The book of Joshua connects historically directly to Deuteronomy. In Hebrew, this book begins with the word “and”, making it clear that history goes on. The history of this book covers a period of about thirty years. Joshua dies when he is one hundred and ten years old (Jos 24:29). He is about eighty years old at the beginning of the book.
The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses and that is where this book begins. Moses has died and Joshua follows him. Someone aptly said: “God does bury His workers, but His work continues.” Joshua does not succeed Moses to lead the people further through the wilderness. He becomes the leader of the people to bring them into the land.
Moses and Joshua are both a picture of the Lord Jesus. Moses is a picture of the Lord Jesus as Servant of God on earth who went his way through the terrestrial wilderness. As such He is in our time the leader of God’s people on their way to glory. Those who believe follow in His steps as long as they are in the earth: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1Pet 2:21).
The wilderness speaks of the earthly circumstances we have to go through and in which the Lord Jesus has preceded us. He shows us that way as those saved from the world by the blood of the Lamb, of which Egypt is a picture.
Moses died, which says that the way of the Lord Jesus on earth came to an end through His death. But the Lord Jesus did not remain in death. He is risen, “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1Pet 3:18b). And Joshua is a picture of that. The Lord Jesus is glorified by God at His right hand. He is now in heaven.
Joshua, however, is not a picture of Christ glorified in heaven, but of the Lord Jesus Who is in us through and in the Holy Spirit and stays with us. Christ came to us in the Spirit (Jn 14:16-18). He leads us who are now His people through His Spirit into the territory of which the land of Canaan speaks of for us: the heavenly places. That is the heavenly atmosphere where, while we are still on earth, we are connected with Him and where we may enjoy all that God has given us on the basis of His work.
The first part of the book describes the struggle that the people of Israel must fight to conquer and take possession of the land of Canaan. In the second part, it is mentioned how the land is divided among the tribes.
The Christian also has a struggle to fight, but that is a spiritual struggle. He has also received blessings to enjoy. In the New Testament, in the letter to the Ephesians, we can read about this. The Christian is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The devil and his angels want to try to prevent the Christian from also enjoying those blessings. That gives rise to struggle. At the end of the letter to the Ephesians is spoken about that struggle and how victory can be achieved (Eph 6:10-20).
Canaan is not a picture of heaven, where the Christian goes after his death. Heaven cannot be conquered by one’s own struggle. We can only enter heaven by faith in the Lord Jesus.
In this book the struggle is depicted in all kinds of histories. Therein are important spiritual lessons for us. The most important lesson is that Joshua is the leader. Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus. In our spiritual struggle we must pay attention to our Leader, the Lord Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2).
The events described in the book of Joshua are all meant for us: “These things happened as examples for us” (1Cor 10:6). It can be compared to the book of Acts, which is also a book of the beginning. We also see the future of Israel in this book, when all God’s plans are fulfilled and the enemies are completely expelled.
The Training of Joshua
Joshua was born in slavery in Egypt. His parents gave him the name Hosea, which means ‘salvation’. In so doing they have shown faith in God’s promise of the delivery of His people. Moses has changed his name. He calls “Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua” (Num 13:16b). Joshua means ‘the LORD saves’. Joshua belongs to the tribe of Ephraim and is the firstborn son of Nun (1Chr 7:20,27). That he is the firstborn son and still alive means that he owes his life to the hiding behind the blood of the lamb (Exo 12:12-13).
The first mention of Joshua is linked to struggle (Exo 17:9-10a). This is the first aspect in his training and formation to the leadership he takes over from Moses. Amalek is the opponent and is a picture of the flesh that wants to thwart us from the beginning of our journey to the promised land.
Just as David’s first action is characteristic of his further career – the killing of Goliath – so it is with the first mention of Joshua as leader in the fight against Amalek. The final victory is certain, but he must fight for it. Faith supports him in this. Through the vicissitudes of the struggle, he learns to be dependent on Moses on the mountain, that is, on God, and through dependence he achieves victory (Exo 17:10b-13).
The second time Joshua is mentioned is when he goes up the mountain with Moses, who is going to meet God and receives the law from Him: “So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exo 24:13). Nobody is allowed to touch the mountain, but Joshua is allowed to go along with Moses. Here we see Joshua close to God, in His presence. That aspect is also important for the forming of this young servant. The warrior from below is connected with the glory on high. Fellowship with God increases the knowledge of the thoughts of God.
The third time we hear about Joshua when he descends from the mountain together with Moses. The sin with the golden calf has taken place. Joshua hears the noise and draws the wrong conclusion: “Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp”” (Exo 32:17). His ear is not yet as exercised as that of Moses who knows how to correctly interpret the noise.
Joshua learns to see what really happened in the camp. That’s why we find him with Moses in the tent that Moses pitched outside the camp: “His servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exo 33:11). With Moses he takes a place of separation from the people and to God.
Taking a place of separation is no guarantee that no new mistakes will be made. Joshua stands up for Moses – or is it more for himself? – when two men do not respond to the call of Moses to come to the tent of meeting. Those two men stay in the camp and prophesy there. In Moses’ reaction we notice the special, spiritual mindset of this man of God: “But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”” (Num 11:29; cf. Mk 9:38-39).
A sixth occasion where we meet Joshua is in the account he gives of his spying out of the land: “Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land”” (Num 14:6-7). Here we see that Joshua knows the land and so knows where he will lead the people. He has been there and bears witness to it. He has learned to appreciate it and knows the power of God to put the people in possession of it.
Joshua, the new leader of the people
Then comes the moment when Moses fails and as punishment is not allowed to enter the land. He must appoint Joshua as his successor. But the real reason that God is angry with Moses is with the people: “The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Deu 1:37-38).
This is how it happened to the Lord Jesus. God is angry with Him – in the three hours of darkness on the cross – because of our sins, these are the sins of all who believe in Him. He died. But He also rose from the dead and now leads us through His Spirit.
Moses must appoint Joshua as a man in whom the Spirit works: “So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him”” (Num 27:18). Moses must lay his hand on him, which indicates identification. He must be presented before Eleazar, the priest. The service of Joshua is inseparable from that of Eleazar. Moses never spoke about Aaron in this way. Eleazar is a high priest in the land.
The Lord Jesus is our High Priest in heaven. In order to enter the heavenly land, we depend on His work as High Priest. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus is in us and the Lord Jesus is as High Priest for us in heaven. Joshua gets from the glory of Moses. Christ, as He was on earth, and Christ in the Spirit, is the same Person: “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (2Cor 3:17a).
Moses and Joshua are two persons, but represent to us the one Christ. In Deuteronomy 31 Moses encourages Joshua with words that also occur in Joshua 1, but from the mouth of the LORD Himself (Deu 31:7; Jos 1:6). In Deuteronomy 34 we hear from Joshua the fulfillment of what God has said in connection with the death of Moses (Deu 34:9).
As to our wilderness journey we always have the Lord Jesus as Guide before our eyes in the mind described in Philippians 2 (Phil 2:5-8). But when it comes to going into the land, we are dealing with the Lord Jesus in the Spirit. He comes to us in the Spirit (Jn 14:18) to direct our eyes to the Lord Jesus in glory. So we see Him in Philippians 3 (Phil 3:12-14,20-21).
Finally, a division of the book:
1. The passage through the Jordan (Joshua 1-5).
2. The conquest of the land (Joshua 6-12).
3. The division of the land (Joshua 13-21).
4. Return of the two and a half tribes to the wilderness side of the Jordan (Joshua 22).
5. Farewell speech of Joshua and his death (Joshua 23-24).