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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter forms an introduction to Joshua. It has the Divine commission of Joshua (Joshua 1:1-9), the preparations for crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 1:10-11), and the renewal of the pledge of the trans-Jordanic tribes (Joshua 1:12-18).

Verse 1

“Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the Servant of Jehovah, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying.” Jehovah spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying.”

“Now it came to pass” “The form of the Hebrew word here rendered `now’ shows that Joshua is intended to be a CONTINUATION of the Book of Deuteronomy”;(F1) but, “Joshua is distinct from the Pentateuch. There is no ancient Jewish tradition or manuscript evidence that the book ever formed a unit with the five books of the Law,”(F2) as the critics have alleged regarding their speculative “Hexateuch.” Unger’s comment on the hypothetical Hexateuch is as follows:

“Unbelieving critical scholarship of necessity must explain away the large number of miracles in the book as legends and treat the history as idealized, as they must also do with the Pentateuch. That is why they have lumped Joshua with the Pentateuch in a so-called `Hexateuch’ and subjected it to analysis on the basis of late literary sources (the alleged sources of the Pentateuch ). This is only a rationalistic attempt to explain away the miraculous element.”(F3)

“The servant of Jehovah” This was, above all other designations, the title of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5), and it was carried over into the New Dispensation by the author of Hebrews. “Moses was indeed faithful over all his (God’s) house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5). The meaning of the term “servant” is very close to that of “slave,” but it was the accepted designation of the highest plenary officers of kings and rulers of the world. Christ himself was prophetically presented in Isaiah as the “Suffering Servant” of God, and Jesus stated that the greatest in God’s kingdom would be the servant of all (Matthew 23:11).

“Jehovah spake unto Joshua” We are not told exactly how God spoke to Joshua. Hebrews 1:1 declares that God of old times spake “in divers portions and in divers manners,” meaning “in different portions and various ways.” What is important here is that God did indeed speak to Joshua, gave him his orders for the conquest of Canaan, and commissioned him to lead the Israelites in that conflict, which in the fullest sense, was indeed a “holy war.” “The invasion and conquest of Canaan were accomplished by Israel under Joshua’s leadership, in response to God’s direct command and in His never failing strength.”(F4)

Not only that, this expression, `Jehovah spake unto Joshua,’ is the equivalent in the earlier books of the O.T. of the constantly recurring expression in the later prophets, `thus saith the Lord.’ This distinguishes the literature of the Hebrews from that of all other nations, and marks out the Jewish claim of having in their possession in a very special way the true will of Almighty God. As Dummelow said, “This is one of the most obvious indications of what we call inspiration … the importance of this does not derive from any knowledge of how God spoke to Joshua, but in its testimony to the fact of it.”(F5)

Morton declared that the resemblance of many passages in Joshua to certain sections of Deuteronomy, “makes it clear that a Deuteronomic editor is responsible for the present form of Joshua.”(F6) However, it should always be remembered that such statements are without objective evidence, that the “editors” and “redactors” so frequently mentioned by some commentators NEVER EXISTED. Every appeal to such non-existent persons indicates merely the UNBELIEF of Biblical enemies. We fully agree with Woudstra that the calling of this introduction Deuteronomic “carries with it implications of authorship and composition that should be avoided.”(F7)

“Joshua the son of Nun” The original name of this leader was Oshea (Numbers 13:8), but just as the names of Abram, Sarai, etc were changed, so was that of Joshua. It was changed to Jehoshua (or, Joshua). The Greek form of the name is Jesus,(F8) and it means “Jehovah is deliverance,” or “Jehovah is salvation.” Not merely in this name, but in a few other salient particulars, Joshua represents the Lord Jesus Christ in his life and achievement.

(1) Like Christ, Joshua did what Moses and the Law could not do.

(2) He led the people into Canaan; Christ leads his people into heaven.

(3) Both Joshua and Jesus began their commission on the banks of the Jordan River.

Verse 2

“Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.”

“Arise, go over this Jordan” A summary of God’s orders to Joshua is as follows:

(1) Cross the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2).

(2) Take Israel over the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2).

(3) Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6).

(4) Do not fail to keep the Law of Moses.

These dramatic orders came at a time when Israel’s enemies probably supposed it was impossible for them to begin the invasion, because the Jordan River at that very time was in the flood stage (Joshua 3:15).

Verses 3-4

“Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it, as I spake unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border.”

A number of scholars make something big out of the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) omits here in Joshua 1:4 the words “all the land of the Hittites,” affirming on that basis that, the words “are possibly a later interpolation.”(F9) However, the MAJORITY of the ancient manuscripts have the words, and there is no logical reason for rejecting them on the basis of their omission in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Vulgate. A check of the Septuagint (LXX) shows that of the eighteen verses in this chapter, only seven of them, namely, Joshua 1:3; Joshua 1:9-10; Joshua 1:12-14; Joshua 1:16, escaped mutilation in the LXX.(F10) In some verses the person was changed; in others the number was changed from singular to plural, or the other way around, and in other changes, words, clauses, or phrases were omitted as in the instance here. In fact, on this basis, we may conclude that the Septuagint (LXX) is, on this chapter, little more than a poor paraphrase of the text, affording no basis whatever for challenging the accepted text.

No doubt a part of the objection to the acceptance of “all the land of the Hittites” is due to failure to discern that “the land of the Hittites” was a general name for “all of Palestine” during the time when Joshua wrote.(F11) We have checked a half dozen scholars including, Cook, Keil, and Plummer, and all of them concur in this general usage: “the land of the Hittites” is a designation of Canaan, or Palestine, generally. It is hard to understand why the critics appear to remain ignorant of this!

Verses 5-9

“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it, to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate thereon day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

“Be strong and of good courage” The recurrence of these words, almost like the refrain of a song, should be noted in Joshua 1:6-7; Joshua 1:9; Joshua 1:18. It was indeed an incredibly daring and dangerous thing that God called upon Joshua to do.

“According to all the law” Yes, indeed, according to this testimony, even in the days of Joshua, there was a “Law of Moses,” containing all that the Israelites were expected to do! Efforts to make the Pentateuch itself a late book by dating from the times of the judges, or the monarchy, or the post-exilic priesthood are among the most stupid and impossible tasks the so-called “higher critics” ever assigned themselves! This is as good a place as any to take a little closer look at what the Word of God says concerning this:


JOSHUA: We do not even get out of the first chapter until we find this clear and undeniable reference to the “Law which Moses my servant commanded.” If that is not the Law of Moses - ALL of it - the entire Pentateuch, then it is nothing at all! We reject the arbitrary arrogance with which so-called “scholars” would try to limit this to some little fraction of the Mosaic Law. There is no objective grounds whatever for such an obviously false maneuver.

JUDGES: Like every other book in the Bible, the shadow and teaching of the Pentateuch lie over every word of it. Look at Judges 1:27-34, where it is recounted how various tribes of Israel did not “drive out the inhabitants of the land.” But, indeed why were they expected to drive them out? It is in the teachings of the Pentateuch that they were commanded to drive them out.

RUTH: Where is the implication that the Pentateuch was in existence and well known in Ruth? The whole book is founded on the practical application of the law of Levirate marriage, and down to the very ceremony of “drawing off the shoe,” we are looking at the Pentateuchal background in every line of it!

1 and 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings , 1 and 2 CHRONICLES: In all these books, there are recorded frequent departures from the Pentateuchal Law of God by the kings of the people. But Solomon’s marriage with foreign women, contrary to the Law of Moses does not prove that the Law did not exist, but that Solomon wantonly violated it. So with all the other violations. Note the references to the tabernacle. Where could the tabernacle have come from, if not from the Pentateuch? The people complained and kicked against the sacrifices and offerings God had commanded, but why did they think they should make such offerings? It was all taught in the Pentateuch, of course. The Philistines took the ark, but why did Israel consider the ark sacred? The answer is in the Pentateuch. Saul visited the witch of Endor, but he disguised himself because it was illegal to do so. What made it illegal? The Pentateuchal teaching. The tragic death of Abner (2 Samuel 3 ff) turned upon his failure to stay strictly within “the city of refuge,” called Hebron. Well, how did that tradition about “fleeing for refuge” to certain cities get started? It is all outlined in the Pentateuch. David rescued the ark of the covenant, but he ordered that it be carried on a new cart, instead of by hand, with fatal results to Uzziah. Why was it wrong to haul the ark in a cart? The Pentateuch records specific directions for carrying it “by hand.” Read all those glorying passages about building the Temple. Where did the design of it come from? The whole thing was a larger and more elaborate replica of the ancient tabernacle, all of the instructions for which are in the Pentateuch. Solomon offered thousands of sacrifices. Why? Such sacrifices were authorized for Israel only in the Pentateuch. Solomon’s apostasy is recorded (1 Kings 11). Apostasy from what? The Law of Moses as revealed in the Pentateuch.

During the long years of the divided kingdom, some kings were reprimanded for appointing priests “from all the people.” Why was it wrong? The Pentateuch has the answer. Elijah engaged in the contests with the prophets of Baal as opposed to the God Jehovah. Where was the superiority of Jehovah taught? In the Pentateuch. A king murdered Naboth for his refusal to sell his inheritance. Where did the laws originate that Naboth endeavored to keep? In the Pentateuch. Ahaz made a new Altar, and the description and use of it entailed a discussion of the peace-offerings and many other things that could never have been known in those days except for the teachings of the Pentateuch.

Josiah’s reforms led to a popular observance of the sabbath, and of the Passover, (2 Kings 23:22). How did they know how to keep such laws? Where else but in the Pentateuch could the instructions be found?

THE CHRONICLES: Exhibit the same universal (in Israel) consciousness of the whole Law of Moses.

EZRA: Upon what was the cruel edict regarding foreign wives founded? The Pentateuch, of course, and upon nothing else.

NEHEMIAH: In Nehemiah 9, the people remembered the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night in their plea for forgiveness. Where did that memory come from? The Pentateuch. Furthermore, upon what law was the abolition of usury based? It was based on the teaching of the Pentateuch.

ESTHER: What emboldened the queen to plead for Israel? Her knowledge of the God revealed in the Law of Moses.

JOB: It is the God of the Pentateuch - the Creator, the Helper, the Sustainer, the Personal Intervening God, who shines in every line of Job. The source of such conceptions of God is Biblical, the Pentateuch in particular.

THE PSALMS: There are so many references to the Pentateuch in the Psalms that it would take a volume to list them all. As one of a hundred examples, read Psalms 135:8-12.

PROVERBS: Many of the Pentateuchal regulations are presented as capsuled wisdom in Proverbs.

ISAIAH: This prophet spoke of Sodom and Gomorrah; and throughout, his conceptions of God, the terminology that he used (as is also true of Jeremiah), and other powerful echoes of the Pentateuch thunder throughout the prophecy.

JEREMIAH: “The resemblances between Jeremiah and Deuteronomy are marked. There are words used in both that are found nowhere else. Passages in one are identical with or closely similar to passages in the other, and in general tone and form of thought, the two remarkably resemble each other.(F12) Could there be any doubt that Jeremiah knew the Pentateuch almost by heart?

EZEKIEL: All of this applies to Ezekiel. Where did he learn about Satan and about Eden, the Paradise of God, if not from the Pentateuch? There are details of the burnt-offering and many other instructions lifted right squarely out of the Pentateuch.

DANIEL: It was the observance of the Pentateuchal diet of the Jews that led to Daniel’s success in Babylon.

HOSEA: Hosea 8:12 has this, “Though I wrote for him my Law in ten thousand precepts! … Many parallels of idiom and language are found between Hosea and the Pentateuch, which show that the latter was extant in the northern Israel, and these can only be accounted for by its existence in a prior written form.”(F13)

JOEL: This prophet mentioned Eden (Joel 2:3), and the meal-offering, and the drink offering (Joel 2:14), none of which he could have known apart from the revelation in the Pentateuch.

AMOS: Amos is absolutely loaded with all kinds of references to the Pentateuch. “The significance of them lies not in the actual number of references, but in the kind of references and the implications involved in the individual references.”(F14) The knowledge of the Pentateuchal prohibition against keeping the pledge of a man’s garment after sundown (Amos 2:8), mention of the Exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wandering (Amos 2:10), the reference to the vows of the Nazarites (Amos 2:11), the citation of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the reference to burnt-offerings, peace-offerings, meal-offerings, tithes, the horns of the altar, etc. - these are but a few of the scores of Pentateuchal echoes in Amos.

JONAH: His knowledge of the Pentateuch is seen in his promise to pay his vows and in the declaration that, “Salvation is of Jehovah.”

OBADIAH: There is a reference to Numbers 20:14-21 in Obadiah 1:10.

MICAH: In Micah 6 of this prophecy represents the shameful apostasy of Israel as a “breach of their contract with God,” and what could that contract possibly be if it is not the Pentateuchal covenant? In this chapter the whole Pentateuchal history of Israel is rehearsed! The Exodus, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, even the disaster in Numbers 26 - all these, and many other things revealed only in the Pentateuch, are mentioned.

NAHUM: Here is the application of the Pentateuchal teachings of the justice, the wrath, and the vengeance of God against all wickedness, especially in the forthcoming judgment against Nineveh, “Jehovah is a jealous God” (Nahum 1:2). That is a line right out of the Pentateuch.

HABAKKUK: In Habakkuk 1:4, we have “The Law is slacked,” a plain reference to the Pentateuch. In Habakkuk 1:12, this prophet used three or four Pentateuchal names for God in a single sentence!

ZEPHANIAH: This prophet sternly prophesied the final destruction of the earth on the occasion of the Final Judgment when God will “wipe this Adam off the face of the earth!” The knowledge of Genesis, the fall of man, the repeated rebellions of Israel against God’s covenant (the Pentateuch), along with mention of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example - all of these show that the Pentateuch was known throughout the whole history of Israel. Every single book of the Bible after the Five Books of Moses (The Pentateuch) reflect salient teachings of the Pentateuch in all such things, as examples chosen, the laws of God violated, the instances of God’s prior deliverance, etc., etc.

HAGGAI: In this prophecy, we actually have Haggai assembling the priests and asking their opinion of certain things laid down in the Law of Moses (Haggai 2:11-13).

ZECHARIAH: This marvelous prophecy reveals the breaking of Beauty and Bands, the two staves that belonged to Zechariah, and both are squarely related to the Pentateuchal covenant status that belonged to Israel. This whole prophecy would have been impossible without a complete knowledge of the Pentateuch.

MALACHI: Here we have such things as the abrogation of the Levitical covenant, the cursing of the Jewish priesthood, the rebuke of Israel for violating the Pentateuchal laws concerning the “unblemished” sacrifices God required, and a dozen other things that are related intimately to a knowledge of the Pentateuch, a law known to all the people, but wantonly violated by many of them.

Well, there it is! All of the books of the O.T. which follow the Pentateuch display the most universal acquaintance with the writings of Moses on the part of all Israel. This proves many things:

(1) the antiquity of the Pentateuch;

(2) the integrity of the Pentateuch;

(3) its acceptance as the writing of the Great Lawgiver;

(4) its existence as the charter and constitution of the nation of Israel.

The whole world has accepted these basic truths for more than 3,000 years, and Christians may be absolutely certain that all the critics on earth shall never be able to destroy half a line of it.

Verses 10-11

“Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, Pass through the midst of the camp, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which Jehovah your God giveth you to possess it.”

“Within three days” Here we encounter somewhat of a problem. This is due to the mention of another “three days” in Joshua 3:2 before Joshua gave the order mentioned here. This is rather a complicated problem, and scholars have given conflicting opinions on it for many years. We do not consider it to be of any earth-shaking importance, because of two reasons:

(1) The Hebrew language had no pluperfect tense, and it was therefore impossible in that language to declare that “Joshua had done” certain things. Haley stated that, “Therefore, we should read Joshua 2:1, as `Joshua had sent.’“(F15)

(2) Also, the three days mentioned in this verse had already been preceded by the three days mentioned in Joshua 23:2. No discerning student of ancient documents can be upset by a minor difficulty such as this. We see no good reason for not accepting Plummer’s explanation:

“Cornelius a Lapide calculated that the spies left the camp of Israel on the 3rd of Nisan, returned on the 6th; and Joshua gave his order on the 7th, and that on the 10th of Nisan (Joshua 4:19) they crossed the Jordan River.”(F16)

“Joshua commanded the officers of the people” Of very great interest is the Hebrew word from which “officers” is translated. “It is from the same root of an Arabic word meaning `to write.’“(F17) The word will actually bear the rendition of “writers” or “scribes,” suggesting that these men corresponded to construction foremen in our own day who keep written records of the hours worked, quantities of materials used, the kinds and quantities of products produced, and other pertinent information. What a revealing glimpse we have here of the status of that civilization. Not only was the science of writing well known to the well educated, (indeed, writing had already been known for centuries), but here, we see that literally hundreds of “contact men” for the multi-million Israelites were able to “write,” that being a primary function of their duties.

This order by Joshua also reveals that Israel, at this time, was no longer a haphazard and disorganized mob like that which came out of Egypt. “It was a well-disciplined and united army ready to undertake the Lord’s battles.”(F18)

“Prepare victuals” In this order is seen the near-approach of the cessation of the manna. Besides that, there is no statement in the O.T. that declares the Israelites to have had no other food except manna. They surely had the great flocks and herds so often mentioned.

Verses 12-18

“And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua saying, Remember the words which Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded you, saying, Jehovah your God giveth you rest, and will give you this land. Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but ye shall pass over before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valor, and shall help them; until Jehovah have given your brethren rest, as he hath given you, and they also have possessed the land which Jehovah your God hath given them: then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of Jehovah gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrising. And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou hast commanded us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us we will go. According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only Jehovah thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses. Whosoever he be that shall rebel against thy commandment, and shall not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of good courage.”

Note that Joshua (standing east of Jordan) referred to that side of the river as “this land” (Joshua 1:13), and in the same breath (Joshua 1:14) called it “the land … beyond the Jordan!” `Beyond the Jordan’ is a technical expression referring to the geographical section EAST of the Jordan river.”(F19) This is true enough as Joshua used it Joshua 1:14, but sometimes it means west of Jordan. It is definitely used both ways. However, it has no reference whatever to the perspective of the writer and cannot be used for the purpose of identifying the writer using the expression, nor for the determination of where the writer lived when the expression was used. Dummelow, for example, has this: “The writer of this passage was one who lived west of the Jordan River.(F20) Such a judgment is in error. “The use of the phrase in Joshua 12:1; Joshua 12:7 and elsewhere for each side of the river alternately shows that it gives no evidence for the geographical location of the writer.”(F21)

The big point of this whole paragraph (Joshua 1:12-18) looks back to that urgent request made of Moses by the two and one half tribes that he would allot them their inheritance east of Jordan, and to the consequent promise which they made to Moses that they would aid their brethren in the conquest of the rest of Canaan. That promise came due right here; and when Joshua confronted the trans-Jordanic group with their obligation, they accepted it. Of course, the hardship and the struggle had not at that time begun. “Obedience is easy when all goes well with us, and when it makes no demand upon our faith.”(F22) It does not appear that those trans-Jordanic tribes fully lived up to their promises. (See a full discussion of this in Vol. 3 of my commentary (Leviticus and Numbers) at Numbers 32.)

“Ye shall pass over before your brethren armed” (Joshua 1:14). The word “armed” seems to be a little misleading here. “The idea is probably, `in battle array.’“(F23) The word is translated from a word that suggests, “divided into five parts.”(F24) The reference seems to be from the various guards that were deployed in ancient armies on the march: (1) vanguard; (2) rearguard (Joshua 1:3-4), left and right guards, and (5) an additional guard at the front or the rear depending upon the movement of the army, whether on attack, or in retreat.

The pledge of the two and one-half tribes that any rebel against the commandments of Joshua should be put to death was certainly, for a time at least, literally carried out, as witnessed by the stoning of Achan soon after their entry into Canaan.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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