Joshua was born in Egypt and he died in Canaan at 110 years of age. For 40 years he observed the example and leadership of Moses, the man of God. Joshua was likely about 86 years old, then, when Israel crossed into the Promised Land. This means that he led God’s people for 24 extremely busy years, engaging in warfare with heathen enemies, apportioning land to the various tribes, setting up cities of refuge, and continually leading them to higher spiritual ground. God gives a high assessment of his leadership by saying, “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that He had done for Israel” (Josh 24:31). This was a period of spiritual accomplishments and revival that lasted for years after Joshua passed away.
The book of Joshua, which was likely written by Joshua himself, is a record of the crossing into, and settlement, in the Land of Canaan (5:6). Forty years in the wilderness were drudgery that Joshua had weathered with patience. At last, after the momentous death of Moses, they crossed the Jordan on dry land, following the ark. Before them, Jericho loomed as a huge obstacle, but God would show them that no enemy was too great for them.
Joshua had a deep and abiding respect for God and His Word. In the first mention of Joshua (Exo 17:1-16), God instructed Moses to write a book to help Joshua remember the victory over Amalek. In Joshua 1:8, God spoke to him about “the book,” the Pentateuch. Therefore, Joshua instructed the people that, if they expected God’s blessing in their new land, they must know God’s Word and obey it completely.
Joshua was blessed with a realistic view of himself. He was not filled with self-importance, so he did not seek a place of prominence in Israel. He was specifically appointed by the Lord to head up the nation. It must have been a huge encouragement to have a word from God, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (1:9).
Joshua’s name is the same as Jesus, meaning “savior.” His character was similar as well. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Later, he entered Jerusalem meekly riding a little donkey. What a contrast to the pomp of most world leaders! Likewise, Joshua could possibly have chosen his allotment before other citizens, but instead he was the last to receive his inheritance in the Promised Land (19:49-51). The people easily followed him, as they admired his faithfulness, courage, and his consistent selflessness.
Joshua was also faithful in difficulties. One issue was the two-and-a-half tribes who did not cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. It would have been easy to condemn them, especially when they built a big altar that could have distracted the people at Shiloh (22:1-34). Clearly, Joshua could see potential division among God’s people and the tribes opening themselves to enemy attack by staying east of the Jordan. Joshua, however, refrained from criticism, since they had supported the rest of God’s people who had crossed. The memorial altar that was not intended for sacrifice was perplexing, but once again he found a way to move forward without bloodshed. Joshua’s handling of this difficult situation by appointing Phinehas to deal with the problem is a helpful example to us in dealing with assembly difficulties today. Far too often, emotional outbursts destroy assembly testimony. Although there seems little to justify this big altar called “Ed,” there is also little to criticize. It seems to simply disappear from Scripture, like so many other religious quirks of our day.
In his last address, Joshua faithfully warned the people about the pitfalls of idolatry (24:19:24). They heeded his warnings, since they had confidence in him because of his example. Even when he failed, he willingly acknowledged his own shortcomings (7:6).
The New Testament counterpart to the book of Joshua is Ephesians. In Joshua’s experience, it took a seven-year campaign to defeat a list of 31 kings. Today our warfare is not physical, but is nonetheless real. In our warfare, we too must have complete confidence that God has victoriously settled the outcome already. Christ will be acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords, and God will be all and in all.
Joshua also inspired the people to rely on the Lord. For example, two spies spoke with Rahab about the future of God’s people in the Promised Land (2:14). They said, “And it shall be when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.” They were completely convinced that God was going to give them the whole land of Canaan. Rahab willingly agreed. Then Caleb, Eleazar, and the people themselves were ready to enter and to possess the land. Joshua’s confidence in God was clearly contagious. Older believers today share this same responsibility to encourage those who are younger that God is still in control. It is a great disservice to God’s people and to his work to act as if the last soul has been saved, the last assembly planted, and that we are hanging on by our fingernails waiting for the end.
Joshua also generously praised the people, “But cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day” (23:8). Likewise, he was able to speak to his people about his own personal convictions: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).
The children of Israel had passed over Jordan on dry land, witnessed God’s power in Jericho, been restored to fellowship with God after years of no Passovers, eaten physically nourishing food with a spiritual significance as well, been protected by the Captain of the Lord’s Host, received the Word of God as their guide, avoided trusting in the flesh, and followed the solid example of faith in God’s word of their courageous leader. Under the leadership of Joshua, Israel entered into a prolonged period of spiritual prosperity and revival.
Many are surprised to read of Joshua’s mistakes. For example, he did not seek God’s guidance before deploying troops at Ai (7:1-6). He also should not have opened the door so readily to the Gibeonites who lied to him (9:1-27). Joshua’s errors are recorded in Scripture to remind us that, apart from the Lord Jesus, God has never had a perfect servant on earth. However, Joshua still portrays an earnest believer living according to “the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Rom 12:2)
At the end of a long life of 110 years, Joshua gathered the people to remind them of God’s faithfulness in their salvation. His message in chapter 24 was positive; he did not emphasize their failures, but rather emphasized the goodness and grace of God in their experiences. There will be times when God’s people will need to be rebuked, but the norm is 1 Corinthians 14:3, “… edification, exhortation, and comfort.” The example here for older brethren as they minister the Scriptures is to keep it positive!
Older believers can derive much encouragement from the life of Joshua. It is the story of a life filled with challenges and disappointments. He lost precious friends and faced the difficulties of camping in the desert for 40 years, yet he kept his eye on the Lord. The little “Bible” guided and encouraged him and he was in touch with the Lord. He loved God’s people and he had a right estimation of himself. His life radiates spiritual encouragement and confidence to nourish us today. He could have said with the apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2Tim 4:7).