A Synoptic Study of the Book of Joshua

Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, Elliott Johnson, believes that accurate study of Bible verses and passages can only be done after the overall message of a biblical book has been determined. Similar to my last week, I am presenting a “synoptic study” of the book of Joshua in order to help people better understand individual parts of the book.

This is my study of the overall message and meaning of the book of Joshua.

I. Chart of the Content and Structure of the Book of Joshua

Synoptic Study of the Book of Joshua Chart Ch. 1-12
Synoptic Study Chart of Joshua (Chapters 1-12)
Synoptic Study of the Book of Joshua Chart Ch. 13-24
Synoptic Study Chart of Joshua t (Chapters 13-24)

II. Summary Statement of the Meaning of Joshua as a Whole

A. Theological Themes

1. What does the book say about God?

The book of Joshua, like many other books in the Old Testament, expresses God’s desire to have a people who are obedient to Him.

The main difference that Joshua has from other books in the Old Testament is that Joshua is the instrument that God uses to express His desire. Other books might have had narratives or direct revelations from God that expressed His desire. But, the book of Joshua uses Joshua as the instrument to reveal God’s will. See Joshua 1:5,

No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you nor abandon you (New Living Translation).

Joshua is explained to be the leader of the Israelite nation through Moses laying hands on him in Deuteronomy: “Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him, doing just as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Deut. 34:9). Joshua’s leadership in Israel commences when Moses died.

2. What does the book say about God’s purpose for acting and speaking in history?

The book of Joshua says that God is willing to continue to clarify what He has previously revealed to His people. Because of that desire, God wants the Israelites to be obedient and loyal to Him. He desires fellowship with them in obedience. Therefore, the book of Joshua continues to reinforce two messages:

  1. God is with the Israelites (Josh. 3:9-14; 5:13-15).
  2. God wants them to live obediently (8:30-34).

Furthermore, in light of the Pentateuch, the book of Joshua says that God is willing to be merciful and is willing to forgive His people when they do wrong and live disobediently. Even though the Israelites failed Him in Numbers 14, he not only delivers on His original promise, but He allows them another chance to live in obedience to Him.

3. What does it say about God’s administration of His purpose?

The book of Joshua says that at specific times in history God will use specific persons to explain His desire as well as specific people groups to display what happens when obedience occurs. Joshua is that person whom He uses to express His desire for the people to live obediently to Him. God used Joshua to re-affirm His previous revelation as well as to encourage the people to live out the words of that revelation.

As a specific people group, God used Israel as an instrument to display what happens when they are obedient. God allowed the people of Israel to conquer the land. This is in contrast to the Amorites, a people who were not obedient and who were wicked. This says that in order to show Himself and His glory, He allowed other people to die and experience distress.

B. Textual Design

1. In what terms does the author address the audience?

The author of the book of Joshua addresses the audience (or reader) in a way one might consider to be an “epic” narrative. In his book, How to Read the Bible as Literature: And Get More Out of It, Leland Ryken describes an Epic narrative as “so expansive that it sums up a whole age . . . Epics, therefore, always have a unifying hero. The action is constructed around a central epic feat, which usually consists of winning a battle and establishing a kingdom. Any epics have been structured as a quest toward a goal.”[ref]Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature: And Get More Out of It (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 79.[/ref] It has Joshua as the hero who leads the nation of Israel in conquering the Promised Land. Therefore, the book of Joshua is an epic.

2. What is the literary genre of the book of Joshua as a whole?

The genre of the book of Joshua is narrative. It picks up where Deuteronomy left off: the anointing of Joshua as Israel’s new leader at the foot of the Promised Land. It also continues the story of God’s dealing with Israel after the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. With that, it continues the story of how Israel was able to enter the Promised Land. The narrative also focuses on:

  • The leadership of Joshua (chapter 1).
  • Joshua conquering of the land (chapters 2-12).
  • Life lived in the land (chapters 22-24).

The book of Joshua provides the story showing God’s promises fulfilled in that ultimately the nation of Israel was eventually able to enter into the Promised Land. God’s promises perhaps are best summarized in Deut. 34:4,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.”

C. Subject (What is the book talking about?) and Compliment (What does the book say about the subject?) Statement

Israel’s conquering and inhabiting of the Promised Land is accomplished under the guidance of their new leader, Joshua, and through attempts to be obedient, in spite of past unfaithfulness.

Israel’s conquering and inhabiting of the Promised Land (subject)

This is the main focus of the narrative of Joshua. Chapters 1-5 are leading up to the conquering. Those chapters simply tell the preparations Joshua and the people of Israel did before conquering the land. Then in chapters 6-12 details are shared of the nations and people groups whom Israel conquered in the land. In chapters 13-21 the division of the land is explained. Finally, in Chapters 22-24 detail of the early years living in the land is shared.

is accomplished under the guidance of their new leader, Joshua (compliment)

This was a big deal since Joshua followed Moses whom the Bible describes as, “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10).  Who this new leader was and how he led was an important topic for the nation of Israel.

through attempts to be obedient (compliment)

Chapter 22 of Joshua is an encouraging story of the people of Israel attempting to be obedient to God and the Mosaic Law. The Israelites were desiring to live lives obedient and faithful to God.

in spite of past unfaithfulness. (compliment)

There was a promise made to Abraham about the land. However, since that promise there were two large acts (among many) of unfaithfulness when the people failed to trust that God would give them the Promised Land (Num. 13-14) as well as when Aaron and the people of Israel built a gold calf as a god who would lead them (Ex. 32).

 D. 7 Themes Chosen and Traced in Their Development in the Book of Joshua

  1. Continuation of Israel’s History: Just as Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy specifically detail Israel’s history as a nation, the book of Joshua is continuing that history (1:5, 9; 4:14; 3:7; 6:27). The book of Joshua keeps telling what the people did, who they fought, where they traveled, how God acted on their behalf, and how God acted against them. The book of Joshua continues to reveal Israel’s history as a nation and gives the reader knowledge of the origins and history of their people with special emphasis of how the land was conquered, how it was divided, and what the early years of life was like for the Israelites living there.
  2. Joshua as Israel’s New Leader: The book of Joshua clearly shows Joshua as the new leader of the nation of Israel who was to be revered as Moses was revered. Several times God affirms Joshua as Israel’s new leader (1:6; 3:7, 14; 6:27; 24:31).
  3. Not Completely Taking the Land: A theme throughout Joshua is telling how their was a failure of Israel to conquer all of the land (15:63; 17:2-13).
  4. Fear of the Lord by the Inhabitants of Canaan: God’s glory and sovereignty was shown in the book of Joshua similar to in Exodus when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and defeated the Egyptian Army. God’s glory and sovereignty was shown when nations in the land of Canaan learn about the mighty works of God on behalf of Israel and have fear because of it (2:9-11, 24; 9:1; 10:21).
  5. Obedience to God and the Mosaic Law: Obedience to the Mosaic Law is most encouraging from chapter 22 where two and a half of the tribes of Israel are perceived to no longer have been living obediently to the Law and to God. As a result, the other nine and a half tribes (in the text it readers “whole community of Israel”) was ready to go to war against the two and half other tribes (1:7, 8; 22:5; 23:6-8; 24:14-15).
  6. Driving Out the Canaanites: Everything in the books of Joshua deals with taking the land by driving out the Canaanites (2:1-37; 10:40-42; 11:16, 23; 19:51; 23:9, 10).
  7. Continuing Acts of Disobedience: Even though the book of Joshua displays a modest amount of obedience on the part of the Israelites, two acts of disobedience are displayed in 7:16-26 as well as 9:14.
Question: What do you believe is the overall meaning and message of the book of Joshua?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at