Joshua: Some of the background

Joshua base image

This autumn in our Sunday morning congregation, we will be discovering more about the Kingdom of God as we “Live in the Land”.




The Book in short

THE BOOK OF JOSHUA tells the story of how Joshua led the Israelites to conquer and settle in Canaan, the land of promise. The book has three main sections: the conquest (1-12), Joshua’s distribution of inheritance (13—21), and the early years of settlement (22—24).


We are studying chapters 1-10 and then 24.


The conquest beings with God’s affirmation of Joshua as Moses’ successor. Joshua has his officers prepare the people to enter the land while he himself reconfirms an earlier promise to other tribes to help them conquer land west of the Jordan (1). As his first move, Joshua dispatches spies to Jericho, where a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab shelters them, explains the Canaanite terror of Israel and its God, and receives a promise of safety from the spies (2).


On God’s orders, the ark of the covenant leads Israel’s dramatic, ceremonial crossing of the Jordan. When it reaches the river, the Jordan stops flowing and Israel crosses on dry land, a miracle whose meaning Israel is to teach future generations (3-4).


Joshua orders a prechosen representative from each tribe removes a stone from the dry riverbed, and Joshua arranges the twelve into a stone memorial at Gilgal.

There, at Israel’s first campsite inside the land, Joshua circumcises all uncircumcised males and leads Israel in celebrating the Passover (5).

These acts ritually sanctify Israel for engagement in war and celebrate their long-awaited arrival in the Promised Land. And now, Israel’s daily provision of manna finally ends. Canaan will now feed them. Empowered by a surprise, mysterious meeting with the commander of God’s heavenly army (5:13-15), Joshua leads a seven-day conquest and destruction of Jericho. Rahab is spared (6).


Following a second spying mission, Joshua sends a small military force inland to capture the city of Ai, but they are unexpectedly routed. The defeat reveals the secret sin of a Judahite named Achan at Jericho. Lot-casting unmasks him as the criminal responsible for the rout. Joshua and Israel take him to Trouble Valley, where they stone and burn him and his family. They pile rocks over him to mark his grave, and the name “Trouble” Valley forever recalls the terrible “trouble” he caused Israel (7).

On Yahweh’s orders, Joshua and the whole army again attack Ai, this time toppling it by a clever ambush. Joshua burns the city and executes its king, piling stones over his body to mark his burial place (8).


The implications of Ai’s fall to Israel so frightens kings in Canaan that they gather to prepare for war. But one threatened ethnic group, the Gibeonites, visits Gilgal pretending to be foreigners on a long trip to make peace with Israel. Their ruse succeeds and Israel swears an oath by God to seal the treaty. When their deception comes to light, Israel lets the Gibeonites live but assigns them permanently to supply Yahweh’s sanctuary with wood and water (9).


Learning of the treaty, the king of Jerusalem  rallies Canaanite allies to lay siege to Gibeon, but with God’s assurance of victory, Israel breaks the siege and destroys the fleeing army. The day’s highpoint is that Yahweh answers Joshua’s petition to have the sun “stand still,” and the battle has amazing results. Israel not only captures and
executes the original five royal conspirators but, more importantly, ends up capturing all of southern Canaan (10).


Next, a northern campaign wins Israel all of northern Canaan and includes the burning of Hazor, its most prominent city, then all of Canaan and even the dreaded Anakites, fall. Joshua 12 tallies up Israel’s victories: thirty-one kings defeated on both sides of the Jordan. Chapter 13 is a survey of areas of Canaan not yet in Israel’s hands and of lands previously distributed by Moses to Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh. Then Joshua and Eleazar the priest distribute inheritances among the tribes, the first allotments going to the hero Caleb, Judah (14—15), Ephraim (16), and West Manasseh (17).


But for the first time the Bible writer sounds an ominous note, the inability of these tribes to dislodge the Canaanites (15-17). Next, after surveying the areas still available, the remaining seven tribes cast lots at Shiloh to distribute land to Benjamin (18), Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan (19). The people of Israel also give Joshua his inheritance—the town of Timnath Serah in Ephraim (19).


This section also reports two special land provisions: the planting of cities of refuge throughout the land (20) and the assignment of towns and pastures within every tribe’s inheritance for the Levites (21).  God has kept every promise, including his ancient promise of land and rest (21).


Finally, Joshua sends the tribes to their lands east of the Jordan.  The discovery of a huge, suspicious altar built by them on the west bank, however, leads a west-bank delegation to visit the them and to accuse them of idolatry. But the east-bank tribes explain that the altar is not for idolatrous sacrifices but a witness to their worship of God and membership in Israel. This explanation ends the threat of civil war (22).


Finally, Joshua gives a passionate farewell speech before all Israel, probably at Shiloh. He urgently warns Israel to keep their distance from the remaining Canaanites lest the latter ensnare them (23).


At another national assembly at Shechem, Joshua leads Israel to renounce other gods and willingly to covenant together to serve only God.  Joshua and his generation of leaders are affirmed for keeping Israel faithful to God during their leadership (24).

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