Imagine the Joint Chiefs of the Pentagon briefing the President of the United States on a complex military operation designed to overtake a strategic city. “Mr. President, we plan to march our troops around the city once per day for seven days. On the seventh day, we will march around the target municipality seven times. After the seventh time around the city on the seventh day, we will blow a trumpet loudly. Then we anticipate the wall of the city will fall down. At that time, we will enter and capture the city and its citizens.” I can imagine the President staring at his top military commanders with a look on his face that says, “Are you kidding me?”
I did not make up the imaginary briefing out of thin air. I found it in the Old Testament book of Joshua, where God instructed Joshua with His plan to overtake the city of Jericho (6:1-25). Joshua learned that God’s ways were not always his way. Sometimes the God of Israel employed unconventional means that required supernatural intervention.
Five sobering words begin the book of Joshua: “Moses my servant is dead.” They remind us that nobody is indispensable, including a great leader like Moses. Leaders come and go, but God’s plan always marches forward. Although Joshua had trained under Moses for nearly forty years, he felt anxious about filling Moses’s big sandals. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but Joshua would take them across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. The Lord reassured Joshua several times by saying, “Be strong and courageous” (1:1-9).
Who is Joshua?
Before we get too far down the road on this portion of the ultimate road trip through the Bible, who is Joshua, the namesake of the book? We first learn of Joshua when Moses appointed him to command the Israelite forces against the Amalekites at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). He was well-qualified for the position. Joshua had fought valiantly in the valley while Moses stood atop the mountain with Aaron and Hur holding up his outstretched arms. Where did Joshua receive his military training? Given that Joshua was born and raised in Egypt, he might have served in Pharaoh’s army in his early years.
During the year at Mount Sinai, Joshua served as Moses’s personal assistant (Exodus 24:13). He also represented the tribe of Ephraim when Moses enlisted twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, to spy out Canaan and bring back a report. Joshua and Caleb opposed the majority and returned with a positive report. The dynamic duo encouraged the Israelites to go and take possession of the Promised Land (Numbers 14:6-9). Before Moses died, he appointed Joshua as his successor to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River (Numbers 27:18-23).
Joshua was a brilliant military strategist and a strong leader worth following. However, by simply doing what the Lord God told him to do, Joshua guaranteed his own success. The Lord said to Joshua, “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” (1:8). Given Joshua’s successful campaign to enter (1-5), conquer (6-13:7), and occupy (13:8-24) the Promised Land over several decades, he clearly led the Israelites with spiritual integrity.
The connection between Joshua and Jesus is also worth noting. Joshua is an Old Testament type of Christ. For starters, the name Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation” and is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name Jesus (Yeshua). Furthermore, just as Joshua served as the leader of the Israeli army, Jesus is our Commander in Chief who fights our spiritual battles and wins the victory for us (1 Corinthians 15:57).
There is more to the Christ connection in Joshua. Before the battle of Jericho, a mysterious figure appeared to Joshua and identified himself as “the commander of the army of the Lord” (5:14). He must have been impressive because the Bible says that Joshua immediately fell on his face to the earth in reverence to the man. “And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:13-15). Who was this extraordinary commander?
Perhaps the commander was a theophany, a visible appearance of God Himself because the scene reminds us of Moses’s encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5). If the commander was God Himself, then he was most likely a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. However, because the Bible says nobody can see the Lord and live (Exodus 33:20), others suggest the commander was an angel of the Lord. Regardless of the commander’s real identity, the Lord gave Joshua every reason to attack the city of Jericho with confidence, knowing that God was for him and not against him (Romans 8:38).
A Picture of the Christian Life
Like the Pentateuch, Joshua is chock-full of typology. The many Christ connections are powerful.[i] However, through Joshua’s many military campaigns, the book also shows us how to successfully live the Christian life. The way Israel crossed the Jordan River, entered and conquered Canaan, and settled into the Promised Land is worth careful examination by every believer in Jesus Christ.
The typology of Canaan is especially important to grasp as it relates to the Christian life. The lyrics in some beloved Christian hymns leave us with the impression that Canaan is a portrayal of heaven and that crossing the Jordan River depicts the way believers die and pass from this life to the next. Is this a correct view of Beulah Land?
Consider that if Canaan is a picture of heaven, Moses is not there, not to mention the entire generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt, which we already established as a clear picture of our salvation experience. And yet, Moses appears with both the prophet Elijah and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). The writer of Hebrews lauds Moses and places him in the hall of faith next to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (Hebrews 11:23-28). Based on this evidence, it is safe to say that Moses is in heaven, even though he did not make it to the Promised Land.[ii
Canaan cannot be a picture of heaven for another reason. The Israelites take the Promised Land by military conquest. After pointing this out, J. Sidlow Baxter asks, “How then can Canaan typify the calm restfulness of the ultimate inheritance in heaven?”[iii] Instead, Baxter argues, the military conflict in Canaan best pictures the intense spiritual warfare that all believers in Jesus Christ face who aspire to the victorious Christian life on earth (Ephesians 6:10-20).[iv
The Abundant Christian Life
Now that we have a clearer understanding of what Canaan typifies let’s travel deeper into Joshua. Three words capture the essence of theological meaning and Christian practice from this marvelous book of Old Testament history: Abundance, victory, and rest. We can state Joshua’s big idea this way: The obedience of faith is the victory that overcomes the world and opens up the windows of heaven from which pour the abundant blessings of God.
Abundance is the first blessing in the Promised Land. Canaan is known as the land “flowing with milk and honey.” The phrase appears eighteen times in the Old Testament in reference to the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. Deuteronomy 33:28 also describes Canaan as a “land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew.” Who would not want to live in a place like that?
Joshua was among the twelve spies that Moses appointed to check out the Promised Land and bring back an intelligence report. After forty days of reconnaissance, the spies returned with actual physical evidence of the land’s fruitful abundance, pictured in a single cluster of grapes that was so large it took two men to carry it on a pole (Numbers 13:23). I have never seen grapes that big at the Piggly Wiggly, have you? So impressive was the abundance of fruit they found in the Promised Land that they named the place Eschol, which means “cluster.”
This giant cluster of grapes is a picture of the abundant Christian life. Some call it the normal Christian life because abundance should be the normal experience for all believers in Jesus Christ. An abundance of what? Start with an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This list of nine Christ-like characteristics found in Paul’s New Testament letter to the Galatians is known as the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit wants to produce an abundance of godly character in you.
Jesus might have had a large cluster of grapes in mind when He said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I am certain that He was thinking of grapes when He said to His disciples in the Upper Room. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Are you abiding in Jesus? Are you experiencing the abundant Christian life?
The Victorious Christian Life
Victory is the second blessing in the Promised Land. Canaan was full of Israel’s enemies who already occupied the land. According to Deuteronomy 7:1, they included seven nations more numerous and mightier than Israel: the Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
To experience the full blessings of the Promised Land, Israel had to remove the inhabitants of these nations who practiced the corrupt and brutal Canaanite religion. According to the Ras Shamra Tablets, the Canaanite cultic practices included prostitution and infant sacrifice. The Canaanites also tolerated religious pluralism.
The many military campaigns that Joshua led against the Canaanites were brutal. Some people stumble over these bloody biblical stories in the Old Testament. However, they picture the level of intolerance that followers of Jesus should possess toward sin in their lives. Evil cannot coexist with holiness. We must mortify the flesh that entices us to sin, bringing it under brute submission to the will of Jesus, who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Instead of the seven Canaanite nations mightier than Israel, think of the seven deadly sins first presented by Pope Gregory in the 1600s. They include pride, anger, lust, laziness, gluttony, envy, and greed. These Canaanite-like practices and character flaws keep followers of Jesus from experiencing the victorious Christian life.
Many of the problems Israel experienced in the future was because they did not completely destroy the Canaanites. Some Israelites kept the Canaanites around as slaves. In time, God’s chosen people got cozy with the Canaanites, married their daughters, and worshipped their gods. Joshua and the Israelites learned the hard way that if you do not destroy the Canaanites, the Canaanites will eventually destroy you.
Joshua also learned that disobedience always yields defeat. As expected, Joshua piled up one military victory after another, and his trophy room was impressive. However, right after he led the Israelites to victory over the city of Jericho, he experienced an embarrassing defeat at Ai, a much smaller city. After falling on his face in distress, Joshua learned that a man named Achan took some of the devoted things (silver, gold, etc.) from Jericho and buried them in his tent. His sin brought defeat to the entire army of Israelites (7:1-26).
Spiritual Rest in the Christian Life
Rest is the third and final blessing in the Promised Land. Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.”
In the New Testament, Jesus is our sabbath rest, and He, as Lord of the Sabbath, declared something new about the sabbath (Matthew 12:8). Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Rest from what? Rest from the weariness of religion and trying harder to please God.
The Lord told Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (1:3). Did you notice the Lord’s use of the past tense? The same is true of our salvation and sanctification. We take possession of both by grace and through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we do, we enter His divine rest.
The book ends with Joshua challenging the Israelites to put away the gods that their fathers served in Egypt. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” he retorts. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:14-15).
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 2, the Old Testament Historical Books (Joshua through Esther) in our Store.
[i] The story of Rahab, the gentile prostitute who hid the Israeli spies in faith, also points to the blood atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ when she tied the scarlet cord in the window of her house (Joshua 2:1-24). As a reminder of God’s grace, Rahab appears in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and in the Hebrews hall of faith (Hebrews 11).
[ii] Some argue that Moses eventually made it to the Promised Land when both he and the prophet Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).
[iii] J Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Bible: A Survey and Study of Each Book from Genesis through Revelation, pg. 239.
[iv] Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews settles the matter of Canaan’s typology once and for all. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8-10).