Overview of the Book of Joshua by John Phillips Joshua and His Victories Joshua 1-24
I. JOSHUA’S BACKGROUND
II. JOSHUA’S BIBLE
III. JOSHUA’S BELIEFS
A. New Land
B. A New Life
C. A New Lord
IV. JOSHUA’S BATTLES
A. Major Foes
B. Minor Foes
C. Moderate Foes
D. Multiplied Foes
V. JOSHUA’S BRETHREN
The name Joshua in Hebrew has the same meaning as the name Jesus in Greek. In fact in Hebrews 4:8 the translators of the King James version substituted Jesus for Joshua. Both names mean “Jehovah is Savior.”
I. JOSHUA’S BACKGROUND
Joshua was born into the tribe of Ephraim, one of the most dominant tribes of Israel—second only to Judah. The spiritual heir of Moses, Joshua led the Hebrew people into Canaan.
We cannot help wondering what happened to Moses’ sons. Did Moses fall so far short in his supreme duty as a father that he failed to bring up his sons properly? After Moses led the people out of Egypt, why did not Gershom or Eliezer step into their great father’s footsteps and lead Israel on to victory?
We know that something went wrong because Gershom’s son Jonathan acted as priest to the Danites when they set up a graven image for their tribe. The Hebrew custodians of the sacred Scriptures, who jealously guarded the integrity of the texts and used ingenious devices to
preserve their pristine purity, seem to have deliberately changed the name of Jonathan’s
grandfather from Moses to Manasseh in Judges 18:30 to disguise the fact that Moses had such an outrageous descendant. No doubt the scribes thought that Moses would turn over in his grave if he knew what his grandson had done.
Often the family of a man of God do not recognize him as such, but other people do and they crowd around him. Gershom and Eliezer may have been aloof, but Joshua could always be found orbiting Moses. The young man felt the drawing power of Moses and came close to
Consider for instance the incident involving Eldad and Medad, who “prophesied in the
camp.” (Numbers 11:26-29) No doubt they were exceptional men, but Joshua was jealous of
them on behalf of Moses. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he cried.
For years Moses had schooled his own heart against the sin of jealousy, so now the noble saint could simply reply, “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” Thus Joshua was given a glimpse of the greatness of his hero.
When the Amalekites treacherously attacked Israel, Moses searched for a warrior he could leave in the valley to fight the physical foe while he went up to the mountain to fight the spiritual foe. It’s no wonder that he selected his devoted follower Joshua. In effect Moses said, “Let me see what you can do with Amalek. I will uphold you in prayer.” (See Exodus 17:8-16)
In the typology of Scripture, Amalek represents the flesh at work in a violent way. We see “Amalek” in ourselves when we lose our temper, react angrily to a slight or an insult or an accusation, or when we attack somebody else. Victory over Amalek symbolizes victory over “the works of the flesh” in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:10-26)
Moses chose Joshua again when he was sending twelve men to spy out the promised land. The excursion was invaluable training for a future leader. Joshua needed to experience the crossing of Jordan. He needed to be able to size up the foe. He needed to taste the fruit of Canaan.
And Joshua did not let Moses down. Although ten of the spies brought back an evil report, Joshua brought back a glowing report. All that the ten could see was the foe; all that Joshua could see was the fruit.
Thus Joshua was prepared by his background to become Moses’ successor. He was prepared by devotion—by his commitment to God’s man and all that he stood for among God’s people and before the world. He was prepared by discipline— by subduing Amalek. And he was prepared by duty— by carrying out assignments with spiritual insight and courage, no matter how difficult or dangerous they were
II. JOSHUA’S BIBLE
When the mantle of Moses fell on Joshua, suddenly the full weight of responsibility was his. What should he do? Where could he turn? The older generation was gone. Those who had pioneered this great movement of God in the world were all dead. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were gone. Only Joshua and Caleb remained.
The movement could not stand still. (Any movement that ceases to move is no longer a movement; it’s a monument.) The next step was to cross Jordan. Surely Joshua wondered, How am I supposed to move three million people to the other side of the river? How can I persuade so many to begin a new life of victory in the promised land? Moses sent twelve spies, but only Caleb and I appreciated Canaan. Joshua turned to the Word of God for answers, and this magnificent challenge from God came to his soul:
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein
day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:
for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
Joshua realized that he did not need Moses. He had what Moses had had: God’s Word to guide him. With God’s Word in his hand and in his heart, no situation could baffle him. No matter what he was called on to face, he would never have to be in doubt about what to do. All he needed to do was calmly search the Scriptures and govern his life by them. Joshua had a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path. (see Psalm 119:105) His own courage and wisdom would be inadequate for the struggles, situations, and strongholds he would have to face, but he would not be left to himself! He had the Bible.
And so do we. We should so saturate our souls with Scripture that we automatically and instinctively know God’s mind concerning any matter that comes our way. God does not leave us to our own knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. We have “a more sure word of prophecy,” as Peter puts it, one to which we do well to “take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:19)
III. JOSHUA’S BELIEFS
Joshua matured quickly when he was forced to shoulder responsibility. That is not an
uncommon phenomenon. I know a Christian lady who grew up overnight when she was
suddenly widowed. Her husband had been a strong leader and steady Christian. She had leaned on him for everything —and rightly so. But when he was taken home to Heaven in the prime of life, she was left with the task of raising three little children by herself. Faced with this responsibility, she changed from a helpless clinging vine to a mature woman of the Word. She taught her children the Scriptures and nurtured them in a way that brought her credit down here and will earn her the Lord’s “Well done!” at the judgment seat of Christ.
Joshua, as a spiritually mature leader, believed in a threefold vision of a new land, a new life, and a new Lord. His vision kept him true to God.
A. A New Land
Canaan filled Joshua’s vision. Having once been on the other side of Jordan, he longed for every man, woman, boy, and girl in Israel to cross that river too. Having once tasted the fruit of Canaan, he wanted everyone within the sphere of his influence to taste that fruit.
Some of God’s people had suggested going back to Egypt, but that was not for Joshua. Egypt represented the world with all its pollution, perversions, politics, power, pleasures, prosperity, perspectives, prisons, pains, and prince. Joshua wanted no part of Egypt. He wanted Canaan! He longed for the promised land of milk and honey where God had put His name.
He wanted Canaan with its battles and its blessings. He wanted Canaan, where the Israelites would find victory, peace, and glory.
B. A New Life
When Joshua led God’s people over Jordan, he placed twelve stones from the wilderness side of the river in the midst of the riverbed. After all the people arrived in the promised land, the first thing Joshua did was to build a memorial with twelve other stones that had been found in the riverbed. From then on, all the Israelites could point to the pillar and say, “This is where we crossed Jordan. This is where we died to the wilderness way of life with its disbelief, defeats, disasters, disappointments, and death. This is where we began our new life on the victory side of death.” (See Joshua 4)
Their new life, however, was made of sterner stuff than memorials and rites, no matter how sacred and Scriptural they might have been. Circumcision was required. (Joshua 5:2-9) Circumcision spoke of the application of the cutting edge of the cross to the flesh. It was one thing to have entered into the victory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection positionally; it was something else to have entered into it practically. Therefore Israel had to remove everything that represented the energy of the flesh. Before they could draw the sword on their foes, they had to draw the knife on themselves.
After the Israelites were circumcised, they kept the Passover. (5:10) That spoke of their faith. They remembered that their new life had its roots in the death of the Passover lamb. If the people had forgotten that truth, they would not have been able to experience victorious living in Canaan. They were in the promised land by virtue of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, which represented the coming death of Christ. Without that, they would still have been lost in Egypt.
Next the Israelites ate “the old corn of the land…and the manna ceased.” (5:11-12) That spoke of the future. The manna was for the wilderness, for the wanderings, for the weak. The corn was for Canaan, for the battle, for the victory, for the strong. The manna represented Christ as the Bread of Heaven, they were still carnal. The corn represented Christ as the food for His “grown-up” people. The manna had been sufficient while the Israelites were sojourners, but they needed corn in order to be soldiers.
C. A New Lord
One day when Joshua was wondering how the Israelites would ever be able to scale the massive walls of Jericho, a man holding a drawn sword suddenly appeared. Joshua challenged him: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13) In other words, “Whose side are you on?”
“Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come,” the man replied. (5:14)
Joshua instantly recognized that he was in the presence of the Lord of hosts, the living Christ Himself, and he flung himself at His feet. All the weight of responsibility shifted from Joshua’s shoulders to the mighty shoulders of the Lord. The battle wasn’t Joshua’s; it was the
Lord’s. All Joshua had to do was trust and obey. He rose to his feet with his burden lifted.
Victory was sure, for the Lord had taken command!
Joshua based his beliefs on the facts regarding a new land, a new life, and a new Lord. We too can stake everything on these facts —only our Canaan is a heavenly one, not an earthly promised land. When we cross our Jordan, we enter the heavenlies, where all our battles and our blessings are, as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians tells us. (1:3, 20-23; 2:6; 6:11-13)
IV. JOSHUA’S BATTLES
Joshua came to grips with four kinds of foes in Canaan. They represented the various foes that we must face if we intend to possess in a practical way those things which we already possess positionally by virtue of our identification with Christ.
A. Major Foes
Jericho is an example of Joshua’s major foes. One of the great walled cities of the promised land, Jericho stood squarely across Joshua’s path. Not a step could he take without first dealing with Jericho. Failure here would mean failure everywhere.
Like Joshua, the believer in our day cannot rule over a kingdom he has not subdued. No sooner does he stake his claim in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and all the means of grace God has provided than he discovers in his path a major obstacle to a holy life. That
obstacle has to be dealt with first. It may be an enslaving habit, a set of godless friends, a
besetting sin, a temperamental weakness, an unsaved girlfriend, or a mean boss. Whatever the obstacle is, it stands in the way of further spiritual progress. This major foe will test whether or not he really means to go all the way with God.
Note how Joshua dealt with Jericho. (See Joshua 6) First he acknowledged the
lordship of Christ by submitting to the man with the drawn sword. After this decisive
experience, he engaged in a daily exercise of obedience. Joshua did not attempt to deal with
Jericho himself. It was not his resolve, his resistance, or his resources that brought victory. It was a case of “trust and obey.” Day by day he simply walked around Jericho. Joshua obeyed because he had a definite expectancy. Hebrews 11:30 says that “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” Joshua dared to believe that God would sweep away this obstacle as long as he was willing to cooperate with Him.
B. Minor Foes
After the victory at Jericho came the devastating defeat at Ai. Compared with Jericho, Ai was just a little city, but Joshua acted in the flesh when he attempted to take Ai. He made decisions without prayer or guidance from God’s Word and he was ignominiously defeated. Likewise, after a believer has won a great spiritual victory, the first big temptation he faces is to imagine that although he needs God for the major foes, he can manage the minor foes without Him.
If Joshua had spent time with God before attacking Ai, God would have guided him and
he would have saved himself from a humiliating loss. And today if people who are engaged in
what passes for the Lord’s work would spend time with God and His Word, their efforts would not be doomed to failure.
God explicitly decreed that all the spoils of Jericho were His and that they were to be placed in His treasury. (See Joshua 6:18-19) But Achan, a man in Joshua’s army, had stolen some of the spoils and hidden them in his tent. Until this secret sin was exposed and judged, God’s people could not be victorious at Ai or anywhere else. (See Joshua 7:1-12) Similarly one individual’s unconfessed and uncleansed secret sin can affect the corporate life of the whole body of believers.
C. Moderate Foes
One of Joshua’s moderate foes used outright deception. (See Joshua 9-11) Pretending to have come from a distant land (see Deuteronomy 20:10-16), the people of Gibeon offered
Joshua an alliance and promised to submit to his rule. The proofs offered seemed genuine, so again Joshua acted independently of God. Without seeking divine guidance, he made peace with the Gibeonites. Soon Joshua discovered that he had been deceived. Gibeon was not far away; it was the next land slated for destruction by Israel. God made Joshua live with his treaty and it cost Israel dearly later on. (2 Samuel 21:1-9)
Some mistakes we make today are like Joshua’s mistake in his dealings with the
Gibeonites. We marry out of the will of God, for example, or take a job that requires us to
compromise with God’s Word. Such mistakes can be costly, for often God makes us live with the consequences.
D. Multiplied Foes
Sometimes when it seems as if everything is going wrong, as if our whole world is caving in, we are tempted to panic and think that God has abandoned us. In Joshua’s case there were two times when everyone seemed to be conspiring against Israel.
On the first occasion a strong coalition of southern kings joined forces against Joshua. God helped him then in a way that illustrates the providential side of a spiritual victory. We read:
The Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them…They were more which died
with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword…And the sun
stood still, and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. (Joshua 10:11-13)
God simply stepped in, in a spectacular and supernatural way, and crushed the enemy. There could be no doubt that God had won this obviously miraculous victory.
Many of us know if similar instances of divine intervention. People have been
suddenly, supernaturally, and surely delivered from alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. At a critical
moment, a leader of the opposition has died or moved away. An unexpected check has arrived in the mail. Someone has come forward with new evidence. A door has opened or closed,
dramatically changing the whole situation. Most missionaries can tell such stories, and the life of
George Muller was full of such incidents. Sometimes God provides miraculous deliverances.
On a second occasion Joshua faced a coalition of his northern enemies. This time God
helped Joshua in a way that illustrates the personal side of a spiritual victory. Throughout Joshua 11 we see the army of Israel smiting the opposition with the sword until every foe was subdued.
God was fighting for the Israelites, but He provided no supernatural signs. They had matured and no longer needed miracles. They had learned how to handle the sword.
Many of us have known believers who struggled with besetting sins. They longed for and prayed for the supernatural deliverance that someone else had received, but no miracle happened to them. Instead God allowed them to live with their problems, to fight against their temptations in daily fierce encounters. God made them use His Word—the sword of the Spirit—against their sins.
As we mature spiritually, God makes us rely increasingly on the Bible. He wants us to bring the cutting edge of His Word to bear on the things in our lives that hold us back from
victory. We would rather see God’s spectacular intervention; God would rather see us study Scripture.
V. JOSHUA’S BRETHREN
When Joshua realized that his life was almost over, he “gathered all the tribes of
Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel.” (Joshua 24:1) The name Shechem means “strength,” so he was summoning the people to the place of strength. There he challenged them: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (24:15) God’s people were in danger of being ensnared by new idols, so Joshua warned them, “Put away…the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.” (24:23)
Joshua had blazed the trail for the Israelites. Had had taught them the principles of
spiritual victory and had lived victoriously before them, but he could not live for them. They had to choose the victory side. Joshua had made his choice years earlier when he had given his wholehearted support to Moses. He had made a commitment to trust and obey God and he had stood by that commitment. Joshua had brought up his family to trust and obey and he urged all Israel to live by that principle. If he were living today, he would say:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
(John H. Sammis)