Joshua the Priest

b02007a106a73b935c8de8eeb4be056cab88c37fEarlier this year, Crossway published my book The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God in their Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. In that book I show priesthood begins in the Garden of Eden, develops across the Old Testament, culminates in Jesus Christ, and proliferates in the life of the church. The church is a priesthood of believers with Christ as the great high priest.

In my book, I show many but not all of the people who should be identified as priests. As a “short study,” my book could not cover everything in the Bible, and hence there remain many glorious portraits of the priesthood throughout Scripture. And one of them (not found in my book) is Joshua son of Nun.

Joshua is a well-known figure in the Old Testament and the New, but is he a priest? In the following paragraphs, I will answer that question and show a number of reasons for understanding Joshua as priest.

Like Moses before him and Jesus after him, Joshua demonstrates his priesthood through his covenant mediation, his teaching, his intercession before God, his purification of the land, and more. Indeed, it is fair to say that all the leading figures in Israel’s history are priests, either by explicit reference or by the merit of their actions. Indeed, these priestly actions are also what reveal Christ’s priesthood in the Gospels. And thus, it is worth our time to see how Joshua’s priesthood foreshadows his greater namesake.

Joshua is a Priest

Though he is not called a priest, Joshua’s priestly role is witnessed in his actions. From the beginning of Joshua, this “servant of the Lord” is presented as a new Moses.[1] Like Moses, he performs many of the priestly actions that Moses did.[2] For example, after Achan sins (Joshua 6) and Israel breaks covenant with God (7:11), Joshua builds an altar and leads the people to renew their covenant with Yahweh (8:30–35). In this covenant renewal, Joshua reconciles Israel with Yahweh, much like Moses did in Exodus 32–34. Joshua also reads the Law to the people, a duty assigned to the Levitical priests (see Deut. 31:9–13). Later, when Joshua renews the covenant a second time with Israel (Joshua 24), he preaches a sermon and instructs the people how to follow God in the land.

Joshua also purifies the land for God and his people to dwell (see Joshua 12). Importantly, Joshua’s military campaigns do more than defeat foreign enemies. When he “devotes to destruction” the various cities in Canaan, he devotes them “to the Lord” (6:17). In other words, Joshua cleanses the land from idolatry by offering up the wicked cities to Yahweh.[3] His warfare is that of priest, not just a military general. In doing God’s will with the sword, Joshua proves his loyalty to God—much like the Levites at Sinai (Deut. 33:9) and Phinehas at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25)—and he sanctifies the place previously made unclean by sin (see Lev. 18:24–30).

Finally, when Joshua sets up the tabernacle, he divides the inheritance from Shiloh, the location of the tabernacle (Josh. 18:1–10).[4] In making legal decisions about the land and casting lots for the people’s inheritance (Josh. 18:9–10), Joshua again acts like a priest (cf. Deut. 17:8–13; 33:8).[5] Indeed, like Moses, Joshua is faithful to the Lord in his priestly actions. And better than Moses, he brings the people to find rest in the land. This rest is only temporary (Josh. 1:13, 15; 21:43–45; cf. Hebrews 3–4), but it should not be missed how rest is granted to the people through Joshua. Importantly, Joshua’s role as rest-giver will play an important part in understanding Jesus’s priesthood in Hebrews.

Going Deeper with Joshua and the Priesthood

For a fuller treatment of priesthood, see my The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of GodFor more on Joshua, you might consider this sermon series or these 120 notes on Joshua.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________

[1] Noticeably, Joshua is not recognized as the “servant of the Lord” until his death (see Josh. 24:29). Moses too was not called the “servant of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:1) or “my servant” (Josh 1: 2, 7) until his death.

[2] Evidence that Joshua is a New Moses is manifold. First, he is chosen by God to replace Moses (Deut. 31:1–8). Second, he is to obey all the Law of Moses, so that he succeeds in bringing Israel into the land—a task Moses was given, but failed to accomplish (Josh. 1:1–9). Third, the parting of the Jordan River is intended to mirror the parting of the Red Sea (Josh. 4:19–24), so that the world would know that the God of Israel is now with Joshua.

[3] Without exception, every city destroyed by Joshua was an act of judgment upon egregious sin. The shelter provided to the Gibeonites in Joshua 9–10 proves that if any city sought refuge in Joshua, they would be spared. Thus, the destruction of the cities in Canaan reveals the wickedness of these cities. They are consumed in fire, because they are burnt offerings devoted to the Lord.

[4] Remembering that Joshua would spend his days in the tent of meeting (Exod. 33:11) may also help us to see Joshua’s unique role as a priestly leader in Israel. Clearly, Joshua is not usurping the place of the Levitical priests; he is carrying out the role chosen for him by God.

[5] It is possible that Eleazar the priest used the Urim and Thummim to distribute the land (cf. Exod. 28:30; Lev. 8:8), but in Josh. 18:6, 10 the action of “casting lots” is assigned to Joshua—an action typically assigned to the priest.