Preaching from the Book of Joshua

Jimmie L. Nelson  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 41 - Fall 1998

Tell Me the Story of Joshua

“I love to tell the story, for some have never heard The Message of salvation, from God’s own holy word.”

The book of Joshua is a narrative within a narrative. The first six books of the Bible (Hexateuch) center on the gracious, saving acts of God in election deliverance, covenant, and conquest.”[1]G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1952), 75. “No material the scriptures is more suited to the education of a congregation about its nature and functions as the people of God than are the narratives found in the books of Exodus through Joshua.”[2]Elizabeth Achtemeier, Preaching from the Old Testament (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), 76.

The Hexateuch is the initial part of the larger narrative, the Old Testament. The Old Testament is an integral part of the “rest of God’s story,” the New Testament. For the biblical writer, events of history were not understood except as he recorded what God was doing. These events had historical value because they revealed God’s fulfilling of his divine purpose.[3]Wright, 82-83: “The clue to the meaning of history, as the Bible conceives it, is a par­ticular proclamation, a kerygma, of the great redemptive acts of God which have been outlined above. Yet there is more to history than the spectacular saving events which furnish security, comfort and hope. History is also, perhaps more so, filled with suffer­ing, tragedy, death, defeat, war, destruction, insecurity and disillusionment.

Consequently, Biblical man recognized the anger as well as the love of God, his func­tion as Judge as well as Redeemer. Nevertheless, the kerygma proclaimed his saving acts as the clue even to the meaning of tragedy, war, and suffering. History never escapes God’s hand, its terrors never mean that he is unjust; his anger never conflicts with his love. The grace of God as affirmed in the kerygma was inescapable inference from his redemptive acts. Consequently, even war is a part of his gracious activity; the ‘day of Yahweh’ is the first stage of redemption. He uses sinful human agents as the instru­ments of his righteous judgment in history, though they may not recognize the fact that they are his agents, so that the selfish imperialism of men is employed by God to his own ends. Nevertheless, in the Biblical view this does not mean that the responsi­bility of man for his own acts is removed, nor does it mean that God is unrighteous.

There is always an element of mystery in God at this point, but Biblical man simply recognized what to him were simple facts: namely, that the primary acts of God were redemptive and reveal his saving purpose throughout all history (consequently, God is both Sovereign and good), and that his acts of judgment were the just penalty on sin (consequently, man’s response to God’s will is a matter of responsible choice).”

The God who intervened in Israel’s history is the same God who intervenes in ours.

People do not warm to a list of abstract truths or principles as they do to the truth being worked out through an actual event. The Bible is the story of God’s redemptive activity in human history.

The primal story of God’s redemptive activity gave rise to separate ‘stories’ about how, when, where, and with whom God was doing his work. Those stories are the material of which, to a great extent, Scripture is made. Narrative is a dominant literary form in the Bible.[4]Harold Freeman, Variety in Biblical Preaching (Waco, TX: Word Books Publisher, 1987), 117.

The book of Joshua is a story within the Story. The narratives in Joshua serve as instructions, warnings, and encouragements for the church today. The Israelites experienced the grace of God, accepted the responsibilities of being the people of God, and faced the challenge of daily obedience in fulfilling the will of God. Several writers have considered the book of Ephesians to be the New Testament counterpart to the book of Joshua.[5]See F. B.. Meyer, Joshua and the Land of Promise (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1977); Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua (NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1955); W. Graham Scroggie, The Land and Life of Rest: Canaan and the Heavenlies (London: Pickering & Inglis, Ltd., 1950). The church has experienced the grace of God and is depicted in the New Testament as the New Israel: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The book of Joshua relates the story of a people already redeemed from Egyptian bondage and constituted into a nation by the Lord God. The people of Israel had been promised their own land. Forty years after crossing the Red Sea, they were ready to “cross over Jordan” into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. In spite of Israel’s “murmurings” and “rebellions,” God had not given up on them. Whatever progress they made was accomplished by God leading them each step of the way. The   Canaanites were well aware of God’s role in the conquest of Canaan. Rahab said, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you” (Joshua 2:9).

An overview of the book aids in understanding each passage in its context. The preacher should develop a workable outline based upon thorough exegesis and examination of the text. This article outlines the book of Joshua as follows: Tell Me the Story of Joshua (Introduction); Entering the Promised Land (1:1-5:15); Conquering the Promised Land (6:1-12:24); Possessing the Promised Land (13:1-22:34); and Telling the Story Again (Conclusion: Joshua 23:1-24:33).

The purpose of this article is to stimulate the preacher’s imagination in encountering the text and to suggest sermon ideas from selected texts. Suggested sermon titles or themes are printed in bold.


Entering the Promised Land
(Joshua 1:1-5:15)

Call and Preparation of a New Leader (Joshua 1:1-9). Joshua received the divine call, accepted the role of leadership and carried out the Lord’s instructions. The two main characters in this passage are God and Joshua. The emphasis is on God’s calling and on equipping Joshua not only to succeed Moses but to lead the people in conquering the land.

The enduring nature of God’s promises is evident as the Israelites waited to enter the land God had given to them.[6]The giving of the land is emphasized in Joshua 1:2-4. (All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.) Hundreds of years had passed since God first promised the gift of land to Abraham (Genesis 12; 15:18; cf. Deuteronomy 1:8). God’s promise moved toward fulfillment, in spite of rebellion. Thirty-eight years earlier, the Israelites at Kadesh rejected the opportunity to possess the land, and that generation died in the wilderness. Yet, the Promise endured regardless of circumstances:

Moses may die; God’s promise lives on. There is the passing of an era yet the endurance of the promise. Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievements of men, however gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.[7]Dale Ralph Davis, No Falling Words: Expositions of the Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Balcer Book House, 1988), 18.

The focus on Joshua’s situation leads to the provisions God makes for those he calls. “Moses, my servant is dead; now therefore, rise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (Joshua 1:2). What an assignment! “And in his sorrow, Joshua forgets three hundred commandments and acquires seven hundred doubts.”[8]Elie Wiesel, Five Biblical Portraits (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 3.

Do you identify with Joshua? You are struggling with what God is calling you to do. You know what it is to be afraid. You have faced insurmountable odds. You have been called, it seems, to an impossible task. Your security has been shattered by circumstances beyond your control. But then his word speaks to you. You become aware again of God’s faithfulness and his presence in your life. The interweaving of such feelings with the experience of Joshua could produce a sermon on divine resources for accomplishing the impossible.

The importance of God’s word is emphasized in Joshua 1:7-8. Obedience to God’s law is a recurring theme in Deuteronomy and Joshua. Life is to be shaped by obedience to the Lord’s instructions.[9]Joshua 22:5; 23:6; 8:30-35. See also Deuteronomy 32:47.

Obeying God’s word brings fulfillment of God’s promises and guarantees participation in the divine purpose. Obedience to the Lord’s will is life itself.

The response of the people was affirmation of Joshua’s call (Joshua 1:16-18). They promised obedience to his commands and faithful service. Joshua accepted the leadership role and took command of the people (1:10). Moses was dead but Joshua faced the enemy with the Lord’s promise, his presence, the book of law, and a faithful and loyal people.[10]See Hebrews 13:5-8. The call of Joshua could be the basis for an ordination sermon for a minister: The Leader Who Makes a Difference or The Mystery of Leadership.

The Inclusive Nature of God’s Grace (Joshua 2:1-24.). Joshua sent spies to evaluate the enemy. What preparations were they making? How strong were their fortifications? What was their mindset?[11]John Bright, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), 22-23. Bright writes, “Did the Canaanites know who these people were? …Perhaps they knew… that they called themselves the Bene Yisra el, the children of Israel. Perhaps they learned, too-first with amusement,  then with horror-that these desert men were possessed of the fantastic notion that their God had promised them this land and they were there to take it!” The story of Rahab and the spies highlights the surprising grace of God. A Canaanite pagan prostitute becomes a part of God’s divine plan of redemption. She is included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5) and is named as one of the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:31).[12]See also James 2:18-26 where Rahab’s action is an example of faith by works (v. 25).

The basis of Rahab’s faith is her belief in God’s mighty acts. She had heard about the parting of the Red Sea and the defeat of the Amorite kings beyond the Jordan (Joshua 2:10). She confessed the sovereignty of the Lord who is “God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (2:11). Without knowing the law or witnessing the miracles of the Red Sea and the Wilderness, Rahab chose to follow the Lord God.

The spies benefitted from the unusual and unexpected grace of God. Their help came from an unlikely source-a harlot insured their safety within the walls of Jericho. They took encouragement from her report of the fear of the people (2:11) and echoed her words in their report the Joshua: “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us” (2:24).

New Testament examples of the unexpected grace of the Lord include the thief on the cross and Saul, the persecutor of the church. Even in the corrupt city of Corinth, the Lord assured the apostle that there were many that would become his people (Acts 18:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). All types of people may contribute and respond to the ministry of God’s people if they are not dismissed as unacceptable.

You Will Not Cross the Jordan Alone (Joshua 3:1-17). Here was a river that seemed to be uncrossable. The people had no idea how to cross the Jordan, but they knew they were supposed to be on the other side. On the other side was the “promised land,” but the Jordan was at flood tide. Over the river was the people’s future, the only future with divine blessing. Joshua did not hesitate. He moved the people to the edge of the Jordan.[13]Robert G. Boling, Joshua, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1982), 158. In Joshua 3:1 the verbs indicate vigorous action- “rose early in the morning” is translated by Boling as “got busy;” “set out,” literally means, “pulled up tent stakes” or “broke camp.”

The impossible task becomes possible by obeying God’s instructions and exercising faith. The people consecrated themselves (Joshua 3:5); purifying themselves ceremonially prepared them to allow God to work in their lives in a special way.[14]Cf. Exodus 19:10-12. The people were to follow the priests who were carrying the ark of the covenant. The ark represented not only the presence of the Lord God but also was a constant reminder of the terms on which he would bless his people.

Following the ark of the covenant no closer than a kilometer, the people saw the path the Lord God created for them.[15]For you have not passed this way before” (v. 4). When the priests stepped into the water, the never stopped flowing and “all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan” (3:17).

God’s past wonders assure his people that he will provide, no matter the obstacles. The impossible becomes possible when God initiates the action and the people obey. Indeed, God’s miracles offer assurance m daily life as Dale Ralph Davis writes:

The rescue at the Red Sea, the crossing of   the Jordan, and the death and resurrection of Christ are explosions of God’s power that are meant to color the whole horizon of the believer’s life in order to assure us that the God who so mightily handles great emergencies is surely adequate for the smaller crises and anxieties that beset us.[16]Davis, 36.

What Means These Stones? (Joshua 4:1-24). “When all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan…” (Joshua 4:1). Hallelujah! What Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had been promised, what Moses had been called to do what the Israelites delivered from Egyptian bondage had refused to do-this new generation had now done. God did not want them or their posterity to forget what he had done to make his promises a reality.

The Importance of Remembering.   Twelve stones were taken by twelve men from the dry river bed where   the priests had held the ark as the people passed by on dry land. These men represented all the people. The stones became a memorial at Gilgal.

Remembering is to “pass it on,” to rehearse what God has done-parents to children, Christians to others. Our own testimony is a “memorial,” reminding us and others what God has done in our lives. In Joshua’s day, what we would call “books” were rare. Instead they had feasts rituals, and “rocks” to help them remember what God had done for them. We have the Bible to remind us of the history of God’s dealings with his people. Today, the way we use the Bible and observe the ordinances should stimulate questions: What does the cross mean? Baptism? The Lord’s Supper?

Remembering is both corporate and personal. The people walked on dry ground as they crossed the Jordan­ they all participated in the event. Joshua reminded the people how God had dried up the waters of the Red Sea for their parents to escape from Pharaoh. That was a story they knew from their parents, a bit of history, but crossing the Jordan made it personal.

Remembering identifies believers with what God has done in the past and what he is now doing. We remind one another that God is the covenant keeper, he fulfills his promises. God works through his people. Not everyone would see the pile of stones, but those who did would know that he cared for them, that he acted in their behalf that theirs was a safe crossing. God fulfilled his promise through the people who obeyed.

Headstones, historical markers, statues, and memorial walls are objects that preserve history for each generation. But God’s people are “living stones” because their Lord is a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:4-5). We are the “spiritual history” that our children will remember!

This memorial was God’s idea. It commemorated a complete act. The explanation for the crossing of the Jordan is God! The only way a redeemed life can be explained is through the Lord Christ.

Who Are the People of God? (Joshua 5:1-12). The Israelites’ disobedience at Kadesh-Barnea resulted in that generation’s death in the wilderness. One of their excuses for not entering the land was the danger to their children (Numbers 14:3). The same children were the people who finally entered the land! Within the will of the Lord is the safest place for one’s family (Joshua 5:7). God allowed this new generation to enter the land, to be   circumcised, and to observe the Passover. Moses’ generation had all the marks of being the people of God, but they died in the wilderness because “they did not listen to the voice of God” (5:6).

Crossing the Jordan and establishing a memorial were only a beginning. The hard work of conquering the land was yet to come. “Joshua, like Moses before him, ..also travels between the certain possession of the word of God and as yet unrealized destination ….The itinerary of such a journey proceeds upon holy ground.”[17]Robert Polzin Moses and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of Deuteronomic History, Part I: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), 112-13. At that critical time, Joshua was suddenly face-to-face with an awesome warrior. Upon hearing that the warrior was a divine messenger Joshua immediately submitted to him. Joshua then realized he had asked the wrong question (5:13). Rather than ask which side the warrior was on, he should have asked, “Are we on the Lord’s side?”

The Lord not only redeems us but enables us to carry out his divine purpose. He is our divine warrior captain and grants overcoming power. God’s people, past and present, have occasionally experienced the unique presence of the Lord, and these experiences call for commitment to the divine will. The assurance of God’s leadership prepares the Christian soldier as nothing else will. To submit to him is to volunteer for spiritual warfare. The Christian life is a conflict ending in victory.


Conquering the Land
(Joshua 6:1-12:24)

Engagement in “holy war”[18]John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1975), 247. Bright asks, “But what of the theology of holy war? The New Testament by no means repudiates it. Rather, it consistently eschatologizes it and imparts to it a spiritual (though none the less real) quality. The Old Testament looked forward to the eschatological struggle; the New Testament throws everything into the context of eschatology. The eschatological struggle was begun in Jesus Christ and won on Good Friday and Easter. Here the back of Satan’s resistance was broken and the ‘last enemy’ death sent in rout. But the struggle goes on, and will go onto final victo­ry at the Last Day. And when the New Testament seeks to describe that Last Day, it borrows much of the symbolism of the Day of Yahweh, and not a little of that of holy war. And in this (already begun) eschatological struggle the Christian participates as a soldier of Christ (see, e.g., classically, Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Timothy 2:1–4; 4:6-8). This war is not fought with conventional weapons against visible foes. The foes are spiritual-though terribly real, and often enough real men-and the battle and weapons are spiritual. But it is a war, a no-quarter fight to the death. And to the soldier of Christ who engages in it faithfully there is given the sure promise of victory, and a crown.” by the Israelites is a troubling concept for Christians to understand. Beginning with the account of carrying out the “ban,”[19]Herem; Joshua 6:17-18, 21, 24; 7:1, 13-15. the Christian interpreter becomes uncomfortable.[20]Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament, 243. Joshua “tells a bloody tale of battle, v10lence, and wholesale slaughter, a slaughter in which God assists with his mighty acts; the smoke of burning towns and the stench of rotting flesh hangs over its pages. What is worse, not only did God assist in this slaughter; it is more than once stated that he expressly commanded it. It is a story of fanaticism, of holy war and wholesale sacrificial destruction (the herem). And the author of the book tells of this slaughter with approval, and with a more than gentle hint that he regrets that is was not carried out more completely.” Israel’s primary objective was to occupy and settle the land of Canaan, which meant the obliteration of every pagan influence-the cities and their citizens were to be destroyed. The “ban” referred to dedication separation and prohibition.[21]21 Watson E. Mills, ed., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990). For “ban,” see p. 84; for “Holy War,” p. 386. The gravity of God’s judgment is a constant theme in the biblical record. The Israelites were the instruments of divine judgment against the Canaanites. Later, the Assyrians and Babylonians would be the instruments of divine wrath against the Israelites! The land conquered in Joshua’s day would be taken away in Jeremiah’s day when the nation was taken into Babylonian exile.

If Canaan were to be conquered as God had commanded, battles were inevitable. Only the critical battles were reported in a campaign that lasted about seven years.[22]Joshua 11:18. Jericho and Ai were the only two reported in which Israel took the initiative. The engagement against the coalition of five longs representing the strongholds of southern Palestine was in response to the treaty made with the Gibeonites (Joshua 10). The battle at the waters of Merom was provoked by King Jobin of Hazor and the longs in northern Canaan (Joshua 11).

Scroggie compares the campaign to conquer Canaan with the church’s campaign against the forces of Satan. “A battle is a single engagement, but a campaign is a series of concerted military operations directed toward a single objective . . . .We may lose battles and yet win the campaign.”[23]Scroggie, 31. With Christ as our Captain, victory is ultimately assured.

The idea of holy war in Joshua gives insight into the spiritual warfare in which the Church engages. The seriousness of sin, the tragedy of disobedience, and the com­ promise with pagan practices weakens the testimony of the Church. Possibly, the Church’s greatest weakness is failure to see its members as soldiers of the cross. The people of God are at their best when they know who they are in Christ, identify the enemy, and report for duty daily to their supreme Commander as they march forth on divine mission. John Bright describes the Church’s failure to serve as God’s militia:

We have, I think, to find this martial note again, for we have all but lost it. We sing our martial songs, and the sanctuary rings with brave words. But we are not a very soldierly people. We are parade-ground troops reluctant to dirty our uniforms; we are soldiers who refuse orders, sleep on duty, sever when convenient, and often enough traitors to the cause. God’s military levy? We are a ragtag, bobtailed militia, of no use in the eschatological battle-save that God, in his grace, has deigned to use us anyhow.

Indeed this talk of the life of faith as a combat embarrasses us. It seems scarcely in good taste. We do not like to think of the church as militant at all, but rather as caught up in a stream of steady fraternal progress. We are men of tolerance and good will who find it hard to believe that the God of the Bible (though infinitely more loving) is not necessarily as tolerant as we. Feeling no animus toward the enemies of God, we fraternize with them till we no longer recognize them as enemies and are ready to make almost any compromise with them in the interests of peace. When the Bible talks of their total destruction, we vaguely feel this to be unworthy. Yet we expect the promise of Christ’s victory on earth to be made good to us and through us, his most unmilitant church.[24]Bright, Authority of the Old Testament, 248–49.

Who Fought the Battle of Jericho? (Joshua 6). Surely, the only explanation for the victory at Jericho is God. The instructions to the people, priests, and soldiers to march silently around the walls once each day for six days must have been a trial of faith. No explanation was given nor were the Israelites told “what was to be the end of that apparently useless and aimless promenade.”[25]Alexander MacLaren, “Book of Joshua,” Exposition of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1952), 132. The people were obedient, willing instruments of God’s directions. People of faith know God is faithful. Walking in his will places the outcome of any circumstances in his hands. The outcome glorifies the Lord.

On the seventh day, they walked around the walled city seven times. This time after the blowing of the trumpets, the people shouted and “the walls came tumbling down.” Their confidence in the divine presence and their obedience to the divine word permitted the Israelites to participate in the divine victory. The ingredients of victory include faith and obedience.

Who Lost the Battle of Ai? (Joshua 7). The victory at Jericho was an object lesson to the Canaanites. The defeat at Ai was an object lesson to the Israelites. The cause of defeat puzzled Joshua, and he questioned the Lord: “Why did we not stay on the east side of the Jordan? What shall I say about retreating from our enemies? What will it do to your great name?” Joshua’s anguish evolved from his lack of knowledge. He understood that the defeat had to do with God’s wrath. His prayer was an “honest to God” plea. The defeat in battle would not be the greatest loss to the Israelites – the loss of God’s presence would be the greatest disaster (Joshua 7:12).

The tragedy of disobedience is the theme of this passage. God was angry because “Israel has sinned” (7:11a); Achan said “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel” (7:20). Achan’s disobedience affected all of Israel. The church today does not always take seriously the consequences of sin, but lives in complacent disobedience. Confession is necessary for the church to be victorious.[26]See Joshua 22:20; Acts 5:1-11.

Renewing Covenant Obligations (Joshua 8:30-35). After the embarrassing defeat of the Israelites at Ai and their subsequent victory, Joshua gathered the people for worship at Mt. Ebal.[27]Boling, 247. Their next conquests would not be against a single small city force as at Jericho or Ai-the Israelites would face a coalition of Icings. Flanked by Mt. Geizim and Mt. Ebal, Joshua built an altar and the people offered burnt offerings and sacrificial peace offerings (Joshua 8:31). All of this was done just as Moses had commanded (Deuteronomy 27). Covenant renewal demanded ongoing obedience to God’s law. Obeying God’s law was more important than military accomplishment.

Davis describes the episode with the Gibeonites as “The Trouble with Common Sense[28]Davis, 75. (Joshua 9:1-27). The men of Gibeon represented four Hivite cities that were on the agenda for destruction by the Israelites. The delegation from Gibeon represented themselves as being from a distant land and easily deceived the men of Israel. Joshua “made peace with them and made a covenant with them to let them live” (Joshua 9:15). When the deception was discovered the Israelites kept their oath to them but made them their slaves![29]Bolin, 269. Boling writes, “The covenant belonged to a people:forming process, and the problem of inferior forms of membership in a community is precisely what the covenant liturgy was originally designated to counteract.” After their humiliation at Ai, the Israelites were embarrassed again; they failed to “ask for the counsel of the Lord” (9:14):

Now it was not that Joshua and the elders did not ask the right questions; they were suspicious at just the right points (vv. 7-8). It wasn’t that they were sloppy in their investigation but that they were alone in their decision. It wasn’t that they didn’t think but that they didn’t pray. They did not have because they did not ask (James 4:2).[30]Davis, 77.

The Lord Fights for His People (Joshua 10:1-14). Jericho and Ai were ruined piles of stones. The four cities of the Hivites were now subservient to the Israelites. Throughout Canaan, the rumor of the power of Israel’s God spread. Joshua had returned to Gilgal when the kings of southern Canaan decided to attack Gibeon. Relying upon Joshua’s fidelity to their treaty, the Gibeonites summoned him to help. Joshua led in a midnight march and caught the sleeping kings and their armies by surprise. The Lord assured him of victory (Joshua 10:8), so when the enemy fled, Joshua pursued and defeated them. A day like none before (10:14) was a day of miracle and judgment. In poetic form, the words of Joshua are recorded asking for the extension of the day so that victory would be complete (10:12-13). The Lord fought for Israel and the southern portion of Canaan was defeated.

God’s presence in our lives certifies our deliverance from sin’s penalty. Our daily dependence upon him produces victory over the power of sin in our lives. Circumstances, human opposition, and spiritual conflict confront the Christian constantly. However, “you are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The Claiming of Victory (Joshua 11:1-23). The northern Icings made a pact to fight against Israel at the waters of Merom (11:5). This was the largest army Joshua had faced, but again God promised victory for his people (11:6). All the Icings were defeated but only Razor was burned. Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses” (11:15).[31]Joshua 12 records the defeat of 31 kings in the conquest of Canaan.

Victory was not achieved easily or quickly. “Joshua waged war a long time with these kings” (11:18). But victory was theirs! Joshua took the whole land and gave it as an inheritance to Israel (11:25).

The Lord’s victory over sin and Satan was decisive. Experiencing victory in our lives is an everyday process. “But we have to claim it repeatedly until, in the case of each of us, death, that last enemy, is destroyed.”[32]Meyer, 138. Claim what the Lord has already given. Do not fear the enemy; always call upon the Lord; thank him for his overcoming power.


Possessing the Promised Land
(Joshua 13:1-22:34)

Joshua had been victorious in battle. The Lord’s promise had been fulfilled: “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5). The Israelites conquered what had already been given as an inheritance. Now the inherited land was to be allotted to the tribes of Israel (11:23).[33]Two-and-one-half tribes had already been given land on the east side of the Jordan (13:8-33). After seven years of war, the Lord told Joshua, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed” (13:1). There was a distinct difference between inheritance and possession. “The inheritance is the whole geographical area which God gave to Israel, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river, the river Euphrates (Genesis 15:18) which, however, they never possessed; and the possession is that much of the inheritance which they did take.”[34]Scroggie, 48-49.

Possessing what God has given is the continuing goal of the Christian. Appropriating all that has already been given in Christ is God’s will for his people.[35]Ephesians 3:18-19. See also Romans 8:17; Phillipians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 6:12. The Israelites never completed the task of possession – they failed because of apathy, procrastination, and faithlessness.

The sons of Joseph complained about not receiving enough land (Joshua 17:14-18). They were assigned more land but did not exercise faith or expend energy to gain it.

Seven of the tribes delayed possessing their inheritance. Joshua chided them, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (18:3). The tribe of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites (15:63), and Manasseh could not drive out the Canaanites (17:11-13). Failure to drive out the enemy resulted in compromise with the enemy.

Caleb was an exception to the pattern of disobedience and compromise of the Israelites. To stand on the promises of God (14:6-17) was the commitment of his life. He kept his eye on the fulfillment of those promises (14:9; Numbers 14:24). He withstood the murmurings and rebellions, the incessant wanderings in the desert, and the brutality of war because he knew that “he who had promised was faithful.”

Forty-five years earlier, when Caleb was one of the twelve spies, he had seen Hebron and the Anakim. His physical strength had not abated and his spiritual stamina was even stronger. He had followed the Lord continuously and would “dispossess” the Anakim (Joshua 14:12, 14; Isaiah 40:31).


Telling the Story Again
(Conclusion: Joshua 23:1-24:33)

The Farewell Address of a Faithful Soldier (Joshua 23:1-16). In Joshua’s farewell address, he retold the story of their history in the Promised land (23:1-5). He emphasized grace, responsibility, and judgement as he recounted how God fought for them and granted them the nations of the land as their inheritance. God was faithful in fulfilling his promise. Having experienced God’s grace, the people were responsible to obey the law which would keep them from harm (23:6-7). They were to cling exclusively to the Lord and to love him (23:8, 11).

Joshua warned Israel what the future would bring if they failed to obey. Any nation they failed to drive out of the land “will be a snare, and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes” (23:13). The Canaanites will be the instruments of judgment that will cause the Israelites to perish (disappear) from the land.

Life’s Greatest Choice (Joshua 24:1-13). Joshua told again the story of God’s election of Abraham, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and the gift of the land. These historical events were interpreted for each generation. “To confess God is to tell a story and then to expound its meaning.”[36]Wright, 85. The interpretation of the divine act is also the divine word.

The repeated story of God’s salvation of a people and his provision for them has both present and future significance. “The event described stands in the shelter of a word of God that is pregnant with the future and points beyond itself to something to come.”[37]Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1965), 372. The message of Joshua looks to the future.

After retelling the story of all that God had done, Joshua called upon Israel to decide what they were going to do! As Israel Zangwill said, “We are not the chosen people, but the choosing people.”[38]Wiesel, 28. The old commander made his choice: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).

Israel chose that day to be “blessed.” They understood that they were subject to the judgment of God if they failed (24:20). For Israel to be unfaithful to the covenant was equivalent to denying God (24:27).

“Tell me the old, old story,” Hebrew parents and prophets and psalmists did just that. They told the old story of Hebrew history over and over. They wanted future generations to know the story of God redeeming a people and promising them a future. Each chapter of the story had its fulfillment of promise, but it was temporary and never final. The writer of Hebrews states that the Old Testament heroes all died in faith, “without receiving the promises but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance” (Hebrews 11:13).

“Tell me the old, old story.” It is a story infinitely worth telling for it finds its completion in “Jesus, the author and perfector of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).


Category: Journal Article
Tags: ,

Share This Article:  

Southwestern Journal of Theology
To download full issues and find more information on the Southwestern Journal of Theology, go to