Introduction and Background
For centuries, the descendants of Abraham had anticipated possessing the land God had promised to the Patriarch in the Abrahamic Covenant, and then reiterated to Isaac and Jacob. Joshua is the compelling history of the fulfillment of that promise. It is the story of God’s faithfulness and how, by faith in God’s promises, God’s people can overcome and experience His life-changing deliverance. The message of Joshua can encourage and have a wonderful impact on one’s life. For that to occur, however, we need to be serious in our study of Scripture. For those who want the message of Joshua to positively influence their lives for God, the following four words are offered as food for thought:
(1) Thirst: The psalmist wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2, NIV). Sadly, men too often seek to fill the void in their souls with things that never truly satisfy. We were all created with a void that only God Himself can satisfy. The psalmist recognized this and after the analogy of the deer thirsting for water, spoke of the thirst in his soul that only God could fill. But then there was the question, “When can I go and meet with God?” One time and place where we can do just that is in our Bible study. The most effective Bible study occurs when we study out of a thirst to know God. May it be so as we study the book of Joshua.
(2) Toil: In our fast foods, mall-oriented society where we expect everything to be quick and easy, we too often approach our Bible study in the same way. Effective Bible study is hard work and requires diligence as in anything worthwhile if we want to accomplish much. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
(3) Time: We can heat a cup of water in a microwave in a minute and quickly mix a tablespoon of our favorite instant coffee and have something hot to drink, but the greatest blessing usually comes from meditating, reading, and spending time in God’s precious book.
(4) Teachableness: Again, in a world so full of man’s ideas, theologies, ideologies, and philosophies, we will get the most when we come to the Scripture with a teachable spirit asking God to teach us His truth, for it is His truth and only His truth that sanctifies and sets us free (John 17:17; 8:32).
As you read this study, hopefully with your Bible in hand, may these four ‘Ts’ be in your mind and heart.
The book of Joshua describes the conquest and possession of the land of Canaan and may be divided into three simple divisions: (1) invasion or entrance, (2) conquest, and (3) possession or division of the land. This is the land God had promised Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here God fulfilled that promise, though not exhaustively since there still remains a rest for the people of God (Heb. 4). Joshua describes the military triumph of God’s people through faith and obedience. However, unlike most military histories, in the book of Joshua the focus is on the commander’s Commander, the Captain of the Lord’s host (5:15). Repeatedly, as Joshua’s name illustrates (Yahweh saves), the book demonstrates that Israel’s victories were due to God’s power and intervention.
Key Historical Perspective
In Genesis, Israel was born as a nation in the call and promises of God to Abraham (Election of the nation).
In Exodus, the nation was delivered out of bondage in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and was given God’s Holy Law (Redemption of the nation).
In Leviticus, the nation was taught how to worship in view of God’s holiness (Sanctification of the nation).
In Numbers, they were tested and numbered as a nation (Direction and Wandering of the nation).
In Deuteronomy, the law was reviewed and reiterated and closed with the assurance that Israel would possess the land (Instruction of the nation).
In Joshua, the nation crossed over Jordan and took possession of the land (Possession by the nation). If Moses is the symbol of deliverance, then Joshua is the symbol of victory. Joshua teaches us that faith “is the victory that overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).
Joshua 1:3 “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses”
Joshua 1:3 compares to Ephesians 1:3 in the New Testament, “… blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Literally, “in the heavenlies”; i.e., in the realm of heavenly possessions and experiences into which the Christian is brought because of his association with the risen Christ.1
The key concept of the book of Joshua is possession through conflict by the power of Yahweh, the Captain of the Lord’s host. In this regard, it is also like Ephesians, for though we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, we must realistically face the fact of our enemies (Eph. 6:12) and strengthen ourselves by putting on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-11, 13-18). It is important to realize that Israel’s ownership of the land was unconditional under the Abrahamic covenant, but possession of the land was conditional upon faith and obedience. And so today, conflict and conquest by faith go with laying hold of that which we have positionally in Christ; the experience of our blessings in Christ comes through faith in the midst of conflict.
The Theme and Purpose of the Book
As mentioned, Joshua is the history of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan in fulfillment of God’s promises for the people of Israel. After 400 years of slavery in Egypt and 40 years in the desert, the Israelites finally are able to enter the Promised Land. Abraham, a sojourner and alien all his life, never really possessed the country to which he was sent. The only piece of ground he owned he purchased himself as a burial plot for Sarah and his family, the cave and field of Machpelah (Gen. 23). However, Abraham did leave both his physical and spiritual descendants the legacy of God’s covenant promises that would make them the eventual heirs of all of Canaan and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ including a heavenly city (see Gen. 15:13,16,18; 17:8; Rom. 4:12-14; Heb. 11:11; 4:1-11). In the book of Joshua that long anticipated promise became a reality.
The primary purpose of the book of Joshua is to show God’s faithfulness to His promises; that He had done for Israel exactly what He had promised (cf. Gen. 15:18 with Josh. 1:2-6 and 21:43-45). The events recorded in Joshua are selective to set forth God’s special intervention on behalf of His people against all kinds of tremendous odds. The fulfillment of God’s promises, as is so evident in the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah and in possessing the land with its fortified cities, is the work of God and that which man cannot do no matter how hard he tries (see Rom. 4).
The secondary purpose is to show that just as God had taken them out of Egypt by faith in the power of God, so He would take them in to possess the land through faith in the power of God. It emphatically declares the truth that though justified by faith, as was Abraham, or delivered out of bondage, as was Israel from Egypt, victory over those enemies of life that stand opposed to our walk with God must come through faith in the power of God as well (Josh 1:5-7; 3:7, also cf. Heb. 4:1-3). Joshua, then, stands in contrast to Numbers where we see Israel’s failure through unbelief and wandering in the wilderness even though they were the redeemed people of God.
The Name and Author of the Book
Unlike the first five books of the Old Testament, this book takes its name from the chief human personality of the book, Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ servant. While Joshua is not explicitly identified as the author, the general substance of the book indicates that the author was an eyewitness of most of the events, which are described with great vividness and minuteness of detail, and occasionally in the first person (‘we’ and ‘us’; e.g., 5:1, 6). Other factors support Joshua as the author: (1) Jewish tradition as the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b) names Joshua as the author of the Book; (2) it seems evident the book was written shortly after the events happened (cf. 6:25); (3) the unity of style also suggests one author wrote the bulk of the work though some portions obviously had to have been written by others like Eleazar the priest or Phinehas, his son (note the first person “he” referring to Joshua in 15:13-17 and see also 24:29-31); (4) finally, it is specifically stated in 8:32 and 24:26 that Joshua did some writing. The evidence, then, supports Joshua as the author of the book.
But unlike the first five books of Moses, why does this book take its name from the author? First, because as the successor of the great law giver and leader, Moses, Joshua might be easily forgotten and the Lord does not want us to forget this man and his ministry as a faithful leader and servant of the Lord. In addition, Joshua also stands as a special type of Christ. This is seen in his name 2 and in the work he accomplished in bringing the people into the land, a picture of our ‘Sabbath rest’ in Christ (Heb. 4). This is the man who challenged the people at the end of the book with,
“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
A second reason for calling this book Joshua, is found in the meaning of Joshua’s name. Joshua’s original name was Hoshea (Num. 13:8; Deut. 32:44) which means literally “salvation.” But during the wilderness wanderings Moses changed his name to Yehoshua, meaning “Yahweh is salvation” or “save, Yahweh” (Num. 13:16). Joshua is a contracted form of Yehoshua. This amounted to a prophetic anticipation and reminder to Joshua, to the spies, and the people that victory over the enemies and possession of the land would be by the power of Yahweh rather than by human skill or wisdom or power. This book is given the name Joshua because, though Joshua was one of the world’s greatest military strategist of history, his wisdom and military achievements came from Yahweh who alone is our salvation. It was Yahweh Himself who brought about victory for Israel and vanquished Israel’s enemies giving them possession of the land.
Significantly, the Greek form of this name is ‘Jesus,’ the name Mary was instructed to give to her son because it was He who would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
The Place of Canaan in the Message of Joshua
(1) Canaan was Israel’s place of rest: Instead of their toil in Egypt and their wandering in the wilderness, Israel was to be able to settle down and find a home in Canaan where they were to function as the people of God and as a light to the nations. Possessing and subjugating the land filled with enemies was to lead to that rest and fellowship with the Lord (cf. Deut. 6:10-11 and Lev. 26:6-8).
(2) Canaan was the place of bounty: Here was a land flowing “with milk and honey,” a “good and spacious land” (Ex. 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev. 20:24; Num. 13:27, etc.). Some 16 times it is called “a land of milk and honey.” It was a land of extraordinary fruit (Num. 13:26,27), a land of corn and wine, kissed with the dew of heaven (Deut. 33:28; Lev. 26:5; Deut. 11:10-12).
(3) Canaan was a place of triumph: In Canaan were enemies and forces much mightier than Israel, yet these enemies were a defeated foe even before Israel ever struck a blow. Why? Because the victory of Israel lay not in its own skill or power, but in the power and might of Yahweh their God (Deut 7:2; 9:3; Josh. 1:2f). The battle is always the Lord’s (1 Sam. 17:47).
The Pictures and Typology in Joshua
As you can see by the forgoing, Joshua is a book rich in pictures for the believer today. It is rich in analogies and this is supported by Hebrews 3:7-4:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11. The book of Joshua portrays the faith-rest life of the believer today who experiences the blessings of his salvation through a faith that overcomes the various trials, temptations, and difficulties of life that he or she faces from our three enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Note some of these analogies:
(1) Though we are to appropriate our salvation and put it to work (discipline ourselves unto godliness), in Christ we do not work for our salvation or for our spirituality, but are to rest by faith in what God has done for us. Being in Christ is our place of rest, forms the basis for rest over our enemies in this life, and looks forward to a millennial and eternal rest.
(2) In Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. This is our bounty (Eph. 1:3).
(3) In the world we face enemies and struggles, but in Christ we are promised victory through faith and endurance.
(4) Joshua, the leader of the people of Israel, is a type of Christ, the “Captain of our salvation” (cf. Heb. 2:10-11; Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 1:10; 2:14).
(5) The crossing of the Jordan is a picture of a Christian reckoning on his death and resurrection with Christ and moving into the place of growth and victory.
(6) The conquests of Canaan portray the Christian’s conflicts with the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. (a) Taking Jericho pictures victory over the satanic world system that stands walled up against our spiritual progress. (b) The defeat and then victory at Ai illustrates our struggle with and deliverance over the sinful nature or our propensity to sin or to seek to live the Christian life in our own strength. (c) The deception of and experience with the Gibeonites surely illustrates our battle with Satan and his demonic deceptions.
Over and over again God’s Word faces us with our need of the deliverance which comes only from God. Here we are faced with the absolute necessity of the saving life of Christ. Christ is the life and the only life which saves. Without His death, giving us a justified standing with God, and without Him and His life within, all we have is man working from the source of his own weakness or temperament attempting to be Mr. Nice Guy, attempting to conform himself to some cultural or religious standard. Such is not authentic Christianity. It is a counterfeit, a distortion, and a deception. It is a trick of Satan designed to move people away from God’s solution in and through Christ in the light of His authoritative Word, the Bible.
Satan wants to blind us to the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (1 Cor. 4:4). And what is the gospel of the glory of Christ? It is the saving life of Christ, the fact that man is saved and delivered from himself by the glorious life and work of Jesus Christ who is the very image of God.
We are never to be the source of our Christianity. Its source is Christ. We are never to control our Christianity, but Christianity and all that is ours through Christ is to control us. We are not to try to reproduce the image of God in us. Instead, Christianity is God reproducing Himself in us through His Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit.
In this study we will present basic spiritual truths or principles from the text of Joshua, but we will also seek to illustrate a number of parallels or analogies to the Christian life. The justification for doing this is found in passages like Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” and 1 Corinthians 10:4, 6, 11.
Verse 4. “And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” The rock spoke of the presence and work of Christ.
Verse 6. “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.”
Verse 11. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
These verses teach us that these Old Testament events were historical events that manifested the saving work of God in the life of ancient Israel. But they also provide principles, pictures, and illustrations that form warnings and teach us truth practical to the believer’s life in Christ today. They form fascinating and instructive parallels and analogies to the believer’s life in Christ as he faces a hostile and contrary world.
(1) Egypt portrays the world with all its human ideas, idolatries, mysticism, and antagonism to the salvation, deliverance, and purposes of God for His people.
(2) Being in Egypt portrays a lost condition, a slave to Satan, the world, and the flesh.
(3) Coming out of Egypt through the Passover lamb and the Red Sea portrays deliverance by the death of Jesus Christ and the mighty power of God alone. It speaks of redemption through the saving life of Christ.
(4) A believer going down into Egypt like Abraham did in Genesis 12:10f pictures a believer turning to the world and its substitutes and solutions rather than turning to the Lord for deliverance.
(5) Israel in the Wilderness is a type or picture of the believer in carnality. He or she is redeemed and blessed with marvelous privileges yet fails to go on in his or her life with God and is living outside of the place of maximum blessing, out of the will of God and in constant defeat, wandering about because of failure to trust the Lord and the deliverance He has promised.
(6) Crossing the Jordan and moving into Canaan is a type or picture of the believer possessing his or her possessions by faith in the power and provision of God. It portrays the believer in fellowship, faced with conflict and enemies, yet able to be delivered when dependent upon the Lord and walking by faith in the principles and promises of the Word.
(7) The Canaanites in the Land portray the believer’s enemies who stand to oppose us in the Christian way of life, but who are at the same time a defeated foe though we must appropriate our God-provided victory, the saving life of Christ. Some believe Jericho may illustrate the world, Achan and Ai the flesh or the sinful nature, and the Gibeonites may illustrate the deceptions of Satan and the world system.
In preparation for this study, may I suggest the following:
- Let’s carefully note where Israel was successful and where she failed. Let’s humble our hearts and examine our own lives in the light of our findings in these passages.
- Let’s ask questions like: Am I making the same mistakes as Israel? Am I applying the same principles as Joshua? Am I listening to God’s call and challenges to my life?
- Let us rejoice in and profit by the victories of Israel for her victories can also be ours.
- Let us pray that the study of Joshua will explain some of our personal failures, encourage us in our own spiritual warfare, and challenge us to substitute the saving life of Christ for the self-life in whatever form it may exist in our lives.