Introduction to Joshua
Joshua is the first book in the second section of the Hebrew text, the Prophets. It is named after the primary person of the story, Joshua, Moses’ faithful right-hand man and God’s appointed leader of Israel. Joshua was a man of action, and his book recounts many of those stories in the first half as the nation marched into Canaan and conquered the major strongholds who occupied it. The second half is primarily dedicated to the division of the land of Canaan between the tribes of Israel and Joshua’s final words to the nation.
Although it is impossible to date this book exactly, and the writer is never named, it is likely that Joshua himself wrote it. Archer notes several keys pointing to Joshua as the writer: intimate details requiring an eyewitness; cities called by their ancient names instead of newer names; Sidon was still the leading city of Phoenicia rather than Tyre; several “we” passages rather than “they” as if a third person were writing; and more. 1 If Joshua was indeed the writer, then the book dates to the 14th century B.C. This, however, does not deny that some things were certainly added later, including the account of Joshua’s death and the comment that “Israel worshiped the LORD throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive” (Joshua 24:31).
Chapter one is nearly an uninterrupted continuation from the end of Deuteronomy. Joshua 1:1-2 picks up immediately from Moses’ death and Joshua’s transition as the new leader of Israel, handpicked by God himself. Moses, Aaron, and the generation who had come out of Egypt had lost their privilege to enter the land because of their sin and disobedience. The first generation sinned at Kadesh-Barnea, when they refused to enter the land the first time (Numbers 13-14). Moses and Aaron lost their entrance to the land when they hit the rock to bring out water rather than simply speaking to it and placed themselves alongside God as Israel’s provider (Numbers 20).
In commissioning Joshua, God made several promises (Joshua 1:3-9). First, everywhere Joshua went he would conquer. Second, the territory would extend to the borders God had promised Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21. Third, no one would be able to resist him. Fourth, God would never leave him. The condition was that Joshua was to faithfully follow God’s law, memorize it, obey it, and lead Israel in obeying it.
One specific act of preparation for going into Canaan had to do with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh (Joshua 1:10-18). In Numbers 32 these tribes asked Moses if they could stay on the east side of the Jordan River, rather than moving into the land of Canaan with the rest of the nation. Moses finally permitted this provided that their warriors accompanied the rest of the tribes into Canaan and fought alongside their brothers. When called to report for this duty, they told Joshua they intended to fulfill their promise and would follow him wherever he led.
- Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 286. ↩