Joshua: The Key to Success


There are lots of stories in the Bible about giving.  This one is about taking.

The Israelites take the territory of Canaan – the general area of modern-day Israel – from the people who had lived there for centuries.  But about 700  years before the Israelite invasion, God called Abraham to the centre of this land and told him to look around.  “I will give you and your family all the land you can see.” God said.  “It will be theirs forever!” (Genesis 13:15).  So the Israelite invasion was actually a ‘reclamation’ of their ancestral homeland – the place where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had raised their families.

If a war was to be fought, who better to lead the people than a proven warrior?  Joshua was that man.  He was the successor to Moses, and had been fighting Israelite enemies since early in the Exodus, 40 years before.   His name first appears when Moses chooses him to lead the fight against attacking desert nomads.

Joshua’s military expertise seems to be the key to Israel’s success at conquering Canaan.  It’s not, though.  Joshua is the right man for the job, but not because of his military skill or bravery.   According to the Bible, he’s the right man because he trusts God and obeys him.  “Obey all the laws Moses gave you,” God says.  “Only then will you succeed” (Joshua 1:7-8, New Living Translation).

Joshua obeys.   And before the war starts, as well as before several key campaigns, God assures Joshua that victory is certain.  God brings the walls of Jericho down.  And God’s hailstorm kills more Canaanites at the battle of Gibeon than Joshua’s men do.  Evidently, the key to success is to obey God.

Background Notes:


The writer of the book of Joshua is never mentioned.  But since ancient times, many Bible students assumed Joshua wrote it, or at least supplied the information – some of which are private conversations between God and Joshua.  Information about Joshua’s death, reported at the end of the book, may have been supplied by Aaron’s son or grandson, priests Eleazor or Phinehas.


Israel invaded Canaan in about 1400 B.C. or perhaps a couple centuries later.  Scholars disagree on exactly when the Exodus and conquest occurred.  You can see more about this disagreement on my post about Exodus.


The story begins along the east banks of the Jordan River, in what is now        the country of Jordan.  The Israelites cross into Canaan (now Israel) and begin conquering the cities.  By book’s end, they are settling throughout Canaan and the surrounding region in what are now parts of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Bottom-Line Summary:

After 430 years in Egypt, followed by 40 years in the desert, the Israelites go home.  Their ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – had all lived in Canaan, a land God promised Abraham would belong to his descendants forever (Exodus 32:13).

With Moses dead, Joshua leads the Israelites on a mission to recapture the land, clear it out of the idol-worshiping people who live there, and establish a nation of people devoted to God.  The first to fall is the border town of Jericho, just west of the Jordan River.  Afterward, the Israelites sweep south through the rugged highlands, conquering one city after another.  Then they turn north and overrun cities in the hills by the Sea of Galilee and beyond.  With much of the resistance gone, Joshua divides the land among the 12 tribes of Israel and orders them to clear their assigned land of any remaining Canaanites.

Influential People:


Joshua is the military commander of the Israelites.  His army consists of lightly armed civilians.  His enemy includes seasoned warriors – some of them giants – heavily armed and often protected behind city walls.  But Joshua’s confidence in God is as absolute as a child’s trust in a faithful, loving parent.  Joshua’s life is a model of trust in God, and of the rewards that come with that trust.


Rahab is a Jericho prostitute who hides the Israelite scouts and asks for protection when Jericho is inevitably captured.  The New Testament Book of Hebrews later commends her faith in God.  Matthew lists Rahab – probably the same woman – among the ancestors of Jesus, suggesting she changed her way of life, married an Israelite, and devoted herself to God.


Achan is an Israelite who, against God’s orders, takes possessions from dead enemies.  For this infraction, the Israelites lose their next battle.  Achan becomes a reminder that one person’s actions can affect the entire community.

Key Ideas:

Your battles are won before they start.

Over and over, God tells Joshua that the battle ahead is already won.  Before the war for Canaan starts: “Everywhere you go, you will be on the land I have given you” (Joshua 1:3 New Living Translation).   Before Jericho falls:  “I have given you Jericho” (Jos hua 6:2 New Living Translation).  Before fighting combined armies of the north: “By this time tomorrow they will be dead” (Joshua 11:6).

Joshua still has to fight, but he knows the outcome.  That makes a difference.  It energizes him with confidence and strength.  The Bible’s message is that if we obey God, we can know the outcome, too.  Our promised land is heaven.  It will be ours forever.  In the meantime, we fight life’s battles knowing we’re already the winners.

The “If” Claus.

Canaan isn’t an automatic given, and the battles aren’t forgone conclusions.  There’s an “if” claus in God’s promises: “If you obey,” God tells Joshua, “you and Israel will be able to take this land” (Joshua 1:8).  In fact, they lose one easy battle because someone disobeys God.  The man named Achan confesses he couldn’t resist taking from the ruins of Jericho about five pounds of silver, a pound of gold, and a cape imported from Babylon.  God had told the Isrealites to take nothing from Jericho.  As a result, the 3,000 Israelites Joshua sends to capture the tiny village of Ai are routed.  They capture Ai only after executing Achan and his entire family – a horrifying example of how important obedience is at this critical stage in Israel’s history.

Today, we independent-minded people often argue that what we do is our own business.  But one person’s actions affects others in ways we don’t often realize at first.  It’s easy to see the effects when adultery leads to a family breakup, or when coveting leads to a huge monetary debt.  It’s not so easy to see with less conspicuous misdeeds.  But the dominoes will tumble against each other to inevitable collapse.

Historical Stuff:

Does archaeology prove Israel captured Canaan? No. This is a hot topic among archaeologists.  Some say the evidence suggests no single exodus and conquest, and that the Israelites migrated to Canaan over a long period of time, and without much fighting.  Others say the Israelites did invade, but captured primarily the hilly regions where few Canaanites lived.

So far, archaeological evidence hasn’t shed much light on exactly what happened.  Excavations at Hazor, a city north of the Sea of Galilee, seem to support the Bible’s account that it was defeated twice: in the time of Joshua (Joshua 11:10), and later in the tine of the Judges (Judges 4:2, 23).  The dates of these two destructions come in at about 1400 B.C. and in the mid-1200s B.C.  Soot on the ruins confirms the city was burned, as reported in Joshua.

Jericho is another story.  Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, excavating Jericho in the 1950s, said the city was gone at least 150 years before Joshua got there – that it was leveled in about 1550 B.C.  Scholars who recently reviewed Kenyon’s work said she misdated Jericho’s pottery pieces.  These scholars argue that Jericho did in fact fall in about 14oo B.C.   Archaeologists are still debating when and how Israel took control of the land.

The Jordan River stops flowing as the Israelites cross it going into Canaan.  It dams up near the city of Adam, to the north, according to the Bible.  An earthquake in 1927 produced the same effect.  Dirt from the riverbank cliffs near Adam fell and blocked the river for 21 hours.


“Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged!  I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

“Love the Lord your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, be faithful to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5 New Living Translation).

“Choose today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15 New Living Translation).  This was Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites to renew their commitment to God.


That’s all for today.

Paul S.