The subject of the book of Joshua is the conquest and division of the land of Canaan. Moses, who had led the people for the previous forty years, died before the people entered Canaan (his death having been recorded in the final chapter of the previous book, Deuteronomy). He was succeeded by the man from whom the book of Joshua takes its name.
Authorship, style and purpose
There is no statement in the book of Joshua telling us who wrote it, though some of the material may have been based on what Joshua himself wrote (e.g. Josh 24:25-26). The writer probably also used other historical books of that era (Josh 10:13), along with national and tribal records (Josh 18:8-9). Although it outlines the conquest of Canaan, the book of Joshua does not give a detailed record of events. The battle for Canaan lasted a long time (Josh 11:18), at least five years (Josh 14:7,10), yet some of the more extensive battle campaigns are passed over in a few verses. By contrast, events of apparently little military importance are sometimes given in considerable detail. The reason for this unevenness of treatment is that the book was intended to be not a chronological record of facts, but a prophetical interpretation of an important era of Israel’s history. The writer’s main concern was to show how God was revealing himself and his purposes through the experiences of his people Israel. (For the prophetical significance of the group of books to which Joshua belongs, the Former Prophets, see PROPHECY.)
Summary of contents
Chapters 1 to 5 deal with Israel’s entry into Canaan. From the outset the emphasis is on the fact that God is giving the land to Israel. Nevertheless, the people, and particularly Joshua, must be courageous, trusting and obedient to God if their invasion is to be successful (1:1-18). After spying out the land in order to plan the invasion intelligently (2:1-24), the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and set up camp at Gilgal. To impress upon people the religious significance of the invasion, the narrative emphasizes such matters as the ritual cleansing of the people, the leadership of the priests, the prominence of the ark of the covenant, the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, and the obedience to the covenant commands by those who were till then uncircumcised.
The appearance of the angel of the Lord further demonstrated that the entire operation was divinely directed (3:1-5:15; see also JOSHUA THE SON OF NUN). The overthrow of Jericho gave more examples of the religious significance of Israel’s conquest: the role of the priests and the ark, the repeated use of the symbolic number ‘seven’ in the proceedings, and the judgment that followed disobedience to God’s commands (6:1-7:26). Only after the leaders dealt with the sin, did Israel make further advances into central Canaan (8:1-29). The people then reaffirmed their obedience to the covenant by which God had given Canaan to them (8:30-35). Having split Canaan by their drive through the central region, the Israelites then conquered the south (9:1-10:43) and the north (11:1-15). The summary that follows emphasizes again that Israel’s occupation of Canaan was in fulfilment of God’s promises (11:16-12:24).
(For a map showing towns that the Israelites conquered and regions that the Israelite tribes subsequently occupied see JUDGES, BOOK OF.) With Canaan now the possession of Israel, Joshua, together with the high priest and the tribal leaders, began the task of dividing the land between the twelve tribes. The area west of Jordan (Canaan itself) was divided between nine and a half tribes; the other two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh) received their inheritance in the land east of Jordan that Israel had conquered in the time of Moses (13:1-14:5). Of the area west of Jordan, the largest and best portions went also to two and a half tribes – Judah (14:6-15:63) and the remainder of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and the other half of Manasseh (16:1-17:18). The seven smaller tribes then received their tribal allotments (18:1-19:51). The Levites, who had no tribal area of their own, were given towns in all the other tribes (20:1-21:45). Apart from the story of an early misunderstanding between the eastern and western tribes (22:1-34), nothing more is recorded of the era till the time of Joshua’s final address to the nation many years later (23:1-16). Before he died, Joshua called Israel’s leaders to assemble for another covenant renewal ceremony. Through them he reminded the people that if they wanted to enjoy the blessings of the covenant, they had to be obedient to its requirements (24:1-33). people that if they wanted to enjoy the blessings of the covenant, they had to be obedient to its requirements (24:1-33).