Bible Study Guide: Joshua

What makes Joshua unique?

At the close of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses and the people of Israel were camped in the hills of Moab, just across the Jordan River from the promised land of Canaan. So Deuteronomy ends with the expectation that soon, these people would cross the river and begin their lives in Canaan. But Moses would not be the one to lead them into this land. The young Joshua had been appointed to follow Moses as the new leader of these people.

The book of Joshua describes how the people of Israel settled in and divided up the promised land of Canaan among the twelve tribes. The title of the book comes from its leading character, Joshua, chosen to lead Israel after Moses died (Joshua 1:1-3). But the real hero is the clans are described as trying on their own to take over land with only partial success.

The second part of the book (chapters 13-24) describes how each tribe received its land. This included land in Canaan to the west of the Jordan River and some territory east of the Jordan River that had already been promised to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh (Numbers 32). The book also explains why the special servants of the Lord, the Levite tribe, did not receive a large share of land like the other tribes. Instead, they were given towns scattered throughout the whole country.

What's the story behind the scene?

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that parts of Canaan were attacked in the period between 1300 and 1200 B.C. The towns of Bethel, Lachish, and Debir were completely destroyed. While some key places were destroyed or captured under Joshua, not all the places where the Canaanites lived were taken over by the people of Israel (see Judges 1). It was not until the time of King David (around 1000 B.C.) that the tribes of Israel were united in one kingdom and were solidly in place in the land of Canaan. Even then, Canaanite culture and religion continued to influence the people of Israel for many more centuries. According to the biblical authors, it was the worship of Canaanite idols that led, in part, to the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel) in 722 B.C. and to the fall of the southern kingdom (Judah) in 586 B.C.

How is Joshua constructed?

The book of Joshua has two main parts. The first half (chapters 1-12) is a series of stories about the capture of key cities and towns in Canaan. It includes many stories that explain the origin of a landmark in Israel. The second half (chapters 13-22) consists of tribal boundaries and city lists. The twelve tribes each got a share of the land, while the Levites were given special cities scattered throughout Israel. The concluding chapters of the book (23,24) report Joshua's farewell and death as well as the important gathering at Shechem where the people of Israel promised to obey the Lord God, now that they had settled in the promised land.

The book may be outlined in the following way:

  • Conquest of western Canaan (1:1-12:24)
  • Entering the promised land (1:1-5:12)
  • The Lord leads Israel in battle (6:1-12:24)
  • Division of the promised land (13:1-22:34)
  • The last days of Joshua (23:1-24:33)
  • Joshua's farewell address (23:1-16)
  • The ceremony at Shechem and three burials (24:1-33)

Related Scripture