Bible Commentary: Joshua 1

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Joshua 1

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Introduction to Joshua; Preparations for the Conquest 

Jewish tradition attributes authorship of this book to Joshua, whose name it bears—a view accepted almost universally by Bible commentators. Later editors evidently made a few additions, such as the description of Joshua’s death.

Traditionally, the Old Testament is divided into three sections: the Law, Prophets and Writings (or Psalms, so named from the first book of that section). In fact, Jesus Himself confirmed this three-part division (compare Luke 24:44 Luke 24:44And he said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
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). According to the Jews, who have preserved the Hebrew Scriptures (Romans 3:1-2 Romans 3:1-2 [1] What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? [2] Much every way: chiefly, because that to them were committed the oracles of God.
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), the book of Joshua is the first book of the section called the Prophets. It deals with Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s leader and the Israelites’ conquest of the land of Canaan. Joshua first appeared in Exodus 17:9 Exodus 17:9And Moses said to Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.
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as the man Moses chose to lead the battle against Amalek. He was Moses’ assistant and accompanied him part of the way up Mount Sinai when Moses met with God (Exodus 24:13 Exodus 24:13And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
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; Exodus 32:15-17 Exodus 32:15-17 [15] And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. [16] And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven on the tables. [17] And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
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). He had a special relationship with both Moses and God (Exodus 33:11 Exodus 33:11And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
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; Numbers 11:28 Numbers 11:28And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
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). He was Ephraim’s representative sent to spy out the land of Canaan, and, along with Caleb, brought back a favorable, though unpopular, report about the land (Numbers 13-14). God specifically chose him to succeed Moses as Israel’s leader, who would lead them into the Promised Land (Numbers 27:12-23 Numbers 27:12-23 [12] And the LORD said to Moses, Get you up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the children of Israel. [13] And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered. [14] For you rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. [15] And Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, [16] Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, [17] Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd. [18] And the LORD said to Moses, Take you Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him; [19] And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. [20] And you shall put some of your honor on him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. [21] And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. [22] And Moses did as the LORD commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: [23] And he laid his hands on him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.
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). In Deuteronomy 31:7 Deuteronomy 31:7And Moses called to Joshua, and said to him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for you must go with this people to the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them; and you shall cause them to inherit it.
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, he is told by Moses to “be strong and of good courage,” and God states it Himself in Deuteronomy 31:23 Deuteronomy 31:23And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore to them: and I will be with you.
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. Now, as Joshua takes over as leader of the tribes of Israel, God repeats the exhortation several more times (Joshua 1:6 Joshua 1:6Be strong and of a good courage: for to this people shall you divide for an inheritance the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them.
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, 7, 9, 18).

The Hebrew name Joshua or Yehoshua (meaning “The Eternal Is Salvation” occurs in the Greek New Testament as Iesous—transliterated into Latin as Iesus or Jesus. Interestingly, many symbols and types in the book of Joshua correspond to the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ leading His people into a spiritual Promised Land, inheriting the Kingdom, and overcoming evil along the way. Hebrews 3-4 specifically compares the entry and settling of the physical Promised Land with resting on God’s weekly Sabbath and with entry into God’s Kingdom, calling all three things God’s rest (compare Joshua 1:13 Joshua 1:13Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, The LORD your God has given you rest, and has given you this land.
American King James Version×
, Joshua 1:15 Joshua 1:15Until the LORD have given your brothers rest, as he has given you, and they also have possessed the land which the LORD your God gives them: then you shall return to the land of your possession, and enjoy it, which Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on this side Jordan toward the sun rise.
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; Joshua 11:23 Joshua 11:23So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.
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; Joshua 14:15 Joshua 14:15And the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba; which Arba was a great man among the Anakims. And the land had rest from war.
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; Joshua 21:44 Joshua 21:44And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he swore to their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
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; Joshua 22:4 Joshua 22:4And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them: therefore now return you, and get you to your tents, and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.
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; Joshua 23:1 Joshua 23:1And it came to pass a long time after that the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.
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). As you read the book, see what other parallels you can discover.

In verses 12-15, Joshua reminds the tribes who settled on the east of the Jordan of their promise to accompany the rest of the Israelites in their conquest of the Promised Land (compare Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 3:12-22 Deuteronomy 3:12-22 [12] And this land, which we possessed at that time, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, and half mount Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I to the Reubenites and to the Gadites. [13] And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, being the kingdom of Og, gave I to the half tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, with all Bashan, which was called the land of giants. [14] Jair the son of Manasseh took all the country of Argob to the coasts of Geshuri and Maachathi; and called them after his own name, Bashanhavothjair, to this day. [15] And I gave Gilead to Machir. [16] And to the Reubenites and to the Gadites I gave from Gilead even to the river Arnon half the valley, and the border even to the river Jabbok, which is the border of the children of Ammon; [17] The plain also, and Jordan, and the coast thereof, from Chinnereth even to the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, under Ashdothpisgah eastward. [18] And I commanded you at that time, saying, The LORD your God has given you this land to possess it: you shall pass over armed before your brothers the children of Israel, all that are meet for the war. [19] But your wives, and your little ones, and your cattle, (for I know that you have much cattle,) shall abide in your cities which I have given you; [20] Until the LORD have given rest to your brothers, as well as to you, and until they also possess the land which the LORD your God has given them beyond Jordan: and then shall you return every man to his possession, which I have given you. [21] And I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings: so shall the LORD do to all the kingdoms where you pass. [22] You shall not fear them: for the LORD your God he shall fight for you.
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). They willingly carry out their responsibility, for which Joshua commends them when he gives them leave to return to their homes several years later (Joshua 22:1-4 Joshua 22:1-4 [1] Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, [2] And said to them, You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you: [3] You have not left your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. [4] And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them: therefore now return you, and get you to your tents, and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.
American King James Version×
). Nevertheless, they did not leave their wives and children undefended while they were away. From Numbers 26, we can estimate the number of those who were able to go to war from Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh as somewhere around 110,000. Joshua 4:12-13 Joshua 4:12-13 [12] And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spoke to them: [13] About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD to battle, to the plains of Jericho.
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says only about 40,000 accompanied their brethren over the Jordan, leaving nearly two thirds of the men behind to take care of the families. Very likely, only those with the fewest family ties and those most eager to participate (Joshua 1:16-18 Joshua 1:16-18 [16] And they answered Joshua, saying, All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go. [17] According as we listened to Moses in all things, so will we listen to you: only the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses. [18] Whoever he be that does rebel against your commandment, and will not listen to your words in all that you command him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.
American King James Version×
) crossed the Jordan, following the principles given in Deuteronomy 20:5-8 Deuteronomy 20:5-8 [5] And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, What man is there that has built a new house, and has not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it. [6] And what man is he that has planted a vineyard, and has not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it. [7] And what man is there that has betrothed a wife, and has not taken her? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her. [8] And the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return to his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.
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