The book of Joshua is named after the man who led the Children of Israel into Canaan after the death of Moses (Deut 34.5). He and Caleb, who had been members of the group sent by Moses to spy out the land, were the only two adults who left Egypt and entered the land which had been promised to Israel from the time of Abraham.
THE CONQUEST IN THE BOOK
Joshua is a book of conquest. Israel, regarded by many as nothing more than a large group of liberated slaves who had spent forty years in the wilderness without establishing a permanent home, are now about to enter a land defended by mighty foes whose armies appear to have overpowering supremacy on the battlefield. It seemed like an unequal contest. Battle with evil always looks this way to the bystander.
The apparently weaker of the two foes triumphs, and military historians have long held the view that Joshuas strategy is a fine example of military planning at its best. We must, however, keep in mind that the plan of action was of the Lords doing - that being the reason for its success.
But Joshua is not merely a history lesson! "Joshua" means "Saviour", and spiritual lessons are to be learned for the battles in which we have to engage if we would enjoy the blessings into which our Saviour desires to lead us. There are enemies whose purpose is to deny us these blessings and defeat us in the process. Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, tells us of blessing which we can enjoy now and which he describes as being "in the heavenlies" (1.3, JND). These are not reserved for eternity, but can be appropriated now. The enemies confronting us are "principalities powers the rulers of the darkness of this world spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6.12). Against these we do battle and the book of Joshua is an instruction book for such a struggle.
THE CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK
Joshua is first drawn to our attention when he is commanding the armies of Israel in their first battle - against Amalek (Ex 17.8-16). Although a relatively young man at that time, he clearly had the confidence of Moses who, without delay or debate, appointed him to that task immediately the need arose. Later, he testified with Caleb that entrance should be made into the land (Num 14.6-9). The majority of the spies thought otherwise and the result was the disastrous years in the wilderness which denied to a generation the blessing of Canaan. The great commendation which is given to Joshua is that he "wholly followed the Lord" (Num 32.12). Such faithfulness is necessary in leaders.
There are other individuals in the book whose lives teach us equally important lessons. Rahab the harlot (chs.2 & 6) teaches us that faith, not nationality, is the basis for Gods blessing. Caleb, as an old man, asks Joshua if he can possess Hebron (14.12) and shows that what defeated others need not defeat us. Achan, the cause of the first defeat in the land, warns us that disobedience brings failure and destroys our power for God. It is interesting to note that money was behind the first sin in the land and the first sin in the church (Acts 5.1-11). We are reminded by the people presented to us that it is individuals who make up the testimony for God. Some surprise us by their failures and some by their triumphs.
THE CONTENT OF THE BOOK
The People Separated: chs.1-5
The commission which was given to Joshua required strength on his part to fulfil it (1.6,7,9). Leadership is no place for weakness. It also required him to be obedient to "This book of the law" (1.8). Joshua is the first man in the Bible told to live by the Book. He was to read it, to meditate on it and to practise it. Good advice for us today!
The crossing of the Jordan is a picture of the standing of believers today. The twelve stones which were left on the bed of the river signify our being dead with Christ. The twelve stones left on the rivers bank signify our being raised with Christ. Circumcision is putting into practice the separation of which the two heaps of stones are a picture. There can be no enjoyment of the blessings in the heavenlies until we understand that, as believers having died and risen with Christ, we now walk in newness of life.
Before the Jordan was crossed, however, there was the visit of the spies to Rahab in Jericho.
Their journey was directed by the Lord, and they arrived at the house of a woman who had heard of what Jehovah had done through the Children of Israel and understood that the land of Canaan would fall to the onward march of their armies. We learn in the New Testament that she was a woman of faith (Heb 11.31). She stated that "we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you" (2.10), and so faith came by hearing. The difference between her and the others who had heard the same report was that she believed and as a result she and her house were saved when Jericho fell. It is also worthy of note that the Ark was displayed for seven days round the walls of Jericho before the city was overcome by the judgment of God. Seven days of grace when they had opportunity to do as Rahab had done as the Ark, speaking of the Lord Jesus, was before them.
The enemy subdued: chs.6-12
Now the great battles commence as the Children of Israel fight for the inheritance which the Lord has promised them. Appropriation of these blessings today, as in Joshuas time, will not take place without effort and battle. Jericho falls and the people attack Ai. Their confidence is misplaced and thirty-six of them die in defeat. Sin has taken its toll and overcomers are overcome. Is this our experience? Are we defeated Christians? The answer was to destroy completely what had caused their fall (7.25), and it was only after this had been carried out that they knew triumph again.
After the fall of Ai further problems awaited them. The Gibeonites arrived on the scene (ch.9) pretending to have come a long way to join the Children of Israel. The truth was that they had only come a few miles. They deceived Joshua, but he had to bear the responsibility because neither he nor the princes of Israel enquired of the Lord. They accepted the word of the Gibeonites and joined in an unequal yoke with the world. This left them with no choice but to honour the vow they had made, but the Gibeonites became hewers of wood and drawers of water. We may at times sin in a way which cannot be put right. This, like the Gibeonites will always be with us to remind us of our folly. Let us, however, ensure that we so live that the sin can make no further inroads into our lives. What we cannot get rid of we must control. This is not accepting lower standards or compromising truth. It is the only way ahead in these circumstances. It may limit the service we are able to perform for the Lord, but let us do what we can.
The land settled: chs.13-22
The battles are won and the land (but not all of it) is possessed. Are we surprised that so many chapters of the book are taken up with the division of the land of Canaan amongst the tribes? We should not be. How detailed is the information given. God values what He gives to His people. It is not distributed in a haphazard way, but with meticulous care. If God values this so, how much more must we. Even in the midst of such bounty some were dissatisfied. The children of Joseph complained, "Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit?" (17.14). Rather than gratitude there is grumbling. The book is very up-to-date, is it not? How did Joshua respond? He told them to go and develop their inheritance: "If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country and cut down for thyself if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee" (17.15). Perhaps if we were more concerned about developing the gifts and blessing we have been given there would be less dissatisfaction amongst the saints.
Joshuas sunset: chs.23-24
As Joshua approaches the end of his life of service he gathers the people around him, and leaves them the book of the law (24.26). The book by which he has lived and served is the book by which the people have to live and serve after his death. To disobey the book would be to deny the God who had given them so much. Many tragedies would have been avoided if they had taken this advice!