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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- Joshua

by Charles John Ellicott





The Authorship of the Book of Joshua.—The sentence in Joshua 24:26 is the only direct statement in the Bible relating to the authorship of this book. “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.” Do “these words” refer merely to the transaction immediately preceding, viz., the covenant made with Israel at Shechem, or have they any wider application? In order to discuss this question fairly, it is necessary to consider parallel passages, and thus to open in some measure the larger question of the authorship of all the historical books. The signature of Moses at the close of the Book of Deuteronomy is as distinct and explicit as that of any ancient author. “Thucydides of Athens wrote the history of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians, how they warred with one another.” So he opens his narrative, and no one disputes the fact. Not less distinct is the assertion in Deuteronomy 31:9 : “Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel.” Again (Deuteronomy 31:24), “When Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law,” &c. The chapter that follows (Deuteronomy 32:0) is also said to have been written by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:22): “Moses wrote this song the same day.” But Deuteronomy 33, 34, the latter containing the record of Moses’ death, are manifestly not covered by Moses’ signature. The next signature that we meet with is that of Joshua (Joshua 24:26 ): “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.” The following verses contain the account of Joshua’s death, and events subsequent to it. These verses are not covered by Joshua’s signature, and are not the work of his hand.

The next note of authorship which we meet with in the Old Testament is found in 1 Samuel 10:25 : “Samuel told the people the manner [i.e., the constitution] of the kingdom, and wrote it in the [not a] book, and laid it up before the Lord.” From the very first mention of the Bible, it appears as “the book.” Exodus 17:14 : “The Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua.”

The signature of Samuel does not stand, like those of Moses and Joshua, at the end of a specified portion of history. And this leads us in the next place to observe that the historical books of the Old Testament are not presented as separate works, but rather as chapters in what is regarded as a single book from the very first. Taking them as they stand in our English Bible, they form two volumes: the first including all from Genesis to the end of 2 Kings; the second from Chronicles to Esther, inclusive. Every book in each of these volumes is connected with its predecessor by the copulative conjunction “And.”[13] (In our English Bible it is sometimes a “Now,” or “Then,” but the Hebrew conjunction is the same throughout, a simple “And.”) No one writes “And” as the first word of a distinct and separate work. Such a commencement implies that what follows is intended as a continuation of what is already begun.

[13] The Book of Deuteronomy, like that of Nehemiah, has its first title prefixed to the “And.” But this is no exception. (See Notes on Deuteronomy 1:1.)

Thus it appears that all the historical books of the Old Testament to the end of 2 Kings, are written as a continuation of the work of Moses. Joshua, Samuel, and the rest wrote their portions “in the book of the law of God,” and as it were upon the blank pages which Moses had not filled.

A new beginning is made in 1 Chronicles—“Adam Seth, Enos”—and this work is a compendium of the history of God’s people from Adam to Cyrus. The end of 2 Chronicles is repeated at the commencement of Ezra. Nehemiah begins in a somewhat peculiar way: “The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass.” Manifestly the first sentence is a title and signature in one. The real beginning is “And.” Esther also begins with “And.” This, the last portion of the Old Testament history, also contains the significant clause, “And it was written in the book,” which appears to be a reference to the sacred volume (Esther 9:32).

Thus the signature of Joshua in Joshua 24:26 is seen to be one of four sentences in Old Testament history, referring to the authorship of the Bible. There is another series of passages in the Chronicles alluding to the sacred literature of the kingdom of Judah, from David to Zedekiah, and giving the succession of prophetic writers. But the books in this series have distinct titles, and were not in all cases entirely incorporated into the book. This is manifest from their titles, which can hardly be names of portions of Old Testament history. The well-known formula, “The rest of the acts of so-and-so,” more literally a “remainder” (Anglicè, “remains”) of so-and-so, does not refer to Scripture at all, except in one or two instances. How far, then, can the Old Testament be said to give any distinct account of the authorship of the historical books? We see that, with one or two exceptions, nothing is asserted which could fix with certainty the authorship of a given portion to a particular man. Moses has certainly signed his name at Deuteronomy 32:0 And it is no less certain (despite the critics) that the Pentateuch is an organic whole. The inference, then, that the Pentateuch up to the end of Deuteronomy 32:0 is the work of Moses is unquestionably so strong that we seem justified in accepting it as a literary fact. Whether Moses was the first writer of the whole, or compiled portions of it out of documents already existing, is a matter which we here leave to be discussed in its proper place, only observing that the relative length and connection of the several portions of Genesis show that the book cannot be a mere compilation. The Book of Nehemiah is introduced, as we have seen, by a title and a signature. But the only other historical book which has been presented to us with a signature is the book before us, viz., Joshua.

Is the signature intended to fix with absolute certainty the authorship of the entire book in its present shape?

One very simple consideration suffices to answer this question provisionally, and brings us a step further on the road. The Book of Joshua, in its present shape, records Joshua’s death; and the Book of Deuteronomy records the death of Moses. Thus these books, as delivered to us, show traces of the hand of an editor, no less than an author. Some prophet’s hand must have penned the closing record of the Book of Deuteronomy, before proceeding to write the story of Joshua’s conquest in the Book of the Law of God. Another hand, after Joshua laid down the pen, must have traced the story of his death, and before proceeding to the connected narrative of the Judges, must have collected (in part from Joshua itself) the particulars which form the very careful and thoughtful introduction to that book, contained in Joshua 1:2; Joshua 3:1-6.

In the Book of Joshua, no less than in the Pentateuch as it now stands, we recognise the hand of an author and of an editor. Where does the work of the one end, and the work of the other begin? The discussion of this question might easily introduce the whole subject of the modern literary criticism of the Old Testament. And there are men bold enough to account for every verse in Old Testament history, and acute enough to imagine, describe, and distinguish any number of editors and authors that their view of the requirements of the text may seem to demand.

But our task is much more modest. We shall be satisfied with pointing out, for the present—(1) that the Old Testament itself does recognise the existence of these two human agencies in its formation; in the present instance, by giving us the signature of Joshua near the close of his work, and by adding the account of his death afterwards in the same book, before making a fresh beginning. And (2) that the general reply of the sacred writers to those who would inquire particularly as to who is responsible for every separate statement in the pages of Old Testament history, is to the same effect as that of the three Hebrew heroes to Nebuchadnezzar, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” But the reason of this apparent indifference must not be misunderstood. Partly it arises from the existence of a long succession of prophetic authors, from Moses to Malachi, who were authorised to declare to the Jewish nation the will of Jehovah, and through whom, in every question demanding revelation, it was possible to appeal to the authority of Israel’s God. Not until that “goodly fellowship of the prophets” had passed away, did it become absolutely necessary to separate that which had received the stamp of Divine authority, from what was mere human composition.

But were the prophets authorised to alter as well as to edit the works of their predecessors? A sentence from Deuteronomy and a sentence from Joshua, placed side by side, will indicate the kind of understanding there was between them. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2). Yet “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.” Clearly Joshua, who obeyed the Book of the Law more strictly than any of his successors, was not the man to alter anything that Moses had enacted. Yet it never seems to have occurred to him that he was transgressing the orders of Moses by adding his own contribution to the Book of the Law of God.

The view of the Bible itself as to the province of the prophetical editor is not inconsistent with additions to the work of a Moses or a Joshua, even under the title of the books which bear their name. Is it possible to go a step further and ascertain (from the Bible itself, as distinct from critical speculations about it) whether additions were made not only at the end, but also in the body of the text? One such addition seems to have been made in the text of Joshua, viz., the mention of the Danite colony at Laish, Joshua 19:47. For the settlement of this colony is distinctly and inextricably connected with the establishment of idolatry (Judges 18:30-31), and it is expressly stated that the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua. The men who remonstrated with the two and a half tribes after the fashion described in Joshua 22:0 would never have tolerated what is described in the story of Laish. It does not seem possible to ascribe Joshua 19:47 to the hand of Joshua himself. It stands quite naturally at the end of the list of Danite cities, an addition to the inheritance assigned to Dan by Joshua, a town which the tribe acquired for itself.

But if we admit a single addition to the text of Joshua by the hand of a later editor, is it possible to limit the operation of the principle thus conceded?
It is necessary to look this question fairly in the face. It seems to have been too often supposed, on the one side, that if anything were allowed to stand part of a book of the Old Testament, which did not come from the original hand, the authority of the Bible would be impaired. And, on the other hand, modern literary critics feel at liberty to assign any portion of the Old Testament to any period whatever, according to their own (momentary) view of the text.
Between these two extremes, it must be surely possible to find a middle alternative. Why should we not suppose that the prophetic editors of the earlier books acted as any faithful and conscientious man among ourselves would act? To add any subsequent particulars which could give completeness to the narrative, insert a note which would clear up an obscure phrase, or a later name which would identify an ancient city; to mark[14] divisions, parting the Book of Joshua from Deuteronomy on one side and Judges on the other—all this might be done without in any way interfering with the substance of the book, or effacing the individuality of the author. More than this it is not reasonable to ascribe to the prophetic editor. With these exceptions, there is nothing in the Book of Joshua which may not have been the work of Joshua himself.

[14] It is not generally known to readers of the English Bible that the divisions between 1 and 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings , , 1 and 2 Chronicles, which are found even in Hebrew Bibles, are the work of Christian hands. “The Christians divided Samuel and Kings into two books respectively.” “They also divided Chronicles into two books.” (Elias Levita in “Exposition of the Massorah.” Dr. Ginsburg. 1867. p. 29.)

The conclusion to which we come presents us with this phenomenon. The writing of Joshua in the Old Testament very possibly ranges from the beginning of Deuteronomy 33:0 to a certain point in Joshua 24:0, say Joshua 24:26. The Book of Joshua has different limits. The moral is, that the sacred writers were not careful to tell us exactly who the authors of the separate portions of the Old Testament were. The reason would seem to be this—that the books, in their quality of Scripture, do not rest solely, or principally, upon the authority of the individual authors, but upon the collective authority of the prophets, and of Him whose servants they were.

The Style of the Book of Joshua is very much what we should expect from the place it occupies and its claim to be a continuation of the narrative of the Exodus. Moses wrote the journeyings of the Children of Israel “according to their goings out” (Numbers 33:2). Joshua wrote, in the book begun by Moses, the story of their “coming in.” In the narrative of Joshua there is much that reminds us of the latter part of the Book of Numbers; while the hortatory portions recall the manner of the Book of Deuteronomy, though falling so far short of it as to be perfectly distinct. It would be interesting to know how far Joshua had himself been employed by Moses in the capacity of a scribe or secretary. In one passage (Joshua 15:4), if the Hebrew may be trusted (the LXX. differs slightly), the very language of the lawgiver seems to have been unconsciously adopted. But in all arguments from style to authorship in the Old Testament, it is necessary to remember the very great difficulty in the way of distinguishing different writers, arising from the employment of one uniform system of vocalisation and punctuation by the Massorites, who have clothed the original language of the whole book.

One phrase which occurs frequently in Joshua may be called characteristic. It appears for the first time in the narrative of Joshua 4:9, respecting the twelve stones set up in Jordan: “they are there unto this day.” So it is said of Rahab (Joshua 6:25), “she dwelleth in Israel unto this day.” The phrase itself is not unknown in the Pentateuch, and is common in the later historical books. But it strikes us in the Book of Joshua by its constant recurrence in connection with local monuments and memorials. It can scarcely be appealed to as an argument for the date of the book or as a token of the hand of an editor. “These many days unto this day” is used of things lying wholly within Joshua’s experience in Joshua 22:3. And in Matthew 28:15, it is impossible not to feel that the employment of the very same phrase is a proof of the early origin of the gospel. The phrase is one that may be used of things comparatively recent, but gains in force as the years roll on. What a truly wonderful confirmation of the Scripture narrative it is, to be able to turn to an Ordnance Survey of Palestine, and say of names and boundaries described in the Book of Joshua, “There they are unto this day !

THE TIME OCCUPIED BY THE NARRATIVE IN JOSHUA is not long. The language of Caleb after the conquest of Canaan, at the commencement of the division of the territory (Joshua 14:10), shows that the conquest was completed in five-and-forty years from the sending of the twelve spies from Kadesh-barnea. Deducting thirty-eight years for the remainder of the Exodus, we have seven years for the great campaigns of Joshua, not an insufficient period when we remember what is elsewhere associated with the phrase “seven years’ war.” Joshua died at the age of 110, and if he was of the same age with Caleb, this would leave five-and-twenty years for the remainder of the book.

AMONG RECENT COMMENTARIES ON JOSHUA there are three which are very complete in different ways. Bishop Wordsworth’s is most full and interesting upon the spiritual teaching of the book. Canon Espin, in the Speaker’s Commentary, has dealt very fully with its historical bearings. And Dr. Maclear, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools, although his materials are collected from very various sources, and those not always equally reliable, is nearly perfect in his attention to geographical detail.

On Joshua as a Type of Christ.—That Joshua is set before us in the Old Testament as a type of Christ is unquestionable. But, since all sound typical interpretation must rest upon strict historical analogy, it becomes necessary to define precisely those relations of Joshua to God’s people, and to the work of their salvation, which will bear comparison with the work of Him for whom the name of Joshua was designed.

Joshua then may be regarded as a type of Christ—

(1) In relation to Moses.
(2) In relation to the written Word of God.
(3) In relation to Israel, and in the details of the work that he did for Israel.
(4) In his own personal character.

(1) IN RELATION TO MOSES.—Moses brought Israel out of Egypt: Joshua was ordered to bring them into the promised land. On the whole, it may be said that the Mosaic legislation was designed to bring Israel out from among the nations, and separate them from all mankind. But it was the work of our Lord to bring them into a position above all nations in their relation to God. They have hitherto refused this position, turning their backs upon the true Joshua, as they did upon Moses when he first offered them deliverance. They must, however, be set above all nations when Christ comes again. But Joshua’s principal relation to Moses is—

(2) HIS RELATION TO THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD.—The first mention of Joshua is in Exodus 17:0. In that chapter, both he and the Book of the Law are brought before us abruptly and without any introduction for the first time. “Moses said unto Joshua, choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek.” “The Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Thus the book is made for Joshua, and Joshua is appointed to be the servant of the book. It is evident that the relation between the two is the principal thing to be noted in that passage, not the fulfilment of the sentence on Amalek. In fact, Joshua did not execute that sentence, although it was written for his sake.

It is clear that Moses knew he would be the conqueror of Canaan from the first, because it was when he sent him from Kadesh-barnea to search the land that he gave him the name of Jehoshua (Jehovah Saviour, instead of Oshea or Hoshea, which was his earlier name). For this mission of Joshua and the other spies was intended as a first step to the conquest of the country. And it is in this conquest, in obedience to the law of Moses, that Joshua is a type of the Lord Jesus.
But what is the counterpart of the conquest of Canaan in the work of our Lord? And what is JOSHUA’S WORK—
(3) IN RELATION TO ISRAEL?—The Epistle to the Hebrews suggests that it is the introduction of the people of God into the rest which God gives them. Now the Jews as a nation have not yet entered into the rest offered by Christ. For them, therefore, the work of Joshua is unfulfilled by Him. The accomplishment of the type in that sense is future. Joshua went into Canaan by himself forty years before he brought in Israel. And the Jewish nation has hitherto refused to follow the true Joshua into the rest of God. But the Israel of God has followed Him, and thus in His relation to the Church of the redeemed our Lord has fulfilled the things foreshadowed in Joshua, though not in relation to the nation of the Jews.

But what portion of the work of Christ for us answers to the conquest of Canaan by Joshua?

Two different views of this are possible, and in fact necessary, if we look at the story in its true historical aspect. Joshua stands at the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another. In relation to the previous history of Israel, the work of Joshua is an end. In relation to their later history, it is only a beginning. It is an end of the pilgrim life which they led in Canaan and Egypt and in the wilderness, having no fixed possession, but travelling from place to place, and halting wherever they were bidden. It is the beginning of their life as a nation, occupying a territory of their own, and maintaining in that territory the laws of Jehovah their God.

Now if we regard the Christian life as a pilgrimage, the counterpart of Israel’s sojourn in Canaan, Egypt, and the wilderness, it is evident that the entrance into Canaan is the end of this life, and a passage to a better world. In this view, the comparison between the crossing of Jordan and death is sufficiently familiar.

But inasmuch as Christ gives His people rest when they begin to live in Him, and calls them to enter on a good fight of faith; and since the Christian life may be compared to the life of Israel as a nation in the promised land, we obtain a second view of the work of Joshua in relation to Christ. It answers to the establishment of the believer in Christ in a position where he may fight and conquer, expelling the enemies of Christ from his own heart, or subduing them in it.
In this view, the work of Joshua is introductory and preliminary to a period of warfare, which will end in complete victory, and in the establishment of David’s throne.
(4) IN JOSHUA’S OWN PERSONAL CHARACTER.—The chief points seem to be zealous and faithful discharge of duty, and abnegation of self. The absence of personal ambition and vanity is clear. Deeds and not words make up the greater part of his history. Among the twelve spies Caleb is more prominent than Joshua. When Joshua is jealous it is for Moses’ honour, not for his own. He is again and again urged to “be strong and of good courage,” as though naturally inclined to shrink from responsibility. He takes his own inheritance last, after all the tribes. His family receives no high position. None of his descendants are even named, but “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” He appears to have grown old comparatively early, a fact which very possibly indicates the laborious character of his life. Yet he must have been a man of strong personal influence. Israel served the Lord all his days.

Analysis of the Book.—The contents of the Book of Joshua can be arranged thus:—
(1) THE PASSAGE OF JORDAN (Joshua 1:1 to Joshua 5:12), including—

Joshua’s commission to lead Israel over Jordan, in obedience to the law (Joshua 1:1-9).

Joshua’s first orders to the people (Joshua 1:10-18).

The spies sent to Jericho, and received by Rahab (Joshua 2:0).

Passage of Jordan (Joshua 3:1 to Joshua 4:19).

Encampment in Gilgal; Circumcision and Passover; Manna ceases (Joshua 4:20 to Joshua 5:12).

(2) THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN (Joshua 5:13 to the end of Joshua 12:0).

Appearance of the Captain of the Lord’s Host, with the drawn sword. The order to attack Jericho (Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:5).

Jericho taken (Joshua 6:6-27).

Achan’s trespass discovered in the failure to take Ai (Joshua 7:0).

Ai taken (Joshua 8:1-29).

The law set up in the heart of the country (Joshua 8:30-35).

The Gibeonites come in and make peace (Joshua 9:0) Gibeon attacked by the southern confederacy, which is crushed by Joshua. The south of Palestine conquered (Joshua 10:0).

Jabin king of Hazor and the northern confederacy conquered (Joshua 11:0).

Summary of the conquest (Joshua 12:0).

(3) THE DIVISION OF THE TERRITORY (Joshua 13-22 inclusive).

Boundaries of the territory to be divided (Joshua 13:1-14).


On the east of Jordan. Territory of Reuben (Joshua 13:15-23), Gad (Joshua 13:24-28), half Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31).


On the west of Jordan (Joshua 14:1-5). Judah (Joshua 14:6 to end of Joshua 15:0), Joseph (Joshua 16:1-4), including Ephraim (Joshua 16:5-10), and Manasseh (Joshua 17:1-12).

The other seven tribes (Joshua 18:1-10), including Benjamin (Joshua 18:11-28), Simeon (Joshua 19:1-9), Zebulun (Joshua 19:10-16), Issachar (Joshua 19:17-23), Asher (Joshua 19:24-31), Naphtali (Joshua 19:32-39), Dan (Joshua 19:40-48), Joshua’s inheritance (Joshua 19:49-50).

The cities of refuge (Joshua 20:0) and the other Levitical cities (Joshua 21:0).

The two and a half tribes dismissed to their inheritance, and their altar Ed (Joshua 22:0).



His charge to the rulers at Shechem (Joshua 23:0)


His charge to the people (Joshua 24:1-25). His signature (Joshua 24:26). Death (Joshua 24:29-30). Conclusion. Burial of Joseph’s bones. Death of Eleazar (Joshua 24:31-33).

It is observable that in the record of the conquest we have the capture of two cities described in detail, viz., Jericho and Ai—one in the territory of Benjamin, and one in mount Ephraim. We have also two great battles—one in the south, another in the north—each opening a campaign. It seems likely that no third campaign was needed, from the absence of any strongholds in the centre of the country, where the cities are far fewer than they are in the south and north, and along the sea-side.

It seems clear, upon the whole, that Israel entered the land of Canaan at the weakest part, where there was least possibility of resistance; that they divided their adversaries, and struck fatal blows alternately on either hand; the resistance of the Canaanites being in great measure paralysed by the unusual mode of attack.

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