The sixth book of the OT, and the first book of the second section of the Hebrew OT, the Prophets.  The book is named after its central character, Joshua, son of Nun, who was Moses’ successor.

The book of Joshua continues the story of the Exodus.  As Dillard & Longman (p107) comment:

‘The greatest act of salvation in the Old Testament was not the Exodus alone.  The Exodus was just one half of a great redemptive complex.  God had not promised his people only that he would redeem them from bondage, but also that he would give them the land he promised to the fathers as their inheritance (Gen 12:2-3; 15:18-21).  The great work of redemption from bondage in Egypt cannot be seaprated from the inheritance of land that God had promised.  The book of Joshua takes us into that inheritance: it describes the conquest and distribution of the land.’


The book is anonymous, as are the rest of the Former Prophets.  Walkte (NBC) writes:

‘On the issue of authorship some scholars, following the Talmud (c. AD 500), assign the book to Joshua himself. They support this by noting that Rahab is said to be still alive at the time of writing (6:25) and that the author, using ‘we’, includes himself among those that crossed the Jordan (5:1). The remark about Rahab in 6:25, however, may refer to her descendants, and other Hebrew texts read ‘they’, not ‘we’ in 5:1. Also, as in 5:6, the author could have used ‘we’ out of a sense of solidarity with the generation that entered the land.’


It is also difficult to estimate the time of writing, suggestions varying from soon after Joshua’s death right up to the Exile have been proposed.  Waltke (NBC), again,

‘The dating issue is sometimes also decided entirely on the basis of remarks within Joshua, and some scholars who use this method date the book some time between the deaths of Joshua and his contemporaries who outlived him (24:29-31) and the time of Samuel (c. 1050 BC). Because Sidon is reckoned as Phoenicia’s leading city (11:8) and Tyre conquered it about 1200 BC, some favour that as the date of the book’s completion. Other internal pointers to the book’s date are that Jebus, Old Jerusalem, and Gezer are as yet unconquered (15:63; 16:10). Jerusalem eventually fell to David (2 Sa. 5:6-10) and Gezer to Solomon (1 Ki. 9:16). Also in 13:2-3 the Philistines, who invaded Judah’s coastal plain in 1175 BC are present, though this could have been a later scribal addition.’

‘More recently scholars have started to look outside the book itself to decide the issue of dating. Some of them see links between Joshua and the Pentateuch. They think there is a continuation of the Pentateuch’s alleged literary strands: namely, E in chapters 2-11 and P in 13-22, with various additions from other sources. Others have reached the conclusion that in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings there is a more or less closed, or at least shaped, unity. The language, style and theology of these books support the conclusion that a so-called Deuteronomist (an individual or a school) gathered together a variety of sources from various periods and wove them into a comprehensive whole during the exile. This would mean that Joshua was written c. 550 BC. These books are linked together by overlapping conclusions and introductions. Jos. 1:1 matches Dt. 34:1-12, especially v 5, where Moses is called for the first time ‘servant of the LORD’. That accolade is bestowed on Joshua, al so for the first time, at the end of Joshua (24:29). The conclusion of Joshua (24:29-31) is repeated as part of the introduction to Judges (2:6-9). The Deuteronomist’s style is most apparent in the farewell addresses by Moses (Dt. 31), Joshua (Jos. 23), Samuel (1 Sa. 12), David (1 Ki. 2:1-4) and Solomon (1 Ki. 8:54-61), capped by the editorial summary of the Deuteronomist himself (2 Ki. 17).’ (NBC)

Relationship with other books of the OT

On the question of the relationship between this book and others in the OT, Jews have always referred to Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings as ‘The former Prophets’.  Modern scholars, however, tend to emphase the similarities between Deuteronomy and these books.  Wenham has identified five themes that link Deuteronomy and Joshua:

1. The holy war of conquest.  The principles for this are spelled out in Deut 7, 20, 21 and 25, and are illustrated in the accounts of the conquest of Jericho and Ai, Josh 2, 6-11.

2. The distribution of the land

3. The unity of all Israel

4. Joshua as the successor of Moses

5. The covenant.  The terms of the covenant are set out in Deuteronomy, and the Book of Joshua illustrates life under the law, 1:8f.

Waltke writes:

‘The Deuteronomist assumed his readers knew the earlier stories within the Pentateuch. For example, Joseph’s bones are provided for in Gn. 50:25, taken out of Egypt in Ex. 13:19 and buried at Shechem in Jos. 24:32; and Caleb’s promised inheritance in Nu. 14:24, 30 finds fulfilment in Jos. 14:6-15.’


The events recorded in the book took place around 1250-1200 BC, although some would place them up to 200 years earlier, depending on the dating of the Exodus.

The Book of Joshua relates the story of the conquest of Canaan.  The general theological tone is similar to that of Deuteronomy, and in this respect is similar to the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings.

The two main divisions of the book are: (a) The Conquest of the Land, 1-12; (b) The Assignment and Settlement of the Land, 13-22.  An appendix (23-24) relates Joshua’s farewell addresses.  Waltke (NBC) says, ‘the book of Joshua is all about the promised land: its possession (chs. 1-12), its distribution (chs. 13-21) and its retention (chs. 22-24). On the other side, it is also about the dispossession of ‘the wicked’ from that land. The land fit for kings was given to a people fit to be kings (see Jos. 12).’

It has been observed that this book tell the story from the strategic point of view of a general, whereas the Book of Judges is more from the standpoint of the individual fighting soldier.


‘Although the people had already gained signal victories, and become the occupants of a commodious and tolerably fertile tract of country, the Divine promise as to the land of Canaan still remained suspended. Nay, the leading article in the Covenant was unaccomplished, as if God, after cooping up his people in a corner, had left his work in a shapeless and mutilated form. This Book, then, shows how, when the intolerable impiety of the people had interrupted the course of deliverance, God, while inflicting punishment, so tempered the severity of justice as ultimately to perform what he had promised concerning the inheritance of Canaan.’ (Calvin)

‘First, we see how, when the wandering of forty years in the wilderness had almost effaced the remembrance of the passage of the Red Sea, the course of deliverance was proved to have been uninterrupted by the repetition of the same miracle in the passage of the Jordan. The renewal of circumcision was equivalent to a re-establishment of the Covenant which had been buried in oblivion by the carelessness of the people, or abandoned by them from despair. Next, we see how they were conducted by the hand of God into possession of the promised land. The taking of the first city was an earnest of the perpetual aid which they might hope for from heaven, since the walls of Jericho fell of their own accord, shaken merely by the sound of trumpets. The nations, however, were not completely routed by a single battle, nor in one short campaign, but were gradually worn out and destroyed by many laborious contests.’ (Calvin)

The book represents a certain inclusiveness with regard to the covenant of the Lord with his people.  Note especially the acceptance of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute and her family, Josh 2:9-13; 6:22-23, 25.  Observe also the inclusion of the people of Shechem, Josh 8:30-35 and of Gibeon, Josh 9:3-27, in the worship and fellowship of the people of God.

It was part of the genius of Hebrew thought not to separate life up into sacred and secular, but to consider all aspects of life as holy.  This included the actitivites of war, Josh 5:2-11.  Because of this, success in battle is attributed to the Lord, and all the spoils of battle belong to him, 6:18-19.

The book is full of war, bloodshed, and destruction.  Its theme is the conquest of the land in fulfilment of the promise made by the Lord to the patriarchs.  In approaching a solution to the moral dilemma posed by this, we need to consider, (a) that Joshua lived centuries before Christ; we should not expect to find fully mature Christian thought and ethics in a book written so long before the coming of the Saviour; (b) the Hebrews saw paganism as a dreadful poison, and as such needed to be eradicated; (c) the conquest of Canaan was a divine judgement of the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites), which had at last become full, Gen 15:16; Josh 11:19-20.  Their destruction prefigures that still more terrible punishment of the wicked which will take place at the last day, Mt 25:46; (d) The OT itself is clear that God loves peace – although not peace at any price.  Even David was not allowed to build God’s temple, because he was a man of war.

New Testament perspective

The NT presentation of the conflict of the people of God is, then, very different from the picture painted in Joshua.  But still there is a promised land, to be secured by conflict, and by the explusion of all that is displeasing in the sight of God.

The experiences of Israel in wandering in the desert, and in conquering and settling in the promised land, were ‘written for our admonition’ (1 Cor 10:11).  Positively, the book (a) demonstrates God’s faithfulness to his covenant; (b) provides analogies of discipleship, highlighting issues of faith, obedience, and purity; (c) illustrates and anticipates that rest which God gives to his believing people, Psa 95:11; Heb 4:1-11.  Lilley (NBD) remarks that ‘salvation by grace could not be generally offered (as under the NT) before its necessary judicial ground had been publicly set out in Christ’s death; but we see a pattern of it in God’s dealing with Rahab (cf. Heb 11:31).  God’s purpose at the time was not to teach Christianity, but to prepare the way for Christ through Israel.’

The writer (or compiler) of Joshua assumed his readers knew the earlier stories within the Pentateuch. For example, Joseph’s bones are provided for in Gn. 50:25, taken out of Egypt in Ex. 13:19 and buried at Shechem in Jos. 24:32; and Caleb’s promised inheritance in Nu. 14:24,30 finds fulfilment in Jos. 14:6-15.” (NBC)

The importance of Joshua for Christians lies chiefly in that it (a) shows God’s faithfulness to his covenant (cf. Dt. 7:7; 9:5f.); (b) records the development of his purpose for the nation; (c) gives reasons for a failure, already foreshadowed (Josh 17:13; 18:3), to carry out the divine plan; (d) provides analogies for discipleship, since the spiritual issues of faith, obedience and purity were clearly at stake in the invasion.” (NBD)

The experiences of Israel in Canaan, as in the deserts, were written for our admonition 1 Cor. 10:11. The chief theme of the book is that God gave Israel rest, which their unbelieving fathers had failed to obtain (Ps. 95:11). In Heb. 4:1-11 it is shown that this is a type; the principle, which the Psalmist applied in his own generation, is equally valid for the Christian, while the promise is completely fulfilled (v. 8) only in the rest which God has provided for us in Christ (cf. J. N. Darby, Synopsis 1, p. 328). If this is the primary application of the invasion story, there is also much to be learnt from the successes and failures, and from Joshua’s leadership.” (NBD)


Waltke identifies the following themes:-

  1. The land as gift, Josh 1:2n
  2. Unity of the founding generation, Josh 1:5n
  3. Unity of all Israel.
  4. Covenant faithfulness, Josh 1:3n
  5. Holy war, Josh 1:9n

Spiritual Message

1.  Success comes when God’s people obey his instructions, rather than following their own desires.  God is to be trusted, rather than money, muscle, or mental ability.  Success in the spiritual life comes from doing God’s work in God’s way.  Even then, success is to be measured according to God’s standards, rather than our own.

2.  Faith is developed by remembering what God has done in the past, which then leads to a strong confidence that he will be faithful in the future.  Josh 4:21-24.  This is specially important in the light of the fact that Joshua has a distinct now/not yet tension.  God’s promises have been fulfilled, and yet much remains to be done.  ‘Israel was yet to go through many perilous times.  Enemy armies would sweep through the land.  Apostasy would often be rife.  Yet to come would be devastation, deportation, and captivity.  In those times the faithful needed to know the joyful word of confidence and of hope, that God remains loyal to the word once spoken.’ (Woudstra, 33)

3.  Guidance has to do with following God’s instructions for our lives.  By staying in contact with God through his word and through prayer, we will have the wisdom to meet the challenges of life.

4.  Leadership is exemplified in the life of Joshua.  The secret of his ability lay in his submission to God and his decisiveness in action.

5.  Victory over evil is seen in the utter destruction of the pagan cities.  Certain parts of the land were put under a ‘ban’ so that Israel might learn that evil is to be thoroughly routed and that the whole earth belongs to the Lord.  Although we not fight against flesh and blood, we are to be just as thorough in our fight against evil.  The battle or Jerisho demonstrates that the battle is the Lord’s, and yet it is not without human involvement, Josh 5:13-6:7.

6.  Obedience to God’s word is paramount, Josh 1:7ff.  The sin of Achan was to loot some of the devoted things in Jericho.  This disobedience led to defeat in the battle for Ai, Josh 7:1-5.

7.  Mission.  Israel had no mandate at this time to proselytise the nations.  The tribes inhabiting Canaan were so wicked the many were utterly destroyed.  There was a rigorous ban on mixed marriages.  Despite all this, room is found for Rahab and her family, on account of her confession of faith in Israel’s God.  This theme is taken up again in the story of Ruth.  But it is never a question of the foreign gods being accepted: it is always a case of people coming in to Israel and accepting Jehovah as their God.  ‘There is no other revealed way of salvation than to become an Israelite.’ (Goldsworthy)

8.  Miracle.  As the way out of Egypt was marked by a miracle, so the way into Canaan involves a similar miracle, Josh 3:17.

9.  God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises.  The hero of Joshua is God.

10. Rest


Calvin (written shortly before his death)

Matthew Henry

Sanders, J. Oswald – The Christian’s Promised Land

NBC (Waltke – an excellent contribution, heavily plundered here)


NICOT – Woudstra

Hess – TOTC