Read the Passage: Joshua 1
Authorship and Date – The book of Joshua is one of 12 historical books in the Old Testament. Joshua means “the Lord is salvation” and corresponds to the Greek name “Jesus.” Indeed, in this narrative Joshua serves as a type of Christ, as many of his actions mirror portions of Jesus’ ministry. This book is technically anonymous, however, Joshua is the most likely candidate for authorship, since he is the common eyewitness to events recorded in this book. Of course, Joshua could not have recorded his own death in the text (cf. Josh. 24:29–33), so this portion of the book of Joshua must have been written by someone else—perhaps by the high priest Eleazar or by his son Phineas. Assuming that Joshua is the author of this book, this text was likely written between 1405–1385 BC. Joshua, along with the rest of Israel, was a former Egyptian slave who experienced the exodus event and was trained under the hand of Moses for 40 years. Joshua was also one of the two faithful spies that Moses had sent into the Promised Land as is recorded in Num. 13–14. Joshua was appointed leader by Moses, before his death (cf. Deut. 34:9), being around 90 years of age at the time of his appointment. Note that Joshua led Israel for 20 years, as he died at age 110 (cf. Josh. 24:29).
Purpose and Theme – The book of Joshua records Israel’s entrance into and possession of the Promised Land, which was achieved largely by conquest. These events were a fulfillment of God’s centuries-old promise to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1–3), as well as God’s promised judgment upon the Canaanites (cf. Gen. 15:16) for their idolatry and on account of their many other sins. Major theological themes in this book include God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises, God’s power to accomplish His plans, the peoples’ faithlessness in failing to conquer the entire land, and God’s justice and judgment of sin. This book also contains a number of miracles (e.g., the fall of Jericho’s walls, Joshua’s so-called long day, etc.). This book falls into one of the four periods of time in which miracles were common, which include: during the exodus, during the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, during Jesus’ ministry, and within the early church. Further, note that the entire exodus event, including the events recorded in the book of Joshua, is an object lesson that depicts salvation (cf. Heb. 4:8–10). Thus the gospel story is behind many of the historical events in this historical volume.
Structure and Outline: The book of Joshua covers twenty years of history, albeit in an uneven, sporadic fashion. This book can be thematically outlined as follows:
- Entering the Land (1:1–5:15)
- Conquering the Land (6:1–12:24)
- Dividing the Land (13:1–22:34)
- Retaining the Land (23:1–24:33)
Commission of Joshua (1:1–7)
The first verses of this book record God’s commissioning of Joshua after the death of Moses. Moses’ death had been recorded in Deut. 34:1–12. Joshua was a logical successor to Moses, for he had been Moses’ understudy for forty years, Moses had anointed him as leader just prior to his death (cf. Num. 27:18; Deut. 31:14; 34:9), and Joshua was one of only two Israelites then alive who had been in the land of Canaan—the other being Caleb. In this commissioning God declared that He would give Joshua success if he followed the revealed Word of God (cf. Josh. 1:6–7). In this passage we see God calling for Joshua to display strength and courage, an exhortation that would be repeated several times in this book (see Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18; 10:25). Note that the wide dimensions of the Promised Land are specified by God in this passage: the north would be Lebanon, the south would be the Nile River, the east would be the Euphrates River, and the west would be the Mediterranean Sea.
Primacy of Scripture (1:8–9)
In Josh. 1:8–9 the Lord disclosed the secret to success in the Christian life—that is, faithfulness to the Word of God. In this passage God told Joshua to speak the Word (cf. Josh 1:8a), to meditate upon the Word (cf. Josh. 1:8b), and to observe and to keep the Word (cf. Josh. 1:8c). In this passage the promised result of such saturation in Scripture is prosperity and success. Note that the portion of Scripture that Joshua had was the Pentateuch—that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy—but the principle applies to all of the Bible, for faith comes from God to man via the conduit of his Word (cf. Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21). Scripture has always served as the spiritual food for God’s leaders, including Job (cf. Job 23:12), the psalmists (cf. Ps. 1; 119), Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 15:16), and Jesus (cf. John 4:34). The prosperity and success that God promises Joshua is not necessarily prosperity and success as is defined by mankind. Rather, it is peace, joy, and kingdom progress that accompanies faithfulness to God and His calling upon one’s life.
Preparation for Conquest (1:10–18)
Joshua 1:10–18 sets the stage for the events that will transpire in Josh 1–12. While it is unclear if all the events in Josh. 1–3 are strictly chronological, it is clear that the people had three days to prepare to enter the Promised Land (cf. Josh. 3:2). This call to prepare to enter the Promised Land was not a call to craft weapons of war or necessarily pack one’s belongings. Rather, Joshua’s call was spiritual in nature, as the people were to prepare their hearts to serve the Lord, be in God’s presence, and experience the fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs. Note that in this passage Joshua specifically addressed the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, as they had already received their material inheritance on the Western side of the Jordan River. In Num. 32:20–27 these tribes had promised to aid the rest of Israel in the conquering of the Promised Land. As this narrative unfolds, we’ll see that these three tribes were faithful to keep their promise.
- What do you know about the book of Joshua? What in this book has been particularly helpful to you in times past?
- What qualified Joshua to be Moses’ successor? In what ways—both practical and spiritual—had Moses prepared Joshua to be his successor?
- What makes a good leader? Is leadership a skill that can be learned, knowledge that can be attained, or a gift that must be developed?
- How ought we to view the prosperity and success God promised to Joshua? Does Joshua experience this prosperity in his life?
- What types of things would the people of Israel need to do in order to prepare to enter the land? How can we prepare to serve God?