How familiar are you with the book of Joshua? Whether you studied it briefly or are crafting a commentary of your own, this narrative continually teaches you something new. For some perspective, here is an excerpt from the introduction to Joshua from the ESV Expository Commentary (9 Vols.).

We adapted the below content from the newly-released ESV Expository Commentary: Deuteronomy-Ruth volume.

Theology of Joshua

The theology of Joshua naturally shares many of the contours that take shape in God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. God is sovereign over the elements and the natural world, just as he is over Egypt’s king and its supernatural world, demonstrating both his power and his authority. God demands that his people be sanctified as he meets with them at the mountain, demonstrating his holiness. God’s presence accompanies his people on the way and provides for their needs, demonstrating his graciousness. He fights on their behalf to deliver them from hostile nations, showing him to be victorious over every form of opposition. He judges his own people in their rebellion, displaying his justice. God brings them to a good land in accordance with his promise, showing himself to be faithful.

Parallels to Exodus

Each of these theological disclosures encountered in the exodus finds a counterpart in Israel’s entry into the Promised Land.

  • God’s sovereignty over the elements and natural world is seen in his stopping the Jordan River to allow Israel to cross on dry land (Joshua 3–4) and spectacularly in the celestial events accompanying the battle of the Valley of Aijalon, as Israel delivers its new covenant partner, the people of Gibeon, from hostile kings (10:6–14).
  • His power and authority (cf. Ex. 19:5; “all the earth is mine”) are seen in his vanquishing every king that opposes him—for every Canaanite king does so (Joshua 12; cf. Psalm 2).
  • God requires his people to be sanctified at the river (Josh. 3:5) and as they enter the land (5:2–9), for his presence makes it holy (5:15).
  • God requires his people’s purification when he judges them for polluting sacred things in an act of disobedience (ch. 7).
  • His presence, represented by the ark, accompanies Israel as they cross the Jordan (chs. 3–4) and march around Jericho (6:11, 13).
  • He fights for them, so that Israel’s victories could truly be said to be God’s victories in the first place (10:42; 23:9–10).
  • In gifting Israel this good land he graciously provides also for their needs (5:10–12; 24:13).
  • It is a book of promises kept (21:43–45; 23:14).

Joshua’s fundamental truths

Theologically, it is important to affirm that God’s holiness is destructive of sin; his presence requires the eradication of that which is contrary to his nature. However, God’s love expresses itself in fellowship, and so his removal of sin graciously makes redemption possible. As we affirm these deep truths regarding God’s nature (cf. Ex. 34:6–7), much of Joshua comes into focus. Insofar as God’s creatures recognize and respect God’s holiness—that is, as they worship him—his holiness is redemptive, delivering and saving those who thus turn to him. This is, for the most part, Israel’s experience in the book, although the episode featuring Achan in Joshua 7 demonstrates that this is not a blessing to be enjoyed automatically.

Likewise, for the most part the experience of the Canaanites is to know the inexorable force of God’s judgment and his purpose to eradicate that which is abhorrent to him, although this fate is not inevitable for those Canaanites who, like Rahab (chs. 2; 6) or even the Gibeonites (chs. 9–10), acknowledge God’s right to their lives and, as a consequence, to save them.

This truth is conveyed through narrative in the bulk of the book, but the theological concepts are also expressed explicitly in Joshua’s closing speeches in chapters 23-24 (cf. 24:19 for their culmination).

Relationship to the Rest of the Bible and to Christ

Joshua occupies a pivotal place between the preceding books of Moses and the subsequent developments of the federal life of the nation on its way toward monarchy in Judges and the books that follow.

Joshua’s Old Testament connections

Especially as Israel crosses the Jordan we find numerous echoes of the exodus experience, as the exit from the land of Egypt and the entry to the land of Canaan bookend the narrative. Many passages in Numbers anticipate developments realized in the conquest accounts and form significant cross-references with them. The sermons of Moses on the plains of Moab in Deuteronomy that prepare Israel for its next phase of life likewise forge strong links with some of the diction and outlook of Joshua’s opening chapters in particular.

In the other direction, the book of Judges is often thought to contrast sharply with the outlook of Joshua. While at a surface level and in terms of overall tone this is certainly true, one of the burdens of this commentary is to demonstrate that, at a deeper level, Joshua and Judges are intrinsically connected, that the relationship between them is organic and intertwined rather than forced or juxtaposed. The trajectory followed so precipitously in Judges is not alien to the outlook of Joshua but emerges almost inevitably, given the seeds sown in the narrative of this book.

Joshua’s New Testament connections

When it comes to NT connections, a distinction must be borne between the man and the book of Joshua. The figure of Joshua as Moses’ successor has only a few echoes in the NT, but these sometimes have to do with episodes outside the book of Joshua itself. However, Joshua is named explicitly only twice in the NT (Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8), while even Rahab gets three mentions (Matt. 1:5; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). The nonmention of Joshua is all the more surprising when one remembers that in Greek he shares Jesus’ name: Hebrew “Joshua” is Greek “Jesus”. On this basis the Joshua/Jesus type/antitype was exploited in some early Christian writing.

The book is never quoted directly in the NT, although its wording or episodes are alluded to on a number of occasions. Some of these are quite subtle, however, and the connection is not very illuminating. On the other hand, broad resonances can be discerned between the conflicts represented in the book of Revelation and the battles of Joshua, and these are suggestive for Christian interpretation. On the whole, however, in later reception Joshua and the book that bears his name are very much in the shadow of his great predecessor, Moses.

Preaching from Joshua

Given the particular difficulties Joshua presents, preaching from the book poses challenges. As the book is notorious for its violence, the option of simply spiritualizing its stories to provide pious object lessons is unacceptable: this would in any case be a failure to hear what the book can teach contemporary Christians who are willing to attend to it with patience and care. Perhaps it does not need saying, but it is worth being clear that Joshua’s violence cannot be proclaimed as a template for Christian action of any kind—in the same way that the fate of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) is not a persistent model for church discipline—in spite of this having occurred in times past.

“What is God doing in this text?”

As ever, the preacher’s first question should be “What is God doing in this text?” rather than “Where am I in this text?” In the book of Joshua God is directing his people to look to him, calling to strangers, fulfilling his promises, embedding memories of his acts of deliverance, purifying and providing for those he has called, subduing their enemies, disciplining his people’s transgressions, upholding his covenant, establishing justice, provoking godly responses, meeting his people at worship, rewarding those who diligently seek him, reminding his people of his fidelity, exhorting them to a corresponding faithfulness, and preparing them to display his holiness.

This sketch is hardly exhaustive, but it suggests a dynamic that works through the book and informs the proclamation of good news from a book that often elicits hostile reactions.

It would be too easy, however, to ignore the Canaanites. The book also contains abiding truths concerning the holiness of God’s love, the reality of judgment, the inevitability of serving something or someone, the choice of what or whom that master will be as a matter of life-and-death, and the inevitable tragedy of opposing the true and living God. The book of Joshua deepens the gravity of God’s word through Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:32).

Preaching from the entire book of Joshua

The narratives of Joshua 1–12 and the three closing chapters lend themselves readily to preaching that attends to the faithfulness of the God of promise, the patterns God weaves in his redemptive work, and the covenant-shaped engagement of God with people that points to the foundations of divine indicatives (the truth of who God is for his people) for hearing the claim of divine imperatives (the obedience God requires of his people). Each of these, too, has a natural trajectory to its fuller realization in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the faithful community life of the church.

The land distribution chapters (13-21) should not be neglected, however. They may call for more creative handling, but the framing of this phase of Israel’s life in the land still has significant things to say about what it means to settle well, what responsiveness to God’s gracious gifts looks like, how God shapes his people for being a nation rather than nomads, and how a place is found for the exercise of justice and the practice of gathered worship.

ESV Expository Commentary (9 Vols.)

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ESV Expository Commentary Joshua

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1 Comment

  1. Timothy Musakali Joash - Archbishop Reply

    I good like to know more and to learn more from you.

    And I good like you to be our partnership with our church.

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