Book of Joshua Commentary: So after our whirlwind of a lesson last week through Deuteronomy we’ll do another kind of overview lesson. This time we’ll get a broad birds-eye view of the book of Joshua. We’ll start in chapter 1.
Now, I might change my mind after we study through the whole book chapter-by-chapter. But for now I’m going to give this as the great truth that we see about God in this book – God Keeps His Promises.
Let’s read about his promise in 1:1-2.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua 1:1-9
1:1 ¶ Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, 2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
Here’s the main promise God gave to Joshua and all Israel which he intends to keep – to give them the land. The land of Canaan. Moses is dead. Joshua is now the man. And so in verses 1-9 we see God encouraging Joshua to be strong and courageoues and to enter the land and to apportion it to the tribes of Israel.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua 1:10-18
So Joshua turns around in verses 10-18 and gives some instruction of his own. He tells the officers in verses 10-11 to get ready — because in 3 days they would cross the Jordan. Joshua then in verses 12-15 reminds the 2 ½ tribes (Reuben, Gad, and ½ Manasseh) of the promise they made to Moses. Remember? These tribes already got their land East of the Jordan River. And Moses said they could have that land. But they had to come over into the land of Canaan and help their brothers take their land. So Joshua reminds these 2 ½ tribes of this promise they made. Then those tribes respond in verses 16-18 and say something like “just like we obeyed Moses, we’ll obey you!” I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be comforting to Joshua. Remember the track record of rebellion among the sons of Israel toward Moses. But anyway, that’s how they responded to him.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua 2
We again see Israel sending out spies starting in 2:1. Now again, I’m not sure why they feel the need to do this. But I think it’s interesting that Joshua didn’t send out 12 spies like Moses did at Kadesh-barnea. Look at 2:1. How many spies did he send? Two. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that that there were only 2 spies of the 12 that Moses sent out that brought back a good report of Canaan. At any rate, the 2 spies – we learn they’re “young men” later on in the book – but these 2 spies enter the house of a prostitute in Jericho, of all places. And the prostitute’s name is Rahab. So we see this episode throughout chapter 2 in which Rahab and the spies take center stage. It turns out that these two young men make a covenant with Rahab to not destroy her and her family when they attack Jericho later on. Now, immediately my curiosity is arroused. Were the Israelites supposed to make any covenants with the people in the land? No, not according to Deuteronomy. They could make covenants with other nations outside of Canaan. But not with those in the land. What were the Israelites supposed to do to the Canaanites? Kill every person – man, woman, and child. Period. That’s the Law. No mercy. But here we have these two young men making a covenant with some of the people of the land. Very interesting! And what’s even more interesting is that God doesn’t nullify this covenant. He honors it. So, you can tell there’s a lot to explore here and we won’t do it in this message. We’ll save it for later.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua 3-4
Now, we get to 3:1 and the spies are back from their time in Jericho. And Israel is ready to cross the Jordan River. And it takes them to the end of chapter 4 to cross it. Our Pastor has recently mentioned how Jordan really isn’t a mighty river these days. And that’s true, especially the farther south it goes. But that wasn’t the case in Joshua’s day. Look at 3:15. What does the Jordan do during harvest season? It overflowed its banks. This was once a mighty river. And it’s going to be quite a feat to cross this thing. Well, God had it planned out. When the priests carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan, all its waters will pile up far up north and the Israelites will again cross a body of water on dry ground. And that’s just what happens. The Jordan’s water piles up somewhere up north and Israel crosses. The priests come up out of the river bed and back come the waters, overflowing its banks.
Now, the Jordan I believe is visible from Jericho. It’s about 5 miles from the city and average visibility is over 18 miles. What does that mean? Well, the people of Jericho very possibly would have been watching this scene unfold. The water stopping completely. The people crossing the river. The water coming back and spilling over its banks. And what was their reaction? Fear. Read 5:1.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua 5:1-12
5:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.
So, not only had the people of Jericho heard of this amazing event. All the kings everywhere across the river did. And the text says their heart melted. They were terrified.
Now, before Israel attacks anyone they need to tend to some important details. First of all, in verses 2-9 they need to be circumcized. They weren’t doing this in the wilderness. So all the men needed to have this procedure done. And secondly, verses 10-12, they need to celebrate the Passover. It was the 14th day of the 1st month and that’s when Passover was to be celebrated according to the Law. So that’s what they did.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Jericho
Alright, now with those things taken care of, the Israelites can strike! In 5:13 – 6:27 we see the conquest of Jericho.
There are several parts to this conquest. First in 5:13-15 we have this mysterious encounter between Joshua and this man that we come to find out is the captain of the Lord’s army. Joshua bows to him and takes off his sandals at the man’s command. Joshua actually falls on his face in response to encountering this man and understanding who he is. We’ll probably say more about him when we get to this part of the book.
After this, the Israelites circle the city of Jericho for 6 days, once per day, blowing trumpets. Then the 7th day the people circle the city 7 times and then they blow trumpets and shout. And the walls come down! Israel enters the city, spares Rahab, and utterly destroys everyone else.
You can think of some songs that represent Israel crossing the Jordan as somehow corresponding to the Christian going to heaven. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on having to fight or struggle anymore when I’m in heaven with the Lord. This observation isn’t original to me, but I think if Israel’s crossing of Jordan represents anything, it’s not our death experience but our salvation experience. Yes, we’ve entered into God’s promise of eternal life. But there’s still quite a bit of fighting to do – fighting not against flesh and blood, of course. But fighting nonetheless.
OK, back to the story. In 6:26 Joshua issues a curse upon whomever will rebuild Jericho. And in verse 27 the author ends this story pointing out that Joshua’s fame started spreading that day – just like the Lord promised earlier in this book.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Achan and Defeat at Ai
And that’s the end of Jericho! Or is it? It should have been. But let’s read 7:1 to figure out what’s going on.
7:1 ¶ But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.
God put some things under the ban – or he made them “accursed thing”s. He didn’t want anyone taking them. But one of the Israelites, Achan, took some of that stuff. And because of that, God was angry at all Israel. God keeps his promises. He kept his promise to Israel that when they obeyed and loved him, they would be blessed. But when they sin and disobey, he kees his promise even then. In the case of disobedience, God promised to curse Israel and basically let their enemies defeat them.
And that’s just what we see in verses 2-5. Ai – a tiny city to the west of Jericho beats back Israel. This came as a total surprise to Joshua. He apparently didn’t know about Achan’s sin. And so he falls before the Lord in verses 6-9. Now, at first I wanted to say that he sought the Lord as to why he allowed Israel to be defeated. And he very well may have asked the Lord why this happened. But that’s not what we have recorded for us. We see this undoubtedly godly man basically despairing before God. He begins doubting God’s promise to give the Israelites the land of Canaan. I can identify. Joshua thinks God is just for no reason abandoning them after he had clearly promised them victory.
And God is very merciful. In verses 10-15 God tells Joshua there’s a sin issue in the camp that’s preventing God from blessing their military efforts. Verses 16-18 show us Joshua finding out that Achan is the one who sinned. Joshua urges Achan to confess his sin. And when Achan does so, the Isralites run to his tent and verify his report. They find the stuff. They take Achan and all his family. They are then stoned and burned with fire. WHAT! All for just taking some stuff? Yes, for taking some stuff that God told him not to. HIS FAMILY SUFFERED WITH HIM? Yes. Maybe I’ll have more to say about it later. But the fact is that this man’s family was destroyed because of his sin. WOW, GOD IS SEVERE. That’s what Paul says in Romans. Behold the kindness – he’s also kind – the kindness and severity of God. He is not a God to be trifled with. He means what he says. And he keeps his promises.
So with Achan’s sin taken care of, the Israelites take the city of Ai as well as the nearby city of Bethel. Here’s how it happens. Israel sets an ambush behind the city. The rest of Israel comes to Ai and pretends to run away from the men of the city like they did before. Only this time, the men in ambush sneak into the city and burn it, leaving the men of Ai in between two companies of Israelite fighters. Ai is quickly destroyed. The Israelites experience God’s good promises.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal
Then in 8:30-35 the Israelites finally come to Shechem where Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal are. And they uttered the blessings and curses of God’s promises – just like Moses commanded them before they entered Canaan.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Gibeonites
Then in chapter 9 we see something interesting. There are some Hivites that live in Gibeon. They’ve heard about the mighty acts of Israel’s God. And they want peace with Israel. But apparently they know that Israel would destroy them if Israel knew that they lived in the land of Canaan. So the Gibeonites bring moldy dry bread and old patched sandals and pretend like they’re from far away. The Israelites were a little suspicious, but Joshua made a covenant with the Gibeonites after a question or two. Worst of all, Joshua didn’t seek God about this decision.
And so after a few days Israel finds out that these folks they just made a covenant with are living in the land of Canaan! Israel broke God’s command to not make a covenant with any of the nations in Canaan. And Israel is not happy at their leaders for doing this. But Joshua and the leaders gave their word to the Gibeonites. And so Israel is now bound to them forever.
Well, that bond is tested in chapter 10. The kings of five pagan cities gang up on Gibeon. Those kings were angry at Gibeon for joining hands with Israel. And so these kings start attacking Gibeon. And Gibeon calls on Israel for help. I guess at this point if I didn’t know better I would think Joshua might let Gibeon perish. But that’s not what he did. Joshua kept his word and defended the Gibeonites from these five kings. And after Israel defended their new friends in Gibeon they struck the cities of those five kings and conquered them. And actually Israel went on and defeated a number of other places in the south of Canaan.
Then in chapter 11 we see Israel take the northern part of Canaan. And that brings us to this. Let’s read 11:23.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Conquering Northern Canaan
11:23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.
So there it is. Joshua took the whole land. He gave it to Israel. The land rested from war. But… doesn’t that make you wonder why we have 13 more chapters after this? Here’s what I think is happening. We’ve seen a summary of Joshua taking the land. And in chapter 12 we see a summary of all the kings whom the Israelites destroyed. In verses 1-6 we see the two kings to the east of the Jordan mentioned. And verses 7-24 summarize the kings to the west of the Jordan who were defeated by Israel.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Land Apportioned
Then for 9 chapters – from 13 to the end of 21 – we see the land apportioned between the tribes of Israel with a few other land matters taken care of. So let’s survey these chapters. Let’s read 13:1.
13:1 ¶ Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.
Then the Lord lists the rest of the land that the Israelites still need to take.
By the way, I think it’s interesting that Joshua spent over half of the book that’s named after him as being old and striken in years? Well, that’s the fact. Joshua is old and stricken in years and he needs to divide the land among the tribes of Israel. They’ve conquered the land. But they have yet to possess it by tribes. And so Joshua apportions the land. But before that happens, we need to be reminded of a few things. First – verse 14 – Levi doesn’t get an inheritance of land. That’s because they get the Lord’s service as their inheritance. Next, verses 15-23 – what tribe are we talking about? Reuben. They got land not in Canaan, but on the east of the Jordan. And then, verses 24-28 – who are we talking about now? Gad. They also got their land east of the Jordan. And the last group to mention is in verses 29-31. Who is mentioned as getting their land here? Manasseh. But not all of Manasseh. Just the half tribe. We’ll talk about the other half in a little bit.
So, what did we see in those verses we just mentioned? These were the 2 ½ tribes that had their inheritance east of the Jordan as well as Levi, who didn’t have a land inheritance. Now, what do we see in 14:1-2? Let’s read that.
Book of Joshua Commentary: West of Jordan
14:1 ¶ And these are the countries which the children of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel, distributed for inheritance to them. 2 By lot was their inheritance, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses, for the nine tribes, and for the half tribe.
So now we’re going to talk about the places that Israel inherited – not east of the Jordan, but west of it – in the land of Canaan. So, which tribe starts the process? Look at 14:6. Who are we talking about? Judah. And do you know what? Judah’s under discussion from 14:6 to 15:63. And do you remember Caleb? He was one of the 2 faithful spies, Joshua being the second of them. Well, Caleb is of the tribe of Judah and so we see him getting his special allotment in this section as well.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Ephraim
Now, turn ahead to 16:1. Which tribe are we talking about now? Joseph. But actually, Joseph’s inheritance was split up among two of his sons. You see one of them in verse 5. Who is it? Ephraim. And that leaves – 17:1 –whom? Manasseh. Well, again, not all of Manasseh. Just the other ½ tribe of Manasseh. The first ½ got their land east of Jordan.
Now, there seems to be something of a problem. Only these two tribes – Judah and Joseph – have taken their inheritance. What about the other 7 tribes? Well, they haven’t done anything. Let’s read 18:1-3 for some details.
Book of Joshua Commentary: 7 Tribes Left
18:1 ¶ And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them. 2 ¶ And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance. 3 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?
So Israel goes from wherever they were – I think Gilgal or perhaps Shechem – to Shiloh. The land was subdued before them but 7 whole tribes didn’t enter their land yet! And you can sense a hint of frustration on Joshua’s part. “Why have you not gone in to possess the land yet?!”
So Joshua has each tribe send 3 men to look at the land and catalog it. Then Joshua would use their data to separate the land and give it to each tribe, using lots. The 21 men return and give Joshua the data. Then Joshua assigns land to each tribe. Which tribe do we see first? 18:11? Benjamin. Look at 19:1. What’s the next tribe? Simeon. 3rd tribe in 19:10? Zebulun. 19:17 has the 4th tribe. It’s Issachar. What’s the 5th tribe in 19:24? Asher. 6th in 19:32? Naphtali. And who is left in 19:40? Dan.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua’s Inheritance
Then finally in 19:49-50 Joshua receives his inheritance among his brethren the Ephraimites. 19:51 wraps-up the land division, stating that all the land was divided.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Cities of Refuge
But there are 2 more issues regarding the land that need to be resolved. 20:1-9 deal with designating cities of refuge in the land — where a manslayer can flee if he kills someone unintentionally. They make 6 cities into cities of refuge – 3 east of the Jordan and 3 west of it.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Levitical Pasture Lands
Then all of chapter 21 deals with giving pasure lands to the Levites. No, they weren’t given a contiguous area of land as a tribe. But they were given individual cities where they could raise livestock and live… And that’s the end of dealing with the land in this book.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Near Civil War
Finally, chapters 22 through 24 conclude the book. The entire 22nd chapter tells us how the 2 ½ tribes were sent back home east of the Jordan. They kept their promise. They fought alongside of and helped their brothers to get their land. And now they could go back to their own land. But something really weird happens. They go back and make a humongous altar. So all Israel sends men of war to them, planning to attack them for disobeying God and offering sacrifices in a place he had not designated. When the men of war come, though, they discover that the 2 ½ tribes didn’t intend to offer sacrifices on this altar. Their stated intention in errecting that altar was to remind the rest of Israel that they worshipped the same God as those tribes west of the Jordan did. This explanation pleased the men of war and they went back home. But I must admit this is a rather puzzling situation. I look forward to studying it more when we get to it later on.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua’s Last Words
In chapter 23 and most of chapter 24, Joshua charges the people and their leaders to love God and be blessed – that sounds familiar! He tells them to worship God alone. He reminds them of God’s faithfulness. God keeps his promises. Joshua says in 23:14 – “…ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” Joshua also gives this rather ominous warning that they won’t be able to serve God because he is jealous and holy and he won’t simply wink at their sin. And when they fail God and turn from him, God will keep his promise to punish them.
Book of Joshua Commentary: Joshua Dies
And lastly, the end of the book records the death and burial of Joshua, the burial of Joseph’s bones finally, and the death and burial of Eleazar, the son of Aaron and father of Phinehas.
God is a promise-keeping God. He will do what he’s said. He did it to Israel. And he’ll do it for us, too. God keeps his promises.