Surveying the Text: Joshua

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The book of Joshua is a book filled with strenuous warfare, and yet the Bible clearly teaches us that it is a book that points toward rest. How is this possible? How does this work?

The Text:

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:30–31).

Summary of the Text:

The book of Joshua can be divided into four major sections. The first has to do with crossing (Josh. 1-5). The second has to do with conquest (Josh. 6-12). The third section deals with how they allocated the land that they had conquered (Josh. 13-21). The last concerns their duties of learning how to worship God as a united people in accordance with His covenant (Josh. 22-24). Let’s consider each of these in turn.


The verb root for “cross” occurs thirty-one times in this section of Joshua (Josh. 1-5). The officers of the people cross through the camp (e.g. Josh. 1:11), or priests with the ark of the covenant cross in front of the people (Josh. 3:6), or soldiers even cross in front of YHWH (Josh. 4:13). But the great dramatic crossing, the centerpiece of all this, is obviously the crossing of the Jordan River. That miracle involved was a reenacted echo of the Red Sea crossing, and just as Rahab described their terror when they heard about the Red Sea (Josh. 2:9-10), so the inhabitants now saw the same thing happen again, right under their noses.

This was followed by the marvelous story of how God fought for them at the battle of Jericho, and how the walls fell down in a giant display of God’s sovereignty—to the deliverance of one Canaanite family, and the ensnarement of one family in Israel. Disaster for Jericho was salvation for Rahab and her family. Disaster for Jericho was disaster for Achan and his family.


One of the words that is foolishly thrown around in discussions of the Israelite invasion of Canaan is the word genocide. This is intended to lump Israel’s behavior in with the specter of “final solutions,” where particular ethnicities are eradicated simply because of their ethnicity. But God’s judgments are always moral and ethical, not ethnic. This was a divinely-ordered, animated earthquake, a hurricane of soldiers, and it was for sin—not for racial or ethnic reasons. God had told Abraham that he could not yet possess the promised land because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full (Gen. 15:16). If God waited centuries so that His judgment of Canaan would be just, who are we to challenge Him and charge Him with injustice?

And on top of that, the family of a Canaanite harlot came out and was joined to Israel, with Rahab marrying a prince of Israel. How could the issues here be racial or ethnic then? And another family in Israel, the family of another prince was removed from Israel. The issue is faith and obedience, always. Achan was descended from Zarah (Josh. 7:1), the first born twin son of Tamar, the one who had a scarlet thread tied to his wrist at birth. And Salmon was descended from Pharez (Ruth 4:18-21), the one who pushed out ahead of his brother, and Salmon was the prince in Israel who married . . . Rahab, an ancestress of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). Rahab had faith, and so she was grafted in. Achan was faithless, and so he was cut out. As Paul later says in Romans 11, do not be haughty but fear. You do not support the root—the root supports you. Again, the issue is faith and obedience, not ethnicity.


Once they had conquered the land, the task of dividing it up was obviously necessary. This was decided by lot (Num. 26:55-56; 33:54; 34:13), which is obviously a fair way to decide something like this. This also provides us with a type for understanding ministry in the new covenant. The elders in the church are told not to lord it over the flock of God, not to be lords over God’s heritage (1 Pet. 5:3). The word for heritage is allotment. This means that the world is now to be understood as Canaan—the conquest of the promised land serving as a type of our evangelistic endeavors. Their warfare was the type, our evangelism is the antitype.

Another important “allotment” occurs in the book of Joshua, as we have just discussed. Rahab the harlot was justified by faith, our text from Hebrews says, and James adds that her works were involved as justifying her faith as true faith. Please note that the actual work that accomplished this great thing was telling the pursuers of the Israelite spies that they had gone a different way than they actually did (Jas. 2:25).


Sacrifices were to be offered in the promised land only. The initial place settled on for that was Shiloh. When Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar on the wrong side of the Jordan, it was almost cause for civil war. Joshua gives his farewell speech, telling the people to remain faithful. And there Joshua made a solemn covenant with the people, that they should serve the Lord their God, and never forsake Him (Josh. 24:26-27).

We can easily lament the fickleness of God’s people in the Old Testament because they do things like this, and then we turn the page, and there they are, worshiping idols, having forgotten all that God did for them. But from the death of Joshua to the rise of Gideon we have over two hundred years—just under the age of our nation. How easy has it been for us to forget our founding? How difficult is it for us to remember? And this is with our possession of libraries, and technology, and carefully kept records.

Joshua and Jesus:

The name Joshua is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name Jesus. “For if Jesus [speaking of Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Heb. 4:8). Joshua was a faithful servant of God, but he could not give the people rest, even though he gave them the land. Why could he not provide them with rest?

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:1–3).

We can only enter into rest by faith, and we can only have faith in the work that was accomplished by the greater Joshua, our Lord Jesus. We can only have faith in that work in this sense after it has been accomplished. When we enter into rest by faith, we are entering into Him.

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9 years ago

Look at Numbers 27 and Joshua 17 , from these scriptures, it is pretty clear that the prohibition of the Isaelites ever being allowed to enter the promised land did not apply to women. The applications here could certainly be useful in a sermon about sexual roles in life.

9 years ago

Well put, Doug. I never noticed that Achan and Salmon were both princes. That is incredibly interesting end would be an amazing coincidence were it not for a sovereign God. One thing that it seems like you did miss though, is that Othniel was the first judge. Othniel married Caleb’s daughter Achsaw after conquering the mountain full of giants. Later still, Caleb died then Joshua died. The people rebelled, were enslaved, and cried out to God for deliverance. Othniel became that first judge and judged Israel for 40 years. Unless Othniel was 300 years old when he died, the period… Read more »

Joseph Spurgeon
9 years ago

Will the videos of these sermons be put on youtube. I have watched the first three but it seems like the youtube page has not been updated for a while.