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Author and Title
The book of Joshua is named for its leading character.
The book’s author, however, is not explicitly mentioned. The Talmud—a collection of ancient writings by rabbis on Jewish law and tradition—ascribes the book, with the exception of the account of Joshua’s death, to Joshua himself (Baba Bathra 15a).
Possibly Joshua, around 1380 b.c., or Samuel, around 1050 b.c.
Determining the date of the book of Joshua is difficult because, as with many other OT books, it may have been edited as it became part of the growing corpus of OT texts.
Joshua recounts part two of God’s grandest work of redemption in the OT period. In part one (the Pentateuch), under the leadership of Moses, the Lord redeemed his people out of bondage in Egypt and formalized his covenantal love for them at Sinai.
Now in part two, under the leadership of Joshua, the Lord as divine Warrior brings his people into the Land of Promise and gives them “rest.”
Purpose, Occasion, and Background
From the evidence in the book itself, it appears that the purpose of the book of Joshua was to recount, from a theological perspective (Theology-the study of the nature of God), the events surrounding Israel’s capture and settlement of the land of Canaan—with particular emphasis on God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promise to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Such an account would have been relevant to ancient Israel from its earliest arrival in Canaan and to every subsequent generation of God’s people to the present day.
Literary background. Joshua comes immediately after the Pentateuch and in many ways, completes its story.
The theme of the first five books of the Bible is the progressive fulfillment of the “patriarchal promise,” made first to Abraham () and reiterated to him, his son Isaac (), and his grandson Jacob (; etc.).
Simply stated, the Lord promised Abraham and his descendants that they would be blessed and become a blessing, that they would grow to become a great nation, and that they would be given a land of their own. In addition, these blessings would be enjoyed in the context of a close covenant relationship with God.
By the end of the Pentateuch, Israel has been brought into the blessing of covenant relationship with the Lord and has become a great people. But they remain outside the Land of Promise, on the plains of Moab.
Forty years before, the Lord had raised up Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt and to bring them to the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (; ). Now, after so many years of wandering, Joshua, the “new Moses” (), is to lead God’s people into the land, conquer it, and divide it among them as their inheritance from the Lord.
Historical background. The dates of the exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land are interrelated, since the conquest occurred about 40 years after the exodus. Whether the exodus occurred in the fifteenth century (about 1446) or thirteenth century (about 1260) b.c. is a matter of long-standing debate among biblical scholars.
If the pharaoh of the exodus had been explicitly named in the biblical text, this problem would be solved, but as was the custom in Egyptian records until about the tenth century b.c., he is simply called “Pharaoh.”
Deciding the date of the exodus and conquest does not materially affect the interpretation of the book of Joshua.
The Destruction of the Canaanites
The account in Joshua presents the sensitive reader with a deep problem, namely, the apparently wholesale slaughter of the indigenous Canaanite population in order to allow the people of Israel to occupy their land.
· How did Israel have any right to seize that land?
· And how can it be God’s will for them to spare none of those who resisted them in defense of their own land?
· Could this be a level of barbarism that God tolerated in the OT but now forbids in the NT?
People hostile to the Bible publicly denounce ancient Israel for its “ethnic cleansing,” and many sensitive Christians find this deeply troubling as well. To handle the topic thoroughly would take a longer discussion.
First of all understand that the questions are legitimate. Christians rightly condemn this kind of behavior in other circumstances, and there is no warrant today for nations to destroy other nations in order to take their land.
But there are special features of the command to Israel that both make it unique (and therefore not open to be imitated) and allow it to be seen in a moral light. This command is one reason why Exodus records the call of Moses in such detail (; cf. ): Moses is God’s unique choice to be the lawgiver for his people, and the commands given through Moses come from God’s own mind (cf. ). Believers accept God’s appointment of Moses to speak his will. Without this command from God as delivered through Moses, Israel would have had no right to the land.
A second point to clarify is that the Pentateuch sets out laws of warfare, distinguishing between battles fought against cities outside the Promised Land () and those fought against cities inside the land (). It is only the latter case that requires Israel to spare no one (“you shall devote them to complete destruction”); see the notes on and 20:16–18. The law appears to be unconditional and implacable. With these clarifications, one can now outline why this command is not an unsolvable “problem.”
A fundamental OT conviction is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the Creator of all there is, and therefore the owner of all lands. He has the right to distribute territories according to his good and holy will (cf. ; ). As the universal Creator, he is also the universal Judge, to whom all people everywhere are accountable:
(1) (the flood story affects all kinds of people);
(2) (the Tower of Babel);
(3) (judgment on the gods of Egypt);
Since all people are sinners, all are rightly subject to God’s judgment. The Pentateuch gives a moral rationale for the removal of the Canaanites, seeing it as divine judgment for their sins (; ; ). This action against these peoples, then, is an expression of God’s judgment on them through the agency of Israel. This judgment therefore announces the moral nature of God to the whole world for their instruction
God’s judgment allows no double standard: he did not base his choice of Israel on any merit of theirs (), and he calls them to embrace his love faithfully. Unfaithfulness will lead to judgment upon Israel itself, whether at the level of the individual () or the whole people (; ; cf. ). This cannot be called “ethnic cleansing,” since the treatment is just, regardless of ethnicity.
(3) Further, the Sinai covenant sets Israel up to be a “theocracy,” a unique combination of what is now called “church” and “state.” Membership in the people is both political and religious, and thus “citizens” are under obligation to be faithful in observing the covenant. Those who carry out egregious violations must be removed (e.g., ; ; etc.), and if Israel were to allow unrepentant Canaanites to remain in the land, they would drag the whole people down into idolatry, injustice, and evil (e.g., ; ), which, sadly, is just what happened. Christians are not to carry out this kind of warfare, because the people of God are no longer identified with a particular nation-state.
Finally, even though the laws about destroying the Canaanites are stated in an uncompromising and unconditional way (in keeping with the rhetoric of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, which allows for this kind of unqualified statement), the way Israel applied those laws apparently made room for some of the Canaanites to surrender and survive, particularly if they professed faith in the one true God (see note on for Rahab and her whole family; see note on 9:1–27 for the Gibeonites; cf. 11:19). This means that the appearance of implacability in these laws is just that, an appearance, and there is an implied allowance for exceptions.
This is another point showing that, strictly speaking, the command given to Israel is nothing like “ethnic cleansing,” since ethnicity itself is not the reason for the action.
These factors—God’s right to allocate land and judge the world with perfect justice; the need to protect the purity of the Israelite theocracy; and the provisions for even Canaanites to be saved—all illustrate the justice that lies behind these provisions. At the same time, it is also clear that the practices known as genocide and ethnic cleansing are indeed evil, and the Israelites were not commanded to commit them. These factors were a unique part of Israel’s mission; no people today have any right to use them as a warrant to support injustice.
Key Themes
The book of Joshua is fascinating not only in respect to literary and historical questions but especially in regard to several theological topics: (theology-the study of the nature of God)
· Land
· Leadership
· The Book of the Law
· Covenant
· Yahweh’s war (Hb. kherem),
· Judgment and mercy
· Divine sovereignty
· Human responsibility
· Promised rest
· God’s faithfulness
· His people’s response
· and the list goes on
The theological lessons to glean from the pages of Joshua are numerous:
1. The Lord’s abiding presence as the key to strength and courage (1:5, 9).
2. The importance of the Lord’s instructions for succeeding in your mission and acting with insight; land and rest as divine gifts (1:7–8).
3. The ability of the Lord to save the “outsider” (Rahab), and the danger of the “insider” falling away (Achan; see chs. 2 and 7).
4. The Lord as divine Warrior and the reality of judgment when sin is out of control (10:42; 11:19–20).
5. The danger of presumption and failure to inquire of the Lord (9:14).
6. The Lord as protector of the covenant (10:1–15, esp. v. 11).
7. The unity of the people of God (18:1–10; 22:34).
8. The sovereignty of God in giving his people place and rest (1:13; 11:23; 21:43–45).
9. The faithfulness of God in fulfilling all his good promises (1:2; 21:43–45).
10. The necessity of removing false gods and worshiping God alone (ch. 24).
The list could continue. Given the virtual identity of the names Joshua and Jesus (both are rendered “Jesus” [Gk. ’Iēsous] in the Gk. of the Septuagint and the NT), and in light of passages such as , it is not surprising that the leader Joshua has been interpreted as a “type” of Christ.
History of Salvation Summary
The story of Joshua continues on from the Pentateuch, as God uses Joshua’s leadership of his people to give them what he had promised to the patriarchs. (who were the patriarchs)?
The book closes with the people pledging continued faithfulness. The story of Israel after this time shows that their heirs did not remain faithful to this pledge, and the book warns all subsequent generations that each of them must renew this commitment.
The Setting of Joshua
c. 1406/1220 b.c.
The book of Joshua recounts the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan under the command of Joshua. The book opens at Shittim with Joshua’s commission from the Lord as the leader of the Israelites, progresses through his victories over the Canaanite kings and the allotment of the land, and ends with Joshua’s charge to the people to remain faithful to the Lord.
A New Beginning
Why should anybody today study the Book of Joshua, an ancient book that gives a grim account of war, slaughter, and conquest? If the Book of Joshua were fiction, we might accept it as an exciting adventure story; but the book conveys real history and is a part of inspired Holy Scripture. What does it mean to us today?
That’s why we’re here. The Book of Joshua is the book of new beginnings for the people of God, and many believers today need a new beginning.
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel claimed their inheritance and enjoyed the blessings of the land that God had prepared for them, “as the days of heaven upon the earth” (). That’s the kind of life God wants us to experience today. Jesus Christ, our Joshua, wants to lead us in conquest now and share with us all the treasures of His wonderful inheritance. He has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings” (), but too often we live like defeated individuals.
A new leader
From to , the Bible focuses attention on the ministry of Moses, God’s chosen servant to lead the nation of Israel.
But Moses died; and though he would not be forgotten (he’s named over fifty times in the Book of Joshua), a new “servant of the Lord” () would take his place.
“God buries His workers, but His work goes on.”
God spent many years preparing Joshua for his calling.
Joshua the slave. He was born into slavery in Egypt and was given the name Hoshea (), which means “salvation.” Moses later changed it to Joshua (v. 16, NIV), “Jehovah is salvation,” which is the Hebrew form of “Jesus” (; see and ).
When his parents gave the baby the name “salvation,” they were bearing witness to their faith in God’s promise of redemption for His people (; ). Joshua belonged to the tribe of Ephraim and was the firstborn son of Nun (). This meant that his life was in danger the night of Passover, but he had faith in the Lord and was protected by the blood of the lamb ().
While in Egypt, Joshua saw all the signs and wonders that God performed (); and he knew that Jehovah was a God of power who would care for His people. The Lord had humiliated the gods of Egypt and demonstrated that He alone was the true God (; ). Joshua saw the Lord open the Red Sea and then close the waters and drown the pursuing Egyptian army (). Joshua was a man of faith who knew the Lord and trusted Him to do wonders for His people.
Joshua the soldier. The first official recorded act of Joshua in Scripture is his defeat of the Amalekites when they attacked Israel about two months after Israel’s exodus from Egypt (17:8–16). Moses was a prophet and legislator, but Joshua was a general with exceptional military skills. He was also a man of great courage, who wasn’t afraid to confront the enemy and trust the Lord for victory.
Where did Joshua learn to use a sword and to command an army? Certainly he was especially gifted by the Lord, but even heavenly gifts must be discovered and developed in an earthly setting. Had Joshua in some way been involved with the Egyptian army and received his early training in its ranks? This is possible, though the Scriptures are silent in this area.
Just as Moses refused a high position in Pharaoh’s palace but received his education there (; ), so Joshua may have turned down army promotions that he might identify with his people and serve the Lord.
According to , the writer suggests that God had chosen Joshua for a special work in the future. Unknown to Joshua, the battle with Amalek was a testing time when God was examining his faith and courage.
Joshua’s conflict with Amalek was the preparation for many battles he would fight in the Promised Land.
Joshua the servant. In , Joshua is called Moses’ servant (“minister”), which indicates that Joshua was now an official assistant to the leader of Israel. He accompanied Moses to the mount and went with him when he judged the people for making the golden calf (32:17). It wasn’t enough that Joshua be a good warrior; he also had to know the God of Israel and the holy laws God gave His people to obey. We will discover that the secret of Joshua’s victories was not his skill with the sword but his submission to the Word of God () and to the God of the Word (5:13–15).
During Israel’s wilderness journey, Moses had a special tent set up outside the camp where he could meet with God (). It was Joshua’s responsibility to stay at the tent and guard it. Not only was Joshua a warrior, but he was also a worshiper and knew how to live in the presence of God.
Joshua was jealous not only for the glory of God but also for the honor and authority of Moses. This is a good characteristic for a servant to have, and it showed up when God sent His Spirit upon the seventy elders Moses had chosen to assist him in his work (). When the Spirit came upon Eldad and Medad in the camp, two men who had not assembled with the other elders at the tabernacle, Joshua protested and asked Moses to stop them from prophesying. (For a New Testament parallel, see .) The breadth of Moses’ spirit must have moved Joshua as Moses claimed no special privileges for himself. It’s worth noting that when the inheritance was allotted after the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua took his share last ().
Joshua the spy. When Israel arrived at Kadesh Barnea, on the border of the Promised Land, God commanded Moses to appoint twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan—Joshua among them (). After forty days of investigating the land, the spies returned to Moses and reported that the land was indeed a good one.
But ten of the spies discouraged the people by saying that Israel wasn’t strong enough to overcome the enemy, while two of the spies—Caleb and Joshua—encouraged the people to trust God and move into the land. Sadly, the people listened to the faithless ten spies. It was this act of unbelief and rebellion that delayed the conquest of the land for forty years.
This crisis revealed some fine leadership qualities in Joshua. He was not blind to the realities of the situation, but he didn’t allow the problems and difficulties to rob him of his faith in God. The ten spies looked at God through the difficulties, while Joshua and Caleb looked at the difficulties through what they knew about God. Their God was big enough for the battles that lay ahead!
Knowing he was right, Joshua wasn’t afraid to stand up against the majority. He, Moses, and Caleb stood alone and risked their lives in so doing; but God stood with them. It has well been said that “one with God is a majority.” It would take that kind of courage for Joshua to lead Israel into their land so they could defeat their enemies and claim their inheritance.
Think of the years of blessing in the Promised Land that Joshua forfeited because the people had no faith in God! But Joshua patiently stayed with Moses and did his job, knowing that one day he and Caleb would get their promised inheritance (). Leaders must know not only how to win victories but also how to accept defeats.
Day after day, for forty years, they saw the older generation die off, but each day brought them closer to Canaan. (See for a New Testament parallel.)
Joshua the successor. Throughout that wilderness journey, God was preparing Joshua for his ministry as successor to Moses. When Israel defeated Og, king of Bashan, Moses used that victory to encourage Joshua not to be afraid of his enemies (; ). When Moses was preparing to die, he asked God to give the people a leader; and God appointed Joshua (27:12–23; ). In his final message to Israel, Moses told the people that God would use Joshua to defeat their enemies and help them claim their promised inheritance; and he also encouraged Joshua to trust God and not be afraid (31:1–8). Moses laid hands on Joshua and God imparted to Joshua the spiritual power he needed for his task (34:9).
Like Moses, Joshua was human and made his share of mistakes; but he was still God’s chosen and anointed leader, and the people knew this. This is why they said to Joshua, “Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you” (, NKJV). God’s people in the church today need to acknowledge God’s leaders and give them the respect that they deserve as the servants of God ().
The secret of Joshua’s success was his faith in the Word of God (), its commandments and its promises. God’s Word to Joshua was “Be strong!” (vv. 6–7, 9, 18; and see , ); and this is His Word to His people today.
The promise of the land. The word “land” is found eighty-seven times in the Book of Joshua because this book is the record of Israel’s entering, conquering, and claiming the Promised Land. God promised to give the land to Abraham (; ; , ; ; ), and He reaffirmed the promise to Isaac (26:1–5), Jacob (28:4, 13, 15; 35:12), and their descendants (50:24). The Exodus narrative gives many reaffirmations of the promise (3:8, 17; 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5, 11; 16:35; 23:20–33; 33:1–3; 34:10–16), and these are repeated in Leviticus (14:34; 18:3; 19:23; 20:22–24; 23:10; 25:2, 38) and Numbers (11:12; 15:2, 18; 16:13–14; 20:12, 24; 27:12; 33:53; 34:2, 12). (See also .)
In Moses’ “farewell speech” (Deut.), he frequently mentioned the land and the nation’s responsibility to possess it. The word “land” is found nearly 200 times in Deuteronomy and the word “possess” over 50 times. Israel owned the land because of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham (), but their enjoyment of the land depended on their faithful obedience to God. (See and .)
As long as the Jews obeyed God’s law He blessed them, and they prospered in the land. But when they turned from God to idols, God first chastened them in the land (the Book of Judges); and then He took them from their land to the land of Babylon. After they had been chastened for seventy years, Israel returned to their land; but they never fully recovered the glory and blessing that they once had known.
God called the Promised Land “a good land” (8:7–10) and contrasted it with the monotony and barrenness of Egypt (11:8–14). It was to be Israel’s place of rest, her inheritance, and the dwelling place of God (12:9, 11).
After enduring slavery in Egypt and misery in the wilderness, the Jews would finally find rest in their Promised Land (, ; ; ; ; ). This concept of “rest” will show up again in and as an illustration of the victory Christians can have if they give their all to the Lord.
The Prophet Ezekiel called the land of Israel “the glory of all lands” (, ), which the NIV translates “the most beautiful of all lands.” Daniel calls it “the pleasant land” (8:9) and “the glorious land” (11:16 and 41). Often it is described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (, ; ; ; ; ; ; ; etc.). This was a proverbial statement meaning “a land of plenty,” a place of peaceful pastures and gardens where the herds could graze, and the bees could gather pollen and make honey.
The importance of the land. The Prophet Ezekiel said that Jerusalem was “in the center of the nations” (5:5, NIV) and that the land of Israel was “the center of the world” (38:12, NASB). The Hebrew word translated “center” also means “navel,” suggesting that Israel was the “lifeline” between God and this world; for “salvation is of the Jews” (). God chose the land of Israel to be the “stage” on which the great drama of redemption would be presented.
In , God promised to send a Savior to the world; and the first step in the fulfilling of that promise was the call of Abraham. Beginning with , the Old Testament record focuses on the Jews and the land of Israel. Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees to go to that new land, and there Isaac and Jacob were born. God announced that the Redeemer would come from the tribe of Judah (49:10) and the family of David (). He would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem (; ) and one day die for the sins of the world (; ). All these important events in the drama of redemption would take place in the land of Israel, the land that Joshua was called to conquer and claim.
The events recorded in the Book of Joshua have to do with the life of God’s people and not their death! The Book of Joshua records battles, defeats, sins, and failures—none of which will take place in heaven. This book illustrates how believers today can say good-bye to the old life and enter into their rich inheritance in Jesus Christ.
It explains how we can meet our enemies and defeat them, and how to claim for ourselves all that we have in Jesus Christ (). What Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explains doctrinally, the Book of Joshua illustrates practically. It shows us how to claim our riches in Christ.
But it also shows us how to claim our rest in Christ. This is one of the major themes of the Book of Hebrews and is explained in chapters 3 and 4 of that epistle. In those chapters, we find four different “rests,” all of which are related:
· God’s Sabbath rest after creating the worlds (; )
· The salvation rest, we have in Christ (, , ; )
· The believer’s eternal rest in heaven ()
· And the rest God gave Israel after their conquest of Canaan (3:7–19)
God’s promise to Moses was “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (, NKJV). The Jews certainly had no rest in Egypt or during their wilderness wanderings; but in the Promised Land, God would give them rest. In his farewell message to the people, Moses said, “For as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you” (, NKJV; and see 3:20; 12:9–10; 25:19). This “Canaan rest” is a picture of the rest that Christian believers experience when they yield their all to Christ and claim their inheritance by faith.
The four geographic locations seen in the history of Israel illustrate four spiritual lessons.
Egypt was the place of death and bondage from which Israel was delivered. They were delivered from death by the blood of the lamb and from bondage by the power of God who opened the Red Sea and took them across safely. This illustrates the salvation we have through faith in Jesus Christ, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (, NKJV) Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ delivers the believing sinner from bondage and judgment.
The wilderness experience of Israel depicts believers who live in unbelief and disobedience and don’t enter into the rest and riches of their inheritance in Christ, either because they don’t know it’s there or they know and refuse to enter. Like Israel, they come to a crisis place (Kadesh Barnea), but refuse to obey the Lord and claim His will for their lives (). They are delivered from Egypt, but Egypt is still in their hearts; and like the Jews, they have a desire to go back to the old life (; ; ; see ; ). Instead of marching through life as conquerors, they meander through life as wanderers and never enjoy the fullness of what God has planned for them. It’s this crowd that is especially addressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Canaan represents the Christian life as it ought to be: conflict and victory, faith and obedience, spiritual riches and rest. It’s a life of faith, trusting Jesus Christ, our Joshua, the Captain of our salvation (), to lead us from victory to victory (). When Israel was in Egypt, the enemy was around them, making their lives miserable. When they crossed the Red Sea, Israel put the enemy behind them; but when the nation crossed the Jordan River, they saw new enemies before them, and they conquered these enemies by faith.
The victorious Christian life isn’t a once-for-all triumph that ends all our problems. As pictured by Israel in the Book of Joshua, the victorious Christian life is a series of conflicts and victories as we defeat one enemy after another and claim more of our inheritance to the glory of God.
According to , the whole land was taken; but according to 13:1, there remained “very much land to be possessed.” Is this a contradiction? No, it’s the declaration of a basic spiritual truth: In Christ, we have all that we need for victorious Christian living, but we must possess our inheritance by faith, a step at a time (), a day at a time. Joshua’s question to his people is a good question to ask the church today: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord … has given you?” (18:3, NIV)
The fourth geographic location on Israel’s “spiritual map” is Babylon, where the nation endured seventy years of captivity because they disobeyed God and worshiped the idols of the pagan nations around them. (See ; ). When God’s children are willfully rebellious, their loving Father must chasten them until they learn to be submissive and obedient (). When they confess their sins and forsake them, God will forgive and restore His children to fellowship and fruitfulness (; ).
The leading person in the Book of Joshua is not Joshua but the Lord Jehovah, the God of Joshua and of Israel. In all that Joshua did by faith, he desired to glorify the Lord. When the Jews crossed the Jordan River, Joshua reminded them that the living God was among them and would overcome their enemies (). Through Israel’s obedience, Joshua wanted all the people of the earth to know the Lord and fear Him (4:23–24). In his “farewell addresses” to the leaders (chap. 23) and to the nation (chap. 24), Joshua gave God all the glory for what Israel had accomplished under his leadership.
At least fourteen times in this book, God is called “the Lord God of Israel” (7:13, 19–20; 8:30; 9:18–19; 10:40, 42; 13:14, 33; 14:14; 22:24; 24:2, 23). Everything that Israel did brought either glory or disgrace to the name of their God. When Israel obeyed by faith, God kept His promises and worked on their behalf; and God was glorified. But when they disobeyed in unbelief, God abandoned them to their own ways and they were humiliated in defeat. The same spiritual principle applies to the church today.
As you look at your life and the life of the church where you fellowship, do you see yourself and your fellow believers wandering in the wilderness or conquering in the Promised Land? In the wilderness, the Jews were a complaining people; but in Canaan, they were a conquering people. In the wilderness, Israel kept looking back, yearning for what they had in Egypt; but in the Promised Land, they looked forward to conquering the enemy and claiming their rest and their riches. The wilderness march was an experience of delay, defeat, and death; but their experience in Canaan was one of life, power, and victory.
As you look at the “spiritual map” of your Christian life, where are you living?


Joshua Chapter 1 (NKJV)
God’s Commission to Joshua
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
1. God encourages His leader ()
Leaders don’t lead forever, even godly leaders like Moses.
There comes a time in every ministry when God calls for a new beginning with a new generation and new leadership. Except for Joshua and Caleb, the old generation of Jews had perished during the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness; and Joshua was commissioned to lead the new generation into a new challenge: entering and conquering the Promised Land.
“God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.”
It was God who had chosen Joshua, and everybody in Israel knew that he was their new leader.
Over the years many churches and ministries flounder and almost destroy themselves in futile attempts to hold on to the past and escape the future.
J. Oswald Sanders writes: “A work originated by God and conducted on spiritual principles will surmount the shock of a change of leadership and indeed will probably thrive better as a result” (Spiritual Leadership, p. 132).
A wise leader doesn’t completely abandon the past but builds on it as he or she moves toward the future. Moses is mentioned fifty-seven times in the Book of Joshua, evidence that Joshua respected Moses and what he had done for Israel.
Joshua worshiped the same God that Moses had worshiped, and he obeyed the same Word that Moses had given to the nation.
There was continuity from one leader to the next, but there wasn’t always conformity.
Every leader is different and needs to maintain his or her individuality. Twice in these verses Moses is called God’s servant, but Joshua was also the servant of God (24:29).
The important thing is not the servant but the Master.
Joshua is called “Moses’ minister” (1:1), a word that described workers in the tabernacle as well as servants of a leader.
So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God.
So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.
So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!”
Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. (It, is the promised land)
Joshua learned how to obey as a servant before he commanded as a general; he was first a servant and then a ruler ( - parable of the talents).
“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander,” wrote Aristotle in his
God commissioned Joshua to achieve three things:
1. Lead the people into the land.
2. Defeat the enemy.
3. And claim the inheritance.
God could have sent an angel to do all of this, but He chose to use a man and give him the power he needed to get the job done.
Encouragement from God’s promises (vv. 3–6).
Since Joshua had three tasks to perform, God gave him three special promises, one for each task.
1. God would enable Joshua to cross the river and claim the land (vv. 3–4),
2. defeat the enemy (v. 5),
3. and divide the land to each tribe as its inheritance (v. 6).
God didn’t give Joshua explanations as to how He would accomplish these things, because God’s people live on promises and not on explanations.
When you trust God’s promises and step out by faith, you can be sure that the Lord will give you the directions you need when you need them.
1. First, God promised Joshua that Israel would enter the land (vv. 3–4). Over the centuries God had reaffirmed this promise, from His first words to Abraham () to His last words to Moses (). God would take them over the Jordan and into enemy territory.
He then would enable them to claim for themselves the land that He had promised them. There would be no repetition of the fear and unbelief that had brought the nation into defeat at Kadesh Barnea ().
God had already given them the land; it was their responsibility now to step out by faith and claim it (; see ). The same promise of victory that God had given to Moses (), He reaffirmed to Joshua; and He carefully defined the borders of the land.
The lesson for God’s people today is clear: God has given us “all spiritual blessings … in Christ” (), and we must step out by faith and claim them. He has set before His church an open door that nobody can close (), and we must walk through that door by faith and claim new territory for the Lord. It is impossible to stand still in Christian life and service; for when you stand still, you immediately start going backward. “Let us go on!” is God’s challenge to His church (), and that means moving ahead into new territory.
2. God also promised Joshua victory over the enemy ().
The Lord told Abraham that other nations were inhabiting the Promised Land (), and He repeated this fact to Moses ().
If Israel obeyed the Lord, He promised to help them defeat these nations. But He warned His people not to compromise with the enemy in any way, for then Israel would win the war but lose the victory (23:20–33).
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Since the Jews began to worship the gods of their pagan neighbors and adopt their evil practices, God had to chasten Israel in their land to bring them back to Himself ().
What a promise God gave to Joshua! “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you” (, NIV).
· God had given a similar promise to Jacob (),
· and Moses had repeated God’s promise to Joshua ().
· God would one day give this same promise to Gideon (Jud. 6:16)
· and to the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon to their land (; );
· and David would give it to his son Solomon ().
But best of all, God has given this promise to His people today! The Gospel of Matthew opens with “Emmanuel … God with us” (1:23) and closes with Jesus saying, “Lo, I am with you always” (28:20, NKJV). The writer of quotes and applies it to Christians today: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (NKJV).
This means that God’s people can move forward in God’s will and be assured of God’s presence. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” () Before Joshua began his conquest of Jericho, the Lord appeared to him and assured him of His presence (). That was all Joshua needed to be guaranteed of victory.
3.God’s third promise to Joshua was that He would divide the land as an inheritance for the conquering tribes ().
This was God’s assurance that the enemy would be defeated and that Israel would possess their land. God would keep His promise to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land (; ; ).
The Book of Joshua records the fulfillment of these three promises:
· the first in chapters 2–5,
· the second in chapters 6–12,
· and the third in chapters 13–22.
At the close of his life Joshua could remind the leaders of Israel that “not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (23:14, NKJV).
Before God could fulfill His promises, however, Joshua had to exercise faith and “be strong and of good courage”.
Divine sovereignty is not a substitute for human responsibility.
God’s sovereign Word is an encouragement to God’s servants to believe God and obey His commands.
As Charles Spurgeon put it, Joshua “was not to use the promise as a couch upon which his indolence might luxuriate, but as a girdle wherewith to gird up his loins for future activity” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 14, p. 97).
God’s promises are prods, not pillows.
Encouragement from God’s written Word (v. 7–8).
It’s one thing to say to a leader, “Be strong! Be very courageous!” and quite something else to enable him to do it.
Give a real-life example to students.
Joshua’s strength and courage would come from
1. Meditating on the Word of God.
2. Believing its promises.
3. And obeying its precepts.
This was the very same counsel Moses had given to all the people of Israel in ,
11 “Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always. 2 Know today that I do not speak with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the Lord your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm—3 His signs and His acts which He did in the midst of Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to all his land; 4 what He did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and their chariots: how He made the waters of the Red Sea overflow them as they pursued you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day; 5 what He did for you in the wilderness until you came to this place; 6 and what He did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben: how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, their households, their tents, and all the substance that was in their possession, in the midst of all Israel—7 but your eyes have seen every great act of the Lord which He did.
8 “Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, 9 and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’
and now God was applying it specifically to Joshua.
During the years of his leadership, Moses kept a written record of God’s words and acts and committed this record to the care of the priests. (NKJV)
The Law to Be Read Every Seven Years
9 So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.
He wrote in it a reminder to Joshua to wipe out the Amalekites (NKJV)
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
Among other things, the “Book of the Law” included
1. “the Book of the Covenant” (24:4, 7),
2. a record of the journeys of the people from Egypt to Canaan (),
3. special regulations dealing with inheritance (36:13), and
4. the song that Moses taught the people ().
Moses kept adding material to this record until it included everything God wanted in it.
We have reason to believe the entire five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) comprised “the Book of the Law,” the greatest legacy Moses could leave to his successor.
The same book we have! THE BIBLE (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)
But it wasn’t enough for the priests to carry and guard this precious book;
Joshua had to take time to read it daily and make it a part of his inner person by meditating on it (; ; see ).
The Hebrew word translated “meditate” means “to mutter.” It was the practice of the Jews to read Scripture aloud () and talk about it to themselves and to one another ().
In the life of the Christian believer, prosperity and success aren’t to be measured by the standards of the world. These blessings are the by-products of a life devoted to God and His Word.
If you set out on your own to become prosperous and successful, you may achieve your goal and live to regret it. “In whatever man does without God,” wrote Scottish novelist George MacDonald, “he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.”
The questions God’s people need to ask are:
1. Were we empowered by the Spirit of God?
2. Did we serve to the glory of God?
3. Did we obey the will of God?
If we can answer yes to these questions, then our ministry has been successful in God’s eyes, no matter what people may think.
Encouragement from God’s commandment (v. 9).
God’s commandments are still God’s enablement’s for those who obey Him by faith.
Gabriel’s words to Mary are as true today as when he spoke them in Nazareth: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” ().
I personally like the translation of this verse found in the American Standard Version (1901): “For no word from God shall be void of power.” The very word that God speaks has in it the power of fulfillment if we will but trust and obey!
In the years to come, whenever Joshua faced an enemy and was tempted to be afraid, he would remember that he was a man with a divine commission—and his fears would vanish. Whenever things went wrong and he was tempted to be dismayed, he would recall God’s command—and take new courage. Like Moses before him, and Samuel and David after him, Joshua had a divine mandate to serve the Lord and do His will—and that mandate was sufficient to carry him through.
The Order to Cross the Jordan
10 Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, 11 “Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’ ”
12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh Joshua spoke, saying, 13 “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But you shall pass before your brethren armed, all your mighty men of valor, and help them, 15 until the Lord has given your brethren rest, as He gave you, and they also have taken possession of the land which the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it, which Moses the Lord’s servant gave you on this side of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
2. Joshua (the leader) encourages the officers ()
The nation of Israel was so organized that Moses could quickly communicate with the people through his officers who formed a chain of command ().
Moses didn’t assemble the leaders to ask for their advice but to give them God’s orders.
There are times when leaders must consult with their officers, but this was not one of them.
God had spoken, His will was clear, and the nation had to be ready to obey.
Forty years before, at Kadesh Barnea, the nation had known the will of God but refused to obey it (). Why?
Because they believed the report of the ten spies instead of believing the commandment of God and obeying by faith.
Had they listened to Caleb and Joshua—the minority report—they would have spared themselves those difficult years of wandering in the wilderness.
There is a place in Christian service for godly counsel, but a committee report is no substitute for the clear commandment of God.
Instead of the command to prepare food, you would have expected Joshua to say, “Prepare boats so we can cross the Jordan River.” Joshua didn’t try to second-guess God and work things out for himself.
He knew that the God who opened the Red Sea could also open the Jordan River. He and Caleb had been present when God delivered the nation from Egypt, and they had confidence that God would work on their behalf again.
Though he trusted God for a miracle, Joshua still had to prepare for the everyday necessities of life.
In modern armies the Quartermaster Corps sees to it that the soldiers have food and other necessities of life; but Israel didn’t have a Quartermaster Corps. Each family and clan had to provide its own food.
The manna was still falling each morning () and wouldn’t stop until Israel was in their land (). But it was important that the people stayed strong because they were about to begin a series of battles for possession of their Promised Land.
Note that Joshua’s words to his leaders were words of faith and encouragement.
· “You shall pass over!
· You shall possess the land!
· The Lord will give it to you!”
Joshua had made the same speech forty years earlier, but that generation of leaders wouldn’t listen. (how many of you might be a little resentful)?
Now that generation was dead, and the new generation was ready to believe God, move forward in faith, and conquer the land.
It’s unfortunate but true that sometimes the only way a ministry can move forward is by conducting a few funerals.
The older we get, the more danger there is that we’ll get set in our ways.
Caleb and Joshua were the oldest men in the camp, and yet they were the most enthusiastic about trusting God and entering the land.
It isn’t a matter of age; it’s a matter of faith; and faith comes from meditating on the Word of God (1:8; ).
Joshua had a special word for the two and a half tribes that lived on the other side of Jordan and had already received their inheritance (). He reminded them of Moses’ words of instruction and warning (21:21–35; ) and urged them to keep the promise they had made. Joshua was concerned that Israel be a united people in conquering the land and in worshiping the Lord. The two and a half tribes did keep their promise to help conquer the land, but they still created a problem for Joshua and Israel because they lived on the other side of the Jordan ().
In the nation of Israel it was the able men twenty years and older who went out to war ();
and the record shows that the two and a half tribes had 136,930 men available
These are the families of the Reubenites: those who were numbered of them were forty-three thousand seven hundred and thirty.
These are the families of the sons of Gad according to those who were numbered of them: forty thousand five hundred.
These are the families of Manasseh; and those who were numbered of them were fifty-two thousand seven hundred. (half would still be 26,350) total 111,580
But only 40,000 men actually crossed the Jordan and fought in the Promised Land (). The rest of the recruits stayed to protect the women and children in the cities the tribes had taken in the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead (32:1–5, 16–19). When the soldiers returned home, they shared the spoils of war with their brothers ().
It was a concession on Moses’ part to allow the two and a half tribes to live outside the Promised Land. The tribes liked the land there because it was “a place for cattle” (, , ).
Apparently their first concern was making a living, not making a life. They would rather have big flocks and herds than dwell with their brothers and sisters in the inheritance God had given them. They were far from the place of worship and had to erect a special monument to remind their children that they were citizens of Israel ().
They represent the many “borderline believers” in the church today who get close to the inheritance but never quite claim it, no matter how successful they may seem to be. They are willing to serve the Lord and help their brethren for a time; but when their appointed job is finished, they head for home to do what they want to do.
16 So they answered Joshua, saying, “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you. Only the Lord your God be with you, as He was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and of good courage.”
3. The officers encourage their leader (Joshua) ()
The pronoun “they” probably refers to all the officers Joshua had addressed and not to the leaders of the two and a half tribes alone. What an encouragement they were to their new leader!
To begin with, they encouraged him by assuring him of their complete obedience (vv. 16–17). “Command us and we will obey! Send us and we will go!”
These officers had no hidden agendas, and they asked for no concessions. They would obey all his commands and go wherever he would send them. We could use that kind of commitment in the church today!
Too many times we are like the men described in , each of whom put something personal ahead of following the Lord.
Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In his novel The Marquis of Lossie, author George MacDonald has one of the characters say, “I find the doing of the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plan.”
That’s the attitude Joshua’s officers displayed. They were not so attached to Moses that they put him above Joshua.
God had appointed both Moses and Joshua, and to disobey the servant was to disobey the Master. Joshua didn’t have to explain or defend his orders. He simply had to give the orders, and the men would obey them.
The officers encouraged Joshua by praying for him (v. 17). “The Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.” The best thing we can do for those who lead us is to pray for them daily and ask God to be with them. Joshua was a trained man with vast experience, but that was no guarantee of success. No Christian worker succeeds to the glory of God apart from prayer.
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” asked Corrie Ten Boom, a question that especially applies to those in places of leadership.
When Joshua did not pause to seek the mind of God, he failed miserably ( and 9); and so will we.
They encouraged Joshua by assuring him that their obedience was a matter of life or death (1:18). They took his leadership and their responsibilities seriously. Later, Achan didn’t take Joshua’s orders seriously, and he was killed ().
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” ()
If God’s people today saw obedience to Christ a matter of life or death, it would make a big difference in our ministry to a lost world.
· We obey the Lord’s orders if we feel like it,
· if it’s convenient,
· and if we can get something out of it.
With soldiers like that, Joshua would never have conquered the Promised Land!
Finally, they encouraged him by reminding him of the Word of God (v. 18b). Moses told Joshua to “be ye of good courage” when he sent him and the other men into Canaan to spy out the land ().
Moses repeated the words when he installed Joshua as his successor (, ). These words were written in the Book of the Law, and Joshua was commanded to read that Book and meditate on it day and night ().
Four times in this chapter you find the words “be strong and of good courage” (vv. 6–7, 9, 18). If we are to conquer the enemy and claim our inheritance in Christ, we must have spiritual strength and spiritual courage. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” ().
The first step toward winning the battle and claiming our inheritance is to let God encourage us and then for us to encourage others.
A discouraged army is never victorious.
“See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (, NIV).
Be strong!
The battle is the Lord’s!
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