By Joseph Coleson
Many Christians first learned of Joshua when they were Sunday school children. They heard the exciting story of Jericho’s falling walls and Rahab’s faith. Perhaps later they learned that “Joshua” and “Jesus” are two forms of the same name in Hebrew (yehoshua‘ / yeshua‘ [TH3091/3442, ZH3397/3800]; cf. Neh 8:17), and were taught that Joshua’s bringing Israel into Canaan was an Old Testament precursor of Jesus’ bringing us out of our bondage to sin and into fellowship with God in the “new land” of freedom in Christ. While these things are important and true, the book of Joshua merits deeper reading on its own account.
Israel’s preparations east of the Jordan, the crossing of the Jordan, and the taking of Jericho occupy fully one quarter of the book’s chapters (Joshua 1). It then records Joshua’s leadership in two major military campaigns, one southern and one northern, bringing Israel into position to begin settling the previously sparsely occupied Canaanite hill country west of the Jordan (Joshua 7). Some of the theological issues raised by a hurried reading of these accounts turn out to have profound significance upon closer reading. Allocation of the land, with some descriptions of boundaries and lists of towns, is the subject of most of the second half of Joshua (Joshua 13). Joshua’s farewells, his death, and the burials of three leaders bring the book to its touching conclusion (Joshua 22).
Joshua 1–12 is a consciously crafted unity reporting Israel’s penetration into Canaan, just as 13–24 is a consciously crafted unity reporting the beginnings of Israel’s settlement in the land. Among many evidences of this crafting is the “bridge” between chapters 1–6 and 7–12, comprising chapters 6–9:
- Joshua 6—Jericho: victory following obedience to God’s instructions for war
- Joshua 7—Ai: defeat following disobedience to God’s instructions for war
(Joshua 8—Ai: victory following repentance and judgment)
- Joshua 9—Gibeon: troublesome treaty following neglect of God’s instructions
(specifically, instruction to make oracular inquiry for war)
The book of Joshua has much to teach us and much with which to inspire the church today as we, too, follow where God would have us go. Joshua’s ringing farewell affirmation, “But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15), is reason enough to study this important and stirring book, to discover how Joshua became a faithful follower of God.