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Joshua, Theology of

Joshua, Theology of

Joshua the Faithful Warrior and Leader. Moses gave Joshua his name, meaning,"the Lord has delivered." The change from his former name, Hoshea ("he hasdelivered, " Num13:16 ; Deut32:44 ), reflects a confession of the God of Israel as Savior. Joshua first appears inIsrael's war with the Amalekites ( Exod 17:8-13 ). Hefights on behalf of Moses and leads Israel to victory. He thus personifies Israel at war.When he reappears in Exodus 24:13, Joshua climbs Mount Sinai alongside Moses. Later ( 32:17 ), Joshuawarns Moses of the noise that comes from the camp below where Israel engages in idolatry.He joins Moses in the covenant-making process and in watching over its preservation. WithCaleb, Joshua spies out the land and returns a positive evaluation of the possibilities ofIsraelite occupation ( Num14 ). He appreciates and bears witness to the promised land as God's gift to Israel.Finally, Joshua is designated as Moses' successor and is commissioned to succeed him.

Four theological themes appear in the descriptions of Joshua in the Pentateuch:Joshua's divine commission as leader of Israel, his military leadership, his allocation ofthe land, and his role in Israel's covenant with God. In each case, God's word and powerlie behind Joshua. These same four themes reappear in the Book of Joshua.

The Commission of a New Leader. The first chapter of the Book of Joshuaestablishes Joshua's leadership as divinely appointed successor to Moses. With Moses'death, God addresses Joshua directly, promising both the land which he promised to Moses ( Deut 34:4 ) and hisdivine presence, just as he had given it to Moses ( Joshua 1:3-5 ). Thecommands to be strong and courageous (vv. 6, 7, 9) define the mission of Joshua. Theircontext of God's promised presence suggests that it is the divine choice and enablement ofJoshua that precedes his leadership and gives it success. It only remains for Joshua to berecognized as leader by the Israelites, something he achieves through completion of thedivinely appointed tasks involved in crossing the Jordan River. This miraculous crossingis God's means for exalting Joshua in the eyes of all Israel ( Joshua 4:14 ).

Holy War and the Extermination of the Canaanites. Joshua's military leadershiprecurs throughout the first twelve chapters. Its theological dimensions incorporatequestions of holy war and the extermination of all people from the land. How could aloving God allow such a slaughter, not only of the idolatrous Canaanites but also of theirinnocent children? Appeals to the sovereignty of God and his wrathful judgment may be madebut the question persists as to the apparent wantonness of the destruction. Analternative, or perhaps complementary, explanation focuses on the exceptions of Rahab'sfamily and of the Gibeonites, who escaped divine wrath through confession of faith inIsrael's God ( 2:8-13 ; Joshua 9:9-10 Joshua 9:24-25 ). Does this imply that such an option was always open to those who wouldrenounce idolatry and submit themselves to Israel and to Israel's God? Although theIsraelites seem reluctant to allow any who live in Canaan to survive ( 9:7 ) and theGibeonites are saved only by deceit, it remains true that we are never told of anyCanaanites who confessed the lordship of Israel's God and who subsequently were put todeath. As to the slaughter of innocents, there is no specific mention of the killing ofchildren. The accounts of Jericho's defeat and of the massacre at Ai mention men andwomen, as well as young and old, but they do not specify children (as opposed to"youth, young man" cf. 6:21 ; 8:22-24 ). Thismay be due to the nature of these places as fortresses rather than as population centers.Hazor's destruction mentions the extermination of everything that breathed ( 8:11-14 ). Evenhere, however, it is not certain that any others than the army remained in the city by thetime the Israelites reached it. This is not intended to suggest that no innocents werekilled, but rather to point out how little the Bible informs us about such matters. Theconcept of the ban, in which divine judgment required Israel to render back to God throughkilling and destruction all who rejected Israel's God, was common throughout the ancientNear East. What is unique in the theology of Joshua is the record of exceptions to thisrule, lives spared through the confession of belief in the God of Israel and in hismission for his people.

The Land as an Inheritance. Joshua's allocation of the land in chapters 13-21continues the process already begun by Moses in Transjordan. Although the land west of theJordan had the unique role of divine promise to the patriarchs and to Moses, theallotments of Reuben, Gad, and part of Manasseh also formed part of what was to become theland of Israel. Insofar as God is giving this land to his people as an inheritance, thetribal allotments, as well as the Levitical cities and the cities of refuge, take on acovenantal character. This land inheritance formed the material wealth of the families ofIsrael. It could be passed on from generation to generation as a means of preserving thewealth of the family and as a means of integrating the life, livelihood, and faith of eachnew generation with those preceding it. For this reason many of the towns mentioned in thetown lists and boundary descriptions of these chapters are identical to the names offamilies found in the extended genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9. The idealistic nature ofthese allotments is suggested from Joshua 13:1-7 and throughout the allotments. Thewitness of the Canaanite presence and occupation of parts of the land is not negated bythe affirmation that all of God's promises were fulfilled ( 21:43-45 ).Instead, this promise looks forward to the completion of the settlement process and thefull occupation of the land by Israel such as would be confirmed by the Bible during thereigns of David and Solomon. The whole account bears witness to God's gracious provisionfor the lives of his people and to the faithfulness of their response in laying claim totheir inheritance.

The Covenant between God and Israel. The covenant making over which Joshuapresides dominates the book. It is explicitly detailed in 8:30-35 and in the whole ofchapter 24. In both of these sections Joshua's leadership establishes Israel in closerelationship with God. God's grace enables the nation to occupy its land and to worshipGod alone. Yet the covenantal aspect of the text is not found only here. Indeed, thecircumcision and Passover celebration in chapter 5, as well as the theological role of thetribal allotments as part of Israel's covenantal inheritance from God, suggest thatfulfillment of the covenant remains an integral part of the whole book.

The text that confirms God's covenant with his people includes a divine rehearsal ofthe words of the Lord through Moses ( 24:2 ). Therefollows a review of God's work among the patriarchs, as well as Moses and Aaron, inpromising and bringing the people into the land. This is supplemented by God's continualleadership and provision for the present generation in bringing them through the kingdomseast of the Jordan River, in enabling them to cross the Jordan, and in waging war on theirbehalf so that they can occupy the land. All these activities are interpreted as part ofGod's gift to the people. In return, his covenant requires exclusive loyalty to the Lordas the only God worshiped in Israel. The people agree to this and bear witness againstthemselves if they forsake God and serve foreign deities.

God as Holy and as Deliverer. The character of God is evident throughout thebook, especially in terms of his holiness and his saving Acts. The divine holiness isfound in the ceremonies that are commanded and observed. These include the memorial stonesset up at Gilgal to commemorate the crossing of the Jordan River ( 4:19-24 ) with aspecial role for the priesthood and the ark of the covenant (chaps. 3-4); the Israelitecircumcision ( 5:1-3 );the Passover celebration ( 5:10 ); Joshua'sconfrontation with the commander of the Lord's army ( 5:13-15 ); thespecial instructions for crossing the Jordan with the ark (chaps. 3-4) and for marchingaround Jericho for seven days (chap. 6); the identification of the sin of Achan, hiscapital punishment, and the marking of the site of his burial (chap. 7); the erection ofan altar east of the Jordan in order to remember the lordship of Israel's God ( 22:26- 27 ); andthe establishment of a memorial stone at Shechem after the ceremony of covenant renewal ( 24:26-27 ).These Acts and memorials point to God's special selection of his people. God's holinesscould only be challenged at the peril of those who did so, whether in the case of Achan orof the many peoples who opposed the Israelites and thereby rejected God's will for hispeople. All faced death for their sins.

The saving Acts of God are clearly represented in the military victories of the peopleagainst their enemies, especially in the miraculous collapse of Jericho's walls ( 6:20 ) and thedivine control of the sun and the hailstones in such a manner as to aid Israel ( 10:11-14 ). Theyare found in the content of the confessions of Rahab, of the Gibeonites, and of Joshua asalready mentioned. In addition, they occur in notes of how the enemies of Israel hear ofthe Israelite victories and how their courage melts ( 5:1 ); how God'spresence with Joshua leads to his fame spreading throughout the land ( 6:27 ); and how thearmies of Canaan learn of God's Acts but still refuse to accept God's sovereignty andsignify this by perpetrating war against Israel ( 9:1-2 ; 10:1-5 ; 11:1-5 ).

The Inheritance of the People. In addition to the obedience of the people intaking possession of the land according to God's will, there is a significant theologicaltheme of rest before God. After the wars the whole land has rest ( 11:23 ). The peopleas well find rest as they enter into their inheritance. This is generally true of thedivision of the land. Specific references are also found, as in the cases of Caleb whoseconquest of Hebron results in the land being given rest ( 14:15 ) and ofJoshua who settled in Timnath Serah ( 19:50 ). Therecords of the deaths and burials of Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar, which conclude the book( 24:29-33 )reflect a final resting place for them in three sites located throughout the central hillcountry of Palestine, the region where Israel first settled.

Joshua in the Context of Israel's History. As a book that provides a transitionfrom the Pentateuch and the lawgiving of Moses to the settled society and rule of thejudges and the kings of Israel, this work presents a past ideal in which a leader likeMoses brought the people into the promised land and proceeded on faith to lay claim to it.God's gracious gift of the land and his provision for the people as their leader and guidebear witness to later generations of divinely willed leadership for Israel and of how thefaithful fulfillment of the covenant could bring upon God's people all the blessingsinvolved in their occupation of the land. The later failures of Israel's leadership and ofthe people brought divine judgment, which revoked these blessings by uprooting the peoplefrom that land and sending them into exile. Even so, the prophetic promises looked forwardto a return to the promised land and to a full claim of these blessings under a messianicleader who would rule the people in perfect fulfillment of the covenant and in a renewalof the rich blessings of the land to which Joshua had led the people so long ago.

Richard S. Hess

See also Israel

Bibliography. T. C. Butler, Joshua; L. G. Lawson, CBQ53:25-36; M.H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua; K. L. Younger, Jr., Ancient Conquest Accounts:A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Joshua, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.