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 Introduction to the Book of Joshua

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The book is named after the hero, Joshua. Jewish tradition assumes that he supplied the details of the story and that it was edited by some later scribes.

The book continues from the point Deuteronomy finished, Joshua was about to complete what Moses began. Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea, Joshua led them across the Jordan. Moses led them out of bondage in Egypt, Joshua led them into their inheritance in the Promised Land.

Joshua, the leader

Joshua was the outstanding leader of Israel. His was of the house of Joseph. His grandfather was Elishama, chief of Ephraim (1 Chr 7:26-27, Num 1:10), who led his tribe through the wilderness.

He was brought up with Egyptian civilisation and culture before the Exodus. He had close contact with Moses as his attendant and colleague for forty years, from Egypt until the plains of Moab. His faith and courage were demonstrated when he and Caleb stood against the other ten spies and urged an immediate invasion of Canaan (Num 13 & 14). His skill as a military commander had already been proved in the victory against the Amalekites (Ex 17, Deut 25).

He was also chosen by God to bring the tribes into Canaan and commissioned by the laying on of hands by Moses. He fought with God's authority and enabling of the spirit of wisdom (Deut 34:9).

Authorship of the book of Joshua

The traditional view is that Joshua himself wrote the book. Joshua himself certainly wrote down his last message in the book of the law of God (24:26). There are some "we" passages, which do not appear in English Bibles except the KJV. "The lord dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we passed over ..." (5:1), and, "... that he would give us a land that flowed with milk and honey" (5:6)

The book of Joshua uses very old names for Canaanite cities, showing the antiquity of the material, eg. Kiriath-arba for Hebron (15:13), Baalah for Kiriath-Jearim (15:9). The reference to Sidonians (13:4-6, 19:28) indicates a date before 12th cent BC, when Tyre became more prominent.

Contemporary accounts by Joshua were certainly edited later, perhaps during the time of the judges. The expression "to this day" occurs frequently. In the description of Joshua's death, it says, "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived him" (24:31), probably quite a few years after Joshua died. Other supplementary material was added by Eleazar and his son Phineas. Eleazar probably added the account of Joshua's death, and Phineas the account of Phineas' death.

Theology of Joshua - What does the book of Joshua tell us about God?

God's faithfulness

God first promised to give his people the land of Canaan when he spoke to Abraham around 2000 BC (Gen 12:7), now 500-700 years later they enter and possess the land. The book of Joshua tells the story of the conquest of Canaan and of the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham.

God's holiness

God's holiness is shown both by the judgement on the inhabitants of the land, and in his insistence that Israel as his instrument of judgement must be holy.

God's salvation

Joshua's name means "Yahweh is salvation", the Hebrew form of Jesus. He led the people of God over the Jordan river into the blessings of their inheritance in the promised land. In Heb 3 & 4, Jesus, called the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10) is greater than Joshua. Jesus carries us through the Jordan into the final rest of God.

Extermination of the Canaanites

Why did God command the Israelites to utterly destroy the Canaanites? This is a frequently asked question, often with the motive of questioning the justice of God, normally claiming that the Canaanites were innocent.

Abraham was promised the land for his descendants after four generations of slavery in Egypt (Gen 15:12-21). The reason given was that the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete. God's plan was to provide a place of inheritance for the Israelites and at the same time use this as an act of judgement on the current perverted residents. Once the iniquity and guilt of the Amorites had reached a predetermined level, God would remove them from the land and give the land to his people Israel. Israel was used as God's instrument of judgement and wrath. God had to remove the corrupt and corrupting influence of the degenerate idolatry and moral depravity before Israel could settle in the land.

If the Canaanites were allowed to survive, they would be a threat to the moral and spiritual purity of Israel, who God had called to be a holy people (Deut 7:1-6). God did not give the Israelites the land because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of the Canaanite nations (Deut 9:4-5). Israel was told not to defile themselves by practising the ways of the nations: immorality, incest, homosexuality, child sacrifice. The land vomited out its inhabitants (Lev 18:21-25). They were told not to imitate the abhorrent practices of the nations in the land... (Deut 18:9-14), and were warned that if they join and intermarry the survivors in the land, then they shall be a snare and a trap, a scourge on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land (Josh 23:12-23).

The rest of the history of Israel recounts the consequences of their failure to carry out God's command to destroy the inhabitants. It led to the downfall of the twelve tribes during the period of the Judges (Judges 2:1-3, 10-15, 19-23). Not until the reign of King David did Israel finally succeed in completing the conquest of the land. At this time, there was a resurgence of religious and spiritual life in the nation emphasising purity and holiness. However, this was short lived, and during the period of the divided monarchy, the people returned to the same idolatry.

To see the depraved nature of the religious and moral behaviour of the Canaanites, please see the article on Canaanite Religion on the OT Background page.

Rahab - the great exception

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho, a Gentile, who was spared because she had faith (Heb 11:31), and sheltered the two Hebrew spies. She was justified by her works, and given as a great example of faith (James 2:25). Joshua noted that her family has lived in Israel ever since (6:25). She eventually became an ancestor of Jesus, as part of the Messianic line (Mt 1:5), by marrying Salmon, father of Boaz (Ruth 4:21). It is possible that he was he one of the two spies.


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