Joshua was the great Israelite leader after Moses. Moses has passed this life but the task of bringing the children of Israel into the promised land is unfinished. It will fall to Joshua to bring them over the Jordan River and into the land they had heard of for 40 years. The book of Joshua records that journey and the conquest of Canaan. It is the sixth book of the Bible and the first book in the subdivision of History. Although it is a near seamless continuation of the Pentateuch and picks up where Moses left off in Deuteronomy, it is not part of the Pentateuch.
Joshua is a war-filled volume. Stories of military victories abound. But underlying the marches, battles and conquering lies a key premise.
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9)
The key premise which underlies all that Joshua does is this: Remain faithful to God and he will bless you richly. This always has been God’s desire and remains so even today. One can imagine how encouraging this promises was.
Joshua had been a witness to all that God had done for Israel. Joshua first comes to our attention as the military commander that defeated Amelek in Exodus 17:13. He is later spoken of as Moses’ assistant (Exodus 24:13). But Joshua’s trust in God is shown in Numbers 13:16 ff when he is selected as one of a dozen spies sent to reconnoiter the promised land. Joshua and Caleb alone argue that the land can be taken with God’s help but the people believe the other 10 spies. Because of their lack of faith the Israelites wander 40 years through the wilderness before coming into Canaan. Joshua and Caleb alone are the survivors of the entire journey.
Joshua and the War for Canaan
Joshua records the military conquest of the region of the world we today regard as greater Palestine. The nations of Israel and Lebanon occupy the bulk of the so-called promised land while smaller portions of Syria and Jordan are also included.
The military campaign can be said to begin in Joshua 2 when spies were sent into the promised land (c.f. Numbers 13). Why would an omnipotent God need spies? Obviously, he would not. The spies here and in Numbers were for the benefit and trying of the people. In the Mosaic account the people failed. They believed the bad report of the 10 spies while rejecting the words of Joshua and Caleb. It is an interesting irony here that Joshua is again involved with espionage against the enemy. The difference being that this time the people trusted God and moved ahead.
After crossing the Jordan River the Israelites encamped at Gilgal (Joshua 5:10). From there they staged their first march against the heavily fortified Jericho. The city was given into their hands without a battle through the design of Jehovah God (Joshua 6:20-21). A second city, Ai, was next attacked but the result was a stunning defeat. Sin in the Israelite camp was to blame (Joshua 7:10-12).
The book records further conquests in two major campaigns, one in the south and another in the north. Although victorious in battle the work of completely routing the Canaanite nations was not completed. The remaining nations would prove a thorn in the side of national Israel for many generations.
Joshua and the Land
God first promised this land to Israel through the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 12:7). Now it is time to possess the land. Joshua is tasked with dividing the land into portions assigned to each of the 12 tribes and cities which were given to the Levites(1)
When the settlements are done, 9 of the 12 tribes settle exclusively west of the Jordan. Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh settle east of Jordan and technically outside the promised land. However their inheritance was approved and blessed by Moses long before the conquest began.
The tribes will remain in their settled areas until the northern kingdom is exiled by Assyria years later.
Joshua: Authorship, Dating and Technical Details
The book of Joshua has long been attributed to Joshua the son of Nun although there is no direct claim of authorship. The author certainly has a knowledge of the inner workings of this period of Israelite history.
Joshua makes reference to the Book of Jasir (Joshua 10:13). This book is thought by scholars to have been written as early as the desert wanderings of Israel prior to the conquest. There is no reason to discard the claim of authorship by Joshua and therefore it’s dating just after the conquest of the land. While Joshua, like Moses before him, seems to record the details of his own death that is not surprising or troubling. Indeed the Holy Spirit is the author of the book and is able to provide Joshua with those details.
Joshua ends much like Deuteronomy.
“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, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers 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.”
Also like Deuteronomy we see the end of an era. Joshua dies as does High Priest Eleazar. The pages are turning to a new era for Israel. Sadly they will not be good._____
- The Levites are not one of the numbered tribes. They are especially redeemed by God to his service. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, children of tribeless Joseph, make up the difference for a total of 12 tribes plus the Levites.(↩)