Today we begin the book of Joshua, which records Israel’s taking of the Promised Land. Joshua’s name means “YHWH saves.” Joshua is a type of Christ who leads his people to salvation. We see that the story picks up right where Deuteronomy left off (1:1). God reminds Joshua that though Israel is to take the land, it is really God Who is giving it to them (v. 2). And He promises His presence to Joshua (v. 5). We see that the giving of the land is a fulfillment of the promise to the patriarchs (v. 6). God reminds Joshua that obedience is the proper response to His grace (v. 7). Joshua then takes command (v. 10). He reminds the two-and-a-half tribes that settled on the east side of the Jordan of their responsibility to the nation (vv. 12-15). And we see the submission of these tribes to Joshua’s leadership (vv. 16-18).
Chapter 2 records the story of the two spies that are sent to Jericho and their encounter with Rahab*. Note that the inhabitants of the land do in fact know that Israel is coming for them (2:2-3). Their response is to resist. Rahab’s, however, is to submit to the plan of God (v. 9). The news of YHWH’s power and provision have reached the inhabitants (vv. 9-11), just as He promised (see Deut 2:25). We see in the deal between the spies and Rahab the beginning of a practical playing out of non-Israelites being joined to Israel (we will see this completed in Josh 6:25). Rahab is given a sign to remind Israel of her allegiance to them and to God (v. 18). What the spies learned from Rahab is enough for them to believe God has indeed given the land into their hands (v. 24).
In chapter 3, we see Israel pass over the Jordan and into Canaan. Joshua commands the Israelites, who were going where they had not gone previously, to wait to see where God (represented by the Ark) leads them (3:3-4). This is good advice for all who would follow God. In verse 5, Joshua calls for the people to consecrate themselves before receiving what God is about to give them. Holiness is still required to be God’s people in God’s presence (which the land represents – being in God’s presence). In verse 7, God tells Joshua that He will exalt him in the sight of the people. But this is not for Joshua’s sake. It is so the people will follow Joshua’s leading because they know it is really God Who is leading. This is similar to the miracles God gave Moses to prove that YHWH sent him to lead His people to salvation. And Joshua tells the people (like Moses did) what God is about to do so they can believe Him – so they can know that He is among them (v. 10). The listing of the peoples is once again a pointer back to the covenant with Abraham (v. 10 – see Genesis 15:18-21).
In verses 11-13, Joshua twice equates the Ark with God Himself. It is God that is going before them into the land, as He promised (see Exodus 23:28-30, 33:2, 34:11). And just as God opened the Red Sea to save Israel from the Egyptians (points to our slavery to sin), God here opens the Jordan to save Israel into the land of promise. God saves His people not just from sin and death, but into new life. Note the similarity in the description of the dry ground here and in the description of the Red Sea crossing (Ex. 14).
Chapter 4 begins with the command to pile memorial stones taken from the Jordan. This would be done on the western bank of the river, which signifies the fulfillment of the promise as Israel was now in the land. Each tribe would be represented (representing all the Old Testament saints) in making the memorial (4:4). God is commanding Israel to remember what He has done for them, and to tell successive generations of His grace (vv. 6-7). We see in verse 14 that God’s plan to exalt Joshua through the proof-sign works. But we also see that it is really God Who is to be exalted through the remembrance of the miracle (v. 24). This is as it should be for the leader among God’s people. We should not want people to believe that we are great. If we are good leaders, people will believe that God is great.
*Rahab (Hebrew רַ֫הַב) is a word that means insolence or pride. It is used in the books of Job, Psalms, and Isaiah to symbolize an evil nation or person. It is, in my opinion, a reference to Satan, and is used of him and those who follow him. It is also the name of this woman in the book of Joshua who is mentioned three times in the New Testament. She is included in the great “faith hall of fame” chapter in Hebrews 11:31, as well as James’ example of faith working itself out through what we do (Jas 2:25) alongside Abraham. High praise indeed! There is also a mention of Rahab in Matthew 1:5, in the genealogy of Christ. She is one of only four women mentioned in the genealogy, and like Ruth (a Moabite), she is not an Israelite (she was a Canaanite).