Here’s an overview of the book of Joshua, featuring the main idea and it’s explanation, the purpose and main themes of the book, and a section on what it means to us, along with some study questions.
Joshua leads the children of Israel to cross into the land (Josh. 1:1-5:12) and take it (Josh. 5:13-12:24); he divides it among the tribes (Josh. 13-22) and challenges them to obey and serve the Lord (Josh. 23-24).
Explanation of Main Idea
After Moses dies, the Lord commissions Joshua to cross over the Jordan and lead His people into the promised land (Josh. 1:1-4). Promising victory, the Lord emphasizes that Joshua must meditate on the book of instruction given by Moses (Josh. 1:7-8). Joshua sends two spies into the first city, Jericho, and learns that “everyone who lives in the land is panicking” because of the them (Josh. 2:9). Reminiscent of the Red Sea some forty years earlier, the Israelites experience the Jordan River miraculously part and they are able to cross over on dry ground (Josh. 3:16-17).
After circumcising the men and celebrating Passover (Josh. 5:1-12), it is time to take the land. Joshua has an encounter with the Lord and he realizes that God will be the one to fight the battles (Josh. 5:13-15), which starts with the miraculous defeat of Jericho (Josh. 6). Following the Lord often becomes a problem for the Israelites, and this generation is no exception. Achan defies God’s command to commit all the plunder to Him (Josh. 6:18-19) by stealing some of it for himself and hiding it in his tent (Josh. 7). His severe judgement is a reminder that all sin, whether that of the Canaanite or the Israelite, will be dealt with appropriately. Numerous battles are won and the land is secured (Josh. 10-12).
Joshua divides the land at the Lord’s command, specifying boundaries and borders in chapters 13-22. Finally, before he dies, Joshua appeals to the people, warning them and admonishing them to stay faithful to the Lord, avoid idolatry and “get rid of the foreign gods that are long you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (24:23).
The book of Joshua was written to teach us about the faithfulness of God and His ability to give His people the victory when they trust in Him. Secondarily, it also demonstrates the severity of His judgement upon sin and disobedience. The promise given to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 that His descendants would inherit Canaan has finally been fulfilled! God is faithful! As Joshua and the people trusted in Him, the Lord fought their battles. This happened at Jericho, where the only thing the Israelites did was march, blow trumpets, and trust God.
They never drew a sword, fired an arrow, or threw a punch. In short, they simply obeyed. God gave them the victory. God even stopped the sun to buy Joshua more time to defeat the five Amorite kings (Josh. 10:12-14). For those that disobey and commit themselves to vile practices, they will surely be destroyed. This is why God destroyed the Canaanites (Lev. 18:24-25) and even some of the Israelites (Josh. 7:24-26). The Israelites were God’s tool to deal with the defilement that was present in Canaan. If they defiled the land, Joshua reminds them, God would destroy them (Josh. 24:20).
- God fulfills His promises.
God had promised Abraham’s descendants that they would inherit the land of Canaan (Gen. 17:8). The book of Joshua victoriously documents this promise being fulfilled against all odds. From Abraham’s deception (Gen. 12:10-20), to the golden calf incident in the wilderness (Exod. 32), to the thievery and disobedience of Achan (Josh. 7), and on and on. God still kept His covenant and gave the land to His people, in spite of their failures.
- God fights for His people.
The book of Joshua is a book of war. A few battles are documented, most are not. When the people trusted and obeyed, God fought their battles (Josh. 10:42). What seemed impossible a generation earlier, was now taking place: victory for Joshua’s people. It was God who caused the walls of Jericho to fall (Josh. 6:1-21), who gave the winning strategy to Joshua (Josh. 8:1), and who stopped the sun for him to have more time (Josh. 10:12-13).
- Sin will be judged.
A rather shocking event takes place in Joshua 8. Achan, all of his family and possessions are stoned and then burned because he took something he desired unlawfully. It seems like a rather harsh punishment for disobeying the Lord and stealing a Babylonian cloak and some gold and silver. But God was making a point that sin will be judged. He was not against the individual, whether Israelite or Canaanite, he was against the sinful practices.
- Serve the Lord.
In the very first verse of the first chapter, Moses, who has died, is described as “the Lord’s servant”. Joshua was Moses’ assistant, and is now commissioned as the new leader of the Israelites; he is God’s new servant, called to stay close to the Lord by meditating upon God’s Word. The book concludes with Joshua calling together all the people and exhorting them to choose whether or not they will serve the Lord. He vows his allegiance to God and gravely warns them about the ease of falling into idolatry.
How does this relate to us?
God keeps His word. He raised up a nation from a man and brought them into their own land. His promise to Abraham in Genesis was fulfilled in the book of Joshua. We can trust Him; we can trust His written word and we can trust that He will complete the work that He has begun in us (Philip. 1:6). God was patient and long-suffering. Along the way, there were many occasions of sin and failure, yet God’s plan and promise was ultimately fulfilled.
In this life, we will have many battles. They will not necessarily be physical battles but they will nonetheless be times of intense conflict and struggle. In these times, it is important to remember Joshua and his trust in the Lord as the walls toppled down amidst the shouts of God’s people (Josh. 6:20). God is able to fight our battles for us; we need to trust Him and we need to do what Joshua did: meditate day and night upon the Word of the Lord, don’t be afraid, and be strong and courageous (Josh. 1:8-9).
God takes sin seriously; it comes with a high price tag, as Achan learned (Josh. 8). After all, the reason that the Canaanites were being defeated by God is because of their evil practices (Lev. 18:24-25). We must fear the Lord and fight against a casual attitude toward sin. It breaks our relationship with God. We rejoice that sinners find forgiveness as they turn to God and enter into a relationship with Him and His people, like Rahab (Josh. 6:17) and the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:24-27).
We are faced with a choice. We can serve the Lord, as Joshua and his family did (Josh. 24:15), or we can serve gods of our own choosing, as most of the Israelites eventually did (Judg. 2:2). The choice we make is a daily choice. Choosing to serve the Lord means that we are choosing to meditate on His word, obey Him with our choices, and honour Him with our lives.
- What is the key to Joshua’s success based on Joshua 1:1-9?
- How many spies did Joshua send in to Jericho (Josh. 2)? What did they experience that led them to give Joshua a good report?
- The story of Moses and the Israelites leaving Egypt and Joshua and the Israelites entering the promised land share many similarities, such as sending spies into the land and miraculously crossing a body of water. Why do you think this is? Can you think of any other similarities?
- In Josh. 5:13-15, Joshua sees the “commander of the Lord’s army”. Why do you think this angel did not take Joshua’s side?
- Read the account of Caleb’s inheritance in Joshua 14:6-15. What phrase used to describe Caleb occurs in verses 8, 9, and 14? What do you think this phrase means?
Life Application Questions
- What are some ways that you can make sure God’s word does not “depart from your mouth” (Josh. 1:8). How can you “meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it” (Josh. 1:8). What results can you expect in your life if you do this? Give specific examples.
- Achan’s sin, documented in Joshua 7 was very costly for the community. Achan lost his family and his life because he hid something. Are there any secret sins in your life that might be harming others and yourself? Confess them and be encouraged that Jesus did on the cross to pay the price so that you don’t have to.
- When Joshua was old and advanced in years, much land still remained to be taken (Josh. 13:1). Do you feel there are things in your life that you have yet to accomplish for the Lord? What are they?
- The Israelites vow to serve the Lord whole-heartedly, but Joshua doesn’t think they are able (Josh. 24:14-21). He sets up a stone reminder for them, wrote out a covenant, established an ordinance, and recorded everything in a book. What can you do in your life to remind yourself of your commitment to the Lord and to help you stay on track in your walk with Him? Do you have somebody like Joshua who can help you?
Copyright © 2018 Pat Sieler