The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua. This should be rather self-apparent. The book is titled Joshua. “After the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant” (Josh. 1:1). This Joshua flows out of who Moses was and what Moses did. Moses was known as the “Servant of the LORD.” Fourteen times in the book of Joshua, Moses is referred to as the “Servant of the LORD.” Moses saw the LORD face-to-face. He had an intimate relationship with the LORD. He was a prophet of the LORD. The “Servant of the LORD” also ties Moses into the lineage of men like Abraham (Gen 24:26). The promise of the patriarchs come through Moses and to Joshua. This Joshua connects the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) with the rest of the Hebrew canon. There is a clear progression of the history of God’s people from Moses into Joshua.
In the Hebrew canon, Joshua is not considered a “history” book. It is part of the prophets. The books we typically consider to be the “historical” books of the OT (Joshua through 2 Kings) are called the “Former Prophets,” in distinction to the “Latter Prophets” (Isaiah through the Minor Prophets). Why is this important in understanding Joshua? These “Former Prophets” give us more than just history. What they present is, in fact, historical (and true). But it is also written as more than a collection of facts and figures. It is meant to convict and comfort. The author is more concerned with a prophetic telling of the conquest of the Promised Land than he is with a presentation of raw fact. This does not diminish the historical reliability of the narrative in the least. It does, however, help us to see more of the comprehensive and redemptive plan of God for his people.
Moses, the Servant of the LORD, dies. The book opens with this macabre note. This is a constant refrain through the Scriptures. Everyone dies. Adam died. Abraham died. Isaac died. Joseph died. And now, Moses died. The book of Joshua is going to end with, you guessed it, a death. Joshua will die. Every one of the patriarchs died. Every great leader of God’s people died. Every single leader of Israel died. And the leadership is passed onto this Joshua. The death of Moses did not curtail or stop God’s plan. John Calvin noted, “While men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails.” The mantle of leadership is passed on to Joshua, the son of Nun.
This Joshua will lead the people of Israel over the Jordan River. This book will divide Joshua’s leadership over the people into three distinct sections. The first twelve chapters describe the conquest of the land. Israel will cross the Jordan and start defeating the Canaanites. They will fail at some points, but God will provide the victory to them. The next section, chapters 13-22, details the division of the land. Each of the tribes of Israel will receive their portion. God is faithful to his promises. The third section, chapters 23 and 24, is a reminder to the people to remain faithful to God. Remember the covenant that God established with you and live according to it.
It would be reasonable to think that the people would be hesitant to cross the Jordan and to take possession of the land after the death of Moses. Moses had been so important to everything they had known. Moses was the one whom God raised up to deliver them. Moses led them through the waters. Moses received the Law. Moses interceded for them. Moses had done everything. What would they do now? Joshua 1:1 gives us the reassuring news, “The LORD said to Joshua.” The LORD spoke to Moses. Now the LORD speaks to Joshua. It confirms his calling. It comforts an anxious people. It emphasizes that this transition is from the LORD. God is still faithful to his promises. The LORD’s provision of Joshua was a blessing to the people. They can be strong and courageous because of Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua.
And yet…it is not about this Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about another Joshua. The Hebrew name Joshua means, Yahweh saves. The Greek transliteration of Joshua is Iesous, from which we get the English name Jesus. Jesus’ name means, the LORD saves. The Joshua of this book really is a signpost pointing us to the other Joshua. The other Joshua is the one who will lead God’s People into the true Promised Land. He will provide us with God’s portion. He is the leader that, though he dies, will rise from the dead and reign victorious over the grave. He is the one who will establish and fulfill the covenant promises. He will bless those who bless God and curse those who curse God. And it is because of this greater Joshua that we can be strong and courageous.