The Conquest: 9 Catholic Lessons from the Book of Joshua

Listers, the Historical Books are paramount in understanding salvation history. The Historical Books of the Old Testament are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, and I & II Maccabees. The Historical Books capture the story of how Israel gains the Promise Land through obedience to the covenant but also how they eventually lose the Promise Land through their disobedience. There are seven major dates within the narrative of the Historical Books.

  • c. 1200 BC – Conquest, then Judge’s Period
  • c. 1030 BC – The United Kingdom: Saul, David, & Solomon
  • 931 BC – Divided Kingdom: Northern Kingdom of Israel & Southern Kingdom of Judah
  • 722 BC – Assyrian Exile of the Northern Kingdom
  • 586 BC – First Temple Destroyed as Babylon Conquers the Southern Kingdom
  • 516 BC – The Dedication of the Second Temple
  • 165 BC – The Rededication of the Second Template under the Maccabees

The theological significance of the Historical Books is exemplified by their alternative title: the Former Prophets. While the Latter Prophets represent the minor and major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.), the Former Prophets mark the beginning of the prophets appearing in the history of Israel. Furthermore, they record a prophetic history insofar as they point toward the coming of Jesus Christ. The internal text of the Historical Books or Former Prophets testifies to the distinction between prophetic history and general history when it utilizes the phrase are not the other works of the King written in the books of… and similar statements denoting that certain historical narratives belong in the records of prophetic history and some do not. A foundational understanding of the theological significance of the Former Prophets as a whole is found in the book of Deuteronomy. The seminal chapter is chapter twenty-eight, which records the blessings of following the covenant and the curses of breaking the covenant. Arguably the entire theme of the Historical Books is the unfolding of Deuteronomy twenty-eight: whether or not Israel is faithful to the covenant.

 

 

The Book of Joshua

The Book of Joshua is the story of the conquest of the Promise Land by the Israelites. The following is a basic chapter outline of the book.1

1-12 – The Conquest
13-21 – The Division
22 – The Test (or the Real Victory)
23-24 – A Covenant Renewal

 

1. Early Church Significance

The Early Church Fathers saw a twofold significance in the Book of Joshua. In subject matter, the book records the people of God entering into the Promised Land, which serves as a type of heaven. In leadership, though Moses led them to the Promised Land, it was Joshua who served as the Christ-figure ushering in salvation. In Hebrew, Joshua means the LORD is salvation, which is also exactly what Jesus means.2 To wit, you have Joshua leading the People of God into the Promised Land as a type scene of Jesus leading the Church into heaven.

 

2. The Hexateuch

The first five books of Holy Scripture are referred to as the Pentateuch meaning five books in Greek; however, some biblical commentators saw Joshua as a necessary addition to the first five books as it finishes the story of Exodus. Adding Joshua makes it the Hexateuch. Proponents of the Hexateuch model focused on narrative of the books more than the authorship of the books. The basic literary outline of the Hexateuch is as follows:

Adam – Mankind
Moses – Drawn out
Joshua – Saved

Adding Joshua to the Pentateuch allows for the first six books of the Bible to serve as type of salvation narrative. It takes the strong typological connections between Joshua and Christ mentioned above and places it at the end of the Exodus narrative to create a small typological story of salvation.

 

3. The Jordan River & Mary Immaculate

The journey through the desert has brought Israel to the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and Jericho is located past the western shore. The Jordan River ran straight south from the fresh water sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. The Jordan River serves a typological significance in studying sin and holiness. The river was seen as the washing away sin into the sea of death, the Dead Sea. In chapter three of Joshua, as the Ark of the Covenant approaches the river, God causes the river to back up all the way to the city of Adam. It calls to mind the person of Adam and original sin. Therefore, if Mary is the New Ark of the New Covenant, the fact the Jordan dried up and backed up all the way to Adam to let the Ark pass into the Promised Land may be seen as a type scene of the Immaculate Conception.

 

4. Understanding the “Cherem”

Few things in Holy Scripture elicit more debates than the military conquest of the Promised Land. Though it certainly merits a longer conversation, there are a few quick lessons to be learned using the victory over Jericho as an example. First, Rahab’s testimony reveals that Jericho knew of Israel’s military victories and they feared the Israelites. The implication being that they could have abandoned the city or surrendered – as other cities later did. Second, the first victory of the Promise land belonged exclusively to the Lord. The battle was won supernaturally and liturgically-not militarily. It is the beginning of a liturgical theme of “right worship” throughout the Historical Books.

After the liturgical destruction of the walls of Jericho comes the Cherem or Herem:

Then the people cried aloud, and still the trumpets blew, till every ear was deafened by the shouting and the clangour; and all at once the walls fell down flat. Thereupon each man went to the assault where he was posted, and they took the city. All that was in it they slew, sparing neither man nor woman, neither youth nor age; even cattle and sheep and asses were put to the sword.3

The Cherem is the curse or the ban meaning to be devoted to destruction. Quite literally, these people are devoted to God via their destruction. They are given to God. They are handed to God due to their hardened hearts which carry the virus of idolatry. Is the cherem genocide? Not necessarily. Notice that Rahab is spared due to her profession of faith. It is a distinction of religious identity not national or ethnic identity. Is the cherem jihad? No, unlike the Islamic jihad there is no military mandate to take over the whole world. Salvation will come to the world through the wisdom of Israel not through military conquest. The concept of cherem is discussed further in the lessons below.

 

5. No Such Thing as Private Sin

In the book of Joshua, the major theological theme of convent faithfulness is demonstrated in the principle that there is no private sin. The armies of Ai rout Joshua and the Israelites, and in response Joshua cries out before the Ark of the Covenant.4 The Lord responds, “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, and lied, and put them among their own stuff.”5 Note that the Lord’s response is communal—Israel has sinned; however, only one man, A’chan, had sinned by hiding spoils of war in his tent.6 Though it was a private sin, the entire community was guilty of breaking the covenant and has lost favor with God.

Notice that the narrative of Achan almost ruins an entire people. Archan and his family are stoned to death and his possessions are burned. The story of Archan is arguably a flip side of the Cherem. The whole nation suffers until the infidelity to offered to God via destruction. It is an issue of covenant faithfulness not race or nationality.

 

6. The Sun Stands Still

What happened to Rahab in Jericho now happens to an entire community. Upon hearing what had happened to Jericho, the people of Gabaon devised a way to make peace with Israel. They dressed themselves in worn clothes and presented themselves as having traveled from far away to make an alliance. Israel was deceived and the people of Gabaon entered into a covenant with Israel. Once the deceit is discovered, Joshua curses them and they become laborers – but Israel remains in covenant with them and Gabaon becomes a pagan people ordered toward the true God. Note again that the cherem is not about race or nationality but about religious devotion to the true God of Israel. In chapter ten, the Gibeonites come under attack and Israel – in fidelity to their covenantal relationship – come to their defense. During the battle, the Lord makes the sun stand still in order that Israel may finish the battle and secure victory.

 

7. The Division of the Land

The division of the Promise Land amongst the tribes sets the stage for the rest of the history of Israel. The tribes will be a loose collection of entities during the Judges period, they will be united under Saul, David, and Solomon, and then they will fragment and will be conquered and exiled by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. It is these section of Joshua that sets the geographic stage for the rest of Historical Books. The most important tribe in the north becomes Ephraim and in the south Judah. Typologically, the Early Church commented on this section as showing the different levels of glory in heaven, because the Promise Land is not dividing equally among the tribes. Finally, note that the Jebusities who control what will later become Jerusalem still remain unconquered in the Promise Land.7

 

8. The Test

In the twenty-second chapter, a few tribes of Israel still remain on the east side of the Jordan. The question of the narrative of “the test” is whether the physical barrier of the Jordan will also become a spiritual barrier. Those on the east side decide to set up a huge altar next to river to show they are part of the body of Israel and that the God of Israel is their God; however, those on the west side misread their actions and believe those on the east bank have erected a false altar. The idea of cherem re-enters the story as the Israelites on the west bank believe they must now destroy those on the east bank due to their unfaithfulness to the covenant. They are willing to war with their own kinsmen in order that Israel may remain pure and faithful to their covenant with the Lord. Fortunately, before the war begins the true purpose of the altar on the east bank is discovered and all ends well.

 

9. Covenant Renewal

The Book of Joshua ends with a renewal of the covenant.8 Joshua demands that Israel chose who they will serve, which has become a famous passage in Holy Scripture:

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”9

“And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”10

“But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve… but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”11

“If the Lord’s service mislikes you, choose some other way… I and mine will worship the Lord.”12

The larger passage denotes that either the Israelites still have foreign gods among them or rather the spirit of idolatry is still dwelling in their hearts. What they need is a cherem of the heart. Israel chooses to follow the Lord and does so as long as Joshua is alive; however, the Promise Land is not completely conquered. The Jebusites still remain in what will become Jerusalem.

  1. Resources: These lessons on Joshua were drawn primarily from a lecture by a professor at a FSSP seminary. []
  2. “The word Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek ‘Ina-00s, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua, or again Jehoshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation”.” – Catholic Answers. []
  3. 6:20-21, Knox. []
  4. 7:4-9 []
  5. v. 11 []
  6. vv. 19-21 []
  7. Jebusites remain, 15:63; it is not until King David that they are conquered and Jerusalem becomes the central political and spiritual point for the People of God. []
  8. 24:24-15 []
  9. 24:14, KJV. []
  10. RSVCE []
  11. Douay-Rheims []
  12. Knox Bible []