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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

- Joshua

by Thomas Constable



The name of this book in Hebrew, Greek, and English comes from the principal character in it rather than from the writer. Joshua may or may not have been the writer of this book. The title is appropriate because "Joshua" means, "Yahweh saves." Joshua is the Hebrew name that translates into Aramaic as Jesus. What Jesus is to God’s people in a larger sense Joshua was to the Israelites in a smaller sense. Joshua brought God’s people into the realization of many of God’s plans and purposes for them. This book is a record of God’s deliverance of the Israelites into what He had promised them.

In the English Bible, Joshua is one of the historical books (Genesis through Esther). In the Hebrew Bible, it is in the second of the three main divisions of the Old Testament, namely, the Prophets. The Law and the Writings are the first and third divisions. Joshua is the first book in the first half of the Prophets, the Former Prophets. The Former Prophets section contains four books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) as does the second division, the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve [minor prophets]). The fact that the Hebrews included mainly historical books such as Joshua in the Prophets section reveals a basic attitude of God’s people. They viewed what God revealed here not primarily as a historical record as much as an authoritative record of selected historical events designed to teach important spiritual lessons. We should recognize Joshua, therefore, not simply as a record of history but as a selective history intended to reveal God’s will. In the Prophets section of the Old Testament, God revealed Himself through historical events as well as through the oracles of individual prophets.

"The Book of Joshua, like all other books of the Bible, is primarily a book of theology. Through it God has revealed himself and continues to do so." [Note: Donald H. Madvig, "Joshua," in Deuteronomy-2 Samuel, vol. 3 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 245.]


The Book of Joshua evidently came into being several years after the events recorded in the book took place. A number of statements point to a time of composition beyond the conquest and perhaps beyond the lifetime of Joshua. For example, the phrase "to this day" (Jos_4:9; Jos_5:9; Jos_6:25; Jos_7:26; Jos_8:28-29; Jos_9:27; Jos_10:27; Jos_13:13; Jos_14:14; Jos_15:63; Jos_16:10) refers to a time considerably after the events referred to happened. How much later is hard to say. These references point to a time of composition many years later than the actual occurrence of the events recorded. [Note: See Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 110-11.]

However, the writer claims to have crossed the Jordan River when Israel entered the land (Jos_5:1 [marginal reading], 6). Therefore he must have written the book not too long after the conquest. This conclusion finds support in the general impression the reader receives that an eyewitness of the events recorded wrote the book. An editor may or may not have added the account of Joshua and Eleazar’s deaths (Jos_24:29-33) to the book later (cf. Deu_34:10-12). This depends on whether the writer wrote it before or after Joshua died.

According to Jewish tradition Joshua himself wrote the book. [Note: The Talmud. Baba Bathra 15a. Cf. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 666.] Many modern conservative Old Testament scholars believe that he did. [Note: E.g., idem; Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 264-65; John Davis and John Whitcomb, A History of Israel (Davis wrote the section on Joshua), pp. 22-23; David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, pp. 60-61; George Bush, Notes on Joshua, p. viii; et al.] However, other good conservative scholars believe the writer was not Joshua but a contemporary of his, possibly one of the elders of Israel. [Note: E.g., C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, pp. 15-19; Robert Jameson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary . . . on the Old and New Testaments, 2:210; et al.] Many more scholars are unsure. [Note: E.g., Merrill Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament, p. 281; et al.] I prefer the traditional view that Joshua wrote the book because I find the arguments of those who believe the writer could not have been Joshua unconvincing. As with several other Old Testament historical books, there is evidence in Joshua that some later editor probably added a few statements and, in some cases, updated a few names. [Note: See Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 122-29, for discussion of various approaches to the question of authorship.]


The date of the Exodus was probably about 1446 B.C. (cf. 1Ki_6:1). [Note: See my notes on Exodus 12:37-42, and idem., pp. 124-25.] Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness (Exo_16:35; Num_14:33-34). Thus Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered the land about 1406 B.C. The Book of Joshua therefore begins with events in or very close to the year 1406 B.C.

Josephus said the conquest of the land took five years. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 5:1:19.] However, when Caleb received the town of Hebron as his inheritance he said God had promised that he would enter Canaan 45 years earlier (Jos_14:10; cf. Num_14:24). Since God gave that promise 38 years before Israel crossed the Jordan, the conquest seems to have taken closer to seven years (ca. 1406-1399 B.C.). The record of this conquest occupies the first half of the Book of Joshua.

When Caleb said these words he was 85 years old (Jos_14:10). Joshua appears to have been about the same age as Caleb, perhaps a little younger. Joshua died when he was 110 (Jos_24:29). Assuming Joshua was 75 when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the amount of time the Book of Joshua spans may be about 35 years. If these figures are correct, Joshua would have led the Israelites in their battle with the Amelekites just after the Exodus (Exo_17:8-13) when he was 35 years old. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, "A Theology of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 93, n. 4.]

The first half of the book (chs. 1-12) therefore covers about seven years, but most of this material, specifically chapters 1-9, deals with events that probably happened in less than one full year.

A Brief Historical Outline of Palestine

The Stone Age    ? - 4500 B.C.

The Copper Age    4500 - 1350 B.C.

The Bronze Age    1350 - 1200 B.C.

The Iron Age    1200 - 586 B.C.

The Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Period    586 - 538 B.C.

The Persian Period    538 - 332 B.C.

The Greek (Hellenistic) Period    332 - 63 B.C.

The Roman Period    63 B.C. - A.D. 324

The Byzantine Period    A.D. 324 - 640

The Early Arab (Islamic) Period    A.D. 640 - 1099

The Crusader (Christian) Period    A.D. 1099 - 1291

The Mamluk (Egyptian) Period    A.D. 1291 - 1517

The Ottoman (Turkish) Period    A.D. 1517 - 1918

The Modern Period    A.D. 1918 - the present


David M. Howard Jr. identified four major theological themes in Joshua: the land, rest, the keeping of the covenant, and purity of worship. [Note: For discussion, see Howard, pp. 89-96.] John Wenham identified five, all of which appear in Deuteronomy as well: holy war, the land, the unity of Israel, the role of Joshua, and the covenant. [Note: John Wenham, "The Deuteronomic Theology of the Book of Joshua," Journal of Biblical Literature 90 (1971):140-48.]


I.    The conquest of the land chs. 1-12

A.    Preparations for entering Canaan chs. 1-2

1.    God’s charge to Jos_1:1-9

2.    Joshua’s charge to Israel Jos_1:10-18

3.    The spying out of Jericho ch. 2

B.    Entrance into the land Jos_3:1 to Jos_5:12

1.    Passage through the Jordan chs. 3-4

2.    Circumcision and celebration of the Passover Jos_5:1-12

C.    Possession of the land Jos_5:13 to Jos_12:24

1.    The conquest of Jericho Jos_5:13 to Jos_6:27

2.    Defeat at Ai ch. 7

3.    Victory at Ai Jos_8:1-29

4.    Renewal of the covenant Jos_8:30-35

5.    The treaty with the Gibeonites ch. 9

6.    Victory over the Amorite alliance at Gibeon Jos_10:1-27

7.    Other conquests in southern Canaan Jos_10:28-43

8.    Conquests in northern Canaan Jos_11:1-15

9.    Summary of Joshua’s conquests Jos_11:16 to Jos_12:24

II.    The division of the land chs. 13-21

A.    The land yet to be possessed Jos_13:1-7

B.    The land east of the Jordan Jos_13:8-33

C.    The land west of the Jordan chs. 14-19

1.    The rationale for the allotments Jos_14:1-5

2.    Caleb’s inheritance Jos_14:6-15

3.    Judah’s inheritance ch. 15

4.    Joseph’s inheritance chs. 16-17

5.    Survey of the remaining land Jos_18:1-10

6.    The inheritance of the remaining tribes Jos_18:11 to Jos_19:51

D.    The special cities Jos_20:1 to Jos_21:42

1.    The cities of refuge ch. 20

2.    The cities of the Levites Jos_21:1-42

E.    The faithfulness of God Jos_21:43-45

III.    Joshua’s last acts and death chs. 22-24

A.    The return of the two and one-half tribes to their inheritances ch. 22

B.    Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites ch. 23

1.    A reminder of past blessings Jos_23:1-13

2.    A warning of possible future cursing Jos_23:14-16

C.    Israel’s second renewal of the covenant Jos_24:1-28

1.    Preamble Jos_24:1

2.    Historical prologue Jos_24:2-13

3.    Covenant stipulations Jos_24:14-24

4.    Provisions for the preservation of the covenant Jos_24:25-28

D.    The death and burial of Joshua and Eleazar Jos_24:29-33

Conclusion of Joshua

The Book of Joshua demonstrates that God is perpetually at war with sin. He hates it and will judge it not only because it is an offense to His character but because it destroys the people He created for fellowship with Himself.

Joshua is a very positive book. It is a book of victory, success, and progress, and it teaches the reasons for these blessings. God had chosen the Israelites by His grace to receive blessing from His hand and to be a blessing to all other people. As they anticipated entering into what God had for them, they possessed promises from God. God had promised them His presence (Jos_1:5; cf. Mat_28:20) and His power (Jos_1:5; cf. 2Co_12:9). To the extent that they accepted His standard of holiness, abandoned themselves to His will, and acknowledged His might, they succeeded. To the extent that they committed themselves to the person and covenant of Yahweh, they prospered.

The principles of victory revealed and illustrated in Joshua still apply to all who are God’s people.


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