The book emphasizes Joshua as the godly successor to Moses. Joshua was not the Prophet like Moses, but he was a leader like Moses. The close of the book that notes that Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and the elders who survived him foreshadows that Israel stopped serving him when no leader like Moses followed. Judges concludes by noting the need for a king, which of course has a messianic implication.
If the Israelites were to subdue the land and live out the dominion mandate as a kingdom of priests to the rest of the world, holiness or purity of worship was absolutely necessary.
Genesis 15:16 and Leviticus 18:24-25 indicates that placing the Canaanites under the ban was a judicial matter, but the Canaanites were put also under the ban so that Israel would not be adversely affected by the Canaanites (Deut. 7:1-4; 20:17-18). Israel would not be an effective priest to the nations (Ex. 19:6; Deut. 4:5-8) if it succumbed to the sins of the Canaanites.
Thus, ironic as it may sound, the extermination of the Canaanites seems to include a missionary motive.
As noted previously, Israel’s obedience to the covenant stipulations bookends this book. The importance of obedience is stressed in the body of the book through examples of Israel’s disobedience (e.g., Achan, the Gibeonites).
If Israel was to live out its purpose for living in the land—showing the nations what good and wise dominion of the earth looked like—it had to live in obedience to the covenant.
Ominously, Joshua closes the book by telling the people that they will not be able to serve the Lord (Josh. 24:19).
Because the promises God kept were covenant promises, the covenant is a theme in Joshua.
The covenant theme also appears in the opening and closing of the book. In both places Israel is exhorted to keep the Mosaic Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant is emphasized in chapter 3 with the crossing of the Jordan and in chapter 8 with the renewal of the covenant.
One reader sent an e-mail in response to the post on the fulfillment of God’s promises: “You should deal . . . with whether or not that part of the Abrahamic covenant is still in force if Joshua says the land was given to the people.”
This actually raises a fairly big issue within Joshua itself. Some passages in Joshua seem to say that the entire land had been conquered (Josh 10:40-42; 11:16-23; 21:43-45). Other passages seem to say that there was more land to conquer (Josh 13:1; 18:3).
This seeming discrepancy should not be blown out of proportion. For instance, Joshua 11:23 reads, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses,” immediately after noting that there remained land to conquer in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Josh 11:22).
It is important to remember exactly what God spoke when he promised the land to Moses (Josh 11:21; 21:45). In Deuteronomy 7:22, God said, “The LORD your God will drive out these nations before you little by little. You will not be able to destroy them all at once; otherwise, the wild animals will become too numerous for you” (HCSB).
In other words, God had given to Israel the land as a whole, but, just as he had said, there still remained land to conquer little by little: the border lands and pocks of resistance within each tribe’s territory.
As to the Abrahamic covenant being fully fulfilled, this becomes more of an issue in 1 Kings 4:20-21. That passages says Solomon ruled all the land by the Abrahamic Covenant according to the specified boundries (Gen. 15:18). It is important to note, however that this land was promised to Israel as an “everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8). That was not fulfilled either in Joshua’s day or in Solomon’s.
The reception of the land both in general and in many particulars was the fulfillment of promises that God had made to the patriarchs and to the nation. The fulfillment of these promises is especially noted in Joshua 21:43-45: “Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”
Land is the key theme of Joshua. The book opens with God commanding Joshua to lead the people across the Jordan in the land that he is going to give them. The body of the book focuses on the conquest and allocation of the land.
The roots of this theme reach back to the dominion blessing of Genesis 1:26-28. The ability to carry out dominion over the earth as intended by God was lost apart from redemption.
The promise of land was given to the Israelites as a part of God’s redemptive plan. Like the original dominion blessing, the promised land was given by God, but the recipients were to act on the gift to bring it to fruition.
Joshua shows the dominion blessing in the context of the Fall. The land must be conquered from human enemies who have corrupted the land with their sin. The sinners are to be exterminated from the land, and God’s people are to live in the land in accordance to God’s covenant regulations. In this way the nations will be able to see what a land under righteous dominion looks like.
Theme: God’s people must exercise good and wise dominion over the land that God promised and gave them by exterminating God’s enemies and by living in obedience to God’s covenant.
Place in Redemptive History: Joshua advances the story of God’s plan of redemption by telling of the fulfillment of aspects of the land promise to Abraham and his seed. The land promise gave God’s people the space to live out the Dominion Blessing in a fallen world.