Where Do We See Christ in the Old Testament Book of Joshua?
When you think of the book of Joshua, a few things likely come to mind. The story of the fall of Jericho and the story of Rahab are highlights. And one of the more quotable verses in all of the Bible comes from the book of Joshua. As Joshua is taking over the reigns from Moses, the Lord commissions him and says,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Many graduation sermons and riveting building campaign sermons have been preached on the book of Joshua. But where do we find Jesus in this Old Testament book? Some have gone to Rahab’s scarlet thread to preach the gospel. But is that warranted by the original context? How do we proclaim the gospel from the overall message of the book of Joshua?
How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience, we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship, we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
How Do We Find the Gospel in Joshua?
In Genesis 12 God makes a big promise to Abraham. In Genesis 15 he digs further into this promise. Through Abraham God will restore the rest, rule, and relationship that was in the Garden. It would come first through Abraham’s people but also “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God promised to bring Abraham and his descendants into a land of covenant blessings.
But only some of these promises come to fruition in the life of Abraham. By the end of Genesis, the people are far from the promised land. As Exodus begins, not only are they not in the Promised Land, but they are enslaved in Egypt. But God rescues them from Egyptian bondage. He once again makes promises of land and covenant blessings.
The people, however – who have made big promises themselves – ultimately fail to obey God. Through their rebellion they end up wandering in the wilderness and not entering into the Promised Land. When God shows them the beautiful land, the people shrank in fear. They went on a mission to spy out the land which God promised to give them, and they were shocked to find it already inhabited.
“But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them’” (Numbers 13:31-33).
Had it not been for a couple of young men, Joshua and Caleb, the people would have walked away from God’s promise. Joshua, then, would be one whom God used to lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua, whose name means “YHWH is salvation,” is a type of Christ. He leads his people into the Promised Land — he procures for them the rest, rule, and relationship which God promised.
But there is not a one-to-one comparison between the two. There is much in Joshua that is inconsistent with a Christian ethic. Some groups have used the book of Joshua to argue for something like Christian conquest. But this fails to understand the spiritual dimension of Christ’s kingdom as well as the already/not-yet component of the physical kingdom of Christ.
The gospel is present in Joshua in that it is part of God’s story of redemption. He puts His people into the land in which He promised to give them. God is faithful to His promises. But this is only a little glimpse into what God is accomplishing through Jesus Christ. Jesus is doing far more than Joshua ever did. These words of Justin Taylor are helpful:
“Christ will return and he will physically (as well as spiritually) defeat all of his enemies once and for all. Unlike the wars of old that led only to more bloodshed and misery, Christ’s global judgment and victory when he comes again will truly be the war to end all wars (Matt. 3:11-12; 24:27-25:46; Rev. 17:1-20:15).”
“Christ himself will wipe every tear from the eyes of our new resurrection bodies as we live securely in his presence forevermore (Rev. 21:4).”
God delivers on His promises. That’s the message of Joshua. And that is easy to connect that to the gospel story. All humanity, even Joshua, ultimately fails to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom. Joshua is but a shadow. Jesus perfectly provides and gives us all the blessings of the covenant. The question, then, is whether or not we are part of the people of God, or whether we are part of those who, due to our rebellion, are ultimately booted out of the land.
How Do We Find the Gospel in the Story of Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24)?
On occasion, I’ll try to challenge myself to find gospel connections by dipping into random places of the Bible and see how to proclaim the gospel from there. But sometimes it is also helpful to look with a new set of eyes upon a well-known story. The story of Rahab, with her scarlet thread, has been used for many years to make a connection to the gospel. But is that the gospel connection which should be made?
In Joshua 2, the spies enter into the house of Rahab. When the king of Jericho learns that the Israelites are in their midst, and staying with Rahab, he sends those to her house in order to harm them. But Rahab is not entirely truthful with these men. She deceives the men of Jericho and provides cover and escape for the men of God. They make a deal with her that when God’s people overtake Jericho, if she hangs a scarlet cord out of her window, they will not attack that home.
Rahab’s story is picked up in Joshua 6. When the people raid Jericho, it happens just as they said and Rahab is rescued — because she had previously rescued the men of Israel. We also read of Rahab in the book of Hebrews:
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31).
How is this connected to the gospel?
First, we try to find where the fall is in this passage. It is there within the men of Jericho attempting to harm God’s people. They are, as it says in Hebrews, disobedient. They are not trusting in the promises of God — in fact, they are ignorant of God’s promises.
Even this, though, would not have been present had it not been for Adam and Eve. There shouldn’t be a Jericho. There shouldn’t be anything outside the scope of God’s care in the garden. As they were fruitful and multiplied, the beautiful image of God should have been spread with them. Jericho should have already been the promised land. But it’s not — it’s filled with those who are not only the fruit of rebellion, but those who are still actively engaging in the rebellion.
But somehow Rahab welcomes the spies. She sees something other than the story of the fall. She sees redemption. Her hospitality connects her to the redemption and rescue of God. Her hospitality and protection of the men is symbolic of her faith (wherever it came from) in YHWH. And trusting in God’s rescue is the core of the gospel. “God saves sinners.” Rahab seems to have embraced that message if only in seed form.
What, then, do we make of the scarlet thread? It’s very similar to the blood on the doorpost of the Israelites in Egypt. It’s a symbolic act that displays inner trust. And because of this the “death angel” passed over. Because of Rahab’s scarlet thread, when Jericho fell, she was spared. The Passover lamb points to Jesus. Rahab’s scarlet thread also points to Jesus.
When we trust in God’s provision, He rescues. Always. That is the picture of the gospel. And it’s really the message through all of Joshua. God and God alone will give us the rest, rule, and relationship that our hearts desire.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Gilnature