Exegesis of Joshua 1:1-9


  1. History
  2. Literature
  3. Theology

History behind Joshua 1:1-9

            The book of Joshua is a historical narrative that comes after the five books of Moses known as the Pentateuch. According to the English Standard Version Study Bible this time period was around 1406 or 1220 B.C. depending on one’s use of symbolism regarding a 40 year generation.[1]  Ellis said, “In accordance with good historical method one tests the genuineness and demonstrates the non-genuineness of one’s sources.[2]  One should not force their own doctrine into the research of the Bible but let the information rise out of a careful study of the information and trusting a sovereign God is in control over it.  Archer said, “critics from the Wellhausen School have attempted to include Joshua with the five books of the Pentateuch, calling the whole collection the Hexateuch.”[3]  The Wellhausen theory is a method of study that flows from the Darwinian theory of evolutionThey believe humanity grew out of a very simplistic physical and mental capacity. So, it is believed religion grew more complex over time.  They say the evidence is in how different books of the Old Testament use the names of God.  For example one book uses Jehovah and another may use Elohim.  Wellhausen also claims there was a Priestly School or period of time where religious priests edited together all the oral traditions and writings thus making the Bible manmade instead of God breathed.  An argument against the claim Joshua was part of the Pentateuch is that the Samaritans of that time period did not recognize it as canonical Torah despite the Ephraimite Joshua being the leading hero of the book.  It seems the Wellhausen’s are wrong and are forcing their doctrine into the research.  It is more genuine to say Joshua is not part of the Pentateuch.  The use of the name Jehovah (LORD) is a description of the characteristic God is displaying with His people which is a loving provision.  It is not a name indicating a simplistic understanding of God.  This can certainly be seen in the history leading up to Joshua chapter 1 and then in the text itself as Jehovah promises to provide Himself to Joshua.  God promises to always be with Joshua, to give them the Promised Land, and the encouragement to accomplish the tasks ahead because Jehovah is leading him.

The dating of Joshua is difficult because the author of the book is not easy to recognize in the book itself or in history.  It is named after a man of God called Joshua who is the leading character in the text.  There are places such as versus in chapter 5 and 24 where it looks like the author must be Joshua or at least an eyewitness to the events.  One of the tools used to say this book was possibly written during the exilic period of around 587 B.C is the use of repetition.  Here the repetition is the use of a key phrase “to this day” seen in chapters 4, 5, and 6.  This particular phrase or dialogue seems to point to the event happening in a somewhat distant time away from the writing.  This is a characteristic of Semitic narrative.[4]  Overall it is hard to say exactly when God had this information written down for dissemination to people. 

The author seems to be able to give reports that provide historical information about the death of Moses and the transfer of authority to Joshua by the command of God.  This author has a strong grasp of the history and purpose of God regarding the people of Israel. It is almost as if he has inside information about the things Joshua is about to face because it records God encouraging him.  The account he gives about this seems to include an underlying theological point that God will not fail to provide.  It is as if the opening verses are preparing the reader to recognize a later emphasis in the book regarding God being in sovereign control of all the upcoming events and He remembers is covenant with His people.  Within that covenant God will continue to provide as He has always provided for His people.  The strength God is calling Joshua to exercise is a strength the God of Creation will mercifully continue to give.  Not only is Joshua must respond to this encouragement, but the people of Israel must respond as they are led.  This certainly points to the leadership of Jesus as Head of the Body of believers.  Be obedient no matter the difficulty of the struggle ahead of you.

The setting is during a time when Moses had been the clear leader given by God demonstrated by numerous miracles.  During his leadership God led Moses to lead the people of Israel out of the bondage they were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians.  Moses has now died, yet God has provided them another servant leader.

The plot is not only built upon this information, but continues to build as we see God reminding the reader the Promised Land is at hand.  No matter where the people set their foot it will be given to them.  No human being will be able to stop this promised blessing and Joshua will cause this great thing to happen.  Oh but be careful to do everything Moses had commanded through the will of God.  Forsaking the Law of God will be to the detriment of Israel.  This type of suspense building draws the reader into the story.  The reader may wonder if Joshua and Israel remain faithful.  Do they really get to enjoy the promised blessing or not?  Clearly, they must be courageous and strong because a conflict is about to happen.

The characterization of Moses leading the people of Israel to success due to his close relationship with God is transferred to Joshua.  Moses was a servant of the LORD and Joshua was a faithful servant of Jehovah under the leadership of Moses.  God trusted, loved, worked through, and led Moses.  Surely, God will be as merciful to Joshua who is after all a descendant of Jacob.  Here Joshua seems to be a round character which means he is very real and complex character the reader will want to understand more deeply as the story moves along.  All of this information may cause the reader to even root for Joshua and the people of Israel.  Not only does one desire a successful end to the story, but recognition that God truly was the Sovereign means by which everything was accomplished.  God really is faithful to His promises despite the troubles faced by those He cares for.

Another point of repetition is the use of the theme in these verses.  It has already been said that a repetitious phrase can be used to recognize the possible dating of a book.  It can also be seen through the use of a repeated theme, a purpose.  God had restored His people to freedom out of the bondage in Egypt through His own provision of a servant leader.  The leader is provided but he must also be faithful in his obedience to every law God has commanded.  If he fails to be obedient he will not fully enjoy the blessings of God here on earth as was the case with Moses who died prior to obtaining access to the Promised Land.  Joshua is a faithful servant but is also simply a man.  He will require the provisions of God to redeem them into the land of promise. The verses repeat the notion of a great blessing and nothing will prevent it from happening, except weakness against a stronger foe.  The people Israel was about to conquer was a fierce bunch, but obedience to God will bring a great victory.

The text not only repeated the idea of blessing but repeated the idea it is the Law that must be fulfilled.  The text emphasizes how passionate God must be about keeping the Law in order for His people to receive the blessing.  God must know Joshua and the people are weak regarding this fight because he tells them to be careful and to be very courageous.  It is in this context God comforts them and reminds them He is with them wherever they are. 

Literature of Joshua 1:1-9

Using the genre of a historical narrative the author tells the story of the people of God, known as Israel, during the time of Joshua as leader. In verses 1-9 the author does not sound like he is Joshua himself but somebody such as a witness recounting the matter.  The text does highlight a particular trait that both Moses and Joshua had.  Both of them had the heart of a servant.  Moses led them for 40 years in the desert and finally was allowed to reach the edge of the Promised Land.  He led this people as a servant of God until his death.  Joshua is associated with this service by being referred to as Moses’ assistant.  Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to bring back information about the residents there.  Ten of those spies came back scared due to the people they found there.  However, Caleb and Joshua did not come back in fear but trusted in God to help Israel take over the country. Due to previous sin, God did not allow Moses to continue to lead Israel into the Promised Land.  God had Moses ordain Joshua as the leader who should lead them going forward.

Since Joshua is in the literary form of a Narrative it “builds its sentences and paragraphs around discourses, episodes, or scenes.”[5]  The prologue to the book of Joshua shows the calling of Joshua.  As the story develops we see him leading Israel in the taking over the land.  There are various problems along the way in their conquest and eventually the land is divided up among the Israelites.  In the epilogue, Joshua ends in the same way it began regarding the description of Israel’s godly leader dying.

Theology of Joshua 1:1-9

The first verse of Joshua opens up with the author telling the story of Joshua’s call into leadership.  Moses, who was the servant of the LORD, had died and Joshua is introduced.  Interestingly Hess pointed out that the word LORD (Jehovah) is the intimate/personal name for God which shows the type of relationship Moses had and Joshua will have with God.[6]  Joshua is introduced in two ways: first as the son of Nun and secondly as the assistant of Moses. By telling the reader Joshua is the son of Nunn it is learned that he is an Ephriamite.  This meant he was a descendant of Jacob who had blessed his son Ephraim.  Ephraim often refers to ten of the twelve tribes that eventually made up Israel’s Northern Kingdom after the division later in Joshua’s career.  As for the second part of the introduction Joshua is referred to as Moses’ assistant.  Four times in the Bible Joshua was mentioned as the aid of Moses.  One of the memorable moments regarding these two men was when Joshua was leading the army against the Amalekites in Exodus 17 and Moses was becoming weak while holding his arms up. Joshua also went up the mountain with Moses when God provided the Ten Commandments. So, we see that Joshua is close to God just like Moses.  It makes sense that at the close of Deuteronomy God told Moses to commission Joshua as the next leader of His people. Joshua is to take over the difficult job of leading the people of Israel into the promise land because he was faithful to God. 

Joshua is a faithful servant but he is not as unique as Moses.  Moses got to see God in a way no other person has.  Even so, Joshua will now have revelation coming to him from God in the place of Moses.  Joshua is still a special character in the redemptive covenant God has with His chosen people.  Moses had changed his name from Hosea which means salvation to Joshua which means Yeshua (Jesus).  All of this seems to be foreshadowing the Son of God Jesus the Christ and Savior of all His chosen people. Joshua is encouraged by God that “no man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”[7]   Still Joshua is told he must be strong, very courageous, and is to obey the law of God.  God wants him to follow it to the letter and not sway to the left or right regarding it.  Just as secure are the promises of God so too His law is to be on the lips and in the heart of Joshua. The land of promise is not the physical land but an exquisite estate with God in the unity of a loving and eternal relationship.  It is through obedience that Joshua and the people of God will be prosperous and successful.

Divine sovereignty, mercy, and human responsibility are all part of the theology of this text.  God is in control, willing to provide all the needs of His people, and His people are responsible to glorify God with obedience.  The only reason anyone can be strong and courageous is because God is with them and leading them.  Joshua did not conquer anything without the sovereign hand of God making it happen.  God planned all of these things and He is developing a loving trust in His people by putting them through the various trials.  Serving the LORD as a humble assistant to His revealed will brings glory to God and blessing to the one serving.  Any deviation from the will of the Master will bring judgement.  This is not to say God will eternally remove His relationship from that servant but there will be a temporary removal of blessing.  God alone is faithful to His covenants.  He upholds them and keeps them as the provider of all things.  He alone has the power to restore sinful people to Himself.


Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

Bible, Holy. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Ellis, E. Earle. The Sovereignty of God in Salvation: Biblical Essays. London: T & T International, 2009.

Hess, Richard S. Joshua. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1996.

Kostenberger, Andreas J, and Richard D Patterson. Invitation To Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011.

Lane, William L. Word Biblical Commentary Vol 47a. Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Nelson, Richard D. Joshua. Louisville: Westminister, 1997.

[1]             Bible, Holy. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. 385.

[2]           E. Earle Ellis. The Sovereignty of God in Salvation: Biblical Essays. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed June 13, 2015).

[3]           Gleason L Archer. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. (Chicago: Moody Publishers), 2007. 238

[4]             Andreas J Kostenberger, and Richard D Patterson. Invitation To Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011.

[5]           Andreas J Kostenberger, and Richard D Patterson. Invitation To Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011. 238.

[6]           Richard S Hess. Joshua. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996.67.

[7] (Bible 2008, v. 5)

Published by SReed

Attends Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I'm a sinner saved by the work of God in me and not a work of my own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: