Joshua Lesson 20

The Major Themes and Theology of the Book of Joshua

Let’s close this series of lessons with a summary of the major themes and theology of the Book of Joshua.  This particular summary is based mainly on a review of two sources: one, an article by David Howard, Jr., Joshua, which was taken from the New American Standard Bible Commentary, 1998, and a book entitled, “Winning the Battles of Life”, by Dr. Paul E. Toms, 1977.  We also read and studied several other commentaries in preparation for these lessons.
1.    The major themes and theology of Joshua are:

    a.    God and His Holiness.
        God Himself is the major character in this wonderful book.  His providence, persistent love, and patience are key themes.  He was the giver of the land, sustainer of the people, visionary and encourager for Joshua, and He fought for the people and intervened miraculously at Jericho, as well as many other battles that followed.  He clearly revealed His holiness to Joshua and encouraged him after the Ai defeat.  The words of man are inadequate to describe God and His holiness.  He is indescribable!

Q1. Ask the group to discuss what the Holiness of God is, and what it means to them.

    b.    Faithful and Courageous Leadership.
        Throughout the Bible, God has raised up leaders to accomplish His will.  In the Book of Joshua, we see how He used the vision and faith of Joshua, who became a mighty warrior - along with Caleb.  Both of these men were among the original spies, sent by Moses, to scout out the Promised Land; however, because of the lack of faith of the other ten spies, God waited forty years to reward Joshua and Caleb.  God saw the vision, courage, and determination in Joshua and Caleb’s heart, and made them key leaders when entering the Promised Land.  If God did not forget Joshua and Caleb, He will not forget what we do in His name either. 

    c.    The Promised Land.
        A major theme of Joshua is the inheritance and occupation of the land itself.  The land was promised first to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:17); repeated to Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen 26:3) and then to succeeding generations (Gen 15:18; 26:4).  The promise and possession of the Promised Land was also addressed in several other Old Testament books (various verses in Genesis; Exodus 3:8, 17; Deut. 9:4, 5; Num. 34:1, 2; and Lev. 23:10; 25:23, 24).  The land is seen as God’s gift to Israel.  (Josh. 21:43)  Mention of the land occurs more than fifty times in Joshua.  Various passages actually state that the land, while given to the Israelites in the twelve tribes, actually belonged to God.  God required that the first fruits of the land be given back to Him, (Deut. 14:22; 26:1, 2; Lev. 27:30) which is a foundation for the tithing principle.  Finally, about one third of the Book of Joshua ((Josh 13-21) details how the land is to be inherited, by whom, and for what purposes.  The giving and division of the Promised Land is an example to us of how God always honors His promises.  

    d.    God Honoring His Promises.
        To drive home the point which we made at the end of the previous theme, (i.e. God always honors His promises), it is important to note that the focus of the Book of Joshua also deals with God’s faithfulness in honoring His promises in every respect, not just those relating to the land.  For example, God promised Joshua that He would be with him (Josh. 1: 5, 9), and that “no one would be able to stand before him”. (Josh. 1:5) Further, after the Israelites left Egypt, God promised Moses that He would give them rest (Exod. 33:14; Deut. 12:10; 25:19); and He repeated that promise, through Joshua, just before they entered the Promised Land (Josh1:13-15).  God also promised the Israelites that they would inherit, “a land for which they did not labor, and cities which they did not build, and they would dwell in them; and they would eat of the vineyards and olive groves which they did not plant” (Josh. 24:13) In a previous revelation, He added other benefits of their inheritance, “… houses full of all good things, which they did not fill, hewn-out wells which they did not dig …” (Deut. 6:11).  Another promise was that He would exalt Joshua in Israel’s’ eyes. (Josh 3:7)  Joshua 24:31 confirms that Joshua was highly regarded among God’s people.  It states, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which He had done for Israel.”  A dramatic passage, relating “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel.  All came to pass!  All of these illustrations provide assurance and hope to Christians today that God will faithfully keep all of His promises to us as well!

Q2.  Ask the group to discuss some other Biblical promises, which God has made to His people and to us.
    e.    The Covenant.
        Closely related to the idea of God keeping His promises is the caveat of abiding by the requirements of the Covenant.  This means that the people of God were responsible for keeping the Mosaic Law (God’s covenant with the Jewish nation).  This covenant offered two choices: obedience and blessings, or disobedience and punishment.  God reiterates the covenant He made with Moses in Joshua 1:6 thru 8.  Two covenant renewal ceremonies are recorded in Joshua.  The first one occurred at Mount Ebal, where Joshua build an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices (Josh. 8:30-35), and then he read the entire Book of the Law to the people, which included both the blessings and the curses.  The second renewal ceremony occurred at Shechem, and is found in Joshua 24:25 thru 27.  The Book of Joshua also mentions the Ark of the Covenant (a symbol of God’s presence).  God required that a healthy distance be kept between the Ark of the Covenant and the people. (Josh 3:3, 4)
    f.    Obedience.
        God charged Joshua to obey all the words of the law. (Josh 1:7, 8)  In turn, Joshua charged the tribes across the Jordan River to keep the law (Josh. 22:5) and he charged all of Israel to do the same in Joshua 23:6.  During the renewal ceremony at Shechem, the entire nation committed themselves to serving and obeying the Lord (Josh. 24:21).  The Law of Moses is mentioned several times in the book.  (Examples are Josh. 1:7-8; 22:5; and 23:6).  A prominent theme that runs throughout the Book of Joshua, deals with the possession and elimination of its inhabitants.  Joshua and the children of Israel viewed their actions against the inhabitants of the Promised Land, as obeying God’s commandments.  Examples are found in Joshua 10:40; 11:6-8 and 23:9-13.  It is also insightful to point out that they obeyed what God had commanded, down to the smallest detail.  This was chronicled in Joshua 3:8, 15; 4:2, 3; 5:2, 3; 8:8, 27, 30, 31, 35; 10:12; and 11:6-9.  One prominent, (yet seemingly small) example of their failure to obey God’s commands is seen in the sin of Achan, and their subsequent defeat at Ai. (Joshua 6:18, 19; Josh. 7:7, 10-12; and 7:20)  Disobedience to God’s commandments always leads to consequences.
Q3.  What is the folly of treating sins as small and large (i.e., white lies, miss-speaking, skipping work or school, etc.?  Discuss.
    g.    Rest.
        The idea of rest is an important theme in Joshua. (Josh. 21:44; 23:1)  It was part of God’s promised inheritance.  Even though land east of the Jordan River was given to 2 ½ tribes first, these tribes were still required to help their brethren conquer the land on the west side of the Jordan, before they could rest from conflict with their enemies. (Josh. 1:12-15)  See Deut. 3:18-20; 12:8-10; and 25:19)  The idea of rest has symbolic connection with God resting on the seventh day of creation.  It also has application to an individual’s spiritual rest. (Hebrews 3: 7-11)  The passage in Psalm 95:7-11 refers to the rebellion of the children of Israel, which led to them wandering in the wilderness for forty years; and thus it prevented them from entering into the Lord’s rest in the Promised Land.

Q4.  Discuss how being laid to rest may or may not connect with these themes.

Q5.  Ask the group to identify other thematic, or theological, themes they believe are addressed in Joshua, and why they were meaningful to them in this study.

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