Chapter 1.
Conquering the Promised Land: Studies in Joshua

Joshua 1:1-11; 3:7-17; 6:1-5, 15-20; 24:1, 14-24

The Lord Instructs Joshua

Joshua 1:1-11

Establishing the Groundwork

The book of Joshua opens upon a new Israel having a new opportunity to possess Canaan. Thirty-eight years had passed since an unbelieving and fearful people refused to enter that promised land, and by refusing forfeited both their inheritance and their lives. God would have given the former generation the land of promise had they proved faithful, even as he was ready to give it to the new generation. The Israelites, however, had to realize that the land was indeed a gift and that they would receive it only if they followed the Giver's terms. They would not gain the land by their own power; they would not inherit Canaan because they were especially worthy, or because they had earned it. They would gain it by the grace and power of God, who had promised it centuries earlier to Abraham and his descendants.

Another promised land awaits Christians who are faithful to the Lord. It is described in Revelation, chapters 21 and 22. There God will dwell with his people. Sorrow, pain, death, and tears will not be found. We will not receive such a home because of our great achievements or possessions. Indeed, we cannot begin to earn such a place or claim that we are worthy of it. We can receive it only by the grace of God given to us through his beloved Son.

Examining the Text

I. Preliminary Concerns (Joshua 1:1-4)

A. Death of Moses (vv. 1, 2a)

1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide:

The book of Deuteronomy closes with a record of the death of Moses and also with a description of him as the servant of the Lord (Deuteronomy 34:5). Thus we can see how the book of Joshua picks up where Deuteronomy ends and that even though we have moved in our study from one section of the Bible (the Pentateuch, or the books of law) to another (the books of history), there is no break in the "flow" of the record.

Joshua son of Nun was originally named Hoshea, but his name had been changed by Moses (Numbers 13:16). The name Hoshea means "salvation"; Joshua means "the Lord saves." A summary of his service prior to this significant moment, including his role as Moses' aide, may be found in the comments under Deuteronomy 34:9 in chapter 13 of the previous volume.

2a"Moses my servant is dead.

Although Joshua knew this, it was important for the Lord to preface his words to Joshua with a reference to the man whose position of leadership he had been commissioned to assume.

B. Description of the Land (vv. 2b-4)

2b"Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.

At this point, Joshua and the Israelites were camped in the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River. There Moses had declared to them the words found in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1:5). Some of the territory east of the Jordan had already been allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh (Joshua alluded to this in verses 12-15 of this chapter). Now it was time for the people to get ready to cross the Jordan and possess the land of Canaan. Again the Lord emphasized (as he had throughout the Pentateuch and as he did in the next verse) that he was about to give this land to the Israelites. Canaan was his gift to them and could be received only by adherence to his conditions.

3"I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.

Although Moses was dead, what the Lord had promised him was no less valid than it had been when he was alive. The people could walk through the length and breadth of the land of Canaan, and every place they traveled would be theirs.

4"Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west."

To the south of Moab, where Joshua and the Israelites were at this point, was the desert, a part of which was the territory where the Israelites had been wandering. This desert country (which today comprises part of the Arabian Desert) formed the southern and eastern borders of the promised land.

To the north were the peaks of Lebanon, but the promised land stretched northward beyond them and touched the upper part of the Euphrates River. The western boundary was the Great Sea, the Old Testament designation for the Mediterranean Sea. The eastern boundary was the desert east of the plains of Moab. It should be noted that the extent of the Israelites' conquests to these limits was reached only during the time of David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21).

The Hittites were descendants of Heth, a son of Canaan, who was a grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:6, 15). Here their name seems to be used to refer to all the people living in the land of Canaan. More specific listings of the various peoples may be found in Deuteronomy 7:1 and Joshua 3:10. For many years the Hittites were unknown outside of the Bible, and certain critics of the biblical record asserted that there was no truth in the statements concerning them. Then the hieroglyphic writings of ancient Egypt and the cuneiform records of ancient Assyria were deciphered, and scholars were confronted with an amazing amount of material related to this people. The biblical record was once again proven accurate and trustworthy.

II. Personal Challenge (Joshua 1:5-9)

A. Call to Courage (vv. 5, 6)

5"No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

There is always a sense of loss when a dynamic leader such as Moses dies. But the power of Moses was not inherent in him. Rather it was in the fact that he was sustained by God. Now God promised Joshua that no one would be able to stand up against him during his entire lifetime. The reason was that God would be with him, just as he was with Moses. The same promise of God's never-failing presence is made to Christians (Hebrews 13:5).

6"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.

The divine promises are never intended to offset the need for development of proper spiritual attitudes. The qualities of leadership had to be possessed by Joshua, although they would be enhanced by the motivation provided by God. A part of that motivation was that God had sworn to the Israelites' forefathers (the patriarchs) to give the land to them. God would never renege on such a promise.

B. Call to Obedience (vv. 7, 8)

7"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Victory was not going to be given unconditionally to Joshua. He needed to be careful to obey all the law given by God's servant Moses. He must not turn from it in any way; only then could he and the people be successful as they advanced into the promised land.

8"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

The Book of the Law had been written down by Moses and delivered to the priests (Deuteronomy 31:9). As noted in the comments on Deuteronomy 31:9, the phrase Book of the Law may have included only Deuteronomy or it may have embraced the entire Pentateuch (Genesis—Deuteronomy). However, it was not enough simply to possess the book. The contents had to be the subject of constant thought and deliberation and then had to be translated into one's daily conduct. The ultimate purpose of meditation upon God's Word is to enable one to obey more fully everything written in it. Our spiritual progress is dependent upon this, and God's blessing is conditioned upon it.

C. Assurance of God's Presence (v. 9)

9"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

God had given the order to advance and take the land of Canaan. That was reason enough to be strong and courageous. When God's people are obeying his orders, there is no reason to be terrified of giants or to be discouraged by formidable city walls. When you are committed to his will, the Lord... will be with you wherever you go. The enemy may be too strong for you alone, but he cannot stand against you and the Lord.

III. People's Cooperation (Joshua 1:10, 11)

A. Command to the Officers (v. 10)

10So Joshua ordered the officers of the people:

Soon after the Israelites had left Egypt, Moses had followed the advice of his father-in-law Jethro and had organized the people thoroughly, delegating responsibility so as to lighten his load (Exodus 18:24-26). Whether or not the organization of the people was still the same at this point some 40 years later, we do not know. But clearly there were officers who could convey Joshua's orders to the people and see that they were carried out.

B. Command to the People (v. 11)

11"Go through the camp and tell the people, 'Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.'"

The command was to prepare to march. The people had been camped in one place through the month of mourning for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8), so their possessions were no longer packed for travel.

At this point, the time of the Passover was near (Joshua 5:10). The rainy season was ending, but the Jordan was still at flood stage, overflowing its banks (Joshua 3:15). It was not hard for two men (Joshua 2:1) to swim that swollen river, perhaps with the help of a floating log, and then travel on to Jericho. But millions of men, women, and children, loaded down with their goods and limited in travel by their livestock—how could they hope to cross that river? The call to prepare and cross the Jordan was a call to have faith. The people obeyed and got ready for whatever was to take place three days from now.

Crossing the Jordan

Joshua 3:7-17

Establishing the Groundwork

From where they were camped east of the Jordan River, the Israelites perhaps could see the city of Jericho located among the palm trees across the river. It was known as the "City of Palms," according to Deuteronomy 34:3. Jericho was strongly walled, but the Israelites, encouraged by Joshua, who had in turn been encouraged by the Lord, were enthusiastic in their support of Joshua and their recognition that he deserved the same measure of respect and obedience that Moses had received (Joshua 1:16-18). One wonders if Joshua had any reservations about the sincerity of the people's claim, given their previous record of inconsistent obedience. The Lord had previously warned Joshua of the people's tendency toward rebellion (Deuteronomy 31:14-18).

Possibly following the example of Moses, Joshua sent spies to Jericho on a reconnaissance mission (Joshua 2:1). Some students have found it interesting that only two spies were sent. They suggest that Joshua recalled the problems that resulted from sending a larger number (12) to explore the land of Canaan and wisely chose fewer men for this mission. Such students have forgotten that God commanded Moses to send 12 spies (Numbers 13:1-3), so no error in judgment can be attributed to Moses or to the method employed for the reconnaissance. The problem at Kadesh was not an excess of spies, but a lack of faith.

The two men crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho, where they found lodging with a prostitute named Rahab. When the men's presence in the city became known, she hid them on the roof of her house and sent the men who were looking for them on a false trail.

Later, before the spies had settled down for the night, Rahab acknowledged to them that the city of Jericho was greatly alarmed at the presence of the Israelites; for they had heard of the Lord's mighty acts on their behalf. Rahab herself expressed her own convictions about Israel's God in declaring, "I know that the Lord has given this land to you" (Joshua 2:9) and "the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (v. 11). Rahab asked for mercy from the spies because of her kindness to them, and they assured her that she and her family would be spared from the coming destruction of the city. The spies also asked that Rahab place a scarlet cord in the window of her house so that the Israelites would know where she lived (vv. 12-21).

When the spies returned to the Israelite camp, they reported that Jericho was ripe for conquest: "The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us" (Joshua 2:24). The Israelites moved closer to the Jordan (Joshua 3:1), and after three days had passed, the officers told the people to prepare for the crossing and to follow the lead of the priests as they carried the Ark of the Covenant (v. 3). Joshua himself told the people, "Tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you" (v. 5). A spirit of eager expectation must have permeated the camp.

Examining the Text

I. God's Words (Joshua 3:7-13)

A. For Joshua (v. 7)

7And the Lord said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.

Ultimately the people of Israel owed their allegiance to the Lord, not to Joshua alone. They would accept Joshua as their leader if they knew the Lord was with him. All through the past 40 years the Lord had been with Moses and had demonstrated that fact in unmistakable ways. For example, at one time there had been a rebellion against Moses. To show that the Lord was on Moses' side, the earth had opened up and swallowed the rebels (Numbers 16:1-33).

Now Joshua was beginning his leadership of Israel, and the Lord was about to show how he would be with Joshua just as he had been with Moses. He would do this, not by having rebels destroyed, but by enabling Joshua to foretell and carry out a great miracle (v. 13). This miracle would indicate that God was with all the people and would do great things for them (v. 10); Joshua's prediction would demonstrate that God was with Joshua. Thus God would exalt Joshua and make him great in the eyes of all Israel.

B. For the Priests (v. 8)

8"Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.'"

The priests carrying the ark of the covenant were to lead the march directly into the flooded river. As they waded into the shallow water at the edge, they were to stand in the river. The water would then vanish before them (v. 13). Verse 17 adds that the priests carrying the ark would then go to the middle of the river and remain standing there until all the people had crossed over.

C. For the People (vv. 9-13)

9Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.

Joshua wanted the Israelites to come as close as they could so that all of them could hear him. He began by declaring that they must listen to the words of the Lord, not merely the words of Joshua.

10"This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.

Seven warlike peoples lived in the country west of the Jordan—the land that the Lord had promised to Israel. It would take courage to march into that country—more courage than the fathers of those Israelites had exhibited 38 years earlier. Intimidated by giants and high city walls, that previous generation had balked at the border of the promised land, refusing to capture the land God had given them.

Now, as the new generation of Israelites was gathered before the Jordan, the giants and the high city walls were still present. The seven peoples listed by Joshua were the same ones mentioned by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:1. The coming battle was not one for Israel to undertake alone. They would need the living God to be among them. Joshua proceeded to give the people a sign to prove that this was so.

11"See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.

The ark of the covenant was a symbol of God's presence and favor. It held the Ten Commandments engraved on enduring stone—the symbol of God's enduring and unchanging authority. He was leading the way into the flooded Jordan and into the battles beyond it. Israel could confi�