Four central themes can be readily identified in relation to the theology of the book of Joshua: the land, rest, the Covenant, and purity of worship. Of these, the first three can be covered under the heading of “God the Promise Keeper.” Joshua 21:45 states that “not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled,” and 23:14 adds, “You know that…not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you failed. Every one has been fulfilled. Not one has failed.” God had promised for centuries that Israel would have a land, and would rest in that land, in accordance with the covenants He made with the patriarchs. He also promised that Israel’s continued existence in that land would be conditional upon their obedience to the requirements of the Covenant He made with them under Moses at Sinai.
The major theme of the Book of Joshua is the possession of the Promised Land that was promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:7), Isaac (26:3-4), and to succeeding generations (50:24). The Land is a central goal toward which the actions and intentions of the Pentateuch move. Moses was called to bring the people to “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17). The Book of Exodus shows the beginning of the move toward that land, and Numbers shows the continuation of that journey. Repeatedly, the Land is seen as God’s gift to Israel, especially in Deuteronomy. In Joshua, the Land as Gift occurs more than 50 times. A greater portion of the Book of Joshua is given to the detailing of the portioning of the Land to the various tribes, indicative of the Land being given at God’s disposal. The importance of these chapters is in showing that God’s promises were indeed being fulfilled, in tangible ways.
An important concept carried over from Deuteronomy to Joshua is the covenant principle that remaining in the land is contingent upon obedience to the law. In Joshua, the possession of the land and the extermination of its inhabitants are seen as a direct result of Joshua’s obedience to God (10:40; 11:20, 23). Israel’s continuation in the Land is also tied to obedience (23: 9-13, 15-16).
An important consideration in the book of Joshua is the concept of the possession of the Promised Land as the accomplishment of entering into God’s rest. This rest is a gift, a part of the two-part inheritance: (1) the land, and (2) rest from conflict with enemies. Joshua declared to the Transjordan Tribes, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you, ‘The Lord your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land’” (Josh. 1:13).
Typologically, the New Testament equates the Old Testament concept of rest with entering into Christ’s rest. Hebrews 3 and 4 develops this most clearly. Hebrews 4:8 mentions Joshua, under whom the rebellious generation was not allowed to enter the land; it was instead to a new generation the offer was made to enter into God’s rest. This offer was to be appropriated in each new generation.
Another prominent theme in Joshua is keeping the Covenant. Deuteronomistic stress is placed upon obedience to the law (covenant) and the cause and effect relationship between obedience and blessing, and disobedience and punishment. Obedience to the Mosaic Covenant is urged upon Joshua in 1:7-8, upon the Transjordan tribes in 22:5, and upon the people in 23:6, 16; 24:15. Two covenant renewal ceremonies are recorded in the book, the first on Mount Ebal (8:30-35), and the second at Shechem in chapter 24. The Ark of the Covenant occupies an important place in chapter 3.
Purity of worship, Israel’s separate identity in Canaan--especially religiously, pervades the Book of Joshua. That is the essence of holiness in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qados (holy) has at its base the idea of separateness from the mundane, the everyday, from evil, and set apart for the sacred. Chapter 5 records several ceremonies emphasizing the importance of ritual purity. Chapter 22 records a debate about whether a second alter built by the Transjordan tribes would compromise the purity of the already existing alter of the Lord. In Joshua, dedication to the Lord had the effect of separating the individual out from the ordinary and the profane.
As His children, it should be clear that He loves us with holy jealousy. He wants our devotion. Relationship with Him should result in holiness, that is, we should stand out from the culture in ways that honor Him. Our values and goals should reflect our devotion to Him. In Joshua, it becomes clear that God is a Father who rewards loyal devotion and disciplines disobedience. Our peace is complete because of the righteousness of Christ. In our relationship with Him, we grow in obedience and trust. In this process, we enter more fully into his rest. The national covenant with Isreal may trace the history of nations once devoted to Him, who then choose other gods above Him.
God is the Promise Keeper. It is impossible for Him to leave or forsake his own. He is incredibly patient in perfecting us, and just as consistent in his discipline as part of that process. Our part is to love Him with everything we have, and to grow in love with one another. Please consider this encouragement to add these glimpes of the divine nature to your road map for the road home.
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