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I. THE CONQUEST OF THE LAND CHS. 1-12
The first half of the Book of Joshua records theologically significant events that occurred after Moses died and before Israel was able to settle in the Promised Land.
A. Preparations for entering Canaan chs. 1-2
The first two chapters provide background information that enable the reader to understand how Israel was able to enter the land and conquer it.
The first word of the book is a conjunction translated "now" or "and." It shows that this book picks up where Deuteronomy ended.
"’Servant of the LORD’ is a title of honor shared by Abraham, David, and the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah. (It is used most frequently of Moses: Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7-8; Deuteronomy 34:5; and thirteen times in Joshua; ’my servant’ occurs twice.) The term ’servant’ was used to designate even the highest officials of a king. . . . Only at the end of his life was he [Joshua] honored with the title ’servant of the LORD’ (Joshua 24:29)." [Note: Madvig, p. 255.]
Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 13:8; 1 Chronicles 7:27).
1. God’s charge to Joshua 1:1-9
In one sense Joshua 1:1-9 are a preamble to the whole book. They contain the basic principles that were to guide Joshua and Israel so they could obtain all that God had promised their forefathers.
The nation had mourned Moses’ death for 30 days (Deuteronomy 34:8). Now God instructed Joshua to prepare to enter the land. The death of any of His servants never frustrates or limits God, though this causes Him sorrow (Psalms 116:15).
God had promised all the land that the Israelites would tread under foot to the patriarchs and Moses (Genesis 13:17; Exodus 23:30-31; Deuteronomy 11:24). The Israelites were now to claim it as their own by taking possession of it.
The area described here includes all that God promised to Abraham and the other patriarchs (Genesis 15:18; et al.). The writer apparently referred to the Hittites in a representative sense to describe all the Canaanite tribes (as in 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6; Ezekiel 16:3). This is a figure of speech called synecdoche in which a part represents the whole or the whole stands for a part (e.g., "bread" means food, or "all the world" equals all the Roman world [Luke 2:1]).
Many students of the book have called this the key verse. Here God promised Joshua His unfailing power and presence so that he might be completely successful in subduing the Canaanites. Joshua’s failure to be entirely successful was not God’s fault but the Israelites’.
"This text [Joshua 1:2-5] summarizes the book. Joshua 1:2 describes the crossing of the Jordan as found in Joshua 1:1 to Joshua 5:12. Joshua 1:3 outlines the ’conquest’ of Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 12:24. Joshua 1:4 implies the distribution of the land in Joshua 13:1 to Joshua 22:34. The emphasis on all the days of Joshua’s life in Joshua 1:5 is found at the end of Joshua’s life in the final two chapters of the book. These verses also introduce the character of the LORD God of Israel. He is one of the main actors in the book. Here he reveals himself through his promises on behalf of Joshua and Israel." [Note: Hess, p. 68.]
God exhorted Joshua on the basis of this promise (Joshua 1:5) to be "strong" and "courageous" (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6). Ownership of the land depended on God’s faithfulness, but occupation of the land depended on Israel’s faithfulness (cf. Deuteronomy 30:20).
The writer stressed two major theological points in this book: Yahweh’s faithfulness in giving Israel the Promised Land, and Yahweh’s hatred of sin. [Note: Constable, p. 103.]
"The word ’inherit’ ["possession" in the NASB] used to describe the future possession of the land, is of rich theological significance. It has subsequently become a NT term for the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings of salvation (e.g., 1 Peter 1:4)." [Note: Martin H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, p. 61. See Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pp. 43-91, for an excellent explanation of the Old and New Testament revelation concerning believers’ inheritance.]
The same Hebrew word (nahal [verb] or nahala [noun]) also appears in Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 12:10; Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:13; Joshua 16:4; and Joshua 17:6.
Joshua’s responsibility included unswerving obedience to the Mosaic Law. This would be the key to his success. Knowing the law was only the first step. Practicing it was what would make Joshua effective (cf. Deuteronomy 5:32-33).
"The important lesson which we hence learn is, that in nothing is there more scope for the display of the highest moral heroism than in daring, in all circumstances, to cleave steadfastly to the word of God as the rule of our conduct. It is in this chiefly that the fortitude of the Christian soldier is to evince itself." [Note: Bush, p. 20.]
Moses had left Israel a written document that the Israelites regarded as authoritative law, namely, the Mosaic Law. The Lord commanded Joshua to keep this Word in mind constantly so he would remember his responsibilities under God and find encouragement to keep them (cf. Psalms 1:2; Isaiah 59:21).
"The phrase ’from your mouth’ refers to the custom of muttering while studying or reflecting. The Hebrew word translated ’meditate’ (hagah) literally means ’mutter.’ When one continually mutters God’s Word to himself, he is constantly thinking about it." [Note: Madvig, p. 257.]
". . . [Meditation] does not mean theoretical speculation about the law, such as the Pharisees indulged in, but a practical study of the law, for the purpose of observing it in thought and action, or carrying it out with the heart, the mouth, and the hand. Such a mode of employing it would be sure to be followed by blessings." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 30.]
We should never view Bible study and memorization as ends in themselves. They are important methods of obtaining the end of being obedient to God’s Word. We cannot obey it unless we understand it and are consciously aware of it as we make decisions day by day.
"The higher any man is raised in office, the more need has he of an acquaintance with the sacred oracles, and the better will he be qualified by the study of them for the discharge of his arduous duties." [Note: Bush, pp. 21-22.]
This was not just good advice. Joshua was receiving orders from his Commander. Trembling or fearing would betray lack of confidence in God.
Notice the chiastic structure of God’s charge to Joshua.
A I will be with you (Joshua 1:5).
B Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6-7).
C That you may have success (Joshua 1:7).
D This book of the law (Joshua 1:8).
C’ Then you will have success (Joshua 1:8).
B’ Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).
A’ The Lord your God is with you (Joshua 1:9).
This structure emphasizes the centrality of the book of the law of God as the key to Israel’s success, Joshua’s effective leadership, and God’s enabling presence with His people. With this challenge Joshua could advance into Canaan confidently.
This passage contains the principles necessary for spiritual success in every age. We must know what God requires, maintain perpetual awareness of that, and be consistently and completely obedient to it in our daily experience to gain victory over our spiritual adversaries. [Note: See Harry Foster, "Joshua, Walking into Battle," Toward the Mark 11:6 (November-December 1982):116-19.]
Joshua expected to be able to cross the Jordan within three days.
"The Jordan River wanders about two hundred miles to cover the sixty-five mile distance from the Lake of Galilee to the Dead Sea, dropping an additional six hundred feet below sea level as it goes." [Note: Trent C. Butler, Joshua, p. 17. Cf. The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Jordan," by J. M. Houston.]
2. Joshua’s charge to Israel 1:10-18
Having received his marching orders from Yahweh, Joshua prepared to mobilize the nation.
The concept of "rest" (Joshua 1:13; Joshua 1:15) is an important one to grasp to understand what the conquest of the land gave the Israelites. It also clarifies what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind when he referred to the rest that we enjoy as Christians (Hebrews 3-4). [Note: See Dillow, pp. 93-110, for a good exposition of the promises of rest that appear in Scripture.] It was not rest in the sense of freedom from conflict but in contrast to journeying. Even after the seven-year conquest of the land there was still much land that the Israelites still had to take from the Canaanites and possess (Joshua 13:1; Joshua 23:1-13; cf. Joshua 24:1-28; Judges 1:1). Rather, this rest was the entrance into, and initial participation in, the inheritance the Lord had promised His people (cf. Deuteronomy 12:10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 23:1; 2 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 8:56; Psalms 95). [Note: See Hess, p. 78, and especially Butler, pp. 21-22, for a fuller discussion of "rest."]
"This theologically significant term [rest] . . . is one of the key words for understanding the book of Joshua as well as later revelation." [Note: Woudstra, p. 65.]
In Christian experience the crossing of the Jordan does not just correspond to the believer’s death and entrance into heaven, which some popular Christian songs suggest. It also parallels the believer’s entrance into the enjoyment of his or her eternal life now through dedication to Jesus Christ (Romans 6:13; Romans 12:1-2) and through walking by means of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). The wilderness wanderings resemble the experience of the redeemed believer who has not yet fully committed himself or herself to God and is walking in the flesh. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan they encountered enemies and had to contend with their spiritual adversaries, just as a believer does when he dedicates himself to God and walks by the Spirit. The Christian’s rest is not the absence of hostility. It is the beginning of the enjoyment of some blessings God has promised us (i.e., eternal life, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, victory over our spiritual enemies, etc.).
"Entering the land does not parallel the believer’s entrance to heaven; it signifies his willingness to ’cross the Jordan’ and engage the enemy. In other words, it is a decision by a regenerate saint to submit to the lordship of Christ and trust God for victory in the spiritual battle." [Note: Dillow, p. 79, n. 57. See also Donald K. Campbell, "Joshua," in The Bible Knowledge Commentery: Old Testament, p, 335.]
In another sense Canaan corresponds to the additional blessings that believers who follow God faithfully in this life will receive following death. [Note: Dillow, p. 57.]
Not all the warriors from the two and one-half tribes went with (not "before," Joshua 1:14) their brethren across the Jordan. Only 40,000 of the 110,000 did (cf. Joshua 4:13 and Numbers 26:7; Numbers 26:18; Numbers 26:34). The remainder evidently stayed in Transjordan. We should understand "all" (Joshua 1:14) in this limited sense.
The attitude of the two and one-half tribes was commendable. They followed through with their commitment (Numbers 32:25-27). There were no significant instances of complaining or rebellion among the tribes during Joshua’s lifetime according to what the writer recorded. In this respect the nation enjoyed greater unity during the conquest than it did in its former or later history.
To be successful in our corporate task of overcoming our spiritual enemies, God’s people must unite behind the leaders God has raised up to lead us. We should not complain or rebel against them (Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, as God’s people we must commit ourselves to entering into conflict with our spiritual enemies, rather than avoiding such conflict, to possess the fullness of God’s inheritance for us. The Christian’s spiritual enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 7:18-24; 1 Peter 5:8).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
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