Lesson 6 – Joshua
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Review of the Law
We now enter the second major part of our study. In the first part I gave you a bit of an introduction to the Old Testament and its value as Scripture coming from God Himself. And then we studied together the Law, the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, sometimes called the Pentateuch. You recall that we stress that God creates, judges, and renews in Genesis. That God delivers His people in fulfillment of His promises in Exodus. But He is a holy God and desires a holy people to serve Him, according to the book of Leviticus. And that He is a God who enforces the covenant in the book of Numbers, and yet a God who renews the covenant in the book of Deuteronomy.
You will recall some major emphases then: God creates, Genesis 1 and 2, human beings sin greatly against God, Genesis 3 through 8, God judges the world through a flood in Genesis 6 and 7 but makes a covenant with all living people in Genesis 8 and 9, that He will not again destroy the world by flood but He requires of human beings, respect for life and respect for Him.
Sin continues to escalate and in Genesis 12:1-9 God promises to bless all nations through Abraham. He promises Abraham many descendants and gives them to him in the rest of the book of Genesis. He delivers Abraham’s people from slavery in Egypt in chapters 1 through 18 of Exodus. And He declares that Israel will be a holy people, a kingdom of priests, declaring His praises, living out His commandments in Exodus 19 to 24. And He asks them to be, requires them to be, a holy nation according to the book of Leviticus. It gives them clear standards about how it is to be a nation that will glorify Him in the world in the rest of Leviticus.
Now it is up to Israel to receive the promise of the land. But they sin against God in the book of Numbers and do not receive the land for some time. Forty years they are punished until a new generation arises who hears Moses’ word in Deuteronomy and are ready to take the Promise Land. These are a people who are commanded to love God according to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, because He has loved them according to Deuteronomy 7:6.
It is fairly easy for us to get focused on Israel as we read these books but we must remember that Israel is God’s instrument to bless all nations. Israel is not to keep God’s greatness to themselves but they are to be His instrument for removing sin in the world.
Introduction to the Prophets
And so we come to the second great part of the Old Testament. Having studied the Law we come to the Prophets. As I told you in the introduction to our study, in the Hebrew lists of books, the list of books that Jesus would have known and the New Testament writers would have known – the Law is followed by the Prophets and the following books are considered prophetic books in the Hebrew canon: Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets, which are considered one book.
The Hebrew canon divided the Prophets into two parts: the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets, in other words the first and the second groupings. The Former Prophets are the narrative books, the history books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. They are prophet because they have the same theology as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets. They have the same view of history, they have the same approach to loving God. So they share much in common as far as their outlook and their theology goes even if they don’t share the same sort of literary type.
As we come to these former prophetic books, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, it might occur to us that Deuteronomy leaves us a bit in suspense. Israel has set up camp just outside the Promised Land poised to complete God’s promises to Abraham. Moses has said they would succeed but he is dead. Israel was in a similar pivotal position in Numbers and failed to conquer. Would the people waste a second chance to claim their homeland? God has promised to fight for them but will this second generation of Israelites believes Yahweh or will they be as rebellious as their parents?
Well, Joshua to Kings addresses these and other related issues. These books tell what happened in history and explain why it happened. They report events that state the theological factors involved in Israel’s history. They feature human heroes and villains and yet always point to the Lord of history. For example 1 Kings 1–11 discusses Solomon’s wealth and political savvy but it also emphasizes his weakening relationship with the Lord and its consequences. Thus the books do present a sacred history of Israel that is it is mainly interested in Israel’s relationship with God. Nonetheless this history is accurate and insightful at the same time. This history takes both the human and divine elements of history seriously. Well how do the books achieve this balance?
Historians must have criterion to judge events and characters. Without question the writers of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings judged Israel leaders and people by the covenant principles they found in the Law. In particular, it is Deuteronomy’s influence that is quite evident. The kings are measured by standards found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The people are blessed or punished according to the standards found in Deuteronomy 6 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28.
The author believes that Israel cannot keep their land if they break their promises to God. And so it’s no surprise that if they do turn away from the Lord and they do not come back to Him there will be grave consequences including exile. This emphasis on the covenant makes these narratives prophetic literature. The prophets in these books and Isaiah through Malachi proclaim Yahweh as the only God and they call Israel and the world to faith in Him.
With that brief introduction to the prophetic section of our study, let’s move on to the book of Joshua. Joshua’s main theme is that God gives the land. God gives the land of Canaan to Israel just as He had promised Abraham. Joshua is an exciting and positive book seen from Israel’s prospective. Israel finally conquers the land God promised to Abraham. The nation accomplishes this task because this new generation is determined to obey the Lord. They refuse to stay in the desert so they do whatever their leaders and Yahweh demand. They do not repeat their parents’ mistakes.
Joshua takes place then just outside of the land Canaan in Moab but then moves quickly into Canaan, the land of promise. The time frame is about 1400 B.C. Scholars have worked very hard looking at the archeological evidence that remains in that part of the world today to try to determine when exactly this conquest took place and what nature it took. Though there are clearly many opinions on this subject there is good archeological evidence to indicate that the conquest took place about 1400 B.C.
The book of Joshua itself unfolds in three major sections. The first section is chapters 1 through 12. These chapters describe how Israel conquers most of the land promised to them. Details about significant battles appear and theological reasons for Israel’s success or failure are given.
The second section is chapters 13 to 22. These chapters state how the nation’s twelve tribes divided the land. Each tribe had its own territory, as is true of many countries. I live in the United States, we have fifty separate states. Other countries are divided into provinces or some other similar concept. Israel had twelve divisions, one for each tribe.
Third, the book concludes with a covenant renewal ceremony in chapters 23 and 24. Their leader Joshua encourages the people to obey God’s laws and thereby keep the land. Each of these three sections focuses on Yahweh’s faithfulness in offering Canaan and on Israel’s challenge to respond in faithfulness. I want you to know that we are going through these three sections as we have other books we have studied.
At the end of this analysis I want to return to a special topic that concerns many people these days. That topic is why the Lord would allow Israel to conquer the land and displace the people who already lived there. More on that in a bit.
God Gives His People the Ability to Conquer the Land (1–12)
Joshua 1–12 shows that God gives the land and that He gives His people the ability to conquer the land. Israel needs a capable leader if they are to conquer and God has chosen Joshua for this task. I have not said much about Joshua to this point so let me remind you who he is. Going back into the early chapters of the book of Exodus. Joshua was Moses’ assistant. He helped Moses in all the areas of Moses’ ministry. He was the one who led Israel into battle in the wilderness accounts given to us in Numbers 21 through 36. He was one of twelve spies who originally went to the land of Canaan and brought back a report. He was one of two spies, along with Caleb, who wanted to go ahead and try to conquer the land. He is a good choice to lead for no one else has his experience or potential for leadership. Still he has never lead the people before. He has yet to prove that he can replace Moses.
In chapter 1 the author tells us because of this awesome responsibility Joshua needs encouragement from Yahweh before Israel enters the land. God promises to never leave or forsake him (1:5). Yahweh also pledges to give the land to the people according to 1:3 and 4 and make Joshua great like Moses. In return Joshua must lead the people, keep the covenant, read and obey the Law of Moses just as Deuteronomy 17 to 18 commands. And he is to depend on God’s promises. Three times in chapter 1 God tells him to be strong and courageous. This exhortation may speak to his natural fears. After this reassurance, Joshua is ready to lead. At the end of chapter one he tells the people to get ready to enter the land. They agree but they also add their own plea that Joshua be strong and courageous. So God has built up Joshua’s strength. He has encouraged him in the faith and the people are ready to follow.
Joshua decides to attack Jericho first, according to chapter 2. Since Jericho is located in the middle of the region of Canaan, Joshua apparently intends to cut Canaan in two parts. Then Israel can move north and south from their central power base. He sends two spies to view the city of Jericho. The men enter Jericho and go up to a house owned by a prostitute named Rahab. Undoubtedly they exercise caution yet the leader of the city learns of their presence, sends messengers to arrest the spies, but Rahab says they have left town when she has actually hidden them in her home. The king’s men then leave town to pursue the spies who are well hidden.
Once alone with the two Israelites Rahab confesses she believes God will give Jericho to Israel. She then asks the spies to spare her and her family’s lives when they destroy the town. They agree and she helps them escape. In effect, Rahab joins Israel. She will become part of the people of God because of her faith and because of her actions. Her confession of faith in what God will do indicates that other Canaanites could have believed. The story of Israel and their God was well known but she seems to be quite in the minority. She seems to be one of the few, if not the only person, who turns to faith in the Lord rather than accepting defeat by Israel.
In chapters 3 and 4 the people break camp and cross the Jordan. Priests carry the Ark of God in front of the people which symbolizes Yahweh’s leadership of Israel. As He did at the Red Sea, God causes the river to stop flowing while they cross. As soon as they complete their crossing, the waters return to their place. Clearly, this event signals a new Exodus of sorts. Just as their parents went through the parted Red Sea to the wilderness, so now they leave the desert by crossing the Jordan to their new home.
According to chapter 5, once they enter Canaan the daily bread, the daily manna that God has been giving since they left Egypt ceases. They will now eat of the fruit of land God has given them. God has met their physical needs in the past and He continues to do so now.
Chapter 6 gives us details about Israel’s conquering of Jericho. They have a rather odd method of conquering. For six days they march around the city without attacking. Surely this marching intimidated and unnerved Jericho citizens, their enemies. Finally on the seventh day Israel marches out to conquer. Joshua tells the people that all Jericho’s wealth is sacred to the Lord and must go into His treasury. No individual must keep the spoils of war. These battles are not simply about making Israel safe, secure, rich or powerful. It is about establishing them as a holy nation in the land to bless all nations. Joshua reminds all the fighters to spare Rahab who is still in the city with her family. The priests sound the trumpet, the army shouts – Jericho’s walls collapse upon themselves, they implode. Exposed, the city lies defenseless and Yahweh gives Israel the city.
In chapter 7, however, we learn that all is not well in Israel. In the battle of Jericho a man named Achan takes some gold for himself in clear violation of what God had commanded. So the next time the people go out to battle, this time to a tiny place called Ai, they do not succeed. They are defeated before this small city. God reveals to Joshua the problem. The people have sinned. A family has kept spoils of war rather than turning them over. Once exposed, this problem is solved.
And in chapter 8, Joshua and the people conquer the city of Ai. They then go to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the places Moses spoken of in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, and they renew the covenant before they renew the battle. In chapters 9 and 10 the battle goes Israel’s way again and again. Kings unite together to fight against them only to make it easier for Joshua to conquer place after place. How is it that Israel is able to conquer? According to 10:14 the reason is that Israel had Yahweh fighting for them. God gives the victory. Having defeated Jericho and Ai and other places, in the middle of the country, having established his base in the center of Canaan, Joshua now moves north and south to conquer a list of cities found in 10:29-43.
Then in chapter 11, Joshua attacks in the north. Major places such as Hazor fall. Once again a group of nations fights Israel and once again Israel prevails. By the end of chapter 12, most of the conquest is complete. At least the prominent population centers in the middle of the country and in the parts of the north and south have been subdued. In chapter 11:15-23 the book claims that all these victories fulfills Gods earlier promises. Joshua simply carries out what Moses commanded. Yahweh has fought for Israel which is why they have beaten so many foes. Unlike their predecessors, this generation of Israel follows the Lord’s direction, they are faithful to their Covenant Master, they receive the promised rest.
How the Israelites Divided the Land (13–22)
Joshua 13 to 22 is the second major section of the book. As you will recall, the whole book of Joshua stresses that God keeps His promise of giving the land to Abraham’s descendants. Chapters 13–22 describe how those descendants actually divided the land so that they might live there. At first glance, Joshua 13:1 appears to contradict 11:23. The first text says Joshua took the whole land while the second notes that in Joshua’s old age large portions of land were yet unconquered.
What 11:23 probably means is that Canaan’s power base is no longer existed. All their major military centers had fallen. Thus Israel now has to disperse, defeat the smaller towns and settle in their proper places. The most difficult task is over. The land does lay before them ready to be inhabited. So it does remain for the land to be divided. So Joshua with Eliezer, the high priest, divides the land among the tribes and tells them to displace the remaining Canaanites. He even allows the tribes whose inheritance lies beyond the Jordan (Num. 32) to go home. Their obligation to help the other tribes become established has been fulfilled.
Renewing the Covenant with Yahweh (23–24)
Joshua 23 and 24 is about renewing the covenant. Joshua 23 and 24 revolves around the major character of the book of Joshua, Joshua himself. You recall that Joshua has been a part of the biblical story since the book of Exodus. Joshua was Moses’ assistant. Joshua was the leader who helped Israel come into the Promise Land and conquer it. His life work nearly done, Joshua leads Israel in one last covenant renewal ceremony. You will recall that he led them in one in Joshua 8. You will also recall that Moses had told the people in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 to renew the covenant regularly as a reminder of their love for the Lord.
So in this last ceremony, in 23:1-11, he encourages the leaders of the next generation, just as Moses had encouraged him. He tells the next generation of leaders they will inherit the land if they obey God’s law for God will continue to fight for them. However, he says in 23:12-16, if they disobey the Lord, the Lord will bring destruction upon them. Clearly the blessings and consequences outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27, 28 remain in effect. Israel has a permanent relationship with Yahweh. The relationship has not ended or altered because they have come into the land.
In chapter 24, Joshua continues the covenant renewal observance by retelling their national story. Starting with Terah, Abraham’s father, Joshua describes how Israel went from serving other gods to worshipping Yahweh, the only true God. This story includes Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom and prosperity in Canaan. Given this great past, Joshua challenges the people to serve Yahweh in the present and in the future. And as all great leaders must, Joshua sets an example for his followers. Regardless of what others decide, he says, he and his family will serve the Lord.
He says this in probably the most famous passage in the book of Joshua (24:14-15). Having given them their history and challenged the leaders, he says, “Now therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the river and in Egypt and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, chose this day whom you will serve, whether gods your father served in the region beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
This last verse, “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” is a rather well known and famous one. I’ve actually seen this verse posted in people’s houses stating that as Christians they will serve the Lord. It is important for us to remember that Joshua made this confession, this challenge, this promise in the context of covenant renewal. He is trying to make sure that his people understand the need to follow the Lord, the Lord only, and to avoid all worship of other gods. In response, the nation praises God and agrees to keep the covenant.
In chapter 24:16-18 they say they realize the Lord has given them the land. Joshua probes the depth of their commitment. He says in 24:19, “You are not able to serve the Lord for He is a holy God, He is a jealous God, He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods He will turn and do you harm and will consume you after having done you good.” And, of course, he is reminding them of consequences of covenant breaking already outlined earlier in the Bible.
The people respond positively: ‘No but we will serve the Lord.’ And so they continue on with the covenant renewal ceremony. Having said they will serve the Lord, taking them at their word, Joshua writes the covenant in the book of the law of God (24:26). He has done all he can to pass on the promises made to Abraham, the promises made to Moses, and the standards revealed through Moses.
When Joshua dies he is buried in his family’s inheritance in the north (24:29-30). According to 24:32, Joseph’s bones, which were carried from Egypt, are also buried in the Promise Land. These burial ceremonies stress the importance of the Promise Land. The land belongs to all people of faith and it symbolizes the permanence of God’s love for Israel.
It also symbolizes Israel’s role as a kingdom for God, as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, living in the midst of the earth to tell God’s praises and to teach other nations to follow Him. The leaders who succeeded Joshua continue to help the people follow the Lord. Yet the comment that Israel serve God as long as Joshua and his contemporaries live leads to a question: will Israel obey Yahweh when these giants die?Leadership is an ongoing issue for them just as it is for us.
Like Moses, Joshua is an extraordinary individual. He is both warrior and spiritual leader. At times he’s afraid and needs to be encouraged yet he overcomes these fears and wins great victories. Though he could seek prestige for himself, he constantly praises the Lord and honors Moses’ memory. By blending these qualities, Joshua is able to raise Israel to new national greatness. He is the person who finally helps fulfill the land promise. Abraham’s descendants have a homeland. How long they keep it depends on their obedience to the Lord. Only time will tell if Israel will continue to uphold the standards of Joshua’s generation.
Authorship of Joshua
There are two items of introduction that I need to discuss at this point. One of them I promised when I gave the introduction to the book of Joshua. I promised to discuss and that is the issue of the conquest of the land. The other one is the authorship of the book of Joshua.
As you have now read and worked through the book of Joshua you will recall that there is really no author stated to this book. In other words we don’t know who wrote this book. The same is true of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. We have this great and magnificent and connected history. This accurate account of Israel’s coming into the land clear on down to their loss of the land. So a time period that stretches nearly a thousand years. And yet we don’t know who the author of the book is. But it is a careful historian. Someone who checked facts, who had a method of telling the account that told about real people in a real way that showed how the people’s relationship to God determined everything else about their history. But we simply do not know who this great historian was. We know this person was very committed to detailing Israel’s history according to standards found in the books of Moses. But we simply do not know when the person wrote.
Question of Fairness
Now the other issue. It often troubles people to begin reading the book of Joshua and see that Yahweh is giving Israel the land and they wonder if it is fair to the Canaanites and wonder what it is that God is doing. A book you might read to help you understand this is Christopher Wright’s, The God I Don’t Understand. In this very probing book, Christopher Wright deals with several difficult issues in the Bible and comes to good conclusions about how we can have faith in God and in what the Bible teaches. So some of what he says there I will incorporate into my discussion.
But the question is why would God give Israel the land of Canaan and is this fair to the Canaanites. On this subject I want to go back to the book of Genesis. I want to remind you that God made the heaven and the earth and all the people in it and that He has His righteous standards. You recall in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that his family would have the land of Canaan as their homeland. I want to go to chapter 15 of Genesis to help us begin to understand some things. Having promised the land to Abram, you recall that Abram trusted God and God counted it to him as righteousness (15:6).
And then as a further understanding, a further revelation of what God would do, in 15:13, the Lord said to Abram, know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners, that is resident aliens, in a land that is not theirs, and will be servants there and they will be afflicted for 400 years. That verse reminds us that Israel went into Egypt and they were enslaved eventually as Genesis 27 through Exodus 18 tells us. Continuing in 15:14, God says, “But I will bring judgment on the nation they serve and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” That verse promises the Exodus.
Now verse 15, “As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace. You will be buried in a good old ago, and they shall come back in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” That phrase, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete,” is important for us as we try to understand the conquest of Canaan. What God is saying to Abraham is his people, his descendants, will not be able to have the land for 400 years. The Amorites’ sin is not yet complete. Now the Amorites is another way of saying the Canaanites, so the people of the land of Canaan. God is giving them 400 years to turn away from their sins.
In fact, Israel will be suffering for a time waiting for the sins of the Amorites to be complete before God will give them the land. So God is giving the people of Canaan lots of opportunity to turn from their sin. They will have hundreds of years in order to do that. Now continuing on to chapter 18 of the book of Leviticus, here is some more information. Prior to telling Israel that they shall not practice all sorts of sexual misconduct, the Lord says the following to Moses in Leviticus 18:1, “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, “I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you lived and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you.”’”
Therefore whatever follows in this passage are things being done in the land of Canaan where they are headed. Then it goes on to show us that incest, sexual abuse, bestiality, heterosexual sins like adultery and homosexual sins are all committed in that place. In other words, the Canaanites were a corrupt culture and God is saying Israel shall not live that way. Their sins are becoming complete and their sins are quite terrible. God is going to give Israel this land in part as a judgment against what the people of the land are doing.
The next passage I want to remind you of is Joshua 1:2. That’s the passage that tells us how the prostitute Rahab, the woman who hid the spies who had come to look at the city of Jericho, believed in God. She heard the stories about how the Lord had given Israel victory over Egypt and victory in the desert and she believed that this God is the one true living God and turned in faith to Him. And as the Bible goes on we find out she is one of the great grandmothers of King David and also of Jesus, the Son of God. So we see here that the Canaanites had heard who the Lord was, they had heard what He was doing and yet they chose to fight against Joshua and the Lord’s army.
We also find in Joshua 9 that there is a group of people called the Gibeonites. They also turn and ask for mercy from Israel and they put their allegiance with Israel and with Israel’s God. And they are spared. So I think it’s important for us to see that for over 400 years the Lord bore with the sins of the Canaanites and these sins were considerable. But the day came when He gave Israel the land as not only a promise to Abraham but as judgment on those sins. People who believed that that was what was happening who were of Canaanite decent, who put their faith in God, were spared. They were not judged.
We also need to note that God treats Israel the same way He treats the Canaanites. That is, He has already told Israel that if they sin against Him and they sin over a long period of time and do not turn from those sins He will drive them out of the land just as He drove the Canaanites out of the land. The Bible does not teach that the Israelites, the Jewish persons, may inhabit the land of Canaan no matter how they lived. The land is not theirs, if they continue to sin in it. So I think it’s important for us to see the whole Bible perspective on what is going on with conquest in Joshua and not just drop into the book of Joshua, read the passages, think that it is unfair, and judge God harshly.