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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 1

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Verses 1-4


The book of Joshua connects historically directly to Deuteronomy. In Hebrew, this book begins with the word “and”, making it clear that history goes on. The history of this book covers a period of about thirty years. Joshua dies when he is one hundred and ten years old (Joshua 24:29). He is about eighty years old at the beginning of the book.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses and that is where this book begins. Moses has died and Joshua follows him. Someone aptly said: “God does bury His workers, but His work continues.” Joshua does not succeed Moses to lead the people further through the wilderness. He becomes the leader of the people to bring them into the land.

Moses and Joshua are both a picture of the Lord Jesus. Moses is a picture of the Lord Jesus as Servant of God on earth who went his way through the terrestrial wilderness. As such He is in our time the leader of God’s people on their way to glory. Those who believe follow in His steps as long as they are in the earth: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

The wilderness speaks of the earthly circumstances we have to go through and in which the Lord Jesus has preceded us. He shows us that way as those saved from the world by the blood of the Lamb, of which Egypt is a picture.

Moses died, which says that the way of the Lord Jesus on earth came to an end through His death. But the Lord Jesus did not remain in death. He is risen, “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). And Joshua is a picture of that. The Lord Jesus is glorified by God at His right hand. He is now in heaven.

Joshua, however, is not a picture of Christ glorified in heaven, but of the Lord Jesus Who is in us through and in the Holy Spirit and stays with us. Christ came to us in the Spirit (John 14:16-Job :). He leads us who are now His people through His Spirit into the territory of which the land of Canaan speaks of for us: the heavenly places. That is the heavenly atmosphere where, while we are still on earth, we are connected with Him and where we may enjoy all that God has given us on the basis of His work.

The first part of the book describes the struggle that the people of Israel must fight to conquer and take possession of the land of Canaan. In the second part, it is mentioned how the land is divided among the tribes.

The Christian also has a struggle to fight, but that is a spiritual struggle. He has also received blessings to enjoy. In the New Testament, in the letter to the Ephesians, we can read about this. The Christian is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The devil and his angels want to try to prevent the Christian from also enjoying those blessings. That gives rise to struggle. At the end of the letter to the Ephesians is spoken about that struggle and how victory can be achieved (Ephesians 6:10-Proverbs :).

Canaan is not a picture of heaven, where the Christian goes after his death. Heaven cannot be conquered by one’s own struggle. We can only enter heaven by faith in the Lord Jesus.

In this book the struggle is depicted in all kinds of histories. Therein are important spiritual lessons for us. The most important lesson is that Joshua is the leader. Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus. In our spiritual struggle we must pay attention to our Leader, the Lord Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

The events described in the book of Joshua are all meant for us: “These things happened as examples for us” (1 Corinthians 10:6). It can be compared to the book of Acts, which is also a book of the beginning. We also see the future of Israel in this book, when all God’s plans are fulfilled and the enemies are completely expelled.

The Training of Joshua

Joshua was born in slavery in Egypt. His parents gave him the name Hosea, which means ‘salvation’. In so doing they have shown faith in God’s promise of the delivery of His people. Moses has changed his name. He calls “Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua” (Numbers 13:16). Joshua means ‘the LORD saves’. Joshua belongs to the tribe of Ephraim and is the firstborn son of Nun (1 Chronicles 7:20; 1 Chronicles 7:27). That he is the firstborn son and still alive means that he owes his life to the hiding behind the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:12-1 Chronicles :).

The first mention of Joshua is linked to struggle (Exodus 17:9-2 Samuel :). This is the first aspect in his training and formation to the leadership he takes over from Moses. Amalek is the opponent and is a picture of the flesh that wants to thwart us from the beginning of our journey to the promised land.

Just as David’s first action is characteristic of his further career – the killing of Goliath – so it is with the first mention of Joshua as leader in the fight against Amalek. The final victory is certain, but he must fight for it. Faith supports him in this. Through the vicissitudes of the struggle, he learns to be dependent on Moses on the mountain, that is, on God, and through dependence he achieves victory (Exodus 17:10-1 Chronicles :).

The second time Joshua is mentioned is when he goes up the mountain with Moses, who is going to meet God and receives the law from Him: “So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). Nobody is allowed to touch the mountain, but Joshua is allowed to go along with Moses. Here we see Joshua close to God, in His presence. That aspect is also important for the forming of this young servant. The warrior from below is connected with the glory on high. Fellowship with God increases the knowledge of the thoughts of God.

The third time we hear about Joshua when he descends from the mountain together with Moses. The sin with the golden calf has taken place. Joshua hears the noise and draws the wrong conclusion: “Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp”” (Exodus 32:17). His ear is not yet as exercised as that of Moses who knows how to correctly interpret the noise.

Joshua learns to see what really happened in the camp. That’s why we find him with Moses in the tent that Moses pitched outside the camp: “His servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11). With Moses he takes a place of separation from the people and to God.

Taking a place of separation is no guarantee that no new mistakes will be made. Joshua stands up for Moses – or is it more for himself? – when two men do not respond to the call of Moses to come to the tent of meeting. Those two men stay in the camp and prophesy there. In Moses’ reaction we notice the special, spiritual mindset of this man of God: “But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”” (Numbers 11:29; cf. Mark 9:38-Malachi :).

A sixth occasion where we meet Joshua is in the account he gives of his spying out of the land: “Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land”” (Numbers 14:6-Judges :). Here we see that Joshua knows the land and so knows where he will lead the people. He has been there and bears witness to it. He has learned to appreciate it and knows the power of God to put the people in possession of it.

Joshua, the new leader of the people

Then comes the moment when Moses fails and as punishment is not allowed to enter the land. He must appoint Joshua as his successor. But the real reason that God is angry with Moses is with the people: “The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Deuteronomy 1:37-Zechariah :).

This is how it happened to the Lord Jesus. God is angry with Him – in the three hours of darkness on the cross – because of our sins, these are the sins of all who believe in Him. He died. But He also rose from the dead and now leads us through His Spirit.

Moses must appoint Joshua as a man in whom the Spirit works: “So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him”” (Numbers 27:18). Moses must lay his hand on him, which indicates identification. He must be presented before Eleazar, the priest. The service of Joshua is inseparable from that of Eleazar. Moses never spoke about Aaron in this way. Eleazar is a high priest in the land.

The Lord Jesus is our High Priest in heaven. In order to enter the heavenly land, we depend on His work as High Priest. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus is in us and the Lord Jesus is as High Priest for us in heaven. Joshua gets from the glory of Moses. Christ, as He was on earth, and Christ in the Spirit, is the same Person: “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Moses and Joshua are two persons, but represent to us the one Christ. In Deuteronomy 31 Moses encourages Joshua with words that also occur in Joshua 1, but from the mouth of the LORD Himself (Deuteronomy 31:7; Joshua 1:6). In Deuteronomy 34 we hear from Joshua the fulfillment of what God has said in connection with the death of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:9).

As to our wilderness journey we always have the Lord Jesus as Guide before our eyes in the mind described in Philippians 2 (Philippians 2:5-Ruth :). But when it comes to going into the land, we are dealing with the Lord Jesus in the Spirit. He comes to us in the Spirit (John 14:18) to direct our eyes to the Lord Jesus in glory. So we see Him in Philippians 3 (Philippians 3:12-2 Chronicles :; Philippians 3:20-Ecclesiastes :).

Division of the book

1. The passage through the Jordan (Joshua 1-5).
2. The conquest of the land (Joshua 6-12).
3. The division of the land (Joshua 13-21).
4. Return of the two and a half tribes to the wilderness side of the Jordan (Joshua 22).
5. Farewell speech of Joshua and his death (Joshua 23-24).


Joshua takes the place of Moses. Moses, the lawgiver, does not bring the people into the land. For this great task Joshua is encouraged by the LORD, Who says: “I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5; Joshua 1:9). Joshua hears three times: “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6; Joshua 1:7Joshua 1:9). If we want to take possession of our blessings, the Lord Jesus says to us: “I am with you every day” (Matthew 28:20).

But first the Israelites must stay with the Jordan for three days. The Jordan is the river of death and depicts the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Israel has to cross the Jordan to enter the land. This is how it must become clear to us that it was only through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that we gained access to the blessings of the land.

The LORD Pledges the Land to Joshua

Before the land can be entered, the death of Moses is necessary. It is not God’s intention that His people inherit the blessing in connection with Moses, i.e. on the basis of the law. The Christian is not given the blessing by the law either. Receiving every blessing takes place on the basis of grace. The awareness of this gives strength to follow the new Leader, the risen and glorified Christ.

Yet after the death of Moses there is still a certain connection between Moses and Joshua. Joshua is here, after the death of Moses, also called “Moses’ servant”. The name of ‘Moses’ still appears around sixty times in the book of Joshua. Moses retains his place, however, not as a living mediator, but as the written Word of God.

The Spirit came from heaven as the Servant of the Lord Jesus on earth, after the Lord Jesus went to heaven, that is to say after His glorification (John 7:39). Everything He shows to God’s people on earth He takes from all that is of the Lord Jesus to proclaim it to us (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit takes the place of Servant. He wants to show us the fruits of the promised land. For that He uses the written Word.

All that Moses commanded in the Name of God are clear words from God. Joshua represents the strength the people have at their disposal to take possession of what has been promised. The believer possesses God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gives the believer the power to enter the heavenly blessings and take them into his possession.

Canaan is a picture of heaven. That is well known. But often people only think that we enter into it when we leave this earthly life. If that were so, we wouldn’t be able to have any profit of most of the book. How should we think about the battle? We are in a book of struggle that is necessary to conquer the land. Without struggle no land. That can never apply to the believer’s passing away, because when the believer passes away, there is immediately rest. In case of unfaithfulness, the people can be driven out of the land again, which is also impossible to say of a believer who has gone to heaven – better: paradise – after he has fallen asleep.

The New Testament counterpart of the book of Joshua is the letter to the Ephesians. It tells us that we are in the heavenly places in the Lord Jesus and that through our connection with Him we share in everything that is His part by virtue of His work on the cross. The land is the heavenly atmosphere in which we already find ourselves and where we can enjoy everything we have received in Christ. All the blessings we have received are in connection with a heavenly Christ. We, the believers of the church, are His body. We are already in heaven because we are in Him. But in the book of Joshua it is about taking possession of what we already possess in principle, and actually living in it.

The land is a gift from God to His people. He gives it to them, or rather “have given it to you” (Joshua 1:3), for it is a counsel of God, and then it is certain. Then there is no question of what He is going to give, but of what He has already given. What His people must do is to take possession of it. You can know that you are rich by an inheritance you have received. Yet it is of no use if you do not take possession of that inheritance and enjoy it. So it is with our spiritual riches. They are our property, but in order to enjoy them we must take possession of them by putting our foot on them (Deuteronomy 11:24).

The only way to enter the land is through the Jordan. The Jordan is, as said, the river of death. But just as entering the land does not happen because of the bodily death of the believer, so going through the Jordan does not represent the bodily death of the believer. The Jordan represents the death and resurrection of Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, the believer is now in the heavenly places. To actually enjoy the blessings that are there, the believer must be aware that he died and rose with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-Joshua :).

The land is great. As it is presented here (Joshua 1:4), Israel never possessed it. At the end of the book there is still a lot of land left. That also applies to us. There is always new territory to take possession of. We “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9) and take possession in part. When, with the coming of the Lord “the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10), we will have a better understanding of the extent of our blessings.

The borders of the land are formed by a “wilderness” in the south, the great mountain “Lebanon” in the north, “the great river, the river Euphrates” in the east and “the Great Sea” in the west. Between them live “the Hittites”. They are one of the seven nations living in Canaan, and in them all these nations are represented. They are the only ones mentioned here, probably because they are the most fearsome enemies.

The borders indicate what lies outside the promised land and on which the people should not therefore set foot. These boundaries represent the different characteristics of the world: the aridity of the wilderness, power symbolized by a mountain, prosperity symbolized by a river and turbulence and tribulations represented in the sea. The believer must be careful not to cross these borders.

We are also weak in the fight. It is a great privilege to read and prayerfully study God’s Word in order to take all these blessings into our hearts and to work them out in our lives. We can gratefully use comments in which others tell us what they have discovered and enjoyed about blessings.

There is also another side. The enemy is not sitting still and wants to drive us out of the land. We see this in the actions of the kings of Canaan. The enemy is stirring when he whispers to us not to devote our time to Bible study because there are other, more important things. Or he tries to seduce us to sin. He will do everything to keep us away from being engaged with the glorified Lord in heaven.

Fortunately, we are not at the mercy of the enemy. We have the true Joshua, that is Christ through His Spirit, with us. If we sow to the Spirit, we will reap the fruits of the land. That fruit is eternal life: “The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

Verses 5-9

Encouragement and Exhortation

God has promised to give His people the land. Nevertheless, every Israelite must make an effort to conquer the land. God wants His people to make an effort for it, while He gives the people the strength to fight. God takes possession of the land by letting His people conquer it.

If we want to take possession of our blessings, we will meet resistance. On the territory where our blessings are, there are also enemies who want to prevent us from taking possession of our blessings. Everywhere we want to put our foot on, an enemy will appear. Therefore the encouragement that the Lord Himself is with us sounds (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Although Joshua is a courageous man, he is still encouraged. He has to deal with a powerful enemy that should not be underestimated. Encouragement comes to us, not to the Lord Jesus or the Spirit, but to us in whom the Spirit dwells. He is with us with His Spirit on earth and He is our High Priest in heaven.

He will not “fail” us. This means that He will not fail and will never disappoint us. He will not “forsake” us. That is, He will never leave us alone. This promise is of general application to the believers in view of the daily walk and what is necessary for it: “For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

He still gives another means of victory over the enemy and that is the Word of God, represented in the law. We need to investigate the Word to know our blessings, but here it is about obeying the Word. If we don’t do that, there is no strength to fight the enemy. There must be no opening in our armor on which the enemy can point his arrow. We must reflect on the Word, not to serve others in the first place, but to know for ourselves how the Lord wants us to live.

Joshua has a responsible task. He is the leader of a great people. He can only govern that people well if he also allows himself to be governed well by the authority that is above him again. Therefore he must listen to God’s Word. Then the commands and the justice from his mouth will guide the people on the right path.

“Shall not depart from your mouth” means that we make God’s Word our words and do not wish to express our own thoughts (Isaiah 8:20). This is only possible if we find joy in the Word and meditate on it “day and night” (Psalms 1:2). Then “the Word of Christ” will “richly dwell” in us (Colossians 3:16). Meditate on it is not reading a chapter or a verse in our quiet time and carrying it with us all day as a kind of mascot. It is a complete occupation of the Word in our whole lives, so that all our activities are governed by it. Then we will be prosperous and achieve our goal.

When we meditate om God’s Word, we hear that God commands that we shall be strong and courageous. We have no reason to fear if the almighty God is with us. God has made His promise to give us the land. Then it is an insult to Him if we start to doubt that.

Verses 10-11

Command to the Officers

Joshua obeys directly. The people must prepare themselves for the passage through the Jordan. With this message Joshua sends the officers to the people. He does not give any indication about how the people will go through the Jordan. He has seen how the LORD opened the Red Sea forty years ago, and he trusts that the same will happen to the Jordan. Therefore he says in full faith that in three days they will cross the Jordan.

He is, together with Caleb, the oldest of the people. But his faith and enthusiasm for the land have not diminished. After exploring the land, he encouraged the people at the time to trust in the LORD – which they did not do then. Just like then, he now speaks with certainty and passionately to his much younger peers about crossing the Jordan to take possession of the land.

The preparation should take three days. The period of ‘three days’ can often be linked to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He rose up on the third day, proving that He has conquered death. The crossing takes place on that third day. The two preceding days are days of preparation.

In order to pass through, they have to prepare provisions, which is food. That food is not given by the officials. The people themselves must take care of this. This speaks of the fact that we need to take spiritual food in order to be able to start the crossing. It means here that we are engaged in and reflect upon the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and our death and resurrection with Him, through which we make it our own.

Verses 12-15

The Two and a Half Tribe

After the journey through the wilderness, as the land approached, the people, by God’s command, began to inherit the wilderness side of the Jordan. The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were satisfied with this and said that they did not want to go into the land. However, this is not in accordance with God’s purpose. The wilderness side of the Jordan is not the promised land. It is not the land conquered by Joshua. It is not the place of the testimony of the power of God’s Spirit.

The wilderness side of the Jordan is an area that represents blessings on earth which we also receive thankfully from God’s hand, but not just to be satisfied with them. Many Christians are content with the earthly blessings, without having any idea of the true blessings of the Christian.

These tribes have been given permission to live in the wilderness side of the Jordan on the condition that they go along to conquer the land. That they promised (Numbers 32:31-Micah :). Now they go with them into the land, even in the front ranks. They will help to conquer the land, but when they have done so, they will return to their inheritance.

It speaks of believers who sometimes fight for the blessings, but above all enjoy the peace in their family and work, grateful for everything the Lord has given them. Only the men go over, leaving behind their wives and children. Spiritually speaking, they have never understood anything about the death and resurrection of Christ. These tribes were later the first to be led into the scattering.

The crossing of the Jordan of these two and a half tribes, represents in the picture, the Christian who believes in the fact of the death and resurrection of Christ, but for whom this fact has no effect on the life of faith. Such Christians will fight against the rising unbelief and power of Satan working in the world without realizing, however, that the battle is actually taking place in the heavenly places.

Verses 16-18

The Willingness of the People

It seems that what is said here is said by the whole people and not just by the two and a half tribe. They all warmly acknowledge Joshua’s leadership as the successor to Moses and express their unconditional obedience to him. They will do without objection what he asks of them and go where he wants them to go. All the people wish Joshua that the LORD his God be with him, as he was with Moses. With this they show that also for them the strength for the battle lies with the LORD.

Recognizing leadership is also important in the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-1 Chronicles :). It is not about recognizing people-appointed leaders. Such leaders do not know God’s Word (cf. Galatians 1:1). God gives leaders formed by Himself.

There is no attempt by the two and a half tribes to evade their earlier promise, made to Moses. They speak good, honest and worthy words. It is arrogant for us to look down on them because they are only there to fight for the land and not for its possession. The question is whether we are fighting to take possession of the land. Although they are not an example to us in sharing God’s desires, they are a good example in battle.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Joshua 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/joshua-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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