Joshua was one of the most important figures in the Old Testament. He was the successor to Moses and led the Israelites into the Promised Land after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Here is a 9000 word overview of the key events and roles related to Joshua in the Bible:
Joshua’s original name was Hoshea, meaning “salvation” in Hebrew. Moses changed his name to Joshua, meaning “the Lord saves” (Numbers 13:16). Joshua was born in Egypt prior to the Exodus. He was from the tribe of Ephraim, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Joshua was believed to be around the same age as Caleb, the other faithful spy, making him likely 40-50 years old at the time of the Exodus.
Joshua is first mentioned as a young man who accompanied Moses partway up Mount Sinai when he received the 10 Commandments from God (Exodus 32:17). Joshua later became Moses’ personal assistant and servant (Exodus 33:11). He experienced many of the key events of the Exodus firsthand, including the 10 plagues, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the 10 Commandments, and eating the manna in the wilderness.
Joshua as a Military Leader
After the Exodus, Joshua’s primary role was as a military leader for the Israelites. He led the Israelite army in battles against the Amalekites and other tribes.
In Numbers 13, Moses sent 12 spies (one from each tribe) to scout out the Promised Land of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who brought back a good report and believed God would deliver Canaan into their hands (Numbers 14:6-9). The other 10 spies gave a negative report and discouraged the Israelites from trying to enter Canaan. As a result, the whole generation of Israelites who left Egypt wandered 40 years in the wilderness until they died, never seeing the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb got to eventually enter Canaan, as they fully trusted in God’s promise.
Joshua is next mentioned going partway up Mount Sinai with Moses when he received the 10 Commandments from God a second time (Exodus 24:13). Joshua likely helped guard the base of Mount Sinai while Moses spent 40 days and nights meeting with God.
In Exodus 17, Joshua led the Israelite army in battle against the Amalekites near Rephidim. As long as Moses held up the staff of God, the Israelites were winning. But whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites started prevailing. So Aaron and Hur helped hold up Moses’ hands until sunset, enabling Joshua and the army to defeat the Amalekites.
After the Exodus generation died in the wilderness, Joshua was chosen by God through Moses to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River into Canaan (Numbers 27:15-23). God spoke highly of Joshua, saying “He is a man in whom is the Spirit.” Joshua was ordained and commissioned for leadership over Israel through a ceremonial laying on of hands by Moses.
Joshua Succeeds Moses
In Deuteronomy 31, Moses officially appointed Joshua as his successor. God told Moses, “Be strong and courageous. For you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23).
Moses gave Joshua a copy of the Law and commanded him to meditate on it daily and carefully follow everything written in it. Joshua would lead the people to possess the Promised Land and divide it among the tribes as their inheritance. God would go before them and never leave or forsake Joshua, assuring him of victory.
In Deuteronomy 34, after Moses climbed to the top of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land before dying, Joshua officially became the new leader of Israel. Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him (Deuteronomy 34:9). The Israelites obeyed Joshua just as they had obeyed Moses.
Crossing the Jordan River
Under Joshua’s leadership, the Israelites made preparations to cross the Jordan River and begin conquering Canaan. Joshua sent two spies to scout out the city of Jericho, who were hidden by the prostitute Rahab when the king came looking for them. Rahab helped the spies escape and they promised to spare her and her family when they later attacked Jericho, since she believed in the God of Israel (Joshua 2:8-21).
When the Israelite priests carried the Ark of the Covenant to the Jordan River, God miraculously stopped the flow of the river so the people could cross over on dry ground, just as with the Red Sea crossing (Joshua 3:14-17). God said this miracle was to demonstrate that Joshua was now the leader, so the people would reverence him as they did Moses (Joshua 3:7).
After crossing the Jordan River, Joshua had one man from each tribe construct a memorial with 12 stones taken from the riverbed. This commemorated the miraculous crossing for future generations (Joshua 4:1-9). The Israelites then camped at Gilgal and Joshua circumcised all the males born in the wilderness who had not yet been circumcised (Joshua 5:2-9). The day after the Passover feast, the manna that had sustained Israel in the wilderness for 40 years finally ceased, as they were now able to eat the produce of Canaan (Joshua 5:10-12).
The heavily fortified city of Jericho was the first obstacle facing the Israelites in Canaan. Joshua encountered a man with a drawn sword who identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua fell facedown and worshiped him, realizing he had seen a Christophany – a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus (Joshua 5:13-15).
God gave Joshua very specific instructions on how to conquer Jericho. The Israelite army was to march around the city once per day for six days, with seven priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant ahead of them. On the seventh day they were to march around Jericho seven times. When they heard a long blast on the rams’ horns, all the people were to give a loud battle cry, and the walls of the city would collapse (Joshua 6:1-5).
Joshua obeyed God’s battle plan exactly. On the seventh day, after marching around Jericho a final seven times with the priests and the Ark, the people shouted and the city walls miraculously collapsed. The Israelites destroyed everything in the city as God commanded, except for Rahab and her family, who were spared for helping the Israelite spies (Joshua 6:20-25).
The Sin of Achan
After their amazing victory at Jericho, Joshua sent a small group of soldiers to attack the little town of Ai. However, the men of Ai drove them back and killed about 36 Israelite soldiers (Joshua 7:4-5).
Joshua and the elders fell facedown before the Ark of the Covenant, upset and confused why God had abandoned them. God revealed that someone had taken devoted items from Jericho under the ban and brought judgment upon the camp of Israel.
God soon revealed that a man named Achan had stolen a beautiful robe, silver, and gold from Jericho, even though God had forbidden taking any plunder for themselves (Joshua 7:20-21). Because of this sin, the Israelites had been defeated at Ai. After Achan confessed, the people stoned him and his family to death in the valley of Achor. With the camp cleansed from sin, God then promised He would help Joshua defeat Ai (Joshua 7:25-26).
With Achan’s sin removed, God helped Joshua devise a clever battle strategy to conquer Ai. He had the army ambush the city from the rear, while another group lured the men of Ai out of the city and down toward the Jordan Valley. When the king of Ai saw the Israelites retreating, he sent all his army out to pursue them. With Ai undefended, the Israelite ambush rushed in and burned the city (Joshua 8:19-22).
When the men of Ai turned and saw smoke rising from their city, the two Israelite forces sandwiched them and slaughtered them. Joshua then hanged the king of Ai and the people stoned his body. Joshua burned the city so it became a permanent heap of ruins (Joshua 8:28-29). God had given the Israelites a great victory in recompense for Achan’s sin.
Renewing the Covenant
After Ai was destroyed, Joshua led the Israelites in renewing their covenant commitment to God. He built an altar on Mount Ebal according to Moses’ instructions. With all Israel assembled, including women and children, Joshua read aloud the entire book of the law, the blessings and the curses (Joshua 8:34-35). The people recommitted to serving the Lord who had brought them into the Promised Land.
Joshua continued waging war against the armies of Canaan, obeying Moses’ instructions to drive them out of the land rather than making any treaties (Joshua 11:15). The Israelites conquered city after city, destroying the kingdoms of southern and northern Canaan. No Anakim, or giants, remained in Israelite territory (Joshua 11:21-22). The conquest took many years, as the Canaanites had iron chariots and were fierce fighters. But God fulfilled His promise to drive them out and deliver their land to His people.
Dividing the Promised Land
After years of war, Joshua was now growing old. The Canaanites were subdued and Joshua began dividing up the territories among the 12 tribes of Israel, according to the allotments God had commanded through Moses.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had already received their land east of the Jordan River (Joshua 13:8). Now the remaining nine and a half tribes were allotted land west of the Jordan. Levi did not receive its own territory, as the Levites lived among the other tribes to minister to them. They were supported by the tithes and offerings brought to the Tabernacle (Joshua 13:14).
Joshua cast lots to determine which parcel of land would belong to each tribe. The people then went throughout the land, surveying and dividing it according to the lot assignments. There were still areas where Canaanites remained to be driven out, including the stronghold cities of the Philistines like Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron along the coast (Joshua 13:1-7). But Joshua faithfully divided up Canaan among God’s people over the next seven years (Joshua 14:10).
The tribe of Judah was allotted a large portion encompassing Jerusalem and many southern cities (Joshua 15:1-12). The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh received the central hill country, including Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim where Moses commanded the blessings and curses to be read (Joshua 16:1-4). The other seven tribes received land in the north and along the coast.
Joshua assigned cities of refuge in the territories of Reuben, Gad, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah, so someone who killed another person unintentionally could flee there for protection (Joshua 20:7-9). He also designated cities for the Levites spread throughout all the Israelite lands (Joshua 21:1-45).
Joshua’s Final Acts
As an old man, Joshua summoned all the Israelite leaders and reminded them of all the mighty works God had done to give them the Promised Land (Joshua 23:3-4). He challenged the people to fully obey the law of Moses and not intermarry or associate with the remaining Canaanites, so they would not fall into idolatry (Joshua 23:6-8).
In Joshua’s final address to the people, he recounted how God had faithfully fulfilled His promises from Abraham to Moses to the conquest of Canaan. Joshua again exhorted the people to serve the Lord faithfully and rid the land of remaining idolatry and Canaanites (Joshua 24:13-18). The people affirmed three times that they would serve the Lord, who had fought for them against their enemies (Joshua 24:21-24).
Joshua made a covenant for the Israelites at Shechem and set up a stone as a witness to their pledge of loyalty to God (Joshua 24:25-27). Soon after, at the age of 110, Joshua died and was buried in the promised land he had helped conquer (Joshua 24:29).
Because of Joshua’s leadership, the next generation served the Lord throughout the lifetimes of Joshua and the elders who outlived him (Joshua 24:31). The Book of Joshua concludes with Joseph’s bones finally being buried at Shechem, in the land inherited by his descendants (Joshua 24:32). This marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham centuries earlier to give his offspring the land of Canaan.
Joshua was one of the most significant people in Israelite history. He successfully led the people to conquer Canaan after Moses’ death. They completed the God-given task of driving out the idolatrous Canaanites and taking possession of the land promised to Abraham’s descendants.
As a military leader, Joshua obeyed the Lord’s battle plans precisely, and God gave him great victories. Jericho and Ai were conquered through God’s power and Israelite obedience, establishing Joshua’s leadership. He drove out and defeated 31 enemy kings according to what Moses had commanded.
As an administrator, Joshua effectively oversaw dividing up the Promised Land among the 12 tribes. He distributed territories according to the word of the Lord and settled the people on their rightful inheritances. Joshua governed Israel well in the tumultuous early years in Canaan.
Spiritually, Joshua called the people to wholeheartedly worship and obey the one true God. He led them in renewing the covenant and exhorted them to serve God alone in the land He had given them. Joshua’s godly influence helped ensure the next generation also served the Lord.
Joshua was a humble, wise, and courageous leader. He fully trusted God’s promises and led by example. Joshua stands out in the Bible as a faithful follower of the Lord who ensured His chosen people received their inheritance. His life provides a model of godly, competent leadership for any generation.