Tracing the history of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, this commentary on the book of Joshua explores the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to his chosen people.
About the Author
David Jackman (MA, Cambridge University) is a renowned Christian speaker and author. In addition to serving as a visiting lecturer at London’s Oak Hill Theological College, he is also a former president of The Proclamation Trust, a ministry dedicated to encouraging and equipping Bible teachers around the world.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Overture and Beginners
JOSHUA 1:1, 2
THE BEGINNING OF THIS sixth book of the Bible is as stark as it is surprising. From Exodus onward, the last four books have been dominated by one giant human figure — Moses. For forty years he has been the constant factor, the mediator and deliverer of his people — always there, always dependable, the man who speaks face-to-face with God, "as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). It must have been almost impossible to imagine life without Moses, much as those of us who are British citizens find it hard to imagine our country without Queen Elizabeth II after her sixty wonderful years upon the throne. But "Moses my servant is dead" is the blunt beginning of this book (v. 2) and life, as always, must go on.
The words are spoken to Joshua, the son of Nun, by no means a young man at this stage, but with his real life's work just about to open up before him. The words are spoken by the sovereign Lord, Yahweh, whose name reveals his unchanging faithfulness to his covenant promises because of his immutable character and purposes. The words are not unexpected. They are like the starting pistol to a race that Joshua has always known he would one day run and for which he has been trained and has prepared for decades. But they must have come with awesome demand and challenge, and they must surely have provoked that mixture of excited anticipation and inner panic we all know when we stand on the threshold of a major new chapter of our life experience. "Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people ..." (v. 2).
The time has come to enter the land, to possess in reality all that their covenant Lord had promised Israel through the centuries, since first he told their father Abraham, "I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of our sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:8). This was why he brought them out of their slavery in Egypt. This was what their forty years in the desert was always anticipating. This was how the sovereign Lord would now fulfill his often repeated promises.
The pattern had been set right back at the beginning of God's dealings with Abram, when, in Ur of the Chaldeans, he received the divine summons, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). This clear command was accompanied by no road map, no detailed schedule, no explanation of how it would all happen, but Abram had all that he really needed — the promise from the sovereign Lord that he would show him the land and then later give it to him and his family (Genesis 12:7). The command and the promise run together throughout the Bible. So it is here for Joshua. The command is to cross the River Jordan, but the promise is that God is now giving his people their promised land. Both command and promise depend upon the sovereignty of God, expressed in his wise will and achieved by his irresistible power. So it is as God's people both believe the promises and obey the commands that they enter into the experience of fellowship with God at the deepest, relational level. The same is true for us today. Why do we so often fail to obey God's commands? Because we do not really believe his promises. The two always go together. Faith leads to obedience. Disobedience is always rooted in distrust. We will see this lesson worked out often in the book of Joshua; it is a continuing challenge that we shall often encounter in our contemporary experience of living the Christian life.
It is significant that the designation of Moses as "the servant of the LORD" in verse 1 is matched at the end of the book (24:29) with the same title, but this time it is assigned to Joshua. The story of the book, at one level, is the story of Joshua's progress and development from the description of him as "Moses' assistant" (1:1) to his own epitaph as the Lord's servant. But Joshua is not the hero of the book, as we shall see. That role is entirely occupied by the Lord himself, whom Joshua served. Nevertheless, Joshua features as the central human actor in the drama of the conquest of Canaan, and it is entirely appropriate for us to look at some of his earlier history before we delve into the details of the text.
We are first introduced to Joshua in the early days of the exodus, before the nation is brought together to Sinai to receive the Law of God. Perhaps a better translation of the Hebrew word torah, translated as "law," would be "instruction" since this stresses the relational aspect of God's self-revelation as he reveals how his people are to live in covenant with him. Of course, this is interwoven with the binding effects and sanctions of his commands, which are not just advice but carry divine authority and inflict within them punishment for their infringement.
Just a few months out of Egypt the Israelites face an all-out assault from the Amalekites at Rephidim, where God has provided water from the rock. Without any words of introduction, Joshua is nominated by Moses to select an army and lead the battle, which he does (Exodus 17:8–10). After the great victory ("Joshua overwhelmed Amalek," Exodus 17:13), God commands Moses to record in writing and cause it to be read to Joshua that he, the Lord, will be at war with Amalek until he will "utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exodus 17:14). Joshua, previously unknown, is suddenly a successful military leader, but he needs constantly to be reminded that this was God's victory, not his, entirely dependent on Moses' symbolic raising of his hands to the throne of Yahweh in supplication and intercession. It is interesting that at this first recorded Joshua incident the written testimony is given a central place in encouraging his faith and reminding him where power really lies. The man of action is to be dependent on the word of the Lord and on the prayers of his people.
We next meet Joshua, described as Moses' "assistant," in Exodus 24:13, where he accompanies the great leader as he responds to God's call to come up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Torah. There is nothing to indicate that Joshua was with Moses when he entered the cloud of God's presence, but he was certainly nearer to God's self-revelation "like a devouring fire" (Exodus 24:17) than any of his fellow Israelites. And when the protracted interview ends, it is Joshua who descends with Moses to witness the horrors of the golden calf idolatry in the camp. The young man assumes the noise of the people below to be a sign of war, but Moses knows better, and the orgy quickly becomes evident (Exodus 32:17–19). After the initial acts of judgment and the withdrawal of God's immediate presence from the camp, it is Moses who sets up a tent outside, a prototype "tabernacle" or "tent of meeting," where he alone can communicate with God, in personal intimacy. But the privilege of proximity again belongs to Joshua. "When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent" (Exodus 33:11). We don't know, of course, how much Moses passed on to the young apprentice, but such closeness to the action and his awareness of God's glory must have been enormously formative in the young warrior's thinking.
The next time we meet Joshua, God has called Moses to select seventy elders, upon whom he puts his Spirit so as to enable them to share in the burden of leadership that Moses has been shouldering alone. This unique visitation of the Spirit was evidenced by their speaking God's word (prophesying), a unique occurrence. Even though two of them had not left the camp, Eldad and Medad nevertheless prophesied as well, although so much to Joshua's consternation that he says to Moses, "My lord Moses, stop them" (Numbers 11:28). But Moses' response is, "Would that all the LORD's people were prophets" (v. 29). The meekest man in all the earth demonstrates not the slightest hint of jealousy. He has no concern for his own position or authority, but only for the wellbeing of the people. So the young Joshua has to learn that leadership is never an exclusive privilege, that he is not to glorify Moses, giant though he is, nor is he to seek to hedge God in to his own preferred agenda. These remain essential insights for godly leadership still today.
But then comes the greatest contribution Joshua has so far made in the purposes of God for Israel, when he is selected by Moses to represent his tribe, Ephraim, as one of the twelve spies commissioned to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:1–16). Only Joshua and Caleb return with a good report, urging immediate occupation, "for we are well able to overcome ..." (Numbers 13:30). Not only so, but they plead with the whole congregation to trust in God's grace and favor to "bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey" (Numbers 14:8). They must not fear the Canaanites but rather trust God's promise and his presence with them. Yet the major report of rebellious unbelief prevails, the opportunity is lost, and Israel confines herself to the tragedy of forty more years in the wilderness as that whole generation is condemned to die outside the land, except Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 14:30). A plague removes the ten spies; only Joshua and Caleb remain alive (Numbers 14:37, 38).
Eventually the years pass, and God commands Moses to view, but not enter, the land of promise before his own death (Numbers 27:12, 13). Moses' concern is with the succession. Still, it seems, his dominating passion is the welfare of the nation. So he petitions God in specific terms that become increasingly significant as the meganarrative of the Bible unfolds. He asks for a man "who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Numbers 27:17). He asks for a shepherd, doubtless influenced by his years tending the flock of Jethro, his father-inlaw, as well as his years leading the flock of God. And God's answer is immediate: "Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him" (Numbers 27:18). Accordingly, Joshua is publicly commissioned with some of the authority Moses had. This is not perhaps a reference to job-sharing so much as a recognition that although Joshua is clearly God's man, his relationship will be different from that which Moses had with God. Joshua will not have the face-to-face fellowship Moses experienced. He has a written record by which God's will is made known, coupled with access to Eleazar the priest "who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD" (Numbers 27:21). In this sense he is the first Israelite leader who, although directly commissioned by God, is dependent on the word of God already spoken and written and the prayerful inquiry of the priest to provide the wisdom he needs to make godly decisions for the people.
From now on, until Moses' death, Joshua and Eleazar are included together in the government of the nation. So in Numbers 32:28 they are told to ensure that the people of Gad and Reuben will not inherit their assigned land east of the Jordan unless they enter Canaan with the rest of the tribes and play their part in its armed conquest, which they agree to do. The fulfillment of this command with its promise will have considerable prominence in the book of Joshua.
The book of Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law, sees the nation of Israel encamped on the plains of Moab prior to their entry into the land, when Moses dies. But the old leader has much to pass on from God to the people before God calls him into his presence. Reminding them of the exclusion of their parents' generation through unbelief, Moses recalls not only God's promise to Caleb and Joshua that they would enter, but also God's instruction to him about the new leader: "Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit [the land]" (Deuteronomy 1:38). Two chapters later we are given more insight into Joshua's preparation, as well as encouragement he received for imminent future challenges. Moses relates how, under God's direction, he told Joshua at the time of their victory over Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites (Numbers 21), "Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you" (Deuteronomy 3:21, 22). And on this basis the instruction is renewed. "Charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land" (Deuteronomy 3:28).
This note of encouraging and strengthening Joshua now becomes increasingly persistent, serving as an introductory motif to the first chapters of the book of Joshua. Deuteronomy 31 records the passing of the baton from Moses to his assistant. Speaking of his own imminent departure, Moses assures the nation that they will possess the land, "and Joshua will go over at your head, as the LORDhas spoken" (Deuteronomy 31:3). This succession planning is divine in both its origin and execution. But in his words to Joshua, Moses is more specific. He calls Joshua to be "strong and courageous," not fearful or easily discouraged, because of the sure and certain promises of God (Deuteronomy 31:7). "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:8). This is clearly echoed by New Testament faith in the last chapter of Hebrews, where the writer quotes the same promise, given directly by God to the new leader in Joshua 1:5 and links it with the bold affirmation of the psalmist in Psalm 118:6: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5, 6). Here is the thread of faith in the promises of God as the antidote to fear, and these promises bind the whole Bible together.
Joshua is then commissioned by the Lord, in the presence of Moses, with the repeated message, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you" (Deuteronomy 31:23; cf. Deuteronomy 31:6, 7). At the end of the book everything is prepared and ready for the conquest. Along with the death of Moses there is also a sense of expectation about what is about to happen, since Joshua is "full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him" (Deuteronomy 34:9). And then, as we turn the page, from the Pentateuch to the first of the historical narratives (or former prophets), we hear God's command, "Now ... arise, go over this Jordan" (Joshua 1:2). Joshua's moment has arrived.
Important principles can be derived from the Moses and Joshua narrative and are exemplified and expanded elsewhere in Scripture concerning the training of leaders and the ordering of succession. What comes across most clearly is the way in which Joshua's own knowledge of God and resulting dependence on him become the key equipping method for the work he has to do. As Moses' right-hand man, Joshua is privileged to share in some of the greatest moments of divine revelation, albeit at a distance. But this is not in order for him to learn how to be a leader as much as to learn how totally dependent on God he is. And then he learns the character of the God on whom he must depend.
It is quite clear that Joshua is far from being a person of superhuman qualities. Otherwise would he have needed so constantly to be exhorted to "Be strong and courageous"(1:6)? This doesn't seem to indicate that Joshua was a natural for leadership. But this is not an unusual selection for the God who chooses the foolish, the weak, the despised and "even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:28). The root of the matter is that Canaan is not conquered by Joshua's superior military strategy or dominating heroism, but the Lord gives his people the land (1:2). That is why the land becomes Israel's. Joshua is the necessary and highly valued human agent at the heart of the process, but as he learned from his first encounter with the Amalekites, the battle belongs to the Lord. Contemporary Christian leadership badly needs to relearn that lesson. God is the hero of the book of Joshua. Everything is directly and categorically attributed to him, as the end of the book makes abundantly clear. The Lord gave Israel the land. The Lord gave Israel rest as he delivered their enemies into their hands. Every one of his promises was fulfilled (see 21:43–45).
The other factor to remember is how daunting and seemingly impossible this task must have appeared as Joshua and the people faced the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of the land. That was why they needed constantly to be exhorted to listen to, remember, and put their faith in the word of their God, revealed in his promises. This was to be the first generation dependent on the written instruction of God in the Torah and on the requirements of faith and obedience recorded in the book of the covenant. Face-to-face conversation with the Lord was not Joshua's constant privilege, as it had been Moses'. He had to lead the people dependent on the written word and the spirit of wisdom, just as Christian leaders do today. When we face the daunting task of reaching our increasingly hostile culture with the good news of Christ, our equivalent dependence on the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God to accomplish the work of God is just as vital. That is our only means of advance too. So as we unpack the book of Joshua, we are not dealing with ancient history so much as with the living God who rules all history for the accomplishment of his eternal purposes of grace and glory. If we are to be people of those purposes in our desperately needy generation, we shall need to learn well the lessons of this magnificent book and put them into practice.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Joshua"
Copyright © 2014 David Jackman.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 11
1 Overture and Beginners (1:1, 2) 15
2 A Double Commissioning (1:3-18) 23
3 Inside Enemy Territory (2:1-24) 33
4 Wonders among You (3:1-17) 41
5 A Memorial Forever (4:1-5:1) 51
6 Essential Preparations (5:2-15) 59
7 The Battle That Wasn't (6:1-27) 67
8 Tragedy Strikes (7:1-26) 77
9 Conquest Resumed (8:1-29) 87
10 Covenant Renewed (8:30-35) 95
11 Flattering to Deceive (9:1-26) 103
12 No Day Like It (10:1-15) 113
13 The Southern Conquest (10:16-43) 123
14 The Northern Conquest (11:1-23) 129
15 Receiving the Inheritance (13:1-14:5) 135
16 Wholehearted Following (14:6-15; 15:13-19) 143
17 The Allotment of the Land (15:1-19:51) 153
18 Refuge and Residence (20:1-21:45) 161
19 Unity Reaffirmed (22:1-34) 167
20 Priorities for the Future (23:1-16) 173
21 The Inescapable Choice (24:1-33) 183
Scripture Index 201
General Index 209
Index of Sermon Illustrations 213
What People are Saying About This
“Having been frustrated by so many learned Old Testament commentaries, which may be full of good scholarship but offer little help to preachers, it is a joy to recommend such a fine book, which is so clearly the work of someone who is a very fine preacher himself. It is marked by careful exegesis, which reveals the main thrust of Joshua as a whole and each major section without getting lost in unnecessary details. All the big questions the preacher and congregation will ask are addressed and there are excellent pointers to application. It provides fuel, not only for our preaching, but for our hearts and lives.”
Vaughan Roberts, Rector, St Ebbe’s, Oxford, England; Director, The Proclamation Trust; author, God's Big Picture
“Here is another excellent commentary, which combines great insights of exegesis, theology, relevance, and pastoral application. Every page is enriched by David’s extensive experience and wisdom in understanding and preaching the Bible. This commentary is ideal for those preparing to teach or preach the book of Joshua, as it is also invaluable for Christians who want to understand the book of Joshua and read it for personal encouragement. I praise God for David’s ministry.”
Peter Adam, Vicar Emeritus, St. Jude’s Carlton; Former Principal, Ridley College, Melbourne
“This is a fine addition to the Preaching the Word series. Jackman combines pastoral sensitivity, erudition, and an experienced feel for the text to give us a guide through the life-changing book of Joshua.”
Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois; author, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent
“As a seasoned pastor and trainer of preachers, David Jackman has a long history of handling God’s Word in ways that benefit the Church. This volume on Joshua only adds to his legacy of gospel usefulness. David’s presentation of the text is clear and accessible. And the road he paves to Christ and the gospel can be trusted. Get it!”
David R. Helm, Chairman of the Board, Charles Simeon Trust; Pastor, Holy Trinity Church, Chicago