Introduction to Joshua




The book of Joshua is named for the most famous member of the Israelites in the generation after the death of Moses. The book describes the history of the generation that crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land of Canaan. Their battles and faithfulness have a place among the greatest stories of faith in the Old Testament. Joshua led the people to defeat the adversaries who opposed God’s people. He then oversaw the division of the land into the tribal allotments. Finally, Joshua renewed the covenant between the people and God.

Tell es-Sultan, the site of Old Testament Jericho

Tell es-Sultan, the site of Old Testament Jericho


AUTHOR: The author of the book of Joshua is not identified in the Bible and otherwise remains anonymous. If Joshua himself did not originally compose the book that bears his name, then it may be presumed that someone who knew him and his exploits recorded the work. There are numerous references throughout Joshua that suggest a final formation of the book after his lifetime. These include the death of Joshua and descriptions of memorials or names that are said to remain “still‘¦today” (4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28-29; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:17; 23:8).

BACKGROUND: The accounts in the book of Joshua occur in the period immediately after Moses’s death. This was a new generation, not the one that had left Egypt. The story of Joshua is thus set when the nation of Israel first appeared in the land west of the Jordan River—the land that would bear their name. First Kings 6:1 states that the exodus occurred 480 years before Solomon’s fourth year as king (966 BC). In Jdg 11:26, Jephthah said that Israel had been living in regions of Palestine for three hundred years. Jephthah lived around 1100 BC, thus dating the end of the wilderness journey and the beginning of the conquest around 1400 BC.


COMMISSION OF A NEW LEADER: Chapter 1 establishes Joshua as a divinely appointed leader and as the successor to Moses. God addressed Joshua directly, promising both the land that he promised to Moses (Dt 34:4) and his divine presence (Jos 1:3-5). The commands to be strong and courageous (1:6,7,9) define the mission of Joshua. The miraculous crossing of the Jordan River was God’s means of exalting Joshua in the eyes of all Israel (4:14).

HOLY WAR: Joshua’s military leadership recurs throughout the first twelve chapters of the book. Its theological dimensions raise questions about the extermination of all people from the land. How could a loving God allow such a slaughter? Appeals to the sovereignty of God and his wrathful judgment may be made. A complementary explanation focuses on the exceptions of Rahab’s family and of the Gibeonites, who escaped divine wrath through their confession of faith in Israel’s God (2:8-13; 9:9-10,24-25).

LAND AS AN INHERITANCE: Joshua’s allocation of the land in chaps. 13 -21 continued the process already begun by Moses in Transjordan. Insofar as God was giving this land to his people as an inheritance, the tribal allotments take on a covenantal character. This land inheritance formed the material wealth of the families of Israel.

THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL: The covenant making over which Joshua presided dominates the book. It is explicitly detailed in 8:30-35 and 24:1-28. In both of these sections, Joshua’s leadership established Israel in a close relationship with God. God’s grace enabled the nation to occupy its land and to worship God alone. The circumcision and Passover celebration in chap. 5, as well as the theological role of the tribal allotments as part of Israel’s covenantal inheritance from God, suggest that fulfillment of the covenant is an integral part of the book.

GOD AS HOLY AND AS DELIVERER: The character of God is evident throughout the book, especially in terms of his holiness and his saving acts. Divine holiness occurs in the ceremonies where God separated Israel from the other nations (4:19-24; 5:1-3,13-15; 22:26-27; 24:26-27). The saving acts of God are clearly represented in the military victories of the people.


Just as Joshua’s leadership begins with the death of Moses, so the book of Joshua follows and completes the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy serves as a means by which the new generation of Israelites renewed their covenant with God. The book of Joshua provides the means by which God fulfilled his part of the covenant. God gave them victories, but each victory required a step of faith. God’s provision for the people as their leader and guide bore witness to later generations of the divinely willed leadership for Israel, and his gracious gift of the land showed how the people’s faithful fulfillment of the covenant could result in abundant blessing.


The book of Joshua should be seen as a land grant, similar to the land grants and suzerain treaties of the ancient Near East. The suzerain, who was Israel’s God, gave to his people the land that they were meant to receive. There are three major parts to the structure of the land grant.

First is a review of the history and events leading up to the gift of the land. This occurs in chap. 1 and its discussion of what has brought Joshua to this point—the death of Moses. Chapters 2-5 detail the preparation for the acquisition of the gift of the land. Chapters 6-12 describe the battles that were fought as background to the receipt of the land. The second section considers the allotment of the territories to the tribes and families of Israel. The many specific names and towns of this part of the text clearly demonstrate God’s fulfillment of his promise to his people in giving them this land. The third section is a renewal of the covenant. Here the key parts are the stipulations of the covenant that require loyalty to God alone (24:14-15) and the response of the people that they agree to these demands.


I.Preparation for the Land (1:1-5:12)

A.Joshua assumes leadership (1:1-18)

B.Rahab’s faith (2:1-24)

C.Across the Jordan River (3:1-4:24)

D.Circumcision and Passover (5:1-12)

II.Victories in the Land (5:13-12:24)

A.Success against Jericho (5:13-6:27)

B.Failure of Achan (7:1-26)

C.Success against Ai (8:1-29)

D.Covenant renewal (8:30-35)

E.Failure of Israel and Gibeon (9:1-27)

F.Victories in the land (10:1-12:24)

III.Allotment of the Land (13:1-21:45)

A.Remaining lands (13:1-7)

B.Transjordan’s allotment (13:8-14:5)

C.Judah’s allotment (14:6-15:63)

D.Joseph’s allotment (16:1-17:18)

E.Mapping the remaining land (18:1-10)

F.Tribal allotments (18:11-19:51)

G.Cities of refuge (20:1-9)

H.Cities of the Levites (21:1-42)

I.God’s promises fulfilled (21:43-45)

IV.Worship of God (22:1-24:33)

A.Transjordan and the altar of controversy (22:1-34)

B.Joshua’s farewell address (23:1-16)

C.Israel’s covenant at Shechem (24:1-28)

D.Joshua and his generation die (24:29-33)

1500-1450 BC

Aaron 1529-1409? Moses 1526-1406

New Kingdom in Egypt 1540

First alphabet developed in Egypt 1500

Olmecs settle on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. 1500

Queen Makare Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I, reigned in Egypt during a period of peace and prosperity. 1449-1457

1450-1425 BC

Joshua 1490?-1380?

Bronze hand mirrors were taken from Egypt by Hebrew women. 1446

The exodus and defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. 1446

Exploration of Canaan by the twelve spies. 1445

1400-1375 BC

Events in Deuteronomy 1406

Events in Joshua 1406-1380?

Miraculous crossing of the Jordan River 1406

Destruction of Jericho 1406

1425-1400 BC

Warriors from the north, called Achaians by Homer, enter Greece to form foundations of Greek civilization. 1400

Multiple cropping within the same year is developed in China. 1400

Phoenicians advance open sea transportation with ships powered by oars and navigation by reference to the stars. 1400

Division of the land into twelve allotments 1385?