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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Joshua, the Book of

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The Book of Joshua is the sixth book of the English Old Testament. It is the first book of the second division of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Prophets. The book is named after its central character, Moses' successor, Joshua the son of Nun.

Authorship and Date The Former Prophets are all anonymous. That means that no author is mentioned in the book. Some Bible students think Joshua wrote the book except for the death reports (Joshua 24:29-33 ); but the book gives no indication that Joshua had anything to do with writing the whole book, though he did write the laws on which the covenant renewal was based (Joshua 24:26 ).

It is also difficult to date the writing of books like this. Some Bible students suggest a time about a hundred years after Joshua's death, or at least by the time of the beginning of the monarchy. A date around 1045 B.C. would place it within the lifetime of Samuel, who was in a sense the last of the judges and the one who anointed the first two kings. Other Bible students think the Book of Joshua only reached its present form when the Former Prophets were collected together during the Exile.

The events of the book apparently took place in the last half of the thirteenth century, from about 1250 to 1200 B.C., though some would date the Exodus and the conquest earlier, in the middle of the fifteenth century.

Contents The Book of Joshua tells the story of a significant Bible event, the conquest of the land of Canaan. It tells this story in light of the theological themes of the Book of Deuteronomy, and thus the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings are often spoken of as the Deuteronomic History.

The book has only two main parts, and an appendix:

I. The Conquest of the Land, 1–12.

II. The Settlement of the Land, 13–22.

III. Joshua's Farewell Addresses, 23–24.

The Book of Joshua standardizes the conquest stories to some extent. For example, the accounts are from the standpoint of the general who led the entire nation, whereas the Book of Judges is more from the standpoint of the foot soldier who did the actual fighting.

A surface reading of the Book of Joshua would give the impression that the invasion was complete and final. However, numerous passages (Joshua 13:13; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:12-13 , Joshua 17:16-18 ) agree with the Book of Judges to show that it was up to the individual clans to root out the many pockets of Canaanite resistance still scattered throughout the land. The difference is between occupation and subjugation, the former in the Book of Joshua and the latter in the Book of Judges.

Through it all, the emphasis of the book is on the Lord's mighty acts. Joshua was rightly celebrated as an effective military leader. The people were generally obedient and courageous. However, the glory goes to God alone (Joshua 3:10; Joshua 4:23-24; Joshua 6:16 ). He is the true hero of the book.

Nature of the Covenant in the Book of Joshua The Lord's covenant with His people was always more universalistic and inclusive than we usually realize. We see this clearly in the Book of Joshua. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, was accepted, along with her family, as a part of the covenant community (Joshua 2:9-13; Joshua 6:22-23 ,Joshua 6:22-23,6:25 ). It may well be that people related to the Hebrews who lived in the Shechem area voluntarily joined in their fellowship of faith (Joshua 8:30-35 ). The people of Gibeon and its four-city league of cities were accepted, and even became associated with Temple service (Joshua 9:3-27 ). The covenant was not limited by race or nation; it was open to anyone of faith.

Holy War in the Book of Joshua The Hebrews did not divide life up into sacred and secular spheres as we do. To them all of life was holy, in the sense that it was lived under the direction of the Lord. They saw the Lord at work on behalf of His people in every area of life. Thus the soldiers were holy. They were under strict religious regulations. Religious ceremonies prepared them for battle (Joshua 5:2-11 ).

The Lord received the credit for all victories. All of the spoils of battle belonged to Him (Joshua 6:18-19 ). None was to be taken for personal use. This is related to the idea of cherem or ban. It might seem ruthless or even immoral by our modern Western standards, but it was a part of the world of that day. A certain city, for instance Jericho in Joshua 6:1 , was placed under the ban. It was devoted to destruction in the name of the Lord. Everything in it was to either be destroyed or else placed in the Lord's service in the tabernacle.

The ban was a common practice in the Semitic world and was also known among the Greeks. Some suggest that it served to control looting and that it offered an enemy encouragement to surrender without a struggle.

Moral Problems of the Book of Joshua The Book of Joshua is filled with war, conquest, and destruction. Its teaching is that the Lord allowed his people to conquer the land of Canaan, to take possession of the area He had promised to the patriarchs.

But why would the Lord allow one nation to attack and defeat another? Several factors need to be taken into consideration in studying a book that has so little of loving your enemy or turning the other cheek.

One must begin by admitting that Joshua lived centuries before Christ appeared to reveal the Father's will fully and completely. We should not expect to find completed Christian truth in a book written so long before Christ came.

The Hebrew people saw paganism as a poison. Pagan religious views were a spiritual infection that was both highly contagious and deadly. It could be controlled only by strict quarantine and eradication. Holy war became God's method in that setting to achieve this purpose. Holy war was not set up as an eternal example (compare Deuteronomy 20:16 ).

One element in the explanation for the holy wars of Joshua is judgment on sin. The iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) was at last full (Genesis 15:16 ). The catch to this arrangement is that if the other nations could be judged for their sins, the Hebrew people could, too, and later were. See Conquest; War; Joshua .


I. God Brought Victory to a People of the Book (Joshua 1:1-12:24 ).

A. To possess the promise, God's people must be faithful to the book (Joshua 1:1-18 ).

B. God uses unexpected persons to fulfill His promises (Joshua 2:1-24 ).

C. God exalts His leaders and proves His presence so all people may know Him (Joshua 3:1-4:24 ).

D. God's people must worship Him to prepare for the victories He promises —(Joshua 5:1-15 ).

E. Divine power, not human might, provides victory for God's people (Joshua 6:1-27 ).

F. A disobedient people cannot expect God's victories (Joshua 7:1-26 ).

G. A repentant people receive a strategy for victory from God (Joshua 8:1-35 ).

H. Human cunning and disobedience cannot overcome the purposes of God (Joshua 9:1-27 ).

I. God fights for His people (Joshua 10:1-43 ).

J. God fulfills His promises, giving victory to an obedient people (Joshua 11:1-12:24 ).

II. God Divides the Spoils of Victory According to the Needs of His People (Joshua 13:1-21:45 ).

A. The complete rest is still incomplete (Joshua 13:1-7 ).

B. History shows God's provision for His people (Joshua 13:8-33 ).

C. God rewards heroes of faith (Joshua 14:1-15 ).

D. God fulfilled His promise of land to His people (Joshua 15:1-17:13 ).

E. God provided for specific needs of His people (Joshua 17:14-18 ).

F. God called a hesitant people to action to receive the promised gift (Joshua 18:1-10 ).

G. God gave the land to an obedient people (Joshua 18:11-19:48 ).

H. God and His people rewarded their faithful leader (Joshua 19:49-51 ).

I. God decreed legal protection for the accused among His people (Joshua 20:1-9 ).

J. God provided for the needs of His priests (Joshua 21:1-42 ).

K. God fulfills all His promises (Joshua 21:43-45 ).

III. God Calls His Victorious People to Unity in Worship and Devotion (Joshua 22:1-24:33 ).

A. God's rest, commandments, and blessing unify His people (Joshua 22:1-6 ).

B. Worship unifies God's people forever despite geographical barriers (Joshua 22:7-34 ).

C. Israel had to be faithful to God's direction or face the loss of His gifts (Joshua 23:1-16 ).

D. God calls His people to remember the history of God's faithfulness and choose to serve only Him (Joshua 24:1-28 ).

E. Faithful leaders keep a people faithful (Joshua 24:29-33 ).

Dan Gentry Kent

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Joshua, the Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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