Today in our 66-week overview of the Bible we move to a new section of the Scriptures, in terms of how the Scriptures were traditionally defined. The first 5 books of the Bible are traditionally known as the Torah (Law) or Pentateuch (five books). Traditionally, the Old Testament is divided into three parts: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). With the book of Joshua, we are beginning to explore the Nevi’im (prophets). Traditionally, the Hebrew Bible is called by Jews the TaNaKh, which is an abbreviation of the words Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.
Traditionally, Joshua, Moses’ successor, was considered to be not only the main character of this book but also the author. The earliest Jewish traditions contained in the Talmud claim that Joshua wrote this book except for the final section about his funeral, which was attributed to Eleazar, son of Aaron.
However, there are at least twelve places in the book of Joshua where the phrase “to this day” are used by the author or editor (4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 23:9). This suggests that the book of Joshua was in fact compiled at a time long after Joshua’s lifetime.
Most modern scholars now consider Joshua to be part of a seven-book work that tells the history of Israel from Moses to the exile in Babylon. The seven books in this collection are Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings). Richard Elliott Friedman writes…
This work is called the Deuteronomistic history because it constructs the fate of Israel in each period by the standards of Deuteronomy: did the people and their kings follow the commandments in Deuteronomy or not. The story that begins with Moses culminates in King Josiah in a number of ways.
The traditional dating for the book of Joshua goes along with the idea of Joshua as author. Thus, the traditional date puts the writing of Joshua sometime between 1406 and 1250 BC, at the time of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.
According to modern scholars, the book of Joshua, like Deuteronomy and the five other books in the Deuteronomistic history, was probably written in the time of King Josiah of Judah, circa 622 BC. The book may have been revised and edited later, during the Babylonian exile, thus after 587 BC.
Once again, I highly recommend reading Who Wrote the Bible by my former professor, Richard Elliott Friedman as well as his book entitled The Bible with Sources Revealed if you are interested in exploring further the insight regarding authorship by one of the foremost scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures today.
The name Joshua means Yahweh is victorious or Yahweh saves. Joshua is the Hebrew form of the name Jesus. The book shows how the Lord gave the Israelites victory when he brought them into the Promised Land.
Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, are sometimes called “The Former Prophets. These books show God’s covenant ways with Israel in history, how God fulfills and remains true to his promises, especially through his servants Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, and David. These books reveal how God continues to deal with his wayward people.
In a way, the book of Joshua is all about the kingdom of God breaking into the world of nations at a time when national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and living proof of the power of various gods. Thus, the Lord’s triumph over the Canaanites testifies to the world that the God of Israel is the one true and living God, whose claim on the world is absolute. Joshua contains the story of God’s provision for his people, but also a story of judgment upon those who reject the one true God and turn to false gods.
- The Entrance into the Land (1:1-5:12)
- The Conquest of the Land (5:13-12:24)
- The Distribution of the Land (13-21)
- Epilogue: Tribal Unity and Loyalty to the Lord (22-24)
Key Concept—Victorious Living
The book of Joshua is one of the primary books of the Old Testament where we are introduced to the ancient Israelite view of God as warrior. The question this book raises for many of us goes something like this: “Would God really command his people to invade another land and slaughter all the inhabitants so that they could take over and settle their own people there?” That seems to be what is going on in this book if you take the narrative at face value.
However, I would encourage you to take a step back and view this narrative in a different way. I view this book, and the Old Testament in general, as a record of how the Israelites viewed God at certain times and particular places in their spiritual journey. There is no doubt that Israel, at a certain stage in her history, viewed their God, Yahweh, as a warrior God. That was their perception. That was the way they wanted to view God. But we all know that perception and reality can be two different things.
The other thing to keep in mind when reading the book of Joshua, is that its picture of God as a warrior is not the final picture we get of God in the Bible. For us, as Christians, the picture of God we get in Jesus supplants all others. As it says in the book of Hebrews,
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb 1:1-3)
Seeing God as warrior is, at best, only a partial picture of who God is. In Jesus we see the exact representation of God’s being.
The other thing to keep in mind is that, from a Christian perspective, the Old Testament points forward to the new, it points forward to Jesus. So, in so far as the book of Joshua points us to the greater Joshua, Jesus Christ, we have many things we can learn from it still today. I look at these things we can learn from Joshua in terms of spiritual principles about how we can have victory in life.
Let’s see how this works out by reading Joshua 1…
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
The first step to victory in the spiritual life that I see here is to listen for God’s word. Now, the Lord apparently spoke to Joshua quite directly. This is one reason why the book of Joshua is sometimes referred to as one of the former prophets. Joshua was not only a military leader, but he was also a prophet in the sense that he heard God speaking to him and he communicated God’s word to others.
Amazing as it might seem, we have a similar privilege today. I believe with all my heart that God is still speaking to us today. I also believe that he speaks to us primarily through the Bible, the Holy Scriptures.
The story is told of President Franklin Roosevelt that one day he got tired of smiling his big smile and speaking the usual pleasantries at White House receptions. So, one evening, FDR decided to try an experiment to see if anyone was truly listening to him. As each visiting dignitary came up to him with extended hand, he flashed his big smile and shaking their hands he said quietly, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” Various people responded with the usual pleasantries: “How lovely!” or “Just carry on your good work!” Most people didn’t really hear a word FDR was saying except for one foreign diplomat who responded, “I’m sure she had it coming to her!”
We have the privilege of hearing from someone far greater than the President of the United States. But are we really listening for his word to us?
The second step to victory in the spiritual life that I see in this book is to be strong and courageous. The Lord says to Joshua in chapter 1, verses 6 and 7…
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous.
Then in verse 9 God says…
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
The Lord repeats this command to Joshua three times in these few short verses. In fact, the Lord had already told Joshua once before, in Deuteronomy 31:23, to be strong and courageous and Moses also encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous in Deuteronomy 31:7. Isn’t it wonderful that when God has a message for us, he repeats it, just in case we miss it the first time?
As many of you know, before I moved to Cape Cod to become the pastor of this church, God gave me numerous signs that this was where he wanted us to serve him. Before making our final decision, I met with a therapist friend of mine to talk over the whole situation. I recounted the numerous signs God had given me, to which my therapist friend responded, “How many more signs do you need?”
Good question! Sometimes God repeats things for us many times before we get the message. God told Joshua multiple times: “Be strong and courageous!”
If we want to have victory in our spiritual lives, if we want to experience victory as a church, then we are going to need strength; we are going to need courage. And where does that strength, where does that courage come from? It comes from the Lord who is with us wherever we go.
In the book of Acts we read that Peter and John testified about Christ before the leaders of the Jews and when these leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” Spend time with Jesus and you will develop spiritual strength and spiritual courage.
The third step to victory in the spiritual life that we see in Joshua is obedience. The Lord says to Joshua in verse 7, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”
If we want to have victory, if we want to experience success, in our spiritual lives, it is not enough to merely listen to God’s word, we must also obey it. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
The Lord gave Joshua some very specific instructions to help him obey. God tells Joshua to talk about his word. In verse 8 he says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.”
What was the Book of the Law referred to here? Traditionally this was thought to be a reference to what were thought to be the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. But if modern scholars are right, and the book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomistic History, then this may be a reference to Deuteronomy as “the Book of the Law”. In any case, Joshua is told to keep it on his lips. This is like the command we saw last week in Deuteronomy 6:6-7,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
We have so many more resources for doing this in our day than Joshua had in his. Personally, I love the Pray as You Go app that I have on my smart phone. It is produced by the Irish Jesuits. It has a different Scripture every day. It has beautiful music and leads you in a guided meditation and prayer time. It is a resource you can use individually or that you can share together with your family.
The Pray as You Go app helps me to do something else that God tells Joshua to do. He tells Joshua to “meditate on it [the Book of the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
Not only does God want us to read Scripture, but he also wants us to think seriously and practically about it. He wants us to talk about the Scriptures together and meditate on them—not with a view toward heady accumulation of theological knowledge, but towards the end of practical obedience. Meditating on Scripture, day and night, is one practical way we draw strength from the Lord.
Notice too that when the Lord spoke to Joshua, Joshua obeyed God immediately. No sooner had the Lord finished speaking to Joshua then we read that Joshua ordered his officers to get the people ready to enter the Promised Land. When God shows us something from Scripture, we need to get in the habit of putting it into action right away. As someone once said, “Those who run upon God’s purposes are more sensitive to his guidance than the mass of Christians who stroll.”
A final step we can take to experience victory in our spiritual lives is to pray. Joshua chapter 1 specifically highlights praying for one’s spiritual leaders. In verse 16 we read about how the Israelites responded to Joshua…
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses… Only be strong and courageous!
Isn’t that beautiful how the Israelites encourage Joshua as their leader? Let me tell you, your spiritual leaders in this church, especially those who serve on our church council, can use your encouragement and even more—your prayers. “May the Lord your God be with you…” That’s a beautiful prayer.
But how are we to take these steps toward spiritual victory? The only way we can take these steps is if we are empowered by God’s grace. We can only do these things as we trust in God’s faithfulness. The Lord promised Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you… Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” That’s what the whole book of Joshua is about. It is not primarily a book about Joshua and what he did. It is a book about God and his faithfulness to his people.
I believe the Lord is saying something like this to us today. I believe God is calling us, not to physical battle, but to spiritual battle. He calls us not to conquer the world by killing our enemies but to conquer the world by loving our enemies to Jesus. Jesus’ final command should be our #1 priority, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
And to help us fulfill that command, the greater Joshua makes us a promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
 Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed, New York: HarperCollins, 2003, p. 24.