The Story Begins – 1:1-2

When many people think of the book of Joshua, the first thing that comes to mind is often, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho,” or potentially the story of the sun standing still at the battle of Gibeon, or maybe the verse that is hung up on the entryway at my parent’s house, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). What the first two typical thoughts have in common is that they both describe wars, battles, death, and blood. And I had a thought last night while playing Call of Duty: “We can’t understand the book of Joshua, as many people do, as Call of Duty: Canaan Ops.” The first two verses of the book help to demonstrate my point.

The author states, “After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses:  “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites.”[1]

There are several key things to say about this small chunk of text, but we first need to clarify several other points first. You may have followed along in my Galatians series, the first post of which can be found here, and if you did, you saw me introduce the text every time by saying, “Paul wrote in Galatians . . .” You’ve probably already noticed a difference in today’s post. Here I said, “The author states,” because we don’t know who wrote the book of Joshua. John MacArthur argues that “the most probable candidate is Joshua,”[2] and while there’s no proof that he wasn’t the author, I hesitate to agree with MacArthur for several reasons. First, Joshua could not have written the ending of the book, describing his death.[3] Second, even though Joshua is recorded as having written stuff down (24:26 for one example), nowhere does it specifically refer to events (such as those recorded in the book of Joshua), but rather always to the Law of God and the peoples’ response to it. Third, the following verses from Joshua 10 seem to be referring back to something that was originally written in Joshua’s day (a day which I’d argue has passed by the time the book was written):

And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on its enemies. Isn’t this written in the Book of Jashar? “So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed its setting almost a full day.”  There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man, because the LORD fought for Israel (10:13-14).

The author explains that this day was described in a book that still existed at the time of writing. He explains that no day like it had happened since, which might prove that it was written by someone who was young at the time of the occurrence, and could confidently say as an elderly man that it hadn’t happened since. If Joshua had written the book, not enough time would have passed to give credence to this passage or the passages that say, “until this day.” Again, we can’t know for sure, but since the Bible doesn’t tell us who wrote it, this is where I’d prefer to fall.

Thus, I’d like to refer to the author as “the historian,” but due to biblical scholarship in the Old Testament, I can’t call him that in good conscience, because a lot of people think differently when they think of “the Historian” as it relates to the Old Testament.

An alternative hypothesis that has implications for the Book of Joshua (and the books following it) was given its classical formulation in 1943 by [Martin] Noth. Noth saw a literary unity beginning with Deuteronomy and stretching through 2 Kings that he called the “Deuteronomistic History.” He contended that this was the work of a single theologian, the “Deuteronomist,” who wrote after the fall of Jerusalem to offer a historical-theological explanation for the events of 722 and 587 BC (the falls of Samaria and Jerusalem). Noth saw this work as attempting to demonstrate that these events were the direct consequence of Israel’s unrepentant following after other gods and their failure to obey God.[4]

This view detrimentally calls into question the historical reliability of a significant chunk of the Old Testament, and argues that the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings were written by one person, but not until the exile to Babylon. This is why I will refer to the author of this book as “our historian” from this point on.

I brought up the fact that the Deuteronomic Historian view calls into question the historical reliability of the book, so a statement on historical reliability must be made before continuing. What we see recorded in the book of Joshua really happened in real time. However, in saying that, it is important to note that the history in the Bible is not the same as the history you learn in school. It’s similar, but it’s not the same. In American history, for example, you learn about the progress we made from east coast to west coast throughout the 1800s, and it’s called just that, “progress.” However, if you ask a Native American about that time period, they’ll choose a different word than “progress” to describe it: pillaging. In the same way, the history presented in the Old Testament describes Israel’s history as interpreted through God’s interaction. It is not a history of the world, and thus it doesn’t have to be 100% historically accurate in every little detail for the Bible to still be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). It is 100% historically accurate as regards Israel, because Israel is the focus of the story—the avenue through which God would bring salvation to the ends of the earth: Jesus. The Israelites believed the earth was flat—and the Bible presents it as such—but even though we now know the earth to be round, this new scientific knowledge does not mean the Bible cannot be trusted. It isn’t a world history book; it isn’t a science book; it isn’t a self-help book. It is God’s self-disclosure of Himself and of how He interacts with His creation to bring people into relationship with Himself. And that is ultimately what the book of Joshua is about. Using the history of Israel entering the promised land, our historian will show us more about God’s nature and relationship with His creation, and how we are to respond to that.

The first words of the book tie us back to the first five books of the Bible: “After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant.” This places us at a concrete point in time. Moses’ forty years of leading Israel are at an end, and the mantle of leadership is in transition. However, what is also clear here is that this book is building on what comes before—what, based on my understanding of when this book was written, would have to already have been written—from Genesis to Deuteronomy. In a brief catch up: God created the world, Satan deceived Adam and Eve and sin entered and corrupted the world, God called Abraham, Abraham’s family ended up in Egypt and multiplied greatly; Moses led the people out of Egypt, the people rebelled, they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and at the end of forty years, Moses died. Moses was the pinnacle—especially up to this point in time—of what a relationship with God looked like; he spoke to God face to face and served the LORD mightily. Now he’s dead and the people are leaderless.

But our historian continues, “the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses:  “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites.” If you’re familiar with the book of Deuteronomy, you will note that they were never really leaderless after Moses died, because Deuteronomy 31 relates Moses transferring leadership to Joshua in the presence of the LORD before Moses died. It says that Joshua had served Moses, which is important to relate, because later writers will utilize the word used to refer to someone who would ultimately carry on another’s legacy for God.[5] Thus, the fact that Joshua had served Moses is a concrete sign that Joshua would assume Moses’ position of leader for Israel.

God’s words to Joshua in verse 2 seek to point out to the new leader, “Yes, Moses is dead. Your time for leadership has come. It may be unreal for you, and hard to process, but it’s time to move on.” This will be further elaborated on next time in verses 5-9 specifically.

And then God explains the point of the book. The people and Joshua are to cross the Jordan River and enter the land God is giving them. It is very important—as my intro stated—to point out what is not being said here. God is not saying, “Cross the Jordan River and take the land.” He’s not saying, “Go kill everyone!” He is saying, and we cannot afford to miss this, “I am giving this to you.” And this point goes back to Genesis 12:7, where God said to Abram, “I will give this land to your offspring.” The book of Joshua, more than the battles and the death and the miraculous happenings, is the book of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promise to Abram.

And it’s on that note that I end the comments today, and transition to a different style. As we go through the book of Joshua together over the coming months, my prayer is that we would all see God’s faithfulness much more clearly in our own lives. As of beginning this study I have just moved halfway across the country, and I am eager to see God’s faithfulness at work in my own life, even if nothing super positive or negative were ever to happen as a result. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

However, as the book of Joshua shows, before Jesus’ coming to the earth this was impossible in its realest sense. The story in Joshua 7 proves this without a shadow of a doubt. As such, Jesus is a fuller, and more accurate picture of God than what we see in the Old Testament, even though the God of the Old Testament is the God who gave His Son in the New Testament. In fact, the whole book of Joshua screams, “Jesus is better!” One commentator says of Christ, “He is Jesus, the name corresponding to the ‘Joshua’ of the Old Testament, the ‘saviour’ of God’s people (for so the name can be translated), who will lead them into the inheritance promised by God.”[6] Jesus is the ultimate proof of God’s faithfulness, as is shown by the cross, but also clearly shown in Galatians 3:16, where Paul writes, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.” It is mandatory to note that all the promises spoken to Abraham and his seed (Christ according to Paul) have to do with inheriting the land. Thus the land was not truly possessed—in it’s fullest sense—and God  had not fully proved faithful to His promise to Abraham—in the realest sense—until after Christ came to earth, which our study will also seek to show.

So do you know God’s faithfulness personally? It was shown clearly when Jesus came to earth and died the death that we all deserved for our unfaithfulness to God. And it was proven when God raised Him from the dead to show that death doesn’t have the final word. He wants your faith. If you haven’t trusted Him yet, please believe in Him now!

While the battles in the book of Joshua are real and historical, we miss the point of the book if we make them our sole focus. God is faithful, and our historian who penned this book wants us to know God’s faithfulness more fully from reading and studying his work that we now refer to as “the book of Joshua.”

Soli Deo Gloria

The next post can be found here.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations used in this study are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.
[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 301.
[3] This does not mean Moses did not write the first five books of the Old Testament since his death is recorded in Deuteronomy 34. The books we attribute to Moses are attributed to Moses in the biblical text (cf. Jesus in several places), but nowhere is the text of Joshua said to have come from Joshua. It’s very likely that whoever composed the book of Joshua also added the ending of Deuteronomy.
[4] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 51. The “Deuteronomist” is also often referred to as “the Deuteronomic Historian.”
[5] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, H. J. Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 15, Revised, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 09/16/2016), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 505.
[6] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 241.

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