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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). According to the Jews, who have preserved the Hebrew Scriptures (Romans 3:1-2), 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 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 32:15-17). He had a special relationship with both Moses and God (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 11:28). 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). In Deuteronomy 31:7, he is told by Moses to "be strong and of good courage," and God states it Himself in Deuteronomy 31:23. Now, as Joshua takes over as leader of the tribes of Israel, God repeats the exhortation several more times (Joshua 1:6, 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 1:15; Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:15; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 22:4; Joshua 23:1). 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). 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). 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 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) crossed the Jordan, following the principles given in Deuteronomy 20:5-8.