Many associate Joshua with Jericho and its walls that came tumbling down. But there are numerous other spiritual lessons we can glean from this exciting book.

God chose Joshua to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land after the death of Moses. Joshua was a man who showed living faith toward God and gained the victory against overwhelming odds. Joshua demonstrated the type of faith we need to enable us to overcome the challenges and difficulties we face today.

Introduction to the leader Joshua

One of the main themes of the book of Joshua is this: “Be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1:6-7, 9, 18). The book of Numbers shows that Israel lacked the faith to enter the land of Canaan. But God inspired Joshua with courage and faith to lead Israel to meet the enemy face to face, trusting God to give them the victory.

This is what authors William LaSor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush have to say about Joshua: “Joshua’s character is part of the theological message of the book. He is pictured both as a second Moses leading the people to victory in Yahweh’s name and power and as a prototype of ideal kingship in Israel. In righteousness, wisdom, and loyalty to the Lord he is seen to embody the traits necessary to all servant leaders. He stands alone in the Old Testament as a political and military hero whose story is untainted” (Old Testament Survey, p. 143).

What a fitting tribute to a truly great biblical leader. Of the 12 men selected to spy out the land of Canaan (one from each of the tribes), only Joshua and Caleb brought a favorable report. While the other 10 spies focused on Canaanite giants and cities with strongly fortified walls, Joshua and Caleb focused their minds on the power of God to fulfill His promises (Numbers 14:6-10).

As a result of the fear and lack of faith the 10 cowardly men instilled into the people, the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb were grief-stricken and cried out to the congregation, “Only do not rebel against the LORD. … The LORD is with us. Do not fear them.” But the result was a further angry response, even a threat to stone Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:9-10).

Because of the Israelites’ hardness of heart and rebellion, only Joshua and Caleb of the men 20 or older who were counted in the census were allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:29-30).

This incident has profound lessons for us today. Once committed to God and His ways, we should not look back and take our eyes off the goal. It is up to us to follow God’s lead in our lives (1 Corinthians 10:1-12) and be willing to follow Him under all circumstances.

Preparations for conquest

The death of Moses marks the transition from Deuteronomy to Joshua. The book of Joshua, along with the book of Judges, is the beginning of the Former Prophets section of historical books. At the end of Deuteronomy the people were camping in the plains of Moab and waiting for further instructions to cross the Jordan into Canaan.

In summary, the book of Joshua relates the history of Israel from the death of Moses, through the conquest of Canaan, to the death of Joshua at age 110 (Joshua 24:29). The people were allowed three days to prepare food for the journey (1:10-11), then the camp was moved close to the Jordan River and the people were carefully instructed as to the order of how they should march (3:1-6).

Outline of Joshua

Most commentaries divide the book into three major sections:

  • Chapters 1-12: The conquest of Canaan.
  • Chapters 13-22: The division of the land.
  • Chapters 23-24: Joshua’s final words and death.

Let’s consider some of the major events and lessons in the book of Joshua.

The example of Rahab

In chapter 2 spies were sent to spy out the city of Jericho, a city that lay at the entrance of the mountain passes leading to the central interior. As such, it was vital that the city be captured.

The story includes the incident of Rahab, who demonstrated that she believed that God had given the land to Israel. She recognized God as the Supreme Ruler over heaven and earth, and she placed the lives of her family and herself in His hands.

Rahab is included among the many examples of people of faith in the Bible (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). She became a naturalized Israelite and later married Salmon, a prominent leader of the tribe of Judah. Their son Boaz married Ruth (Ruth 2-4), and among their descendants were David (Ruth 4:20-22) and Jesus (Matthew 1:1-6).

Jericho defeated

While camping at Gilgal, the Israelites observed the Passover (Joshua 5:10) according to the instructions God gave to Moses (Leviticus 23:5). This was followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (verse 6).

Joshua received orders about how he should occupy and destroy the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:2-5). They were to circle the city once every day for six days, then on the seventh day, seven times. After marching around the city seven times, the priests blew the trumpets and “the people shouted with a great shout” (verse 20). After that, God caused the walls to tumble down. The men of war scrambled across the debris and took the city.

It is likely that the conquest of Jericho occurred during the seven days of Unleavened Bread. If so, the walls of Jericho may have fallen on the seventh day of the Feast.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is part of the seven annual festivals of God. These festivals include holy days that are set apart (sanctified) by God for His people to assemble and worship Him (Leviticus 23:1-4).

God gave instructions that all leavened products should be removed from homes during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14-20). During this time leaven symbolizes sin, and Jericho was also a symbol of sin that God was destroying. Christians are reminded each year that as leaven is removed from our homes, so we should strive to remove sin from our lives (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Achan’s sin

The Israelites were forbidden to claim for themselves any spoils once they entered the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:17-19). However, one person stole certain items that God had declared “accursed” or “devoted” to God. The result was that 36 men of war perished, and the army was defeated in the battle to capture the city of Ai (7:2-5).

Joshua was understandably upset and confused—why had God allowed this to happen when He had promised to enable them to conquer the people of the land (verses 6-9)? God revealed to him that someone in the camp had disobeyed His instructions by taking “the accursed thing.”

God then identified the guilty people as Achan and his family. They were executed for deliberately violating God’s clear instructions.

The people of Israel learned a bitter lesson: One person can have a detrimental effect on the whole nation. Unless sin is checked and removed, it can spread and negatively influence and harm other people. In this example, Achan’s sin affected the welfare of the entire nation.

Until the sin was removed, God would not bless them: “Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you” (7:12). In the same way, God expects us to constantly root sin out of our lives by repenting when we recognize that we have sinned. Unless we do, He will not answer our prayers, and neither will He respond to or hear our requests (Isaiah 59:2).

Achan’s sin followed three stages of sin. He first saw the items that he desired; then covetousness followed, which eventually led to stealing—breaking the Eighth Commandment.

Much later the New Testament writers James and John warned Christians against similar attitudes and actions (James 1:12-16; 1 John 2:15-17). If only Achan had checked his covetous thoughts and inordinate desires, he and his family would have been spared. And let us not forget that due to Achan’s greed and selfishness, 36 other men were killed—men who most likely had wives and children.

Paradoxically, had Achan patiently trusted God, he would have been allowed to take the spoils from the conquest of the next city, Ai (Joshua 8:2). Unfortunately, he allowed greed to master him, which led to his death and the destruction of his family.

Joshua’s long day

Some argue that the miraculous long day of Joshua (10:12-14) disrupted the weekly cycle, resulting in a change of the days of the week. This is incorrect, as a day, according to God’s reckoning, is from sunset to sunset. Notice that in Joshua 10:14 the Bible distinctly says, “And there has been no day like that, before it or after it” (emphasis added).

God’s Word calls it a dayone day that began and ended with sunset even though it consisted of more than the normal 24 hours. The seven-day weekly cycle remained intact.

God performed a supernatural miracle. He has total control over His creation (Jeremiah 27:5), and “there is nothing too hard” for God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27).

Why did God command total destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan?

It is disturbing and offensive to some that God instructed Joshua and the Israelites to utterly exterminate all human beings in Canaan (Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 10:40; 11:12).

It is not often understood that the peoples of Canaan, as part of their religious rites, participated in the most hideous, abominable and detestable practices. Religious prostitution and child sacrifice formed part of their religion. Babies were buried alive in the foundation of their homes and buildings!

God did not want His people to live among the Canaanites and be pulled into their wicked religious and social practices. As the authors of Old Testament Survey quoted above state, “In Yahweh’s eyes, the Canaanites with their culture and religion were exceedingly evil sinners, who not only committed abominations against God but also sought to entice Israel to join them in these ‘religious’ acts” (p. 148).

Joshua’s final address and exhortation

In chapters 23 and 24 Joshua encouraged the Israelites to remain steadfast and loyal to God: “But you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day” (Joshua 23:8).

As long as they remained faithful and dedicated to God, He would continue to fight for them (verse 10). The people renewed the covenant, and Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God (24:25-26).

Joshua died at the age of 110. He had fulfilled the commission God had given him.

Delving deeper

In Matthew 4:4 Jesus Christ stated: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” As there were no New Testament writings available at that time, Christ referred to the Old Testament scriptures, including the book of Joshua.

It is through the diligent study of the Word of God that we grow spiritually and come to understand what He expects from us in our daily lives. God inspired the apostle Paul to write to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

May God grant us the desire and yearning for deeper knowledge and understanding of His instruction book to all of mankind.

Learn more about how to gain the most from your study in our section about “The Practical and Priceless Benefits of Bible Study.”

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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