Deuteronomy left us in a state of tension as it records Moses final words to Israel exhorting them to remain faithful to Yahweh as He fulfills His promises to them. This is a tension that remains throughout the book of Joshua as we see God’s people struggle to remain faithful even amidst God’s mighty acts to obtain and secure an inheritance, a permanent dwelling place, for His people.
I. The Conquest in Context
The book of Joshua was written by Joshua during the time of the conquest and it emphasizes the unity of Israel. We saw before how the creation and fall narratives emphasize our solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. The narratives of the patriarchs explained the origin of Israel as descendants of Abraham and recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant. Then we learned how Deuteronomy gives unity to this covenant structure by extending the promises to this new generation. The writing of Joshua then expresses this solidarity as it applies to the twelve tribes of Israel. During the exodus and wondering in the desert they existed in close proximity to one another; however, now as they move to enter the land they will be spread over great distances, depending upon their portion. Despite this geographical divide the book of Joshua reminds them of their common “history, traditions, and divinely revealed law, which bound them together, as it were, by a divine constitution.”
II. The Narrative of the Conquest
Like Deuteronomy we do not have sufficient time to work through the book of Joshua with great detail. The outline below will allow us to briefly overview the narrative of Joshua while introducing us to several important themes that we need to study in detail.
- Joshua is Commissioned by the Lord and Assumes Leadership (1)
- Scouting the Land (2)
- Entering the Land (3-5)
- Conquering the Land (6-12)
- Dividing the land (13-22)
- Joshua’s Final Exhortations and Death (23-24)
III. Important Themes in Joshua
A. Yahweh’s Provision
If there is one thing that the book of Joshua makes clear for us it is that the Lord graciously acts on behalf of His people to secure the fulfillment of His promises to them. Israel is not responsible for conquering the land Yahweh is. Yahweh’s words to Joshua in 1:1-9 make this point expressly clear.
Would someone read that passage for us? What is the source of Joshua’s and Israel’s confidence?
Their confidence is in the presence of the Lord because God’s presence means His protection as well. Even more so when the spies encounter Rahab we see that the LORD’s reputation precedes Him.
Will someone read Joshua 2:1-16? What is the source of the nations’ fear? Are they afraid of Israel or her God? What name does Rahab call Israel’s God? Why is this significant?
The nations fear the God of Israel because His reputation as a warrior has preceded them. Furthermore, they are afraid because they know that He has given this land as an inheritance to Israel. Rahab does not refer ambiguously to Israel’s God; no she calls Him Yahweh. This is the name of the God who deliver’s Israel from slavery in Egypt and this God will deliver Rahab and her family as well.
B. Yahweh’s Holiness
The most difficult aspect of Joshua for us to cope with is the command that certain cities be completely destroyed.
Will someone please read Joshua 6 for us? What is your immediate reaction to that? How would you respond if the president announced that this would be our new policy for cities housing terrorists?
This is a very difficult question to answer and I want to look at it from several different perspectives. First, I want us to see it through the perspective of Israel’s sacrificial system. Second, I want us to see it from a redemptive-historical perspective. Finally, I want us to see it against the backdrop of God’s longsuffering, pertaining both to Israel and to these particular nations.
First, within the sacrificial system we see that this,
“was just the opposite of a voluntary whole-burnt offering in which the offerer willingly gave up the entire animal in an act of total submission (Lev 1; cf. Ro 12:1-2). Here, after much divine longsuffering and waiting, God called for everything that belonged to him in the first place ― life, possessions, valuables ― as an involuntary whole-burnt offering.”
From the perspective of Israel they experienced this reality, although vicariously, as a continual aspect of life and fellowship with God. This is a profound reminder of God’s grace towards Israel because He is not partial in the administration of His judgment.
Would someone read Deuteronomy 12:29-31? What is the motivation behind this destruction?
Would someone read Deuteronomy 13:12-18? Is God’s promised response to an idolatrous Israel any different than His response to the Idolatry of the nations? Why then is this a reminder of Yahweh’s grace towards Israel [Think back to the golden calf (Exodus 32) or Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13-14)]?
Second, when understood redemptive-historically we see the solidarity of humanity in judgment and the solidarity of renewed humanity in grace. Speaking specifically of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7) Goldsworthy explains,
“We see the principal of corporateness that operates in Scripture. The one represents the many because of the corporate solidarity or oneness of that group. Thus the whole human race sinned in Adam. . . . In Abraham the whole nation was chosen. Through the ministrations of one priest all the people are reconciled to God. And so it will develop until the ideas of representation and substitution become fixed in the concept of salvation. Now the leader, Joshua (whose name means “Jehovah is salvation”), mediates the saving and judging acts of God.”
This concept of solidarity was first introduced to us in Genesis 3:15. Here we observed that while humanity is unified with Adam in rebellion and subsequently the curse. The hope of this verse is that while we all are under the curse and deserve judgment there is a second solidarity, not with fallen Adam but with the victorious head-crushing offspring of Eve. We see this reality played out both in Israel’s own struggle with unbelief and its struggles with the unbelieving nations.
Finally, this event paints a profound picture of the longsuffering and unfathomable grace of God. Turning back to Genesis 15:16 we read, “And they [Israel] shall come back here [the land] in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Now some 600 years later Joshua is leading Israel to take possession of the land that the Lord is giving them. Looking back to Deuteronomy 12:31 we see that the inhabitants of the land practiced human sacrifice to their god’s. In light of Yahweh’s command to totally destroy certain cities his patient endurance of their sin paints a profound picture of His grace and we see the fruit of that grace in the deliverance of Rahab and her family.
IV. The Conquest as Eschatology
“The stage is set for Israel to live as a light to the nations. God’s response to mutiny in his good creation has been to elect one man, Abraham, and then to recover part of the earth and to place Abraham’s descendants there. Israel in the land is meant to be a taste of what God intends for the whole of his creation.”
And indeed the repentance and deliverance of Rahab and her family is a foretaste of how God will bless the nations through Abraham. Yahweh had fulfilled His promises to Israel. As Joshua 21:43-45 records:
“Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”
And yet the concluding chapters of Joshua end on a solemn note similar to that of Deuteronomy. Israel has conquered the land and it has been apportioned to the twelve tribes of Israel. But with Joshua’s closing exhortation one is forced to ask how long will Israel remain faithful to Yahweh? How long will they maintain possession of the land? This points us to the tension between the already and the not yet found throughout the rest of Scripture. They have already been delivered from slavery, they are already free to worship God as God’s people, in God’s place, and under God’s rule; but they land is not yet permanently and fully theirs. There remains among them remnants of the nations whom they conquered and disinheritance looms ever on the horizon (Joshua 23:12-13).
With this tension between the already and the not yet we are forced to conclude that this situation points us forward to a greater fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. This points us to when God’s people, in God’s place, and under God’s rule may worship Him freely forever without the threat of disinheritance.
In what way does the possession of the land and the already/not yet tension expand your understanding of the church? What principles learned from Israel’s situation remain applicable today?
VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 166.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 102.
Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 158.
Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 83.