Church attenders are familiar with the Bible character Joshua. Children sing about the battle of Jericho and learn how the sun stood still at his request. Many Christian homes display his famous words, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Most Christians are familiar with stories about Joshua, but few appreciate why he is important for us today. His victories are more than VBS songs and his words are more than home decor. His leadership of Israel is a preview of Jesus’ leadership of the church, and the book of Joshua is a template for how the church conquers the world as the people of God today.
The First Joshua
Joshua was Moses’ aide while Israel wandered forty years in the desert. When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, he led the battle against them (Exodus 17:8-16). When Moses went up and stayed on Mt. Sinai forty days, he went up with him (Exodus 24:13). He was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:8, 16), and he and Caleb were the only spies allowed to enter it (Numbers 14:30). He was the one God chose to succeed Moses and lead Israel to inherit the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:8, 31:7-8, 34:9).
Joshua became Israel’s new leader after Moses died. He led Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, where he undertook several successful campaigns to conquer the kings and cities of Canaan. Then he divided the land among the nine and a half tribes who did not receive their inheritance from Moses. He often renewed the covenant and set up memorials to remind Israel to remain faithful to God. You can read about his career and exploits in the book of Joshua.
The Second Joshua
Hebrews 3-4 speaks of God’s rest that is available to His people. The author warns us not to be like the Israelites who died in the desert and didn’t enter His rest because of unbelief. Then he contrasts Israel’s earthly place of rest (Canaan) with God’s heavenly place of rest. He observes, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (4:8-9).
Just a few verses later he exhorts, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (4:16). It seems he is making a comparison between Joshua and Jesus. Just as Joshua led Israel into their earthly place of rest, so Jesus leads us into our heavenly place of rest. (And by the way, “Joshua” and “Jesus” are the same name in the Bible’s original languages!)
The Book of Joshua
Preachers often segment the book of Joshua into separate stories and try to apply each story to our lives as individual believers. This gives a self-centered and scattered interpretation. But understanding Joshua as a preview of Jesus allows us to interpret the book of Joshua in a way that has value for the church today. It warns against three dangers that threaten us as the people of God:
- Cowardice. God tells Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:1-8), and Joshua boldly leads Israel against their enemies. With Jesus as our courageous leader, we ought never be fearful to confront the world. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power” (2 Timothy 1:7).
- Compromise. Joshua mistakenly makes a treaty of peace with the Gibeonites and does not kill them (Joshua 9). We must never compromise with the world and tolerate sin or false teaching in our midst. “[Hate] even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 23).
- Complacency. Joshua divides the land he conquered among the remaining nine and a half tribes (Joshua 14-21), but the people do not drive out the Canaanites (Judges 1). We must never become complacent and stop making disciples. “[These qualities] will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).
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