Historical Books


The book of Joshua is named after the primary character in the book. He is referenced 168 times in the book, which shows overwhelmingly that he is the primary character.

In the Jewish canon this book was included in ‘The Latter Prophets’ and was referred to by the title that we use today (Joshua). It was customary to name books after something in the opening sentence of the book. Joshua 1.1 speaks of him.

The LXX gives the book a Grecian version of the name Joshua, Ieosous, which could be transliterated as Jesus. Both names mean the same thing, ‘the Lord is salvation’. The name of Joshua appears twice in the Authorized Version’s New Testament as Jesus; once in Acts 7.45 and again in Hebrews 4.8. These are references taken from the LXX.


According to William Hendriksen the theme is ‘Jehovah establishes Israel in the Promised Land’.[1]


“The purpose of the book is… to show how, after the death of Moses, the faithful covenant God fulfilled in and to the children of Israel, whom He had adopted as His people of possession through the mediation of His servant, the promise which He had made to the patriarchs; how the Canaanites were destroyed, and their land given to the tribes of Israel for an hereditary possession through the medium of Joshua, the servant of Moses…”[2]


  • Joshua 1:5-7 There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. 6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. 7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.

  • Joshua 8:33-35 And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

  • Joshua 11:23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.

  • Joshua 24:14-15 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.


  • Jehovah will continue to keep his promises made to Moses (as well as the patriarchs).
  • Jehovah will continue to raise leaders ‘like unto Moses’ to make his will come to pass.
  • Gentiles (even harlots) are able to be brought into the covenant.
  • Levitical blessing and cursing (Leviticus 26) is confirmed.
  • God uses providence to make his will come to pass.
  • The people of God are given the land as promised through divine sovereignty and human responsibility.


“The author of the Book of Joshua is unknown, and our knowledge of the time it was written depends on the interpretation of certain clues within the book. Theories range from the view that the book was largely composed by Joshua himself to the hypothesis that it was written by someone long after the Jews returned from the exile in Babylon. From the standpoint of the final form of the book, it is probable that a man or group committed to the theological framework of the Book of Deuteronomy gave Joshua its canonical form.”[3]

“No one knows who gave the book of Joshua its present form. That the book rests on written sources composed by Joshua himself is clear from 24:26. Conservative scholars, however, are not agreed with respect to the extent of Joshua’s authorship. That he himself cannot have been the one who gave the document its final form is clear from 24:29-33.”[4]

The date of the book is highly contested as well. Conservative scholars are divided on the book’s date. Woudstra notes,

“RK Harrison suggests a date at the beginning of the Monarchy, perhaps 1045 BC. GC Aadlers believes that the book received its present form sometime during the period of the Judges, where CJ Goslinga, who at one time held that the book was predominantly Joshua’s own work, had come to think that the author may be among the circle of the officers mentioned… The author would have then been a younger contemporary to Joshua himself. JH Kroeze, on the other hand, contends that we do not know how the book came into existence, but now we have it in its final form; this is how God has given it to us and it is so to be used as a part of his redemptive revelation.”[5]

I would have to agree with Kroeze. There is not enough information available to give a precise date to the writing of the book and with Word-centered evangelical scholars so divided on the date, it is best to stand with those who humbly state that they are unsure.


There is much debate around the historicity of the Book of Joshua. Some scholars claim that the victories are too complete for the Israelites to have actually been so successful in battle. Many with evolutionary agendas see our ancestors in the faith as being primitive and sub-cultural to the point of not having the skills and abilities needed for such ventures. Others claim that there were gradual defeats in small contexts which have been interpreted as more complete geographic conquests.

As Reformed Christians, we stand on the Word of God as our rule of faith and life. This means that we are to take the Scriptures for what they say. The book is not presented in any other way than historical. We must stand there.

The period of time covered in the book of Joshua has been laid out nicely by William Hendriksen,

“Joshua was not less than 40 years of age at the time of the Exodus, then the maximum extent of the period from Exodus to his death is 70 years, for Joshua died at the age of 110 (24:29). The minimum would be about 52 years, for the period includes the wilderness journey of 40 years (Deut 2.7), the 7 years of conquest implied in 14:6-10, and at least the ‘many days’ of 23:1 (which can hardly be less than 5 years). When we accept a figure midway between 52 and 70, we cannot be far from the truth. We shall assign 61 years to the period from the Exodus to the death of Joshua, making the dates 1449-1388.”[6]


The original message of the book was to chronicle the conquering of the land under the leadership of Moses’ successor, Joshua, son of Nun. Being a covenanted people, accurate recording of historical narrative was important to the people of God. They showed this in the way that each of the three major geographical conquests were recorded as well as in the honesty of recording the defeats.

Division of the Text

William Hendriksen[8]

1-5 Jehovah causes Israel to enter the land.

6-12 Jehovah causes Israel to conquer the land.

13-22 Jehovah causes Israel to inherit the land.

23-24 Joshua, in his farewell address, emphasizes Israel’s resulting obligation to worship and love Jehovah.

Dillard and Longman[9]

1-12 God fights for Israel to possess the land promised to the Fathers.

13-22 Move from achieving what was promised to enjoying it.

23-24 The renewal of the ancient covenant with God.

Marten Woudstra[10]

1-12 Promised Land conquered.

13-22 Promised Land distributed

23-24 Promised Land kept


The Covenant Land

The conquest of the land is a major theme in the Book of Joshua. The land promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant is being given to the people of God through-out the Book of Joshua. There are obstacles that the people of God must go through, such as defeat, but the land would be theirs as long as they conquered by faith. The people were proven to be more than conquerors! Jericho, Ai, the South, the North, and Center land are all conquered in chapters 6-12.

The land promised was also divided to the people according to the word of Moses. Chapter 13 is the division of the land east of Jordan. Chapters 14-19 show the land that was divided to the tribes west of Jordan. The Levites were not given land since their inheritance was the Lord himself.

The Covenant Messenger

The Angel of the Lord, a Christophany, is met in chapter 5. He tells Joshua to take off his sandals since he is on holy ground. This is reflective of the burning bush incident with Moses and shows a continuation of the blessing from the mediator of the Covenant of Grace.

The Covenant Renewed

Chapter 8 and 24 each have ceremonies of covenant renewal by the people of God. This shows the importance of the dependency on God by the people for their victories and their contentment in the land. Blaikie says, “The first transaction here performed was the sacrificial. Here sin was called to mind, and the need of propitiation. Here it was commended that God himself had appointed a method of propitiation; that he had thereby signified His gracious desire to be at peace with his people; that he had not left them to sigh out, but had opened to His people the gates of righteousness, that they might go in and praise the Lord.”[11]

The Covenant Signs and Seals

The act of circumcision was performed on the males before entering the land as well as the Passover celebrated. This shows the validity of the sacraments as means of grace for the people of God. This act of obedience was intended to remind and to prepare the people for the inheriting of the land.


Dillard and Longman have a useful presentation of Joshua in the New Testament[12]. They mention four major points of parallel between the ministry of Joshua in establishing the people in the land to the ministry of Jesus in establishing His people in the world.

1. The Promised Rest

“From the vantage point of the New Testament, Joshua’s successes were only partial at best, and therefore they pointed beyond themselves to a time when Joshua’s greater namesake, Jesus, would bring God’s people into an inheritance that could not be taken away from them. Jesus would provide the rest Joshua had not attained.”

2. Models of Faith

“The people of Israel at the battle of Jericho and Rahab the prostitute are presented as models of faith…”

3. God’s Warrior

“Jesus, is not only Joshua’s namesake, but he is also the Divine Warrior, the captain of the Lord’s army who fights in behalf of his people and achieves victory for them. The inheritance he gives is not a stretch of rocky land in the Eastern Mediterranean, but rather renewed heavens and earth and a heavenly city.”

4. The Conquest

“After redemption from Egypt in the Exodus, Israel began the conquest of her inheritance; after the redemptive work of Jesus Christ at the cross, his people move forward to conquer the world in his name. Israel enjoyed an earthly inheritance and an earthly kingdom, but the kingdom of which the church is a part is spiritual and heavenly.”

[1] William Hendriksen, Bible Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1947), 234.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary On the Book of Joshua (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006), 11.

[3] RC Sproul, general editor, Reformation Study Bible (Orlando: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 297.

[4] William Hendriksen, Bible Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1947), 234.

[5] Marten Woudstra, NICOT: The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 13.

[6] William Hendriksen, Bible Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1947), 55.

[7] Libronix Gold Digital Library Map Collection.

[8] William Hendriksen, Bible Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1947), 234-5.

[9] Dillard and Longman, Old Testament Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 113.

[10] Marten Woudstra, NICOT: The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 43.

[11] William Blaikie, The Book of Joshua (Minneapolis: Klock and Klock: 1908), 207.

[12] This section, ‘Approaching the New Testament’ is found on pp.115-17 in the book cited in footnote 9.


For my Preaching Practicum class I have been assigned Joshua 241.14-15 (and my pastor is the one who assigns the texts). While meditating on the text the issue of social covenanting came up quite a bit. Through-out Scripture we see the people of God covenanting back to him in response to his love and redemption.

Joshua 24:14-15 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

I have talked about this ordinance with a number of friends (even at the Sabbath evening discussions at my house, the issue was brought up.) One of my friends pointed me to the famous Associate Presbyterian, Fisher’s Catechism, which speaks of the issue. Here is what Fisher said:

Q. 61. What is a social vow?

A. It is the joint concurrence of several individuals in the same exercise as in a personal one, openly avouching the Lord to be their God, Deut. 26:17; where Moses, speaking of all Israel, says, “Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, to walk in his ways,” &c.

Q. 62. When doth such a social vow commonly get the name of a NATIONAL COVENANT?

A. When the representatives of a nation, or the better part of them, concur in a covenant of duties, as ingrafted upon the covenant of grace, Jer. 50:4, 5 — “The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, — saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” See also Neh. 9:33, and 10:1, 30.

Q. 63. How do you prove that national covenanting is a warrantable duty under the New Testament?

A. From its being promised in the Old Testament that this shall be a duty performed under the New, Isa. 19:21 — “The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and — they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it.” Besides, if it was a moral duty upon special occasions, under the Old Testament (as appears from 2 Chron 15:12, and 34:31, 32; Neh. 9:38), it must remain to be the same, upon the like occasions, still; because Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them, Matt 5:17.

Q. 64. Is our obligation to moral duties increased, by our vowing or engaging to perform them?

A. Although it is impossible that our obligation to moral duty can he increased by any deed of ours, beyond what it is already by the law of God, which is of the highest authority; yet by reason of our own voluntary and superadded engagement, this obligation from the law may make a deeper impression than before, Psalm 44:17, 18, and our sins receive a higher aggravation, if we either omit the duty engaged to, or commit the evil opposite to it, Deut. 23:21, 22.

What are your thoughts on the idea of a nation being covenanted to God? What would be an equivalent in the Dutch Reformed tradition? Is there a way that the people of God could covenant to God in a country that does not allow for an established church?