1. Joshua is ultimately about the faithfulness of God.
If you ask most Christians what they know about the book of Joshua, you will likely get a response about the battle of Jericho. The story of that city’s tumbling walls is a high point in the book’s narrative of conquest. Joshua consists of the story of military victory and the subsequent distribution of the land Israel conquered. But in the end, the book of Joshua is really about God and His faithfulness. The Lord promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, and though God’s people experienced a significant delay between that initial promise and their possession of Canaan, not one of the Lord’s words fell to the ground (Josh. 23:14).
No passage summarizes the main thrust of the book more succinctly than the closing words of chapter 21 after God gave Israel all the land He said He would: “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Josh. 21:45). In addition to Joshua, other exemplary characters such as Caleb and Eleazar play important roles in the book. The book also includes spectacular battles that have earned a prominent place in the history of warfare. But in the end, the book is ultimately about God and His reliability.
2. The destruction of the Canaanites was not an expression of ethnic superiority, but God’s judgment against sin.
The greatest moral question in Joshua is the destruction of the Canaanites. For example, when Israel clambered over the rubble of Jericho’s walls, they spared no one, whether person or animal, in the city. Rahab, who had hidden Israel’s spies, and her family were the only exceptions. Many critics have decried the brutality of Israel or, worse yet, the bloodlust of an unmerciful “Old Testament God” who demanded these deaths (see also Deut. 20:16–18). While no one should take lightly the widespread destruction Israel left in its wake, we must come to grips with the solemn theological and moral reasons that lay behind it. In contrast to cases of genocide with which we are familiar, such as the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, God’s people did not kill their enemies out of a sense of racial or ethnic superiority. The soldiers of Israel wielded their swords as instruments of judgment in the hand of the one true God.
The Lord God of Israel is holy and cannot allow sin to go unpunished. In His patience, He spared the people of Canaan for centuries, but at last the iniquity of the Amorites was full (see Gen. 15:16), and He spared them no longer. The holiness of God also meant that Israel faced the same threat of punishment if they failed to pursue holiness in devotion to Him (see Ex. 22:20). One Israelite and his family did, in fact, suffer the same end as the Canaanites. When Achan disobeyed the clear command of God and took some of the spoils of Jericho, he brought death and destruction to himself and his family as well as defeat to the nation (see Josh. 7). The events that unfold in the book of Joshua are a clear testimony that God does not trifle with sin.
When we read further in Holy Scripture, we discover that the destruction of the Canaanites was a precursor to the final day of judgment that will occur when Christ returns (see Rev. 6:12–17; 19:15–16, 19–21). The only hope for anyone on that day is to know Jesus, the One who bore the wrath of God for us (1 Peter 2:24).
3. The details of land distribution point to something much greater.
The author devotes a large portion of Joshua to describing the details of the land that was divided among the tribes of Israel. Chapters 13–19 can be tedious to read as the author describes the edge of this river, the middle of that valley, and the ascent from the other hill. The geographical details of the land, however, mattered to God, and He gave us an extended, inspired description of them because the land was precious to Him. Why did the Lord value this land so much? Because it was His chosen place to depict the glories of Christ and the new creation.
Like many of the other elements of Old Testament religion, such as the tabernacle and the sacrificial system, the land was a type, or picture, of gospel truth. When Adam and Eve sinned, God expelled them from their earthly paradise and cursed the ground. That did not mean, however, that He was finished with His plans for a good creation. He will renew the heavens and the earth when Jesus returns (2 Peter 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1). Canaan stood between the garden of Eden and the new creation as a preview of paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey, a reminder and down payment, as it were, of the eternal paradise to come.
This article is part of the 3 Things You Should Know collection.