This Sunday our church begins a new series on the book of Joshua. Already I’ve shared an outline of the book. Tomorrow, I’ll share how the name of Jesus is important understanding the book. In preparation for the sermon series, here are 10 more things about Joshua 1.
1. Joshua is all about . . . Joshua.
The focus on Joshua can be seen in multiple ways in the book. As the title rightly captures, the whole book focuses on this one man. In Joshua 1:1–9, God speaks to Joshua directly, stressing the important role he will play in Israel’s possession of the land. Likewise, Joshua 24 concludes with Joshua leading Israel to make a covenant with God.
In between, Joshua is the political, military, and spiritual leader of Israel. In Joshua 1, he is compared to Moses and presented as the one who will take Moses’s place. In Joshua 1:1 Moses is called “the servant of the Lord,” while Joshua is called Moses’s “assistant.” Yet, by the end of the book Joshua also receives the title “Servant of the Lord” (24:39). Thus, the promises God makes to Joshua in the first chapter are realized as Moses’s assistant completes what Moses did not—namely, bringing Israel into the land.
This results in a book that makes Joshua greater than Moses. While many in Judaism have undervalued the place of Joshua, relative to Moses, the book of Joshua presents this later servant of God as greater than Moses (see ch. 12, especially). Hence, as the whole book centers on Joshua, we see how the law-fulfiller is greater than the law-giver and how this man will bring God’s people into the land.
2. Joshua is not about you or I.
If the book of Joshua is about Joshua, it cannot be about us—first and foremost. By the end, we will see how this book applies to us in Christ, but first we need to see that the words of God in Joshua 1 are given to Joshua as an individual. In other words, the words “be strong and courageous,” repeated three times in verses 6, 7, 9 are words not spoken to us. Rather, in addressing these courage-giving words to Israel’s leader, Yahweh is bolstering Joshua for the labors he is going to face.
While it is easy to read these words (“be strong and courageous”) as directions to us, we need to see the uniqueness of Joshua before applying this encouragement to ourselves. The “you” in view is the man called by God to lead Israel into the promised land. In fact, it may reframe the way we read Joshua 1 when we see Joshua “shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (v. 6).
This is not a general instruction for all God’s people; it is a unique command given to Joshua. God is uniquely promising him strength to lead Israel. There is a way, mediated through Christ, that these words may apply to us. But we cannot make that jump without first appreciating how these words are person-specific—to Joshua and not to us!
3. Joshua was already introduced in the books of Moses.
While this book focuses on Joshua, it does not introduce him. From Israel’s exodus, he was already well known to the people of Israel. Going back to Exodus 17, we find Joshua assisting Moses. And knowing something of his backstory helps us understand his role.
- In Exodus 17 Joshua led the army of Israel to defeat the Amalekites, as Moses lifted his hands in prayer.
- In Exodus 24:13 Joshua joined Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders on the mountain of God. He saw God, worshiped God, and ate the meal prepared by God.
- In Exodus 32:17 Joshua is on the mountain with Moses as he hears the people worshiping the golden calf.
- In Exodus 33:11 we learn that Joshua, Moses’s assistant, spent a great amount of time in the tent of meeting.
- In Numbers 11:28 Joshua expresses concern for the elders prophesying in the camp.
- In Numbers 13 Joshua is listed as one of the twelve spies sent into the land. He and Caleb were the lone voices urging Israel to go into the land (14:6, 30, 38; 26:6; 32:12; 34:16). As a result, they alone went into the promised land, while everyone else in his generation died.
- Also in Numbers 13:16 Moses names Hoshea “Joshua.” It is critical for our understanding of Joshua’s role as a type of Christ that this title was given by Moses.
- In Numbers 27:18, after God told Moses he would not enter the land, Yahweh told Moses to set Joshua apart, for his Spirit was in him, and he would lead Israel into the land. Verses 22–23 show Moses and the priests laying hands on Joshua.
- In Deuteronomy (1:38; 3:21; 3:28; 31:1–8) Moses speaks often about Joshua taking his place as Israel’s leader. He even tells him three times to “be strong and courageous”(vv. 6, 7, 23). These words will repeat three times again in Joshua 1.
From these episodes, we learn that Joshua was both a spiritual leader, a military leader, and one equipped to lead Israel in Moses’s absence. Yet, in receiving the name Joshua from Moses, he also is presented as Israel’s savior. Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation.”
Understanding the name of Joshua helps us understand Joshua’s role in history and in the Bible. As Jesus himself said, Moses spoke of him (John 5:46). Could it also be that Moses saw something of Christ in Joshua? Or something of Joshua in Christ? To say it differently, when Moses named Hoshea “Joshua” (Num. 13:16), he gave the son of Nun a name that both anticipated Joshua’s role in history (bringing Israel into the land) and prefigured Jesus Christ, the greater Joshua would bring his people into his Father’s presence. In this way, Joshua is clearly a type of Christ.
4. Joshua is a type of Jesus.
While not as commonly recognized today, as it was in the early church, Joshua is clearly portrayed as a type of Christ. A type is someone or something in history that foreshadows the later, greater work of Jesus Christ. In the case of Joshua, his name anticipates the saving work of Christ, but so do his actions.
In the book of Joshua, we see that the son of Nun is promised the presence of God (1:5, 9) and called to meditate on God’s Word (1:6–9), lead God’s people through the Jordan River (ch. 2–3), save Gentiles who trust in promises of God (ch. 2, 6), and destroy enemies who stand against God. He also fulfills all that Moses said in the Law and leads the nation to renew a covenant with God.
In all of these ways, we are given types and shadows of Jesus Christ, who will also be God with us, meditate on God’s Word, lead his people through the Jordan River, save Gentiles from sin, and defeat enemies who stand against God. Indeed, given the name of his Savior, whom he even meets in Joshua 5, Joshua son of Nun functions as a type of Christ.
This is another reason why it is vital to read Joshua on its own terms and not make direct application to ourselves today. The book is given to recount God’s faithfulness in Israel’s history and it is given to lead us to Christ. Only as we come to see Jesus through Joshua are we equipped to see how this book applies to us, as we are found in Christ. Indeed, this is the way Hebrews 13:5 applies Joshua 1:6 to the church today.
5. Joshua should be read in connection with Deuteronomy.
Already we have seen that knowing Joshua requires an awareness of his history in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In particular, Joshua depends on Deuteronomy. In Joshua 1 this is seen in multiple ways. First, Joshua begins where Deuteronomy ends—with the death of Moses. God’s promise to be with Joshua like he was with Moses stands on the fact that Moses is dead to begin with (vv. 1–9).
Second, Joshua 1 speaks repeatedly about the Law. For instance, Joshua 1:8 reads, “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.” Most likely, the Book of the Law refers to Deuteronomy and it will be brought up multiple times throughout Joshua (8:31, 34; 23:6; 24:26).
Third, Joshua is also told that God will give to Joshua and to Israel, through Joshua, all that God promised Moses (1:3). This word of promise to Moses reminds us the Law of Moses was not restricted to commands; it also contained gracious promises. Many of these promises centered around the land, and in this case, Joshua became the recipient of God’s promises to Moses.
To say it differently, Moses received the Law from God; Joshua fulfilled the Law. This is vitally important for understanding the relationship between Moses and Joshua, as well as the superior ministry of Joshua to that of Moses.
6. Joshua is organized as covenant document.
If Joshua (the book) stands in connection with Deuteronomy and Joshua (the man) stands as a continuation of Mose’s ministry, then it is not surprising that the book of Joshua, like the book of Deuteronomy is organized as a covenant document. Twice Joshua leads the nation to renew the covenant with God (see Joshua 8:30–35 and Joshua 24), but also, the book itself is organized as royal grant treaty.
Like Deuteronomy, Joshua also has a unique covenant shape. As Kenneth Mathews outlines the book,
The format of [Joshua] corresponds generally to a royal land grant from the early second millennium. . . . The land grant and the structure of on Joshua share in these major features: (1) a narrative explanation for the land grant (chaps. 1-12); (2) description of the allotment (chaps. 13-21); (3) an oath of loyalty by the vassal (chaps. 22-23); and (4) witnesses to the completion of the transaction (chap. 24). The correlation in Joshua shows that the Lord is the great King who bestows Canaan on his vassals, the Israelites, conditioned on their exclusive and continued loyalty to God. (Joshua, 13).
This covenantal shape is another evidence of the book’s historical context, even as it shows how God is fulfilling his covenant promises in Joshua.
7. Joshua 1:2–5 outlines the book of Joshua.
If Joshua takes the shape of an ancient Near Eastern covenant document, its outline is also found in the contents of its opening verses. Joshua 1:2–5 record Yahweh’s words to Joshua,
2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites 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. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
In these opening words, we find the main actions that will unfold in the rest of the book. For instance, chapters 2–5 will see Joshua and Israel “go over this Jordan” and enter the land. Chapters 6–12 will demonstrate Israel’s defeat of all the city-states in Israel. Chapter 12 lists them all, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Joshua that “no man shall be able to stand before you all the days your life.”
Intentionally, this mention of Joshua’s life will also organize the book. In chapters 1–12 we see the strength of God in the vigor of Joshua’s leadership. Chapter 13, however, begins by noting his old age (v. 1; cf. 14:10; 23:1). Finally, the book ends with Joshua giving his final words (like Moses) before he dies. In this way, we see how Joshua begins with the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, and ends with the death of Joshua, who also receives that honorific appellation (24:39).
Finally, the opening words describe the land that God is giving to Israel. Chapters 13–21 will apportion this land to the tribes of Israel, just as verse 3 indicates: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” Indeed, Joshua will stress often the way that the land given to Israel is in fulfillment to God’s word. In fact, Joshua 21:43–45 will even say that not one word of God has failed. God has given Israel the land and provided rest in that land.
8. “Rest” is a key theme in Joshua (and the Bible).
For Israel, rest is a theme that goes back to creation. “Rest” is what God shared with mankind when he made all things “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Since the seventh day of creation, when God rested (2:1–3), the blessedness of the Sabbath has been in question. Sin fractured that shalom and stole rest from mankind. Lamech named his son “Noah,” in hopes of the rest God promised.And throughout God’s covenantal promises of blessing to Abraham and his offspring, peace and rest in the land were always the “eschatological” aims.
In all of this, rest was elusive for God’s people. Now, however, with Israel entering the land, God was giving his people rest through this man named “Yahweh is salvation.” In Joshua 1, for instance, we find Joshua saying in verse 13, “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.”
In this verse, we see the clear connection between rest and place (i.e., the land). In Joshua 21:43–44, the circle is completed, when the passage reads, “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers.” In between, rest continues to be a major point of the book. (cf. Richard Hess, Joshua, 85).
To be certain, Hebrews 3–4 recognizes that Joshua does not bring the ultimate rest. But in the book of Joshua itself, we find Joshua bringing rest and peace to Israel, so long as he is alive. The trouble is that Joshua will die andtest based on covenant righteousness will be lost. In this, the story of the Bible moves forward, teaching us how we need a greater Joshua.
9. Joshua unites all the tribes of Israel.
In Joshua 1 we find four speeches—one from Yahweh to Joshua (vv. 2–9) and two from Joshua to the officers and to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 10–11, 12–15), respectively. The chapter concludes with one word of response from those two and a half tribes to Joshua (vv. 16–18). In each of the three speeches from Joshua and the Israelites, we find another key feature of the book—namely, the unity of the whole nation.
First, in Joshua’s words to the officers, he tells them to prepare the people for crossing the Jordan and entering the land. Next, Joshua selects the two-and-a-half tribes who will live East of the Jordan. Fearing that these tribes might not keep their word and fight for their brothers, Joshua reminds them of their duty to help their fellow Israelites. While their wives and children may settle in the land East of Jordan, the men are to go to war, so that all Israel may enter the land together.
Thankfully, these two-and-a-half tribes respond with absolute commitment. In fact, their words indicate the kind of unity that will mark the nation during the days of Joshua. As verses 16–18 state,
All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.
Incredibly, these words encourage the ministry and leadership of Joshua and threaten anyone who will stand against him. Again “be strong and courageous” are words offered by the people to Joshua, stressing the uniqueness of his vocation.
Today, we might make applications about the importance of Christians encouraging their leaders, yet such an application requires a tremendous dose of discontinuity. No leader today can demand the type of obedience described here. In Joshua’s case, if Israel disobeyed him, death was the righteous result. Obviously, this is not the way of the New Testament church.
Still, the uniqueness of Joshua’s role in redemptive history does not mean this book has no application today. Rather, the primary point of application is found in Christ. Jesus, as the true and greater Joshua, is the one who will bring God’s people into his rest. Hebrews 3–4 makes it plain this is what Jesus does. Because of that, his words both judge the thoughts and intentions of heart (Heb. 4:12–13) and deserve to be obeyed entirely. In this way, Joshua 1 does apply today, as we are called to be unified in our obedience to Christ.
10. Be strong and courageous applies to us only as we are in Christ, a greater Joshua.
At the same time, through our union with Christ we are given all the promises that Christ himself received. The New Testament says all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” in Christ Jesus. Indeed, because Joshua finds his role in the Old Testament as one defined and determined by the later, greater Joshua, even the promise of God’s strength to Joshua son of Nun is carried forward to Christ.
Indeed, in Christ the promises that came and went in the Old Testament have been fulfilled. Jesus, like Joshua, has fulfilled the Law of Moses. But greater than Joshua, who was promised that God would be with him, Jesus is “God with us,” the Immanuel. In this way, Jesus has received the promises made to Joshua and now in him, we receive by faith in Christ all that God has given Christ (Eph. 1:3).
In fact, confirming this point, Hebrews 13:5 cites Joshua 1:5 and applies it to the church: Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. In Joshua, this promise applied in the life of God’s servant. However, in his death the presence of God mediated through Joshua was lost.
In Christ, who has been raised from the dead, there is no threat of losing God’s presence. While he was abandoned on the cross, he lost God’s presence. But now in this exaltation, he has promised to give us God’s presence both now and forever. In this way, Joshua 1 does apply to us, but only as we have trusted in Christ.
Just as Joshua was the mediating figure that brought Israel into the land of blessing, so our blessed hope depends on Jesus, the greater Joshua. From that position, we can and must meditate on the Word of God and go into the land with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word, so that the nations would bow before Christ.
In type and shadow we see the person and work of Christ in Joshua, son of Nun. Therefore, this book has great application for us today, but only as it is applied to us in Christ and through Christ to the Church.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds