B. The Promised Land as a Foreshadowing

  • Engage with the Old Testament to grasp its Gospel-centered nature. From Genesis to Ecclesiastes and Psalms, discover foundational truths, wisdom, and insights on suffering. Strengthen your faith and find enduring hope in God's Word.
  • Gain insight into the Old Testament's theological core, centering on Jesus Christ. Explore its diverse genres, languages, and authors, unified by Jesus as its focal point. Understand how biblical evidence supports Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, shaping interpretation.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides the thematic framework for the Old Testament. The Old Testament's thematic core is the Kingdom of God. Through this lesson, you'll understand its covenantal nature, from pre-temporal arrangements to various administrations like redemption, works, and grace, unveiling God's salvation plan in Christ.
  • Discover the intricate covenantal structure of the Bible, revealing its theological depth and unity, from the division of the Hebrew Bible to its mirroring in the New Testament, all centered around Jesus Christ.
  • Gain insight into the Pentateuch's covenantal structure, Moses' authorship debate, and evidence supporting it. Understand its significance as the foundation of Israel's relationship with God and its relevance for biblical theology.
  • Through this lesson, you will understand the theological, structural, and thematic intricacies of the book of Genesis. You'll grasp its role as a foundational text in both the Old and New Testaments, exploring themes of covenant, creation, fall, redemption, and the fulfillment of promises. You'll gain insights into the genealogical structure of Genesis, its portrayal of key biblical figures like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and its connection to the overarching narrative of the gospel.
  • Exodus reveals Yahweh's promise—"I will be with you"—unfolding divine presence and covenant. It anticipates Jesus as fulfillment—a better Moses and Tabernacle—ushering in God's eternal presence among humanity.
  • Studying Leviticus unveils the intricate system of laws and rituals at Mount Sinai. It explains sacrificial atonement, priestly consecration, purity laws, and the theme of holiness, prefiguring Jesus as the ultimate priest, sacrifice, and source of holiness.
  • Discover the Book of Numbers' insights on Israel's journey, God's faithfulness, consequences of disobedience, and parallels to Christ, cautioning against questioning God's holiness and emphasizing His desire to dwell among His people through the Holy Spirit.
  • Gain insight into Deuteronomy's covenant renewal for Israel entering Canaan, emphasizing obedience, typology, and its relevance for Christian living.
  • Gain deep insight into the former prophets, exploring themes of Yahweh's faithfulness, Israel's unfaithfulness, and the typological significance of the Mosaic covenant. Understand its relation to the Abrahamic covenant and its fulfillment in the New Covenant under Jesus, revealing God's plan for restoration.
  • Joshua unveils Joshua's leadership, divine promise fulfillment in Canaan, obedience's significance, and Jesus as the ultimate fulfiller of God's promises.
  • Discover the Book of Judges, detailing Israel's history and faith journey. Learn about judges as deliverers from oppression and idolatry, portraying parallels with Christ's ministry. Uncover a pattern of uncreation due to idolatry, emphasizing the need for an eternal judge—Jesus Christ—to save from corruption.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides insights into the book of Samuel, exploring its characters, themes, and the transition from judgeship to kingship in Israel. Learn of the significance of the Davidic covenant, culminating in Jesus as the ultimate King of Kings.
  • Gain insights into the Book of Kings, revealing its historical and theological significance. Discover the fulfillment of Davidic covenant, reasons for Israel's exile, and anticipation of the new covenant. Recognize Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of its promises.
  • This lesson reviews latter prophets' insights into Israel's exile for breaking the Mosaic Covenant, the prophetic office's nature, diverse prophecy genres, and the execution of covenant lawsuits, all pointing to God's judgment and hope for restoration.
  • Explore Isaiah's profound prophetic themes, from redemption to impending judgment. Unravel his life and ministry's context, review the debate around authorship, and learn essential tools for study.
  • Enjoy this lesson on Jeremiah, a second Moses figure, and his prophetic message of repentance, redemption, and a new covenant. Explore the book's chiastic structure, historical context, and theological significance, offering hope amidst Judah's fall.
  • Studying Ezekiel reveals its focus on the glory of the Lord and the temple. You learn of Ezekiel's exile, his visions, and themes like covenant theology, creation, and apocalyptic elements, offering profound insights into hope amidst crisis.
  • Discover insights into the minor prophets' diverse genres and themes, from covenant infidelity to divine restoration. Witness Jonah's repentance narrative and prophetic visions culminating in Christ's fulfillment. Embrace Yahweh's justice and compassion, urging Israel's return, leading to Jesus as the ultimate authority.
  • Understand the structure and themes of the Hebrew Bible's writings section. Explore diverse literary forms, intentional divisions mirroring prophets, and the overarching theme of exile and return, illuminating Israel's covenant journey.
  • Discover the depth of the Book of Psalms: 150 songs divided into 5 books, expressing diverse emotions and worship forms. Explore themes, structure, and practical applications for personal devotion and prayer.
  • Gain insights into human suffering and theodicy through Job's trials. Explore themes of faith, resilience, and God's sovereignty amidst adversity. Discover hope in God's incomprehensible sovereignty amid life's trials.
  • Proverbs is a book of timeless wisdom from Solomon, who was gifted by God. By studying this book, you can learn to navigate life with righteousness and discernment, rooted in the fear of the Lord.
  • Journey through Ruth, where redemption, loyalty, and divine providence intertwine. Ruth, a symbol of strength, aligns with Boaz, embodying ancient customs. Their union shapes history, reflecting the enduring legacy of faith amidst life's complexities.
  • Explore the Song of Songs for insights into marriage and intimacy. It navigates the tension between true love and temptation, advocating for unwavering commitment and passionate intimacy, reflecting God's desired relationship. Discover timeless wisdom for modern-day love and marriage.
  • Ecclesiastes reveals life's futility without God, emphasizing the necessity of fearing Him. Through Solomon's wisdom, it prompts reflection on divine purpose amid existential questions.
  • In Lamentations, mourn the fall of Jerusalem and exile, finding hope in God's sovereignty.
  • The book of Esthers contains themes of providence, hiddenness of God, and faithfulness in exile. You will uncover the intricacies of Esther and Mordecai's roles in the deliverance of the Jewish people, as well as the establishment of the festival of Purim. This study will equip you with insights into how God's providence operates amidst human events, even when His presence may seem concealed, and how faithfulness in exile can lead to unexpected outcomes of deliverance and restoration.
  • Through this lesson on the book of Daniel, you'll gain insights into its structure, themes of faithfulness in exile, comparisons with Joseph, and its significance for understanding apocalyptic literature, providing a comprehensive understanding of God's sovereignty and care for His people.
  • Explore Ezra and Nehemiah for insights into post-exilic restoration, intertwining faith, governance, and cultural renewal. These books point towards a deeper longing for true and lasting restoration and echo themes found in apocalyptic literature such as the book of Revelation.
  • The Book of Chronicles traces Israel's history, emphasizing kingship, priesthood, and divine selection. It anticipates restoration, pointing to Jesus as the ultimate priest-king who fulfills God's promises.

Understanding the Old Testament 
Dr. Miles Van Pelt
Lesson Transcript

Welcome to the lecture on the book of Joshua. The book of Joshua is the first book in the former prophets, and the former prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The book is named after the leader who succeeded Moses, and his name means Yahweh or the Lord saves.

This is also the same name that was given to Jesus in the Book of Matthew. For example, in Matthew 1:21, "The angel of the Lord was speaking to Mary about the birth of Jesus, and the angel of the Lord said, She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, (which is Joshua in Hebrew), for he will save his people from their sins." So it means Yahweh saves in the same name that Jesus had.

So who is Joshua? We first encounter Joshua in Exodus chapter 17, when Moses appointed him to lead a fight against the Amalekites. Then in Numbers 13:16, we discover that Moses changed Joshua's name from Hoshea, which means he saved, to Yahoshua, which means Yahweh saved, adding that divine name to the front. It's not just anyone who saves, but it's Yahweh himself who saves.

In the book of Numbers, Joshua is one of the two out of the twelve spies, along with Caleb, who brought back a positive report regarding the inhabitants of the resources in Canaan. Joshua and Caleb are the only two men from that first generation out of Egypt to enter the promised land. 

As Moses' successor, Joshua is styled as a second Moses figure. For example, in Deuteronomy 34:9, we read, "And Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as  Moses commanded." 

In terms of history and geography, where did this happen and when did it happen? The book of Joshua begins with Israel east of the Jordan River, way down south, kind of by the Dead Sea. And they're about to cross the Jordan River and occupy the promised land or the land of Canaan.If the exodus took place in 1446 BC and they wandered for 40 years, then we're approximately 1406 BC when they're going to cross the Jordan River at the beginning of the book of Joshua. Then there are about six years of conquest in Joshua 6 through 12 that are recorded, and then the death of Joshua when he's 110 years old at the end of the book. So let's say 1406, we begin, and then sometime around 1360, when that generation crosses and Joshua dies, is the end of the book.

What's the purpose of the book? The purpose of the book is this, inheritance. When you think about the book of Joshua, think about God giving his people an inheritance in the land of Canaan. The purpose of the book of Joshua is to record Israel's possession of the land that was promised by God to Abraham 700 years earlier in about 2100 BC. The patriarchal promise of the land frames the patriarchal narratives from Genesis 12:7, when we first get it, all the way to Genesis 50:24. And between Genesis 12 and Genesis 50, that land promised to the patriarchs is repeated at least 11 times to the patriarchs. First to Abraham, then to Isaac, then to Jacob, and then also to all succeeding generations of that offspring in Genesis 50:24. We're finally coming to the high point of the promise of the land to the patriarchs with the possession of the land that they've been waiting for 40 years while wandering in the wilderness.

In terms of date and authorship, the book is anonymous, and every book in the former prophets, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, is an anonymous composition. We don't know who wrote it. The Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary, and some rabbis back in the medieval era attributed it to Joshua himself, but they also understood that some parts of it must have been written by other hands, so maybe the core of it was written by Joshua and then it was updated later. We do know that Joshua undoubtedly wrote portions of the book because, for example, Joshua 24:6, states that Joshua recorded these things in the book of the law of God. But there are no further indications here or elsewhere in the Bible concerning the book's complete authorship.

In terms of outline, take a look at your screen. The book of Joshua has four main sections, and note there's kind of an A-B-B-A pattern associated with this. You can see in terms of the Hebrew words highlighted on your screen. Now, I don't assume that anyone taking this course knows Hebrew at all, but what we can do is just visually look at the Hebrew words in each of the sections, and so section one is preparation, section two is occupation, section three is allocation, section four is convocation. Now, the Hebrew verbs that dominate those sections appear in red, and the first one is the Hebrew verb avar, to cross over, and you can see that it looks almost exactly like the last word in number four, the convocation word avad, to worship or serve. And if you look at the words in two and three, you'll see that they have the same consonants of the alphabet in use, but they're just in a slightly different order. So, the author of the book of Joshua is a master in terms of artistry, in terms of what he's doing. He's using words and verbs that have similar-looking sounds and appearances to shape and frame the book. 

So, in the first five chapters of the book of Joshua, the people of God, Israel, are going to cross the Jordan River and begin to occupy the promised land with the fall of Jericho. Then, they're going to move out from Jericho, and in chapters six through twelve, they take six years to occupy the land of the Canaanites that God had told them to take. Then, in chapters thirteen to twenty-one, it's this big celebration that finally God's people are going to receive their inheritance in the land. We’ll take a look at what that looks like later.And then finally, convocation. This is kind of like covenant renewal, encouragement to obey the law, and then we'll also have Joshua's death at the very end that will terminate this book. 

Let's look a little more closely at some of the issues in the book in terms of content. Now, we don't have time in this lecture to go over everything, but we can just get a sense of the narrative flow in these particular episodes. Some of these things will be familiar to you, but others may not. 

In this first section, entering the land or crossing over, Joshua takes command of the people. The spies meet Rahab, and Rahab saves those spies. Finally, Israel crosses the Jordan River, and they put memorial stones in the ground, and then this new generation of people is circumcised before they can go out and occupy the rest of the land. So, they're consecrated to the Lord by remembering that covenant sign engaged in the Mosaic covenant.

In the second section, the taking of the land, we have a little bit more content here. First, we have the angel of the Lord appearing to Joshua with his sword in hand, and he is going to fight for the Israelites. This is a major theme that appears throughout the Bible. That's the Lord himself who fights for Israel's army. Then, we have the conquest of Jericho. Rahab is spared, and there's the struggle to defeat Ai because of some bad things going on with Israel. There's the illicit treaty with Gibeon, and then we have the conquest of the south, the conquest of the north, and the list of the conquests under Moses and Joshua. So, this is finishing up that part. It's pretty brief, just runs through chapter 12.

The biggest part of the book of Joshua is the dividing or the allocation of the land. It's like Christmas morning, and all the tribes of Israel are receiving their gifts of inheritance that were promised 700 years ago. First, it talks about in chapter 13, the land remaining to be conquered. It talks about the land east of the Jordan, then the land west of the Jordan, and if you take a look at the land west of the Jordan, you'll see that after it talks about an overview of the allotment on this slide, it begins with Caleb, and then it ends with Joshua, and you have all the other tribes in the middle, those individuals in the tribes. What's interesting about that is Caleb and Joshua are the only two men from that first generation of Israelites coming out of Egypt to make it into the promised land. So, their placement at the beginning and the end highlights their faithfulness and the gift that they have in the promised land. For everyone else, you're looking at tribes that are receiving inheritances, but for these two men, they're receiving it on their own individually. And then finally, we have worship. They build the altar of witness by the Jordan River.

Joshua gives his farewell address. The covenant is renewed at Shechem in chapter 24, and then we have the death of Joshua and Eleazar the high priest at the very end of the book. So, that's kind of a summary of the basic contents of the book.

Four sections, a narrative plot line where they cross the Jordan River and begin to conquer the land of Canaan as commanded by the Lord. Let’s talk about a couple of things related to the book of Joshua that are important. We're going to talk about two things with the time that we have.

Number one, we're going to talk about holy war, and number two, we're going to talk about the importance of obedience for possessing the promised land according to Joshua, especially in chapter 24. So, let's begin with the issue of holy war. The command to completely destroy the Canaanites is a very difficult issue to address. God had informed Moses that Israel was to carry out his destruction or this complete destruction in Canaan. That is, they were to wipe out every man, woman, child, and every goat, cow, sheep. Nothing was to be spared. God spoke directly to Joshua about this and to Moses as well. The laws governing what we think of as holy war occurs in Deuteronomy 7 and 20, Deuteronomy 7 and 20, and I'm going to read three verses from Deuteronomy 20 verses 16 to 18 that will give us a sense of the rules and the reasons for this holy war.

Deuteronomy 20:16 to 18, "But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God has given you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all of their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God in this way." So the Bible gives two reasons for this type of destruction. The first reason is the requirement of purity of Israel's worship and the prevention of its corruption by the Canaanite religion, which we're going to see happen all over the place in the next book, the book of Judges.

The second reason is that this destruction was due to the Canaanites' sin. A preview of Canaanite sin is presented to Abraham where he is told that the fulfillment of the promise to him would be delayed in part because, quote Genesis 15:16, the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete. That is, the return of Abraham's descendants finally to inherit the land would have as part of its mission the punishing of the Canaanites for their sins.

The instructions for Israel to annihilate the Canaanites were specific in time, intent, and geography. It was not a blanket permission to do the same to any peoples they encountered at any time or in any place. It was limited to the crucial time when Israel was just establishing itself as a nation or a theocracy under God's rule to protect Israel's worship as well as to punish some for specific sins.

Thus, harsh as it may seem to our sensibilities, we should remember that it was for very clearly stated reasons and it was very carefully circumscribed. Okay, now we've talked about the reason for this or why it's allowed previously when we talked about the flood and when we talked about Sodom and Gomorrah. Okay, that is, there's this thing called, remember we talked about the covenant of grace and it occurs in the context of common grace.

Common grace is the period of delay from judgment where the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, the elect and the non-elect live together and enjoy the same common grace benefits of the sun and the moon and the earth and beauty and family and that kind of business. Okay, but there are several little times in the Bible where God suspends common grace and he enters into judgment with a particular people at a particular time to demonstrate or to show us what the final judgment will look like when there is no more hope for relenting from evil when it's all over. We call that the eschatological or last judgment that we see in the book of Revelation.

It serves as a warning and it also serves as an illustration of how serious our sin is that it does require judgment. It does require judgment. So there are times when God suspends common grace to show us what that final judgment will look like. Meredith Kline calls this an intrusion ethic and I think that's a great way to think about it when the final judgment intrudes into our space and time for us to see it. Right, and that's a negative kind of part of intrusion ethics. A positive part of an intrusion ethic would be a miracle where God through some of the prophets cleanses someone from leprosy or raises them from the dead. That also is an intrusion ethic to tell us about the blessings that will come in the next stage as well. So the intrusion ethic has both positive and negative applications and this one right here with the instruction of the Canaanites is one of those negative things. For God's people to receive their inheritance, it must come through judgment. It must come through judgment. 

Another major theme in Joshua is the covenant or better the keeping of the covenant. There is the stress upon obedience to the law and the cause-and-effect relationship between obedience and blessing, disobedience and punishment. Just like we saw in the book of Deuteronomy, blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience, there are two important covenant renewal ceremonies recorded in the book and these ceremonies frame Israel's occupation of the land. The first one takes place on Mount Ebal when Joshua built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices and it says there in verse 32 chapter 8, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses which he had written. Then he read the entire law to the people. In so doing, Joshua was fulfilling the requirement that a king was supposed to keep each day of his life. 

The second one took place at Shechem as was recorded in Joshua 24, the very end of the book of Joshua, where Joshua wrote the words of the covenant renewal in the book of the law of God and he erected a large stone as a witness and a memorial. The people committed themselves to the keeping of the law as well. So Joshua 24:16 and following. But Joshua understood that Israel as a nation did not have the capacity to obey, though some individuals like Joshua and even Rahab did.Joshua 24:19 to 21 recalls some of this. Listen to these words. "But Joshua said to the people, you are not able to serve the Lord for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do harm to you and consume you after having done good to you. And the people said to Joshua, no, we will serve the Lord. But Joshua said to the people, then you are witnesses against yourself that you have chosen the Lord to serve him. And they said, we are witnesses."

This is a very interesting time in the life of Joshua. What he's saying is Israel, you do not have the capacity to keep this covenant. It would be better for you to say, no, we're going to stand down.But they did not do that. And they said, no, we will indeed serve the Lord. And Joshua said, OK, this is on you. You are now your own witnesses. And in the very next book, in the very next chapter, we see Israel doing that which is evil in the eyes of the Lord and forsaking him. The same thing that Joshua said they would do.

And so, once again, it reminds us that the covenant that we have in Exodus through Deuteronomy, the Mosaic economy, was always a covenant of death. It was never one that could give life or circumcise the heart. It was always designed to be temporary and typological. Meaning, we've said this before, the Abrahamic covenant was meant to be fulfilled in two stages. Stage one is the Mosaic covenant. It's a shadow and a type, a ministry of death. Stage two is the new covenant with Jesus as a covenant mediator. It's a ministry of grace and life, a ministry of circumcised hearts. Keep those things in mind because it will help you to properly relate the old and new testaments or the old and new covenants as you think about the Bible.

So, how is the book of Joshua the gospel promised beforehand? If Jesus were on the road to Emmaus with those two disciples and he came to the book of Joshua, what might he have said about himself in this manner? First, he would have said this, perhaps. Jesus would have said, I am the true and better Joshua who fully and finally defeats the enemies of God and brings his people into their final eternal inheritance in the new heavens and new earth. Joshua brought the people into Canaan and they lost that land. Jesus is going to bring God's people into the new Canaan, a land that cannot be lost. He's the true and better Joshua. Also, the so-called promised land points beyond itself to the new heavens and new earth.

Just like Joshua points beyond himself, the land points beyond itself. The first time we get the promise about the land is in Genesis 12:7 when it says, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to your offspring, I will give this land. So there he built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him. In Joshua 23, we get the recording that they had possessed it. I gave you a land on which you have not labored and cities that you have not built. And you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of the vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. Sounds like Eden.

But even Abraham understood that the promised land of Canaan was not the ultimate land that he was looking for to receive. For example, Abraham got the promise that he and his offspring would receive this land, but he never had any of it given to him. He died not having any of that land inherited. In Hebrews 11, verses 9 and 10, it says about Abraham and his apprehension of this promise, by faith, Abraham went to live in a land of promise as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. So if we get caught up thinking that we're trying to get back to the earthly promised land, we have missed the point that we are heading something much, much better.

The book of Joshua is about inheritance and it's about God giving his people what he has promised them in a way that can never be taken away. Don't let the temporary typological nature of Joshua take your eyes off of the wonderful things that Christ has achieved for us and is doing beyond that. The things in Joshua are wonderful and real and true, but they must always point beyond themselves to what Christ has done for us and will do for us in bringing us into the new heavens and earth.

This is the book of Joshua.