Bible Book Number 6—Joshua
Place Written: Canaan
Writing Completed: c. 1450 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 1473–c. 1450 B.C.E.
1. What situation confronts Israel in 1473 B.C.E.?
THE year is 1473 B.C.E. The scene is most dramatic and thrilling. The Israelites, encamped on the Plains of Moab, are poised for their entry into Canaan, the Promised Land. That territory on the other side of the Jordan is inhabited by numerous petty kingdoms, each with its own private army. They are divided among themselves and weakened through years of corrupt domination by Egypt. Yet, to the nation of Israel, the opposition is formidable. The many fortified walled cities, such as Jericho, Ai, Hazor, and Lachish, have to be taken if the land is to be subdued. A critical time lies ahead. Decisive battles must be fought and won, with Jehovah himself entering in with powerful miracles in behalf of his people, in order to fulfill his promise to settle them in the land. Unquestionably, these stirring events, so outstanding in Jehovah’s dealings with his people, will have to be recorded, and that by an eyewitness. What better man could there be for this than Joshua himself, the one appointed by Jehovah as successor to Moses!—Num. 27:15-23.
2. Why is the choice of Joshua, both as leader and as recorder, appropriate?
2 The choice of Joshua, both as leader and as a recorder of the events about to take place, is most appropriate. He has been a very close associate of Moses throughout the previous 40 years in the wilderness. He has been “the minister of Moses from his young manhood on,” showing him to be qualified as a spiritual as well as a military leader. (Num. 11:28; Ex. 24:13; 33:11; Josh. 1:1) In the year Israel left Egypt, 1513 B.C.E., he was captain of the armies of Israel in the defeat of the Amalekites. (Ex. 17:9-14) As the loyal companion of Moses and a fearless army commander, he was the natural choice to represent the tribe of Ephraim when one man was chosen from each tribe for the dangerous mission of spying out Canaan. His courage and faithfulness on that occasion assured his entry into the Promised Land. (Num. 13:8; 14:6-9, 30, 38) Yes, this man Joshua, the son of Nun, is “a man in whom there is spirit,” a man who “followed Jehovah wholly,” a man “full of the spirit of wisdom.” No wonder that “Israel continued to serve Jehovah all the days of Joshua.”—Num. 27:18; 32:12; Deut. 34:9; Josh. 24:31.
3. What proves that Joshua was a real-life servant of Jehovah, as well as the writer of the book bearing his name?
3 From the standpoint of his experience, training, and tested qualities as a true worshiper of Jehovah, Joshua was certainly in position to be used as one of the writers of the ‘Scriptures inspired by God.’ Joshua is no mere legendary figure but a real-life servant of Jehovah. He is mentioned by name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8) It is logical that just as Moses was used to write concerning the events of his lifetime, so his successor, Joshua, would be used to write down the events that he himself witnessed. That the book was written by someone who witnessed the events is shown by Joshua 6:25. Jewish tradition credits Joshua with writership, and the book itself states: “Then Joshua wrote these words in the book of God’s law.”—Josh. 24:26.
4. How has the authenticity of the book of Joshua been proved both by the fulfillment of prophecy and by the testimony of later Bible writers?
4 At the time of Jericho’s destruction, Joshua placed a prophetic curse on the rebuilding of the city, which had a remarkable fulfillment in the days of Ahab king of Israel, some 500 years later. (Josh. 6:26; 1 Ki. 16:33, 34) The authenticity of the book of Joshua is further established by the many references that later Bible writers make to the events recorded in it. Time and again, the psalmists refer to these (Ps. 44:1-3; 78:54, 55; 105:42-45; 135:10-12; 136:17-22), as do Nehemiah (Neh. 9:22-25), Isaiah (Isa. 28:21), the apostle Paul (Acts 13:19; Heb. 11:30, 31), and the disciple James (Jas. 2:25).
5. (a) What period is covered by the book of Joshua? (b) Why is the name Joshua appropriate?
5 The book of Joshua covers a period of over 20 years, from the entry into Canaan in 1473 B.C.E. to approximately 1450 B.C.E., in which year Joshua probably died. The very name Joshua (Hebrew, Yehoh·shuʹaʽ), meaning “Jehovah Is Salvation,” is most fitting in view of Joshua’s role as visible leader in Israel during the conquest of the land. He gave all the glory to Jehovah as Deliverer. In the Septuagint the book is called I·e·sousʹ (the Greek equivalent of Yehoh·shuʹaʽ), and from this the name Jesus has been derived. In his fine qualities of courage, obedience, and integrity, Joshua was truly a splendid prophetic type of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Rom. 5:1.
CONTENTS OF JOSHUA
6. Into what natural sections does the book of Joshua fall?
6 The book falls into four natural sections: (1) crossing into the Promised Land, (2) the conquest of Canaan, (3) apportioning the land, and (4) Joshua’s farewell exhortations. The entire account is vividly told and packed with thrilling drama.
7. What encouragement and counsel does Jehovah give Joshua?
7 Crossing into the Promised Land (1:1–5:12). Knowing of the tests ahead, Jehovah gives assurance and sound counsel to Joshua at the outset: “Only be courageous and very strong . . . This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely. Have I not commanded you? Be courageous and strong . . . for Jehovah your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:7-9) Joshua gives credit to Jehovah as the real Leader and Commander and immediately sets about preparing to cross the Jordan as commanded. The Israelites accept him as Moses’ successor, and they pledge loyalty. Onward, then, to the conquest of Canaan!
8. (a) How does Rahab demonstrate faith? (b) How does Jehovah show himself to be “a living God” in the midst of Israel?
8 Two men are dispatched to spy out Jericho. Rahab the harlot seizes the opportunity to demonstrate her faith in Jehovah by hiding the spies at the risk of her life. In return, the spies swear that she will be spared when Jericho is destroyed. The spies carry back the report that all the inhabitants of the land have grown disheartened because of the Israelites. The report being favorable, Joshua moves immediately to the Jordan River, which is at flood stage. Jehovah now gives tangible evidence that he is backing up Joshua and that, just as in Moses’ time, there is “a living God” in the midst of Israel. (3:10) As the priests carrying the ark of the covenant step into the Jordan, the waters from upstream are heaped up, allowing the Israelites to pass over on dry ground. Joshua takes 12 stones from the middle of the river as a memorial and sets another 12 stones in the river, where the priests are standing, after which the priests pass over and the waters return to flood stage.
9. What next happens at Gilgal?
9 Once across, the people encamp at Gilgal, between the Jordan and Jericho, and here Joshua sets up the memorial stones as a witness to the generations to come and “in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Jehovah’s hand, that it is strong; in order that you may indeed fear Jehovah your God always.” (4:24) (Joshua 10:15 indicates that thereafter Gilgal may have been used as a base camp for some time.) It is here that the sons of Israel are circumcised, since there had been no circumcising during the wilderness journey. The Passover is celebrated, the manna ceases, and at last the Israelites begin to eat the produce of the land.
10. How does Jehovah instruct Joshua concerning the capture of Jericho, and what dramatic action follows?
10 Conquest of Canaan (5:13–12:24). Now the first objective lies within striking distance. But how to take this “tightly shut up” walled city of Jericho? (6:1) Jehovah himself details the procedure, sending the “prince of the army of Jehovah” to instruct Joshua. (5:14) Once a day for six days, the armies of Israel must march around the city, with the men of war in the lead, followed in procession by priests blowing rams’ horns and others carrying the ark of the covenant. On the seventh day, they must go around seven times. Joshua faithfully relays the orders to the people. Exactly as commanded, the armies march around Jericho. No word is spoken. There is no sound but the tramping of feet and the blowing of horns by the priests. Then, on the final day, after the completion of the seventh circuit, Joshua signals them to shout. Shout they do, “a great war cry,” and the walls of Jericho fall down flat! (6:20) As one man, they rush the city, capture it, and devote it to fiery destruction. Only the faithful Rahab and her household find deliverance.
11. How is the initial reverse at Ai remedied?
11 Then on westward to Ai! Confidence in another easy victory turns to dismay, as the men of Ai put to rout the 3,000 Israelite soldiers sent up to capture the city. What has happened? Has Jehovah forsaken them? Joshua anxiously inquires of Jehovah. In reply Jehovah discloses that contrary to his command to devote everything in Jericho to destruction, someone in the camp has disobeyed, stealing something and hiding it. This uncleanness must be removed from the camp before Israel can continue to prosper with Jehovah’s blessing. Under divine guidance, Achan, the evildoer, is discovered, and he and his household are stoned to death. With Jehovah’s favor restored, the Israelites now move against Ai. Once again Jehovah himself reveals the strategy to be used. The men of Ai are lured out of their walled city and find themselves trapped in an ambush. The city is captured and devoted to destruction with all its inhabitants. (8:26-28) No compromise with the enemy!
12. What divine command does Joshua next carry out?
12 In obedience to Jehovah’s command through Moses, Joshua next builds an altar in Mount Ebal and writes on it “a copy of the law.” (8:32) Then he reads the words of the Law, together with the blessing and the malediction, to the assembly of the entire nation as they stand, half in front of Mount Gerizim and half in front of Mount Ebal.—Deut. 11:29; 27:1-13.
13. What results from the Gibeonites’ acting “with shrewdness”?
13 Alarmed at the speedy progress of the invasion, a number of the petty kingdoms of Canaan unite in an effort to halt Joshua’s advance. However, when ‘the Gibeonites hear what Joshua has done to Jericho and Ai, they act with shrewdness.’ (Josh. 9:3, 4) Under pretense of being from a land distant from Canaan, they enter into a covenant with Joshua “to let them live.” When the ruse is discovered, the Israelites honor the covenant but make the Gibeonites “gatherers of wood and drawers of water,” like the ‘lowest slaves,’ thus fulfilling in part Noah’s inspired curse on Canaan, the son of Ham.—Josh. 9:15, 27; Gen. 9:25.
14. How does Jehovah demonstrate at Gibeon that he is fighting for Israel?
14 This defection of the Gibeonites is no small matter, for “Gibeon was a great city . . . greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty ones.” (Josh. 10:2) Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, sees in this a threat to himself and the other kingdoms in Canaan. An example must be made to stop further desertion to the enemy. So Adoni-zedek and four other kings (those of the city kingdoms of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon) organize and war against Gibeon. Honoring his covenant with the Gibeonites, Joshua marches all night to their aid and routs the armies of the five kings. Once again Jehovah enters into the fight, using superhuman powers and signs, with devastating results. Mighty hailstones rain down from heaven, killing more of the enemy than the swords of the Israelite army. And then, wonder of wonders, ‘the sun keeps standing still in the middle of the heavens and does not hasten to set for about a whole day.’ (10:13) Thus, mopping-up operations can be completed. The worldly-wise may try to discount this miraculous event, but men of faith accept the divine record, well aware of Jehovah’s power to control the forces of the universe and direct them according to his will. For a fact, “Jehovah himself was fighting for Israel.”—10:14.
15. Describe the course of the invasion and its climax at Hazor.
15 After slaying the five kings, Joshua devotes Makkedah to destruction. Passing on quickly to the south, he utterly destroys Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir—cities in the hills between the Salt Sea and the Great Sea. By now news of the invasion has spread the length of Canaan. Up in the north, the alarm is sounded by Jabin, king of Hazor. Far and wide, to both sides of the Jordan, he sends out the call to mass for united action against the Israelites. As they encamp by the waters of Merom, below Mount Hermon, the assembled forces of the enemy are “as numerous as the grains of sand that are on the seashore.” (11:4) Again Jehovah assures Joshua of victory and outlines the battle strategy. And the result? Another crushing defeat for the enemies of Jehovah’s people! Hazor is burned with fire, and its allied cities and their kings are devoted to destruction. Thus Joshua extends the area of Israelite domination through the length and breadth of Canaan. Thirty-one kings have been defeated.
16. What assignments of land are made?
16 Apportioning the land (13:1–22:34). Despite these many victories, with many key fortified cities destroyed and with organized resistance broken for the time being, “to a very great extent the land yet remains to be taken in possession.” (13:1) However, Joshua is now close to 80 years of age, and there is also another big job to be done—that of apportioning the land as inheritances for nine full tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh. Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their inheritance of land to the east of the Jordan, and the tribe of Levi is to receive none, “Jehovah the God of Israel” being their inheritance. (13:33) With the help of Eleazar the priest, Joshua now makes the assignments to the west of the Jordan. The 85-year-old Caleb, eager to fight Jehovah’s enemies to the last, requests and is assigned the Anakim-infested region of Hebron. (14:12-15) After the tribes receive their inheritances by lot, Joshua requests the city of Timnath-serah in the mountains of Ephraim, and this is given him “at the order of Jehovah.” (19:50) The tent of meeting is set up at Shiloh, which is also in the mountainous region of Ephraim.
17. What provision is made for cities of refuge and for cities of residence for the Levites?
17 Six cities of refuge for the unintentional manslayer are set aside, three on each side of the Jordan. Those to the west of the Jordan are Kedesh in Galilee, Shechem in Ephraim, and Hebron in the hill country of Judah. Those on the east are Bezer in Reuben’s territory, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan. These are given “a sacred status.” (20:7) Forty-eight cities with their pasture grounds are assigned by lot from the tribal allocations as cities of residence for the Levites. These include the six cities of refuge. Thus Israel “proceeded to take possession of [the land] and to dwell in it.” Just as Jehovah had promised, so “it all came true.”—21:43, 45.
18. What crisis develops between the eastern and the western tribes, but how is this resolved?
18 The men of war from the tribes of Reuben and Gad and from the half tribe of Manasseh, who have continued with Joshua up to this time, now return to their inheritances across the Jordan, carrying with them Joshua’s exhortation to faithfulness and his blessing. On the way, as they come close to the Jordan, they erect a great altar. This precipitates a crisis. Since the appointed place for Jehovah’s worship is at the tent of meeting in Shiloh, the western tribes fear treachery and disloyalty, and they prepare for battle against the supposed rebels. However, bloodshed is averted when it is explained that the altar is not for sacrifice but only to serve as “a witness between us [Israel to the east and to the west of the Jordan] that Jehovah is the true God.”—22:34.
19, 20. (a) What farewell exhortations does Joshua give? (b) What issue does he put before Israel, and how does he emphasize the right choice for Israel to make?
19 Joshua’s farewell exhortations (23:1–24:33). ‘And it comes about many days after Jehovah has given Israel rest from all their enemies all around, when Joshua is old and advanced in days,’ that he calls all Israel together for inspiring farewell exhortations. (23:1) Humble to the end, he gives Jehovah all the credit for the great victories over the nations. Let all now continue faithful! “Be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses by never turning away from it to the right or to the left.” (23:6) They must shun the false gods and ‘be on constant guard for their souls by loving Jehovah their God.’ (23:11) There must be no compromise with the remaining Canaanites, no marriage or interfaith alliances with them, for this will bring down Jehovah’s blazing anger.
20 Assembling all the tribes at Shechem and calling out their representative officers before Jehovah, Joshua next relates Jehovah’s personal account of His dealings with His people from the time He called Abraham and brought him into Canaan until the conquest and occupation of the Land of Promise. Again Joshua warns against false religion, calling on Israel to “fear Jehovah and serve him in faultlessness and in truth.” Yes, “serve Jehovah”! Then he states the issue with utmost clarity: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve, whether the gods that your forefathers . . . served or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are dwelling. But as for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.” With conviction reminiscent of Moses, he reminds Israel that Jehovah “is a holy God; he is a God exacting exclusive devotion.” So, away with the foreign gods! The people are thus stirred to declare as one man: “Jehovah our God we shall serve, and to his voice we shall listen!” (24:14, 15, 19, 24) Before dismissing them, Joshua makes a covenant with them, writes these words in the book of God’s law, and sets up a great stone as a witness. Then Joshua dies at the good old age of 110 years and is buried in Timnath-serah.
21. What wise admonition in the book of Joshua is of outstanding benefit today?
21 As you read Joshua’s farewell exhortations concerning faithful service, does it not stir your heart? Do you not echo the words of Joshua that he uttered more than 3,400 years ago: “As for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah”? Or if you serve Jehovah under conditions of trial or isolation from other faithful ones, do you not draw inspiration from Jehovah’s words to Joshua, uttered at the beginning of the march into the Land of Promise: “Only be courageous and very strong”? Moreover, do you not find inestimable benefit in following His admonition to ‘read [the Bible] in an undertone day and night, in order to make your way successful’? Surely, all who follow such wise counsel will find it outstandingly beneficial.—24:15; 1:7-9.
22. What essential qualities of true worship are highlighted?
22 The events so vividly recorded in the book of Joshua are more than just ancient history. They highlight godly principles—preeminently that implicit faith and obedience to Jehovah are vital to his blessing. The apostle Paul records that by faith “the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days,” and that because of faith “Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who acted disobediently.” (Heb. 11:30, 31) James likewise cites Rahab as a beneficial example for Christians in producing works of faith.—Jas. 2:24-26.
23. What powerful reminders are contained in Joshua?
23 The unusual supernatural events recorded at Joshua 10:10-14, when the sun kept motionless and the moon stood still, as well as the many other miracles that Jehovah performed in behalf of his people, are powerful reminders of Jehovah’s ability and purpose to bring a final extermination of all wicked opposers of God. Gibeon, the scene of battle both in Joshua’s time and in David’s time, is connected by Isaiah with Jehovah’s rising up in agitation for this extermination, “that he may do his deed—his deed is strange—and that he may work his work—his work is unusual.”—Isa. 28:21, 22.
24. How does the book of Joshua tie in with the Kingdom promises, and what assurance does it give that these will ‘all come true’?
24 Do the events of Joshua point forward to God’s Kingdom? Certainly they do! That the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land are to be tied in with something far greater was indicated by the apostle Paul: “For if Joshua had led them into a place of rest, God would not afterward have spoken of another day. So there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:1, 8, 9) They press onward to make sure of their “entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:10, 11) As shown by Matthew 1:5, Rahab became an ancestress of Jesus Christ. The book of Joshua thus provides another vital link in the record leading down to the production of the Kingdom Seed. It provides firm assurance that Jehovah’s Kingdom promises will come to certain fulfillment. Speaking of God’s promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and repeated to the Israelites, their descendants, the record states concerning Joshua’s day: “Not a promise failed out of all the good promise that Jehovah had made to the house of Israel; it all came true.” (Josh. 21:45; Gen. 13:14-17) Likewise, with Jehovah’s “good promise” concerning the righteous Kingdom of heaven—it shall all come true!