Act I -- The Crossing of the Jordan
Chapters 1-5 recount the crossing of the Jordan River. The Lord’s opening command to Joshua is to “cross over the Jordan” (1:2) and the words cross over (or pass over, KJV) occur almost thirty times in these five chapters.
One fascinating detail is the timing of when Israel crosses over the Jordan River and enters Canaan. Forty years to the day after they left Egypt, they eat for the first time the produce of the Promised Land (5:11).
Crossing the Jordan was a major faith-builder for the second generation of Israelites. It did for them what crossing the Red Sea did for the first generation and also lifted Joshua to a position of lifelong respect in Israel’s eyes comparable to what Moses had enjoyed (4:14). In addition, it spoke volumes to the people of Canaan as to how mighty Yahweh--Israel’s God--really was (4:24; 5:1).
One other important emphasis in Joshua begins in these chapters and continues throughout the book: Joshua’s commitment to following the instructions given by Moses (see 1:13; 4:10; 8:31, 33, 35; 11:12, 15, 20; 14:5; 17:4; 20:2; 21:2; 22:2). (Moses’ name is mentioned more times in Joshua than in Deuteronomy.) Joshua will only succeed in his monumental task of bringing Israel into the Promised Land if he carefully follows the Law of Moses (1:7-8). For this he will need courage (1:6-7, 9, 18).
Act 2 -- The Conquest of Canaan
Chapters 6-12 record the actual conquest of Canaan. Five major battles are detailed, plus some other activities, with a final list of 31 conquered kings. Repeatedly, the Lord fights for Israel and hands their enemies over to them (see 6:2; 8:1, 7; 10:8, 14, 42; 11:8). Because Israel is absolutely dependent on the Lord to give them victory, they only win when He fights for them, as the first Battle for Ai reveals.
Reading the list of 31 conquered kings in chapter 12 may not overwhelm you with excitement, but conquering each of those kings required effort, risk, struggle, trust, obedience, and courage. Every day we fight battles that require the same. As you read through the list, ask yourself how many victories you have won today? How about this week? Could you make a list of 31 recent victories in your life?
Act 3 -- The Distribution of the Land
Chapters 13-21 document the distribution of the land to the various tribes. Key words in these chapters are words like inheritance (over 40 times) and divide (six times). The detailed listing of where each tribe received its inheritance may not be riveting to you as a reader, but think of the importance for the twelve tribes of Israel who had waited forty years for the moment when they would receive land that they could call their own. Imagine the excitement and challenge as each tribe and family settles into their respective allotments. But alas! Little hints here and there suggest that Israel was not as diligent as they should have been in dispossessing the Canaanites (see 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12-13, 16-18). Their small failures at the beginning reap big consequences over time.
The verses that provide the best summary of the entire book of Joshua are at the end of Joshua 21 (vv. 43-45). Key themes from those verses are worth tracing all the way through the book of Joshua:
- Israel’s conquest of Canaan was the fulfillment of a covenant sworn with Israel’s founding fathers hundreds of years earlier
- Israel took possession—God gave them the land and handed their enemies over to them but Israel had to fight and take it
- God kept all of His promises during the conquest of the land
Act 4 -- The Call for a Commitment
Chapters 22-24 contain various farewells and ends with the death of Joshua. Before Joshua dies, he challenges Israel in their covenant commitment to the Lord. As you read Joshua 23:1-13, underline all the references to “these nations.” Joshua knows what will trip Israel up in the future!
In Joshua 24, God reviews all that He has done for Israel throughout its history—note the repetition of “I.” What He now asks from Israel is, if not easy, quite simple: “Now therefore fear Yahweh and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (v. 14). It’s a choice that Joshua had already made for himself and his family: “but as for me and my house . . . we will serve Yahweh” (v. 15).
Are you willing to make the same choice?
- List the four “Acts” of Joshua. (See if you can do it from memory, including the chapter references.)
- What is the key command in Joshua 1-5?
- In Joshua 1:8, Joshua is commanded to adhere strictly to the Law of Moses. Is this a one-time command to Joshua or is this an emphasis that pervades the entire book of Joshua? Explain.
- Joshua 6-12 details five major battles (which we did not detail above). Identify those five battles and draw a principal truth from each that you can apply to your battle(s) for holiness.
- Joshua 12 lists 31 victories. Does this make you hungry for a list of victories in your life? Identify some areas in which you would like to see victory and ask God to help you know how to battle your way to victory.
- What three important themes do we find in Joshua 21:43-45?
- What in Joshua 13-21 indicates that Israel was not as diligent at dispossessing the Canaanites as they should have been?
- What does Joshua warn Israel about in Joshua 23?
- How should the list of what God had done for Israel (24:1-13) serve as a motivation for them to fear the Lord (v. 14)? How would a New Testament believer apply these verses?