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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- Joshua

by Dr. Robert Utley



A. The name comes from Moses' successor and the chief character of the book

B. His name (BDB 221) is made up of two Hebrew terms:

1. YHWH (J plus a vowel)

2. salvation (Hoshea)

C. It is exactly the same Hebrew name (cf. Acts 7:45) as Jesus (Matthew 1:21).

II. CANONIZATIONJoshua is the first book of the section of the Hebrew canon known as “the Prophets.” This section is divided into two parts:

A. the former prophets which included JoshuaKings (except Ruth)

B. the latter prophets which included IsaiahMalachi (except Daniel and Lamentations)


A. These historical books continue the history of God's people which began in Genesis. It is not a western chronological history, but a selective theological history. This does not mean to imply that it is not true or accurate, but it does mean that it selected out certain events to teach theological truths about God, man, sin, salvation, etc. In this sense it is similar to the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament.

B. History for the Jews was not cyclical, like its surrounding neighbors, based on the cycles of nature, but it was “teleological.” It had a goal, a purpose. God was moving toward a predetermined goal, i.e., the redemption of a fallen world.

C. See Special Topic: The Old Testament as History

D. See Special Topic: Old Testament Historiography Compared with Near Eastern Cultures

E. See Special Topic: Genre and Interpretation in Old Testament Narrative


A. The book itself is anonymous.

B. The traditional author is the chief character of the book

1. His name was originally Hoshea (“salvation”), Numbers 13:8

2. Moses changed his name to Joshua (“YHWH” and “salvation”), Numbers 13:16; Deuteronomy 32:44

3. For some unknown reason his name is spelled in four different ways

a. Yeshoshu's, (common) Joshua 1:0

b. Yehoshu's Deuteronomy 3:21

c. Hoshe'a, Deuteronomy 32:44

d. Yeshu'a, Nehemiah 8:17

C. Baba Bathra 14b (a book of the Talmud) says that Joshua wrote the book except for the account of his death which was recorded by Eleazar, the priest (Joshua 24:29-30). Eleazar's son, Phinehas (Numbers 25:7-13; Numbers 31:6-8; Joshua 22:10-34), wrote the portion of the book which records Eleazar's death (Joshua 24:31-33).

D. Joshua the man

1. born in slavery in Egypt

2. one of the twelve spies (from the tribe of Ephraim cf. Joshua 19:50; Joshua 24:30; 1 Chronicles 7:27), only he and Caleb brought a faith report (Numbers 14:26-34)

3. Moses' faithful helper throughout the Exodus experience. The only one who went up Mt. Sinai with Moses (half-wayExodus 24:13-14)

4. Commander of the Israeli army (Exodus 17:8-13)

5. Named Moses' successor in Numbers 27:15-23; Deuteronomy 3:18-22; Deuteronomy 31:1-8

6. Led the conquest of Canaan as Moses' successor (Deuteronomy 31:23)

E. Some evidence for contemporary (immediately after Joshua's day) authorship:

1. The book states Joshua could write (cf. Joshua 8:32; Joshua 24:26).

2. It is obviously eye-witness material.

a. “We” Joshua 5:1 (MSS variation)

b. “Joshua circumcised them” (Joshua 5:7-8)

c. Joshua's private encounter with the Angel of the LORD (Joshua 5:13-15).

d. “She (Rahab) has lived in the midst of Israel to this day” (Joshua 6:25). This is not a later editor but an eye-witness contemporary.

3. He used some written sources.

a. The Book of Jashar, (10:13, cf. 2 Samuel 1:18) which were war poems of Israel.

b. “In a book,” Joshua 18:9

4. The accurate listing of the names of ancient cities fits a contemporary author, not a later editor(s).

a. Jerusalem called Jebus (Joshua 15:8, Joshua 15:63; Joshua 18:16, Joshua 18:28)

b. Hebron called Kiriath-arba (Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13-14)

c. Kiriathjerrim is called Baalah (Joshua 15:9, Joshua 15:10)

d. Sidon is referred to as the major Phoenician city, not Tyre (Joshua 11:8; Joshua 13:6; Joshua 19:28), which later became the chief city.

5. Joshua, like the Pentateuch, has some editorial additions.

a. Joshua's death

b. the later conquest of Hebron (Joshua 14:6-15, Joshua 15:13-14)

c. the later conquest of Debir (Joshua 15:14, Joshua 15:49)

d. Dan's migration north (Joshua 19:47)

e. the phrase “until this day” occurs many times which shows a later edition (Joshua 4:9; Joshua 5:9; Joshua 6:25; Joshua 7:26 [twice]; Joshua 8:28-29; Joshua 9:27; Joshua 10:27; Joshua 13:13; Joshua 14:14; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 22:3).

E. Modern Scholarship

1. Note the similarities between the Pentateuch and Joshua (hexateuch theory).

a. style

b. vocabulary

2. The Documentary Hypothesis of J, E, D, P sees the book as written over a long period of time by an editorial process.

a. J source wrote the parts of Jos. 1-12 which focus on individual battles (950-850 B.C.).

b. E source wrote the parts of Jos. 1-12 which focus on united campaign (750 B.C.).

c. A combination of J & E occurred around 650 B.C. in which most of J was excluded.

d. The book was reedited by the priest/prophet of Josiah's day who wrote Deuteronomy. This person or group is called the Deuteronomist source. This source also wrote the book of Deuteronomy in order to strengthen Josiah's reform in 621 B.C. by focusing on Jerusalem as the only true sanctuary.

e. The P source was a group of priests who wrote Jos. 13-21 in the 400 B.C. period.

f. Still further supposed additions were made in the third century B.C.

3. Notice the presuppositions of the theory! Notice how it cuts the text from its historical setting and contemporary author. I reject this as a modern attempt to analyze ancient texts in light of modern literary theories. However, it must be stated:

a. The book is anonymous.

b. Joshua's death, like Moses, is recorded in the book.

c. There has been some on-going editing of the OT books.

d. We accept the process of formation that produced the OT as inspired.

4. Evidence against a Hexateuch (Genesis Joshua).

a. in Jewish tradition there is clear distinction between the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch) and Joshua, which starts “the prophets” section of the Hebrew canon:

(1) Ben Sira, the author of Ecclesiasticus written about 185 B.C., makes a distinction, 48:22-45:12.

(2) Flavius Josephus in his book Contra Apioness Joshua 1:7ff makes a distinction.

(3) The closing scribal note of the Masoretic Text (MT) of the Pentateuch makes a distinction.

(4) The weekly Bible readings of the Synagogue called “the Haphtaroth” make a distinction.

(5) the Samaritans took the Pentateuch as Scripture but not Joshua.

b. Internal evidence (Young, p. 158).

(1) There is a special use of the personal pronoun in Joshua that is not in the Pentateuch.

(2) The city of Jericho is spelled differently.

(3) The title for Deity, “the God of Israel,” occurs in Joshua 14:0 times but never in the Pentateuch. We must admit that there is so much we do not know about the formation of these OT books into their current state.


A. Archaeology has shown that most of the large walled cities of Canaan were destroyed and rapidly rebuilt about 1250 B.C.

1. Hazor

2. Lachish

3. Bethel

4. Debir (formerly called Kerioth Sepher, Joshua 15:15).

B. Archaeology has not been able to confirm or reject the biblical account of the fall of Jericho. This is because the site is in such poor condition.

1. Weather/location

2. Later rebuildings on old sites using older materials

3. Uncertainty as to the dates of the layers

C. Archaeology has found an altar on Mt. Ebal that might be connected to Joshua 8:30-31 (Deuteronomy 27:2-9). It is very similar to a description found in the Mishnah (Talmud).

D. The Ras Shamra texts found at Ugarit show the Canaanite life and religion of 1400s B.C.

1. Theirs was a polytheistic nature worship (fertility cult).

2. El was chief deity.

3. El's consort was Asherah (later she is consort to Ba'al).

4. Their son was Ba'al (Haddad), the storm god.

5. Ba'al became the “high god” of the Canaanite pantheon. Anat was his consort.

6. Their ceremonies were similar to Isis and Osiris of Egypt

7. Ba'al worship was focused on local “high places” or stone platforms (ritual prostitution)

8. Ba'al was symbolized by a raised stone pillar (phallic symbol), while Asherah or Astarte was symbolized by a carved wooden stake, or live tree, which symbolized “the tree of life”

E. Archaeology has confirmed that the major empires of the region (Anatolia, Egypt, or Mesopotamia) were unable to exercise influence in Palestine during this period known as the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.)

F. The accurate listing of the names of ancient cities fits a contemporary author, not a later editor(s).

1. Jerusalem called Jebus (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16, Joshua 18:28)

2. Hebron called Kiritath-arba (Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13, Joshua 15:54; Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:11)

3. Kiriath-jearim is called Baalah (Joshua 15:9, Joshua 15:10)

4. Sidon is referred to as the major Phoenician city not Tyre (Joshua 11:8; Joshua 19:28), which later became the chief city

G. The Hittite Treaty Pattern of the Second Millennium B.C.

1. The Hittite treaties of the second millennium B.C. offer us an ancient, historically contemporary parallel to the structure of Deuteronomy (as well as Exodus - Leviticus and Joshua 24:0). This treaty pattern changed by the first millennium B.C. This gives us evidence for the historicity of Deuteronomy. For further reading in this area, see G. E. Mendenhall's Law and Covenants in Israel and the Ancient Near East.

2. The Hittite Treaty of the Second Millennium B.C. and it Deuteronomy parallels

a. preamble (Deuteronomy 1:1-5, introduction of speaker, YHWH)

b. review of the past acts of the King (Deuteronomy 1:6-49, God's past acts for Israel)

c. treaty terms (Deut. 5-26)

(1) general (Deut. 5-11)

(2) specific (Deut. 12-26)

d. results of treaty (Deut. 27-29)

(1) benefits (Deuteronomy 28:0)

(2) consequences (Deuteronomy 27:0)

e. witness of deity (Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:19, also 32, Moses' son functions as a witness)

(1) a copy in temple of the deity

(2) a copy with the vassal to be read annually

(3) uniqueness of the Hittite treaties from the later Assyrian and Syrian treaties

(a) the historical review of the past acts of the king

(b) the cursing section was last pronounced

3. The Hittite Treaty Pattern of the Second Millennium and Its Parallels in Joshua

a. identification of the King (Joshua 24:2)

b. narrative of the King's great acts (Joshua 24:2-13)

c. covenant obligations (Joshua 24:14, Joshua 24:23)

d. instructions for depositing the treaty in the sanctuary (Joshua 24:25-26)

e. the deities of the parties involved invoked as witnesses (Joshua 24:22)

f. blessing of fidelity; curses for violation (Joshua 24:20)


A. The geographical movements also form an outline for the book.

1. on the Plains of Moab, Jos. 1-2

2. crossing the Jordan River to Gilgal near Jericho, Jos. 3-4

3. the central Canaan military campaign, Joshua 5:1-15

4. the southern Canaan military campaign , Joshua 10:16-43

5. the northern Canaan military campaign, Joshua 11:1-23

6. geographical division of the land among the tribes, Jos. 13-21

B. A Brief Outline

1. the conquest of Canaan, Jos. 1-12

2. the dividing of the Promised Land among the tribes, Jos. 13-21

3. Joshua's final words and death, Jos. 22-24


A. It demonstrates God's faithfulness to His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) about the land (Genesis 15:16).

B. It continues the history begun in Genesis and brings it into a new period. During this time, tribal associations were the central unifying factor. There was no central government.

C. The concept of “Holy War” seems so cruel to us but God warned the Israelites against the sins of the Canaanites. As God removed them from the land because of their sins (cf. Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:5), so too, will He remove the Jews for the same sins (the Exile, by Assyria and Babylon).

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