Theme: The Importance of the Book of Joshua
This week’s lessons show why Joshua should be studied today, and what things God considers necessary for godly leadership.
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Yesterday we mentioned that Francis Schaeffer called Joshua “a bridge book.” That leads me to say that as I have studied a large number of the commentaries that deal with the book of Joshua, I’ve detected three basic approaches to this book. One is the approach of the liberal camp. To them, Joshua was chiefly a puzzle as most of scripture is. They approach Joshua with the attempt to find out who it is who actually wrote it, and when it was actually written, and what actually happened in the period of history about which it purports to give us facts. They don’t accept any of this as history. And so, they’re puzzled by the things they find here. Many of these commentaries go on at times for hundreds of pages producing what is chiefly human speculation and so has very limited value.
The second approach to the book of Joshua is the dominant approach of the evangelical camp. The liberal looks at this book and sees it to be a puzzle. The evangelical, for the most part, has looked at Joshua and found it to be an allegory. It’s not a matter of saying that the evangelicals don’t believe Joshua is history. Of course, they do. But in so many of these commentaries, the interest in the book lies not in what actually happened–not in what Joshua actually did and what God actually accomplished through the people in these days–but rather for the parallels which they perceive between what happened historically in that day and what is supposed to happen to us spiritually as we enter into our spiritual possessions. A number of these commentaries make close parallels between the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, on the one hand, and the book of Ephesians in the New Testament, on the other hand, because both, according to these teachers, are supposed to dwell with those themes.
Certainly there is a parallel in the way God deals with His people in one age or another. We can see that as we study God’s dealings in history. But although that’s true, I have to confess at the beginning that the approach to Joshua that interests me most is that one I’ve already referred to and which is carefully developed by Francis Schaeffer and held by some other commentators as well. That is an approach to Joshua which treats it mainly as history and looks at it for the lessons of history, particularly as we see the hand of God in His continuity of dealing with His people. Things that were true in the first books of the Bible are true in this book as well, and in the books that follow and so on down to our own time as we live by the teaching that we find there.
Arthur W. Pink in his writings is sometimes speculative, and I always take what he writes with a measure of a grain of salt. But he makes this point that Francis Schaeffer has made quite well and in an interesting way. You don’t notice it in our English translations because the translation would be bad English style, but he points out that the book of Joshua begins in the Hebrew text with the Word “and.” It’s a little Hebrew word and it’s a characteristic Hebrew construction. Now it’s true that that is often simply a stylistic device in Hebrew. Many Hebrew sentences begin with “and.” It’s a simple connector. And sometimes it’s translated “now.” So you begin by saying, “Now, after these things,” or something of that nature. But I wonder, as Pink wonders, if its presence here isn’t a bit more significant than that.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, does not begin with “and.” And that’s exactly what you’d expect as the very first thing. Genesis begins, “In the beginning, God created.” There’s no “and” there because there’s nothing before that. “In the beginning, God…” When you’ve said that, you’ve said everything you can as far as origin is concerned. Nothing goes before God. But after that, Exodus begins with “and.” And Leviticus begins with “and.” And Numbers begins with “and.” And when you realize that and read it that way, you detect that those books properly belong together. They’re telling one story. They’re dealing with one period of history. They’re giving one theology. Somebody, if they’re thinking this through very carefully, will stop at that point and say, “Ah, but what about Deuteronomy? I notice that you stop there. Isn’t Deuteronomy the fifth book of the Pentateuch? And doesn’t it belong with the others?” And that is true. Deuteronomy does not begin with “and.” And it is the fifth book of the Pentateuch. And at first glance, it would seem to be an argument against this particular theory. And yet, I ask you, what does the word “Deuteronomy” mean? Deuteronomy means a “second statement” or a “second law.” Now, that means that Deuteronomy is restating, as if it were making a new beginning, what you already find in the first four books.
A chief example of that is the fact that the Ten Commandments occur for the second time in Deuteronomy. Most of us know the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20, but they occur again in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. And so, in many ways, Deuteronomy says this all over again. In terms of law, Deuteronomy belongs with what precedes. In terms of a new beginning, and in terms of history, it starts off and sets a new course, being the initial book of the second main historical division of the Old Testament. After Deuteronomy, all of the books begin with “and” until you get to I Chronicles. And that means that Deuteronomy through the end of II Kings properly, by this method of reasoning, belong together. The reason I say that is that it indicates, I think in a dramatic way, the transitional character of Joshua.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is the leader. Moses is the great emancipator of the people. The book of Joshua begins after the death of Moses. In Deuteronomy, you have God’s promises of the land which is to be possessed. And yet, the people don’t possess it. In Joshua you read, “Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them [the Israelites].”
In Deuteronomy, you have the preparation. In Joshua, you have the possession, and the book is, therefore, quite properly a transition from the life of wandering to a life of genuine settlement in the land. Now, I think that’s significant, and as we read the book we need to read it with that in mind. What that really tells is that God–who leads in the first books as well in the latter books–is the same God. Oh, there are changes. The people change. Those who entered the land were a new generation. All those of the previous generation from 20 years and up had died in the wilderness. The leaders changed too. In Deuteronomy, Moses is the leader, and in Joshua, Joshua is the leader. There’s all kinds of change. But God is the same. And God is the one who makes the transition. That means that as we read this book, we read it with an emphasis upon these unchanging characteristics and purposes of God in human history. Now, it’s significant that right here at the beginning in the very first chapter, we find an emphasis upon the law of God, the books of God, the Bible, which at that time was the Pentateuch.
What are the three basic approaches to Joshua that Dr. Boice mentions?
Why is it important to study a book of the Bible in its historical context? What are some dangers that can happen when we don’t do this?
From the lesson, what is the first major point of the book of Joshua?
Why is it important for your Christian life that God does not change?