Joshua in Four Acts
The book of Joshua is perhaps best grasped if we view it as a drama that has four acts.
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:
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?
Review & Application:
About the Author
Timothy W. Berrey is the author of Planning Your Life God's Way and From Eden to Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History. He is the director of Graduate Studies at Bob Jones Memorial Bible College in Metro Manila, where he has lived with his wife Laura and six children since 2005.