THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: THE BOOK OF JOSHUA
A) Joshua and the RESURRECTION: When Israel had crossed the Red Sea, they entered into the wilderness. But when they crossed the Jordan, they left their time in the wilderness behind them and stepped into a new world. Canaan was the land that God had been promising to give His people as an inheritance from the very beginning. But though it had been a promise for so long, it was only now under Joshua that it finally became a reality. Joshua 21:43-45 is a fitting summary: “So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.”
So then, God gave His people their inheritance, just as He had promised them. But He also did so in a certain way. God tells Joshua in 1:6, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” So, how would the Lord give His people possession of their inheritance? Through Joshua. God had promised them an inheritance, but it would be Joshua who would actually give it to them.1 What's the significance? Well, Joshua's name means either, “Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is salvation.” This may sound familiar, because the name Joshua is actually the Hebrew equivalent of the name Jesus (in Greek). It's the same name. In the Hebrew it's Joshua; in the Greek it's Jesus; but the meaning of both is: “the Lord is salvation.” And the reason the name is the same is that Joshua is being set forth for us as a type of Christ: Just like with Israel, God has promised us an inheritance—and He gives it to us through Jesus our Savior.2
When we put it all together, we see that the book of Joshua is here to teach us about the eternal land of rest that God has promised to us in Christ. We're currently trudging as best as we can through the wilderness. Right now, eternal glory is a future promise. But the day is coming soon when we'll cross that Jordan, and on that day it will become a reality. Just like Israel, we'll leave the wilderness behind us and we'll step into a new world—the inheritance that God has promised us and that Jesus died and rose to give to us. Joshua is here to teach us about the final resurrection. But there's a flip side to it as well. The day that Israel set foot in Canaan was a wonderful day for God's people. But it was also a terrifying day for the Canaanites. The day that Israel stepped into their inheritance was the day the Canaanites lost theirs. The day that God's people were rewarded was the day the Canaanites were judged. The day that the people of God were leaving their sorrows behind them was the day that the sorrows of God's enemies were just beginning. The day that Israel settled into the land was the day the Canaanites were cut off from it. It's not a popular truth, but we're confronted here with what Scripture plainly teaches everywhere: The resurrection will bring joy for some, but terror for others.3
B) Joshua and THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: There's a question that arises here: If it's true that the land of Canaan represents the inheritance we'll receive in glory, then why is there so much fighting all the time? Isn't heaven supposed to be a place of rest? If Israel entering into the land of promise is here to teach us about the day we too will enter into our eternal inheritance, why do they continue to have to battle it out with the Canaanites? Well, traditionally it's been understood that Israel entering into the land actually represents a few different truths. On the one hand, crossing the Jordan into Canaan teaches us about the end of our time here on earth; but it also serves to teach us about the beginning of our new life in Jesus Christ. Entering into Canaan teaches us about the rest that we'll one day experience in heaven; but it also teaches us about the rest we experience now in salvation. Crossing the Jordan teaches us important truths about glorification; but it also serves to teach us important lessons about sanctification. In other words, Joshua is also here to teach us about the Christian life. And one of the most fundamental truths about the Christian life is that it is a fight. Living a holy life isn't easy. Every day we're fighting battles, just like Joshua and Israel in the land of Canaan. There is rest; we enter into the Sabbath rest of Christ. But there is also war, because now we're doing battle with the world on the outside, our own flesh on the inside, and all the threats and lies of the Enemy.4
When the Lord had given instructions to His people about taking the land of Canaan, He gave them two separate sets of directions for what to do. For the cities and peoples who were living outside the land, they were to offer terms of peace (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). This is to signify the mission of the church: We go to the unbelieving world announcing God's coming judgment and offering His terms of peace—the message of the gospel. But as for the cities and peoples living inside the land, the Lord commanded: “you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them. . .” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). There were no peace treaties for the Canaanites living inside the land; and this is meant to teach us about how God wants us to live as Christians: Just as Israel was to offer no terms of peace to the Canaanites in the land, we are not permitted to make peace with any sin in our life as Christians. As Israel was to show no mercy to the Canaanites, we are to show no mercy to our sin. As Christians, we're not allowed to pick and choose which sinful habits and tendencies need to go and which ones we'd like to keep. God is calling us to do away with any and every kind of sin that we find in our life. What are the things in your life right now that you need to be putting to death?5
The last thing we could mention here is that Israel wasn't able to just conquer the land overnight; they had to do battle with the Canaanites for years. Joshua 11:18 says: “Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings.” In the same way, the Christian life is a war that doesn't end until the day Jesus calls us home. Sanctification doesn't just happen overnight; growing in holiness is a process that takes our entire life. For Israel, conquering one city led to doing battle against another; there were always more Canaanites to fight. It's the same with us: As soon as we see victory in one area of our life, the Lord begins to show us other areas that still need His grace as well. Seeing more of our sin may sound like something bad or discouraging, but it's actually the only path for our growth in Christ. Think about it: Joshua and Israel probably didn't want to keep finding those Canaanites—they might have thought: This is bad! But it was the only way they would possess the land, because it was impossible to defeat the Canaanites without first discovering where they were! So, for Israel, possessing the land actually took place through the process of finding more and more of the Canaanites. And in the same way, our sanctification in Christ actually takes place through the process of seeing more and more of our sin. Growth in grace happens as we allow the Lord to reveal the hidden idols of our hearts. It's only then that we can confess them, turn from them, and receive Jesus' cleansing once again.6 So, we shouldn't get disheartened as the Lord shows us the ways we still need to grow. Just like with Israel, the Lord is subduing our enemies, but He's doing it one city at a time. Growth in Christ can be slow; but if you've been a Christian long enough, you can look back on your life and praise God for the ways He has changed you. As one put it: “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.”7
1 Joshua 11:23 emphasizes the same truth: “So Joshua took the whole land. . .and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel”.
2 As the Reformation Heritage Study Bible says: “Joshua's name means either 'Jehovah saves' or 'Jehovah is salvation.' it is the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek 'Jesus.'” And again, on the note under Matthew 1:21: “Jesus. The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning 'the Lord is salvation.'” On Joshua as a type of Christ: “The great agreement there is between the history of Joshua and the things said of him in Scripture, and the things said of the Messiah in the Old Testament, strongly argues Joshua to be a type of the Messiah. [a] There is a great agreement between the names by which he is called in Scripture and the names and things attributed to the Messiah in the Old Testament. His first name was [H]oshea (Numbers 8:8-10), which signifies Savior. . .This name [H]oshea was by Moses changed into Jehoshua. . .IE, the Lord the Savior or Jehovah our Savior, which makes his name still more agreeable to the name and nature of the Messiah. . .[b] Joshua was God's elect; he was called to his office and exalted to his high dignity by God's election and special designation, agreeably to what is said of the Messiah in the prophets. . .[c] Joshua was a man in whom was the Spirit in an eminent manner (Numbers 27:18). . .[d] Joshua was the captain of the host of Israel, that fought their battles for them, and subdued their enemies, though many and mighty. . .[e] Joshua brought the children of Israel out of the wilderness and out of Bashan, and out of great waters, into Canaan a land of rest flowing with milk and honey. . .[f] Joshua was a most glorious conqueror, as the Messiah is everywhere represented to be in the prophecies. Joshua entered Canaan, conquered his enemies, and brought in his people to their rest and inheritance, by his righteousness or strict obedience to God's commands (Joshua 1:2). . .[g] Joshua divided unto Israel their inheritance, as one that God had appointed to be judge, what portion belonged to every tribe.” (Edwards, Types of the Messiah, p1826ff). So it seems that both Moses and Joshua are set forth as types of Christ, but in different ways: Moses is more set forth as a type of Christ in his humiliation and 1st coming; whereas Joshua is set forth more as a type of Christ in his exaltation and 2nd coming.
3 On Canaan as a type of glory: “Israel's entrance into Canaan occurred at the end of their trials in the wilderness. Taking that alone, by itself, we have a foreshadowing of our entrance into Heaven at the close of this life (Revelation 14:13). . .” (Pink, Joshua). “God's bringing His people into Canaan, to a state of rest and happiness there, is spoken of as a resemblance of what God would do for his people through the Messiah.” (Edwards, Works V2, p1808). On Christ as the giver of the inheritance: “As the Israelites of old obtained an inheritance in the promised land, so those in Christ become partakers of that heavenly inheritance which he has secured for them.” (Hodge on Ephesians 1:10-11). “As the second portion of [the book of Joshua] focuses on the allotment of Israel's inheritance to every tribe as God had designed, the New Testament explains that Christ gives his people their inheritance. In his resurrection and ascension, Christ received many blessings from God that he distributes to his people in the gifts of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-13). Thus the Spirit is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance to come (Ephesians 1:13-14). When Christ returns in glory, he will grant his people their full and eternal inheritance: to reign with him eternally over the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 5:10; 22:5).” (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible). On grappling with the destruction of the Canaanites: “The doom of Canaan must be compared to the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah: an anticipation in history of God's final judgment. . .Israel was not free to spare those whom God had doomed. . .We may find the concept of a holy war difficult to accept. . .Yet God's commission to Israel was grounded in His righteous judgment against sin. . .The New Testament recognizes the God-given right of the state to use the sword (Romans 13:4), but God has not appointed the state to be the executor of His total justice. That final judgment is given to Jesus Christ, and awaits His return (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).” (Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, pp137-39). The truth that Jesus will pass judgment on the ungodly on the day of the final Resurrection seems to be set forth in Joshua in a few different passages in particular: In Joshua 6, the people blow trumpets for six days and the walls fall down on day seven. The people of Jericho might have thought: “They've been blowing these trumpets for six days—nothing's happened and nothing's going to happen”—but they would have been greatly mistaken. In the same way, now is the six days when the church is being called to blow the gospel trumpet before the unbelieving world; the seventh and final day is fast approaching when the final trumpet will sound, judgment will come upon the unbelieving in a moment, and the earth and all its works will be burned up (cf. 6:24). In Joshua 10, the five kings of the Amorites go up to make war with the Gibeonites, who had made peace with Israel. Israel then defends them, and the Amorites are routed before them. The five kings flee and hide in a certain cave (v16); where they are then guarded until Joshua was able to deal with them. At the end of the battle they bring the kings out of the cave; Joshua passes judgment on them and they are executed. So too, the wicked who die in their sins await to stand before the judgment of the greater Joshua. On the day of the final Resurrection, the enemies of God will likewise be brought out to face King Jesus.
4 It seems to be this aspect that the Reformation Heritage Study Bible refers to when it says: “The Promised Land symbolizes the inheritance and spiritual rest that belongs to God's people in the experience and enjoyment of His presence (Hebrews 4:8-11).” And A.W. Pink writes: “this book may be contemplated from two distinct but closely related standpoints: first as the end of Israel's trials and wanderings in the wilderness, and second as the beginning of their new life in the land.” (Gleanings in Joshua). We've seen many Scriptures that set forth Canaan as a type of eternal glory; but other Scriptures set forth Canaan as a picture of the rest of salvation. This seems to be the meaning in Hebrews 4:3: “For we who have believed enter that rest. . .” and again in verse 10: “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works.” In Psalm 37, we see the land of Canaan being set forth as both the rest of salvation and the rest of glory. Most of the Psalm focuses on the land as our future inheritance (verse 9: “But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land”), but David also speaks of enjoying the land in the present tense in verse 3: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” While this is the main answer to the question asked above (IE, Why all the fighting?), there is a second answer as well: We also see the Church fighting in Canaan because Scripture elsewhere tells us that God's people will actually have a role in judging the wicked at the final Resurrection. This is drawn out in Scriptures such as Psalm 149:6-9 and Revelation 2:26-27, where we see God judging the wicked—but doing so through His people. The ESV Study Bible draws this out when it notes: “In ways that are not entirely clear, the faithful will participate with God in carrying out the final judgment (1 Corinthians 6:2; cf. Psalm 149:6-7), and Israel's bringing of judgment on the Canaanites foreshadows that great responsibility as well. . .” (Introduction to Joshua).
5 In speaking of these two distinct aspects in Joshua, Pink says: “As the inheritance which the Lord appointed, promised and gave to Israel, Canaan has rightly been regarded as a type of Heaven, unto which the Church is journeying through this wilderness-world. But Canaan was the scene of fierce battles, and that presents a serious difficulty unto many, though it should not. They point out that Heaven will not be the place of fighting, but of eternal rest and felicity, and then ask, 'How could Israel’s history in Canaan prefigure our experience on High?' It did not, but it strikingly and accurately foreshadowed what Christians must accomplish if they are to enter and enjoy 'the purchased possession'. The book of Joshua not only exhibits the sovereign grace of God, His covenant-faithfulness, His mighty power put forth on behalf of His people, but it also reveals what was required from them in the discharge of their responsibility: formidable obstacles had to be surmounted, a protracted warfare had to be engaged in, fierce foes overcome, before they entered into the actual enjoyment of the land. Salvation is indeed by grace, and grace alone, for human merit has no place therein; yet good works are necessary, because it was to fit us for them that grace is given. In Joshua we have a striking and blessed exemplification of the two-foldness of Truth and the perfect balance of its essential parts. The sovereign grace of God and the discharge of His peoples’ responsibility run side by side therein. Canaan was God’s free gift unto Israel, yet they had to fight for possession of it.” (Gleanings in Joshua). The Reformation Heritage Study Bible puts it this way: “God dispossessed the Canaanites and gave the land to Israel as their possession. Nonetheless, Israel had to fight to expel the Canaanites. So spiritually, Christ has conquered sin so that it no longer has dominion over us (Romans 6:14), yet we must actively be engaged in fighting against sin (Romans 6:12-13).” Joshua 6:21 records of Jericho: “They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey with the edge of the sword.” Scripture is emphatically telling us that each and every kind of sin is to be put to death: not only the ones we think could do a lot of damage (IE, the men and oxen), but the ones we might otherwise see as harmless (IE, the women, sheep and donkeys). We're to put to death new sins (IE, young), as well as recurring ones (IE, old).
6 If it's true that sanctification is a lifetime process then it's going to be pretty important for us to learn how to live out our very imperfect Christian lives in light of the finished work of Christ. Many of us get excessively discouraged by our sin and end up feeling defeated. I call it the downward spiral: As soon as we mess up, we're pulled into a downward cycle of discouragement and despair. But there's a word of hope for us here. In Joshua 8:1 we read: “Now the Lord said to Joshua, 'Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.'” The reason this is so life-giving is the context of these words. In their first battle at Jericho (Chapter 6), Israel had conquered. But in their second battle at Ai (Chapter 7), they fell flat on their faces: They failed; they sinned; they completely blew it. And in that moment, the temptation would have been to give in to the downward spiral. But God tells them here to get right back up and go back to Ai. They didn't have to pout or feel defeated after they blew it. In fact, that was the very thing God was specifically commanded them not to do. He was going to send them right back into the game. Just like Israel, God wants us to find new strength and grace, even right after we've blown it. We don't have to give in to the downward spiral; we don't have to stay defeated. The good news of the gospel is that even in the midst of our failures, we can live a victorious Christian life because Jesus is our victory. And because of Him, we can get right back up and move forward in the power of the Spirit, even right after we've blown it, claiming the finished work of Christ for all our failures, and saying with Paul: “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13).
7 The Reformation Heritage Study Bible says: “That Israel conquered the land in increments vividly pictures the progressive nature of sanctification. . .Victory over one city led to another city to conquer. So we must die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness. Sanctification progresses until glorification.” Octavius Winslow adds these thoughts on the significance of the fact that Israel wasn't able to drive out the Canaanites completely: “Dear reader, it will be nothing new for you to be informed, that the Canaanites still dwell in the land. You will recollect, that when the children of Israel took possession of Canaan, although they conquered its inhabitants, and took supreme possession and government of the country, yet the former occupants of the soil they could not entirely dispossess. The circumstance is thus recorded: 'The children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.' (Josh. 17:12). Now what these Canaanites, these heathenish idolaters, were to the children of Israel, the natural corruptions of the heart are to the called children of God. After all that Divine and sovereign mercy has done for the soul—though the inhabitants of the land have been conquered, and the heart has yielded to the power of omnipotent grace, and the 'strong man armed' has been deposed, and Jesus has taken the throne—yet the Canaanites will dwell in the land, and we cannot expel them thence. These are the natural corruptions of our fallen nature, the evils of a heart that is but partially renewed, the heathenish lusts, and passions, and infirmities that formerly were the sole occupants of the soil, and still dwell there, and which we shall never, in the present state, entirely dispossess. But what did the children of Israel do to these Canaanites, whom they could not drive out of the cities, but who would dwell in the land? We read in the 13th verse: 'Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxing strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute: but did not utterly drive them out.' Now this is what the children of God must do with the spiritual Canaanites that yet dwell in the renewed heart: they cannot be driven out, but they may be put to tribute; they cannot be entirely extirpated, yet they may be brought into complete subjection, and even made to contribute to the spiritual advance of the soul, and to the glory of God. Yes, even these very indwelling and powerful Canaanites, these strong corruptions that war and fight in the renewed soul, may be made subservient to the spiritual benefit of a child of God. Will it not be so, if they lead him to put no confidence in himself, to draw largely from the fullness of grace in Jesus, to repair often to the throne of mercy, to deal much and closely with the atoning blood, to cultivate a watchful, prayerful, tender spirit and daily and hourly to rejoice in Christ Jesus, having no confidence in the flesh? And yet all this may be the result, when the believer has waxen strong in the Divine life, and has learned to put his indwelling corruptions to tribute, though he may not utterly expel them from his bosom. Thus 'God turned the curse of Balaam into a blessing,' (Neh. 13:2) and thus, too, may the renewed soul—often led to exclaim, 'O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'—through a supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and becoming more thoroughly versed in the are of the holy war, be able to turn the risings of his indwelling sins into occasions of more holy and humble walk with God.” (The Fruitless and Fruitful Professor). The quote is from John Newton, taken from The Christian Pioneer (1856; edited by Joseph Winks, p84). It may have originally been more of a reference to the truth of regeneration, but it's no less true as we think about our growth in grace as Christians.