Date: 1400-1375 BC
Theme: Possession of the inheritance
Key Words: Obedience, covenant, valor
The Book of Joshua is named after the book's focal character, who as Moses' successor led Israel into the promised land. The English title is derived from the Breek and Latin translations. The Hebrew name Joshua (Yehosua) means The LORD is salvation. The shortened form of Joshua (Hebrew Yesua) is Jesus in Greek. (HBH)
The authorship and date are disputed since the book is anonymous. Some interpreters believe the book was completed in the seventh or sixth centuries BC after a long process of compilation by unnamed editors as part of a large history influenced by the themes of Deuteronomy. Other scholars argue for a view closer to the traditional opinion, dating the book within one generation of the events recorded (fourteenth century BC).
The book includes sources that are contemporary with Joshua (for example, 5:1,6; 6:25; 8:32; 18:9; 24:26) and also sources from a later time (for example, "to this day", 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 10:27; 13:13). The book probably was based on an early core of testimony that was supplemented by an author no later than the tenth century BC. There are hints that the book came from the early monarchy. (Compare, for example, the "book of Jashar" quoted in 10:13 and II Sam. 1:18.) The Book of Joshua addresses many of the same problems faced by Israel's kings. Leadership, land dispute, the location and role of the tabernacle, and how to deal with Canaanite populations were problems shared by Saul and David.
Although the book is constituted of different sources, this does not mean that they are inconsistent or contradictory. They have been written and gathered under the supervision of GOD's Spirit to present a unified message to GOD's people. (HBH)
The date for Joshua's death that is commonly accepted is 1375 BC. Thus the book embraces the period of Israelite history between 1400 and 1375 BC; it appears that the stories contained in Joshua were compiled some time later.
Background: The book begins in the period leading up to Israel's entrance into Canaan, a territory that was divided into many city-states, each one of them with its own autocratic government and fighting with the others. From a moral viewpoint, a great corruption existed; illegalities and brutality were common. The Canaanite religion emphasized fertility and the symbols associated with it, snake worship and child sacrifice. The stage was prepared and the land was ready to be conquered.
In contrast, the people of Israel had wandered without a territory in which to establish themselves for 400 years (Gen. 15:13). They had lived in submission to the Egyptian pharaohs, and later had to wander aimlessly through the desert for 40 years. But they still remained faithful, although not totally, to the only true GOD, and held to the promise that Jehovah had made to their ancestor, Abraham. Centuries before, GOD had promised to make Abraham and his descendants a great nation, and to give them Canaan as a home, with the condition that they would always be faithful and obedient (Gen. 17). Now they were about to see the fulfillment of that promise.
Historical Setting of Joshua's Conquest: Opinions differ on the date of the conquest. The traditional view has set the conquest in the fifteenth century (1406 BC), based on the date of the building of the temple in 966 BC. This view is derived from the literal conputation of I Kings 6:1, which places the exodus 480 years before Solomon's fourth year of reign. Other scholars have dated the conquest in the thirteenth century (about 1250 BC) because of archaeological evidence from Egypt and Palestine. In the latter view the 480 years of I Kings 6:1 is explained as a symbolic number for twelve generations between Solomon and the exodus.
The dispute cannot be easily resolved since the archaeological record is inconsistent and difficult to interpret. It cannot be decisive by itself, and therefore the question will eventually be decided on the balance of all the evidence.
More important is that varying views exist concerning the nature of the conquest. One school of thought rejects the tradition of a military invasion by Israel. It holds that the "conquest" was a slow infiltration of seminomadic tribes who migrated into Canaan from the desert over hundreds of years. These diverse tribes brought various traditions which together were shaped into a religious heritage adopted as Israel's history. This unsatisfactory opinion does not adequately account for the Bible's testimony of a rapid occupation by Joshua. Also it fails to explain why and how over such a long period of time these diverse tribes became unified.
A second view is that Israel emerged as a result of a social revolution inside Canaan. The people of Canaan rebelled against their kings, rejected Baalism, and adopted the new religion of Yahweh. This view is insufficient by itself since the biblical account does not explain the conquest as a political revolution with religious overtones. Also this interpretation imposes on the biblical traditions a contemporary model of social revolution.
Third, the traditional interpretation of a military invasion has the advantage of the biblical testimony. However, with this invasion the Joshua account also shows that there was some internal conversion to the religion of Yahwism brought by these newcomers. Rahab is an example. Also the four cities of the Hivites (9:17) entered into league with Israel. These examples may reflect a much wider movement within Canaan. Conversion of Canaanite peoples may explain the need for the covenant renewal ceremony in Joshua 24. (HBH)
Content: The book of Joshua is the sixth of the Old Testament and the first of a group of books called the "Former Prophets". Collectively, these books describe the advances of the kingdom of GOD in the Promised Land until the Babylonian captivity, a period of some 900 years. Joshua relates Israel's entrance into Canaan by means of conquest, the division and settlement of the Promised Land.
Structure: The Book of Joshua has a natural, flowing structure that makes it a joy to read and study. In a brief prologue, the warrior Joshua is introduced as the capable leader selected by GOD to lead the people. Then the book launches immediately into narratives about the military victories of the Hebrews as they drove the Canaanites out of the land. Joshua's strategy was to divide and conquer. He struck first in central Canaan by taking the city of Jericho and surrounding territory. Then he launched rapid attacks to the south and north. This strategy quickly gave the Covenant People a foothold in the land. After weakening the enemy's position with this strategy, Joshua led numerous minor attacks against them during the next several years.
These accounts of Joshua's military campaigns are followed by a long description of the division of the land among the 12 tribes of Israel. Finally, the book ends with the death of Joshua after he leads the people to renew the covenant and charges them to remain faithful to GOD. (IBD)
Theological Contribution:One important message of the Book of Joshua is that true and false religions do not mix. Joshua's orders were to destroy the Canaanites because of their pagan and immoral worship practices. But these people never were totally subdued or destroyed. Traces of their false religion remained to tempt the Israelites. Again and again throughout their history, the Hebrew people departed from worship of the one true GOD. This tendency toward false worship was the main reason for Joshua's moving farewell speech. He warned the people against worshiping these false gods and challenged them to remain faithful to their great deliverer Jehovah. The point of Joshua's message was, You cannot worship these false gods and remain faithful to the LORD: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (24:15). (IBD)
Special Considerations: Some people have difficulty with GOD commanding Joshua to destroy the Canaanites. But behind this command lay GOD's concern for his Covenant People. He wanted to remove the Canaanites' idolatrous worship practes so they would not be a temptation to the Israelites. This command to Joshua also represented GOD's judgment against sin and immorality. GOD used Israel as an instrument of His judgement against a pagan nation. (IBD)
Personal Application:The book of Joshua teaches that the fulfillment of the promises that GOD had made to Israel depended on the attitude of the people. The promises of victory, delivery of the inheritance, abundant provision, peace and rest, would come if the people remained obedient to GOD. Constant meditation on his Word and faithfulness to his commandments are the key to being blessed and reaching prosperity (1:8). Near the end of his book, Joshua called the people to a life of obedience and faith (22:5).
Nowadays, this certainty offers a solid foundation for our growth and blessing. As blessing follows obedience, thus punishment follows disobedience. Achan's sin reveals that no one lives his own life exclusively (ch. 7), because the sin of one affects the lives of many.
GOD hates sin and punishes it with as much firmness as he blesses those who persevere. The principles that govern the blessing and curse give us useful lessons in our journey toward spiritual maturity. Joshua's life and leadership show that spiritual maturity aren't achieved apart from GOD, but thanks to a close and responsible dependent relationship with Him. To achieve victory we must give ourselves to GOD; to lead others, we must follow Him.
The book of Joshua offers us other valuable lessons; attitudes that are essential to receiving the victory from GOD; principles of leadership; the fatal consequences of pride; the relevance of petitions made to the LORD; GOD's faithfulness to his Word; and examples of the LORD's miraculous power.
In 5:13-15, the triune GOD appeared to Joshua as "the Prince of the army of Jehovah". This appearance made Joshua understand that GOD commanded that enterprise. Joshua's task was like ours; not so much furthering the Commander's plans, as knowing the Commander. It requires that we be on His side, not that He be on ours.
A symbol is an objective lesson that can be extracted from an individual, a religious rite and an historical event. Joshua himself was a representation of Christ. His name, which means "Jehovah-Savior", is the equivalent of the Greek "Jesus". Joshua led the Israelites to the possession of their inheritance in the Promised Land, just as Jesus will guide us into the possession of eternal life.
The scarlet string in Rahab's window (2:18,21) illustrates the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. This signal saved Rahab and her family from death. Thus also, Christ shed his blood hanging on the cross to rescue us from death.
Another aspect of Christ's nature revealed in the book of Joshua is that in Him the promise was fulfilled. At the end of his life, Joshua testified, "Not one word has failed of all the good words that Jehovah your GOD has said to you" (23:14). GOD had faithfully sustained and preserved his people, bringing them out of the desert and guiding them into the Promised Land. He will do the same for us through Christ, who is the Promise.
The Holy Spirit in Action: The work of the Holy Spirit flows through the entire book of Joshua. His presence is initially manifested in 1:5, where GOD, knowing the immensity of the job of guiding the people of Israel, promises Joshua that his Spirit will always accompany him.
The work of the Holy Spirit was the same then as it is now: He guides people to a saving relationship with GOD and realizes the purposes of the Father. His purpose in Joshua, as in all the rest of the Old Testament, was the salvation of Israel; because it was through this people that GOD decided to save the world (Is. 63:7-9).
Several characteristics of the action of the Holy Spirit can be observed in Joshua. The work of the Holy Spirit is continuous. "I will not leave you, nor abandon you" (1:5). The Spirit promises to finish his work, no matter how much time it takes. His continuous presence is necessary for GOD's plan to be fulfilled in the lives of human beings. The work of the Holy Spirit is reciprocal. "Only be strong and courageous, to keep and conform to all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; don't turn from it to the right or left, that you may prosper in all the things that you undertake" (1:7). It has been well said that "without Him we couldn't, without us He wouldn't". Cooperating with the Holy Spirit is essential to obtain the victory. He gives us power to follow our calling and complete the task we have in front of us. The work of the Holy Spirit is supernatural. The fall of Jericho was made possible by the miraculous destruction of its walls (6:20). The victory was achieved in Gibeon when the Spirit held back the sun (10:12,13). No true work of GOD, whether delivering from bondage or giving a blessing, can be brought to pass without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Purpose and Theology:
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