1. Title. The title of the book is taken from the name of the successor of Moses, Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim. He was at first called HosheaФ, transliterated Hoshea or Oshea (Deut. 32:44; Num. 13:8, 16), which signifies “savior” or “salvation.” According to v. 16, Moses changed his name to YehoshuaФ, Jehoshua, by prefixing the abbreviated form for Jehovah (Yahweh) to Joshua’s former name. It now signified “salvation of [or by] Jehovah.” Joshua is merely a shortened form for Jehoshua, the form always found in the Hebrew Old Testament. In the LXX he is called Iesous huios Naue, “Jesus, son of Naue [Nun].” In the New Testament he is expressly called Iesous, Jesus (Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8). The ASV has “Joshua” in both references.
Christ and the Jews recognized three divisions in the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, or Writings (Luke 24:44). Joshua is the first book in the second division, called “the Prophets” in Hebrew Bibles, because its author occupied the office of prophet. In Hebrew Bibles the section entitled “the Prophets” is divided into two parts: the Former Prophets, comprising Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and the Latter Prophets, comprising those we commonly know as the Prophets. Thus Joshua stands as the first book of the Prophets, although in content it is closely related to the Pentateuch, known to the Jews as the Law.
2. Authorship. Commentators and critics are divided in opinion as to whether the book was actually compiled by Joshua. Critics insist that the book is not a literary unit, composed by one author, but pieced together from several documents. But the internal unity of the book is so evident from its connected narrative that no serious consideration need be given such a documentary analysis. It is argued by those who deny Joshua as the author that there are both names and transactions mentioned in it that did not exist or occur until a considerable period after the time of Joshua. The expression “unto this day,” found in a dozen or so places, say they, indicates it was written long after Joshua’s time. However, at least one of those texts proves just the opposite. In ch. 6:25, speaking of Rahab, it says, “She dwelleth in Israel even unto this day.” There is no reason why this could not have been written by Joshua. It certainly could not have been written as late as modern critics imply, since it was obviously written in Rahab’s lifetime.
None of the 12 texts referred to, with the possible exception of ch. 15:63, can be definitely established as having been written after Joshua’s time. According to this text, “the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day.” In Judges 1:21, after the death of Joshua (v. 1), the story is told of Benjamin’s not driving out the inhabitants of Jerusalem but of his allowing them to dwell there “unto this day.” But this was as true before the death of Joshua as it was after his death.
A more difficult problem, perhaps, is the account of the capture of Leshem by the Danites, in ch. 19:47. A comparison with Judges 18:27–29 may possibly imply that the capture of Leshem occurred long after the time of Joshua. But there is no evidence to prove that this was so.
Other objections are mentioned, such as place names that were not given until later times—Cabul (Joshua 19:27; cf. 1 Kings 9:13), Joktheel (Joshua 15:38; cf. 2 Kings 14:7), and a few others. It has therefore been supposed by many devout men that the book was written by some inspired person after the time of Joshua but before many kings had reigned in Israel. However, Joshua 6:25 does not permit so late a date of writing as implied in ch. 19:47, or as late as indicated by the argument of the names referred to previously. What, then, is the solution?
The fact that the book is written in the third person in no way tends to exclude Joshua as its author; Moses also wrote in the third person, keeping an accurate record of all events that occurred under his leadership, up to his death. It is certainly reasonable to suppose that Joshua, chief assistant to Moses, would follow the example set by his great predecessor. The apparent difficulties mentioned previously may reasonably be accounted for on the basis that when the book was transcribed in later years, particularly up to the time of the kings, certain minor alterations were made, such as the substitution of contemporary place names for ones that were older and less familiar. We speak of New Amsterdam as New York, for the sake of clarity. Other minor explanatory additions may have been made, as for instance the expression “unto this day.” Such modifications would in no way detract from the authenticity of the book as the work of Joshua, prepared under the guidance of Inspiration.
It is generally agreed that the record of Joshua’s death in ch. 24:29–33, like that of Eleazar, was recorded by someone else. But even this would in no way affect the inspiration or authorship of the book. Books today often contain prefatory or biographical notes prepared by someone other than the author himself. With few exceptions until modern times, Jews and Christians have uniformly acknowledged Joshua as the author of the book bearing his name. The Jewish Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b) specifically affirms this to be so, and states further that Eleazar, the son of Aaron the high priest, added the conclusion (ch. 24:29–32), with v. 33 being appended by Phinehas (Baba Bathra 15a, 15b).
3. Historical Setting. On the basis of Joshua being the author, and of the Exodus being in the year 1445 b.c., it is clear that the book of Joshua was written in the early part of the 14th century b.c. Portions of it may have been recorded in the last years of the 15th century. Slight additions, by way of explanation, as previously mentioned, may have been made by later transcribers, but hardly later than the very early kings. Israel was now entering the land of the Amorites west of Jordan, to possess it according to the promise to Abraham in Gen. 15:16. The iniquity of the Amorites was now full.
Modern excavations have given us much information regarding Palestine and surrounding nations at the time of Joshua. For several centuries Palestine had been intermittently under the influence, and at times the control, of Egypt. Thutmose III, who died about 1450, conducted 17 campaigns in or through Palestine to quell what had developed into a general revolt against Egypt. These campaigns continued over a period of 18 years. Even after that there were additional minor campaigns, and several new strongholds were erected. In certain times of the year soldiers and supplies were constantly being moved along the coastal highway, called in the Bible “the way of the land of the Philistines” (Ex. 13:17). This was probably just prior to the time of the Exodus if, as seems likely, the Exodus took place about 1445 (see p. 125; also Introduction to Exodus, Vol. I).
After the Exodus the strength of Egypt began to wane. However, war between Egypt and the nations of Canaan continued until the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1425–1412 b.c.). A new enemy, the Hittites, began to menace the Mitannians, Egypt’s former enemy. Thutmose IV made peace with the Mitannians because of their new common foe, shortly before 1400 b.c., and the long standing hostility between them came to an end. In the days of his successor, Amenhotep III (c. 1412–1375 b.c.), the high tide of Egyptian power began to ebb. However, he ruled in security and unparalleled splendor. Egypt was enjoying the wealth she had obtained in past conquests. Her military might was ending; and as revealed by the Tell el-Amarna Letters, correspondence from vassal princes in Syria and Palestine to Amenhotep III and his successor, Ikhnaton (c. 1387–1366 b.c.), Syria and Palestine were seething with intrigue internally and were under attack from without. Yet help from Egypt was not forthcoming. Scarabs of Amenhotep III, the latest found in the tombs outside Jericho, are regarded by some scholars as evidence that the city fell during his reign. Conditions in Palestine were thus such as to make possible the Israelite conquest, without their having to meet the strength of the Egyptian Empire.
The Hittites, mentioned in Joshua 1:4, were rising to power at this time, but had no power in Palestine (see pp. 30, 31). This served to restrain the power of the Mitannians in the north. Assyria was in periodic decline, and therefore weak. The Kassites ruled in Babylon, but because of the uncertainty of their position—due to their fear of the Mitannians, to pressure from Assyria, and to the constant struggle for pre-eminence in Mesopotamia—they too were exerting every effort to gain the friendship of Egypt. The main wave of Philistine immigrants had not yet arrived in Palestine, to build up their power on the coastal area (see p. 27). Thus the political world was in a state of flux, and no power from without was in a position to come to the rescue of the peoples of Canaan.
The land of Canaan was divided among numerous small kingdoms and one autonomous state, Gibeon, with its dependent towns, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim. East of the Jordan there were the kingdoms of Sihon and Og. The land was already cultivated. The inhabitants lived in cities, but tilled the ground outside the walls and planted oliveyards and vineyards. They were acquainted with writing, as the original name of Debir—Kirjath-sepher, “city of books” (ch. 15:15)—proves. The people of Canaan owned horses and chariots (Joshua 11:4; 17:18); but religiously and morally they were very degraded (Deut. 12:29–31; 18:9–12), practicing almost every kind of superstitious art and immorality.
The chronological data of the book are limited. Unfortunately, no historical or archeological data are yet available to cross-reference any part of the Joshua narrative with known events in secular history. According to ch. 4:19, it was on the tenth day of the first month (Abib) that the people “came up out of Jordan.” The crossing of Jordan therefore occurred in the spring of the year (see also ch. 3:15). If the Exodus occurred in 1445 b.c.—as the evidence seems to indicate—this would be the spring of 1405 b.c.
The next question that arises is, How long a time was required for the conquest of Canaan? The answer is found in chs. 11:18; 14:7, 10, 11; 23:1; 24:29. In ch. 11:18 it is simply stated that Joshua waged war “a long time.” According to ch. 14:7, 10, 11, Caleb was 40 years old when Moses sent him from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land of Canaan, and 45 years had passed since that time. The conquest of the land was by this time considered complete, as chs. 11:23 and 14:5 indicate. This does not mean that every part of the land was under Israelite control, for God had promised only a gradual taking over lest the land revert to wilderness (Ex. 23:29, 30). Since the mission of the spies coincided with the second year of the Exodus (Deut. 2:14), and the wandering in the wilderness lasted 38 years, the conquest occupied between 6 and 7 years (45–38 = 7). Josephus, on the contrary, gives the duration of the conquest as only five years, and with this some modern scholars tend to agree. See pp. 125, 126.
A third question follows: How long, in all, did Joshua hold the reins of government? In other words, what space of time is covered by the book? Chapter 23:1 speaks vaguely of “a long time,” after which Joshua, who was now old and advanced in years, assembled the nation (v. 2). According to ch. 24:29, Joshua was 110 years old when he died. There are no other references to this period of time here or elsewhere. Josephus (Antiquities v. 1. 29) divides Joshua’s life into three parts: 45 years before the Exodus, 40 years with Moses, and 25 years as sole leader. Writers of later times, such as Theophilus, Clement, and Eusebius, give 27 instead of 25, because, it is explained, of reckoning the conquest as 7 years. This would simply make him two years younger at the time of the Exodus, and in no way affects the historical accuracy of the statement of ch. 24:29.
4. Theme. In viewing the book of Joshua as a whole, the careful reader is impressed with the fact that he is reading a sequel to the record of the Pentateuch by an eyewitness of the events narrated in the book. The great theme is the faithfulness of Jehovah in the fulfillment of His promises (ch. 21:43–45), under the able leadership of Joshua, the one chosen of God to accomplish the divine purpose.
The book of Joshua is a most important part of the Old Testament, and should not be considered separately from the Pentateuch, of which it is the continuation and conclusion. This book is related to the five books of Moses in somewhat the same way as the book of Acts is related to the four Gospels. The Gospels give an account of the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Christian Legislator, as the books of the Pentateuch give, for the most part, an account of the ministry of Moses, God’s representative and legislator for the Israel of his day (see Deut. 18:18). As long as men were content to remain under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the early church prospered; as long as Joshua and Israel depended wholly on God, the conquest of Canaan progressed. God ever works through human instrumentalities, qualified as leaders by years of training, yet conscious of their own unworthiness. When such men trust to their own wisdom and fail to depend wholly on God, many mistakes occur—as at Ai and with Gibeon. Lives are lost, and the work of the Lord is delayed. But when deep humility is felt, and courage to deal with sin is manifested, then victory is certain.
I. The Conquest of Canaan, 1:1 to 12:24.
A. Crossing the Jordan, 1:1 to 4:24.
1. The Lord’s charge to Joshua, 1:1–9.
2. Preparations for crossing the Jordan, 1:10–18.
a. Announcement of the crossing, 1:10, 11.
b. A reminder to the two and one-half tribes, 1:12–18.
3. The sending forth of the spies, 2:1–24.
4. The crossing of the Jordan, 3:1 to 4:24.
a. Preparatory instructions, 3:1–13.
b. Waters of the Jordan cut off, people pass over, 3:14–17.
c. Erecting memorials of the crossing, 4:1–24.
B. The fall of Jericho, 5:1 to 6:27.
1. Preparation for taking Jericho, 5:1–15.
a. Rumors dishearten the people, 5:1.
b. The people circumcised, 5:2–9.
c. The Passover observed, 5:10–12.
d. Joshua’s vision, 5:13–15.
2. Jericho compassed and destroyed, 6:1–21.
3. Rahab saved, 6:22–27.
C. The capture of Ai, 7:1 to 8:35.
1. Preliminary defeat and retreat, 7:1–5.
2. Joshua’s humiliation and instructions from the Lord, 7:6–15.
3. The trespass of Achan, 7:16–26.
4. The final conquest of Ai, 8:1–29.
5. The reading of the blessings and cursings, 8:30–35.
D. The treaty with the Gibeonites, 9:1–27.
E. The Canaanite confederacy, 10:1–27.
1. The siege of Gibeon, 10:1–5.
2. Joshua crushes the Canaanites, 10:6–27.
F. Joshua’s conquests, 10:28 to 12:24.
1. Conquests of the south country, 10:28–43.
2. Conquests of the north country, 11:1–15.
3. The conquests completed, 11:16 to 12:24.
II. The Partition of the Land, 13:1 to 22:34.
A. The tribal allotments, 13:1 to 19:51.
B. Cities of refuge appointed, 20:1–9.
C. Cities assigned to the Levites, 21:1–45.
D. The tribes of Transjordan, 22:1–34.
1. Their return home, 22:1–9.
2. Their offending altar, 22:10–20.
3. Their defense of the altar, 22:21–34.
III. Joshua’s Farewell, 23:1 to 24:33.
A. His address to Israel, 23:1 to 24:28.
B. His death, 24:29–32.
C. The death of Eleazar, 24:33.