Joshua has three main divisions. Each division begins with a statement indicating a significant shift in time. The first division, in chapters 1–12, focuses on Israel’s victorious conquest of Canaan — how Joshua led Israel to a decisive victory over the Canaanites. This division begins in 1:1 with the temporal notice that God commissioned Joshua, “After the death of Moses.”
These twelve chapters report a number of events that took place during Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan. They begin with Israel’s crossing of the Jordan and initial victories at Jericho and Ai. And these victories are followed by a covenant renewal ceremony in the vicinity of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The narrative then moves to Joshua’s major campaign against an alliance in the southern regions of the Promised Land. And this record is followed by Joshua’s campaign against an alliance in the northern regions.
The second division of our book, in chapters 13–22, deals with Israel’s tribal inheritances — how the national unity of Israel was maintained as particular inheritances were allotted to the tribes of Israel. This division begins in 13:1 with the temporal statement, “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years.”
This second major division of Joshua first established the extent of territories that God granted to Israel, both in Transjordan — the lands to the east of the Jordan River — and in Cisjordan — the lands to the west of the Jordan River. It goes on to explain in some detail the specific allotments of lands to the tribes who received permission to settle in Transjordan. And it also spells out how God granted large territories west of the Jordan to Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as lesser territories to the other tribes of Israel. And when conflict arose between the tribes of Cisjordan and Transjordan, we learn how they maintained their national unity as the people of God.
The third major division, in chapters 23, 24, closes our book by giving attention to Israel’s covenant loyalty — how Israel’s loyalty and disloyalty to the terms of God’s covenant would shape their future. It begins in 23:1 with another statement that alerts us to the passage of time. We read, “A long time afterward, when, Joshua was old and well advanced in years.” And this temporal notice is reinforced in verse 14 with Joshua’s words, “I am about to go the way of all the earth.”
These last two chapters of our book focus on two assemblies that Joshua held near the time of his death. The first of these assemblies probably took place in Shiloh, a holy site that played an important role in Joshua’s day and later in the period of the judges. And it closes with a final assembly at Shechem, the place where Abraham built his first altar in the land of Canaan. All of Israel gathered at these assemblies, and Joshua warned them against flagrant violations of God’s covenant. Then the main body of our book closes with Joshua leading the people of Israel in renewing their commitment to be loyal to God alone. They vowed to reject the gods of all other nations and serve the God of their fathers according to the terms of his covenant with them. Following this covenant renewal, the book closes with an afterword that includes Joshua’s death and several subsequent events.