The Book Of Joshua


Preparations for Victory: Joshua 1:1-18

It isn’t difficult to see that the book of Joshua opens with a very positive portrait of Israel’s preparations for the conquest of Canaan. God’s command was direct and reassuring. Joshua called all the tribes to comply. And there’s no hint of hesitation from a single Israelite regarding the call to move forward into battle. Clearly, as Joshua’s original audience faced various foes standing against them, they were to emulate this ideal account of how Joshua and Israel responded to God’s command. 

When we look more closely at this chapter, we find that our author’s positive portrait introduced at least four themes that appear time and again throughout his book. In the first place, in his account of preparations for victory in chapter 1, he stressed the divine authority behind Israel’s preparations. The opening scene of God’s commands begins in verse 1 with the words, “the Lord said to Joshua.” This phrase established that God was the authority behind Joshua’s commands. Along these same lines, God himself authorized Joshua as Moses’ successor when he said in verse 5, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” We also see this theme highlighted in Israel’s obedience when the people of Israel responded in verse 17, “Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you.” The original audience was to take Israel’s preparations for victory to heart because God and Joshua, Moses’ divinely ordained successor, had directed these events. 

In the second place, Joshua’s preparations for victory also highlighted the importance of God’s covenant. In the opening scene of God’s commands, God told Joshua, in verse 6, “You shall cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them.” This passage alludes to God’s covenant with Israel in two ways. First, Israel was not simply to receive Canaan, but to “inherit” it — from the Hebrew verb nachal (נַ֫חַל). The land of Canaan is described as Israel’s enduring “inheritance” nearly thirty times in the book of Deuteronomy, and more than forty times in the book of Joshua. And second, in this same verse we read that God “swore to their fathers” to give them the land. This refers to Genesis 15 where God made a covenant with Abraham — or “Abram” at that time — to give Canaan to his descendants. God’s covenant with Israel’s ancestors established that Canaan belonged, by divine covenant, not only to Israel in Joshua’s day, but also to the original Israelite audience of our book. And for this reason, they could move forward in their day with strength and courage, just as God had commanded Joshua. 

In the third place, the author made it clear that observing the standard of Moses’ law was necessary for every generation of Israel to have victory in warfare and to possess the Promised Land. In verse 7 of the opening scene, God commanded Joshua: “[Be] careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you… that you may have good success.” As the story of Joshua’s conquest illustrates time and again, the original audience of our book had to grasp a crucial perspective on the conflicts they faced: obedience to Moses’ law would lead to victory; disobedience would lead to defeat.

In the fourth place, Joshua’s preparations for victory point out that God’s supernatural power made the conquest of Canaan possible. The opening scene of God’s commands highlights this point of view when God told Joshua in verse 5: “I will be with you.” And this theme is repeated in verse 9 where God told Joshua, “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” As passages like 2 Chronicles 20:17 indicate, to speak of God being “with” his people in the context of battle meant that God would fight alongside and for them with supernatural power. And in a similar way, in the scene of Israel’s obedience in Joshua 1:17, the tribes of Israel responded enthusiastically to Joshua, “May the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses!” In effect, Israel’s conquest was no mere human affair. No generation of Israel was to enter into battle in its own strength. It was only if God fought alongside and for Israel that they could hope to succeed.