Joshua in the Bible: A Faithful Servant of God

After the exodus from Egypt and the death of Moses, Joshua emerged to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. What can we learn from this man of faith?

At the end of Joshua’s life, the following statement is made about him: “Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old . . . Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel” (Joshua 24:29-31).

Character of Joshua in the Bible

Joshua’s faithfulness had a great influence on those of his generation. Israel remained faithful to God’s way of life throughout the time of Joshua. There are few points in Israel’s history when such a statement could be made.

Notice an observation concerning this great leader: “By the faithful serving of his youth he was taught to command as a man; as a citizen he was patriotic in the highest degree; as a warrior, fearless and blameless; as a judge, calm and impartial . . .

“No care, no advantage, no duty was neglected by him. He ever looked up for and obeyed divine direction with the simplicity of a child and wielded the great power given him with calmness, unostentation, and without swerving, to the accomplishment of a high, unselfish purpose. He earned by manly vigor a quiet, honored old age and retained his faith and loyalty, exclaiming, in almost his dying breath, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’” (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Joshua”).

Questions about Joshua

Yet there is so much we don’t know about Joshua. Was he married? If so, who did he marry? Did he have children?

How did he become known to Moses? How was he selected for his unique position?

How old was he when he was selected to be one of the spies? How old was he when he was selected to lead Israel?

The Bible doesn’t focus on his personal life, but rather on his faithfulness and leadership.

We do know that Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 13:8). He was the son of Nun (Exodus 33:11). He was considered a prince or leader of his tribe (Numbers 13:2-3).

Meaning of Joshua in the Bible

His parents named him Hoshea, which means “salvation,” and Moses renamed him Joshua meaning “YHWH saves” (Numbers 13:16).

We are not given the reason for the change in name, but Moses understood clearly that it is the Lord who saves, not man. Perhaps he wanted Joshua to remember that fact.

Moses and Joshua

Joshua became Moses’ servant or assistant as a young man (Exodus 33:11). He was led by God’s Spirit (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9). He died at age 110 (Joshua 24:29).

We are first introduced to Joshua in Exodus 17. The children of Israel were camped at Rephidim, and Amalek attacked them. Moses instructed Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9).

With the rod of God raised up in Moses’ hands, Joshua and Israel prevailed. When Moses let down his hands, Amalek prevailed. Ultimately, Joshua defeated Amalek as the sun began to set.

An important lesson for Israel and especially Joshua was that victory comes from God and our faithfulness to Him. The Bible does not inform us of how or why Joshua was selected to choose and lead Israel’s men of war.

Joshua and Caleb viewed the land through the eyes of faith. The other 10 spies viewed the land without faith in God or His promises.Next, we read of Joshua accompanying Moses up Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13). Joshua is referred to as Moses’ assistant, faithfully serving his leader. Apparently, Joshua accompanied Moses partway up Mount Sinai. Later we see Joshua accompanying Moses down the mountain (Exodus 32:17).

It is interesting to note that when Joshua heard the noise coming from the camp of Israel, he associated the noise with battle. Moses observed that it was the noise of neither victory nor defeat, but rather the sound of singing.

After Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf, Moses “took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting” (Exodus 33:7). Moses would meet with God at the tabernacle of meeting, and when Moses returned to the camp, “his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle” (Exodus 33:11).

Once again, we see Joshua faithfully serving in a very trusted position of attending to or guarding the tabernacle of meeting in the absence of Moses.

Joshua and Caleb in the Bible

In Numbers 13 we read that Joshua was selected as one of the spies to survey the land of Canaan. He represented the tribe of Ephraim. Those chosen for this mission are described as leaders of their tribes. So Joshua was considered one of the leaders of the tribe of Ephraim.

When Moses sent the spies to the land of Canaan, he admonished them to “be of good courage.” After spending 40 days exploring the land of Canaan, the spies returned and gave a report to Moses and the congregation.

Ten spies gave an evil report of the land: “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:32-33).

Joshua and Caleb were of a different opinion: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them” (Numbers 14:7-9).

How could 12 men view the same land and the same fruit of the land and arrive at such different conclusions? Joshua and Caleb viewed the land through the eyes of faith. The other 10 spies viewed the land without faith in God or His promises.

All 12 men experienced God’s greatness: their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, hearing the Lord’s voice at Mount Sinai, eating manna (the bread from heaven), drinking water from a rock, to name just a few of the incredible miracles God had performed on behalf of the Israelites.

Through faith, Joshua and Caleb knew that God would fulfill all that He had promised. The other 10 spies and most of the congregation of Israel did not. They focused on the obstacles rather than the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Joshua becomes leader

After 40 years of wandering, the children of Israel were camped by the Jordan River in the plains of Moab across from Jericho. God instructed Moses, “Go up into this Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered” (Numbers 27:12-13).

Moses requested God to appoint a leader over the congregation of Israel, his replacement, so that they “may not be like sheep which have no shepherd” (verse 17).

God instructed Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate [commission] him in their sight” (verses 18-19).

So Joshua was selected to lead the children of Israel after the death of Moses. Why Joshua? Why not Caleb or someone from the generation born in the wilderness?

Joshua was trained by God and Moses for 40 years to lead the people into the Promised Land. He witnessed the miracles of God in Egypt and the wilderness. He led Israel into battle against the Amalekites.

He accompanied Moses up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. He was at the tabernacle of meeting whenever God spoke with Moses. He was Moses’ faithful servant and assistant. He spied out the land of Canaan and brought back a good report, and he was led by God’s Spirit.

Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land

After the death of Moses and 30 days of mourning, the children of Israel were commanded to prepare to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan. God admonished Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” and “do not be afraid, nor be dismayed” (Joshua 1:6, 9).

When the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the Jordan River, God performed an incredible miracle similar to the crossing of the Red Sea (Joshua 3:15-17). The priests stood on dry ground, and all Israel passed over the Jordan on dry ground.

God listened to the request of His faithful servant Joshua and performed an awesome miracle. The five kings of the Amorites were defeated, and within a long day the children of Israel had access to the land God had promised them in the hill country of southern Canaan.God demonstrated that just as He was with Moses, so He was with Joshua.

After the children of Israel crossed the Jordan, they camped at Gilgal. Gilgal served as a base of operations for the Israelites as they began their conquest of Canaan. Here all the men were circumcised because those born during the 40 years in the wilderness had not been circumcised. The Israelites observed the Passover at Gilgal, and on the day after the Passover, they ate the produce of the land of Canaan. After that, the miracle of manna ceased, because it was no longer needed.

Joshua and the battle of Jericho

Gilgal was located to the east of Jericho. Jericho was an ancient fortified city that guarded the entrance into the land of Canaan from the east. It was a major obstacle in the path to Israel’s inheritance of the Promised Land.

God appeared to Joshua near Jericho in the form of the Commander of the army of the Lord with a sword in His hand (Joshua 5:13-15). Joshua was instructed to have the priests take the ark along with seven priests with rams’ horns. All the men of war would join them. They were to march around the city for seven days with the priests blowing the rams’ horns.

On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times. When the signal was given, all the people were to shout with a great shout, and the walls of the city would fall down.

It is hard to imagine how the Israelites initially received these instructions. God referred to them as a stiff-necked, rebellious people. Perhaps this seemed like a meaningless exercise to some of them.

Marching around the city was not required when they defeated the king of Arad, or Sihon king of the Amorites or Og king of Bashan. Why Jericho?

The Bible does not give the reason, but we read that Joshua and the Israelites faithfully followed God’s instructions and God fulfilled His promise. We read, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).

God doesn’t always give us the reason for His commands, but He does faithfully fulfill His promises when we follow His instructions.

Battle of Ai

After the destruction of Jericho, the Israelites attacked the smaller city of Ai. Joshua sent only about 3,000 men to attack Ai, and these men were routed and fled. Thirty-six men were killed, and “the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (Joshua 7:5).

Joshua was discouraged and asked God why they were defeated. God revealed that Israel had sinned at Jericho. Someone had disobeyed God’s command to destroy everything except the silver and gold and vessels of bronze and iron, which were to be put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.

God revealed that Achan had sinned. He had coveted and taken some of the articles from Jericho. Joshua and the children of Israel faithfully followed God’s instruction to destroy Achan and his household and thus remove the sin from the midst of the congregation. (Study more about the story of Achan in our article “The Dire Consequences of Hidden Sins.”)

Then God instructed Joshua how to conquer and destroy the city of Ai.

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim

After the destruction of Ai, Joshua and all Israel journeyed to the area of Shechem in fulfillment of a command given by Moses in Deuteronomy 11:29. An altar was built on Mount Ebal, and sacrifices were offered to God. Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the Law of Moses. Half of the congregation was in front of Mount Ebal (curses) and half in front of Mount Gerizim (blessings).

Joshua “read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them” (Joshua 8:34-35).

Joshua faithfully carried out the command given by Moses before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River.

The sun stood still

In Joshua 10 we read of an incredible miracle that God performed on behalf of Joshua and the children of Israel.

The leaders of Israel had been deceived by the Gibeonites and had entered into a treaty of peace with them. Then the king of Jerusalem felt threatened, and he and the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon gathered their armies and warred against Gibeon.

The Gibeonites sent a plea for help to Joshua at Gilgal. Joshua and his men of war marched through the night, covering a distance of approximately 25 miles and ascending more than 3,000 feet in elevation.

Joshua came upon the enemy armies suddenly. “So the LORD routed them before Israel, killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, chased them along the road that goes to Beth Horon, and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And it happened, as they fled before Israel and were on the descent of Beth Horon, that the LORD cast down large hailstones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword” (Joshua 10:10-11).

But Joshua and Israel’s men of war needed more time to complete the battle, so Joshua made an unusual request of God.

“Then Joshua spoke to the LORD . . . and he said in the sight of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon’ . . . So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man” (verses 12-14).

God listened to the request of His faithful servant Joshua and performed an awesome miracle. The five kings of the Amorites were defeated, and within a long day the children of Israel had access to the land God had promised them in the hill country of southern Canaan.

Battle of the waters of Merom

In Joshua 11 we read of Joshua leading the Israelites against the kingdoms in northern Canaan. The battle took place near the waters of Merom and the size of the Canaanite army is described as “the sand that is on the seashore in multitude” (verse 4). The capital of the confederation was Hazor; a large, wealthy and fortified city along the ancient trade route that connected Egypt, the Mediterranean coast, Syria and Babylon.

God promised to deliver this vast multitude and their cities into the hands of Joshua and Israel. The land of Canaan was now open for Israel to settle. Joshua’s faithfulness and success are summed up this way: “As the LORD had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:15).

Joshua presided over the distribution of the land of Canaan to the various tribes of Israel. Cities of refuge were established; Levitical cities were set up; and Joshua dismissed the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh to return to their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan River.

“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”

As Joshua was nearing the end of his life, he called for the elders of Israel, and they again gathered at Shechem.

He encouraged them to remain faithful to God. He reminded them that God had fulfilled every good thing He had promised them—not one word of those promises had failed. Joshua encouraged them to be courageous and to keep and do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses. He exhorted them to fear God and serve Him in sincerity and in truth.

And then he challenged them: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

Joshua’s example of faith and faithfulness still has much to teach us today.

Further inspiring stories of faith can be found in the “Men of Faith” and “Women of Faith” sections.

About the Author

David Baker

David Baker

David Baker is a pastor for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.  He is currently serving as regional director for the Philippines, Asia and Australia.  He is happily married to his wife, Dorrie. They have been married for more than 32 years and have two children.

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