The book of Joshua, with its epic account of Israel’s nearly flawless conquest of Canaan, is a favorite for many. Accounts of larger-than-life miracles make the book powerful and memorable: the miracles of crossing the Jordan River, the collapse of Jericho’s walls, the halting of the sun and moon in the sky. Joshua is a great and godly (albeit imperfect) example of how to live a life of faith in obedience to the Lord.
Embedded in the historical narratives are some aspects of Joshua’s experience that hint at the person and work of Jesus, the Joshua par excellence. Here are six.
1. Leader Who Follows the Lord’s Law
Throughout the book, God tells Joshua to dedicate himself to the law of the Lord, not departing from it to the right or to the left, meditating on it, and practicing its precepts (Josh. 1:6–8). He is promised military success if he obeys the law of the Lord.
In a greater way, Jesus perfectly kept the law, delighting to live out the Lord’s law. It was his bread, his food, his very purpose and mission. If Joshua led well by following the Lord and his word, how much more did Jesus, who perfectly obeyed the will of his Father?
2. Deliverer Who Rescues Sinners
It would have been natural for Joshua to forget about or overlook the promise of protection made to Rahab during the battle for Jericho. But Joshua keeps this promise by having the spies whom Rahab saved become her saviors (Josh. 6:22–23). Her promiscuous work does not prevent Joshua from “saving alive” Rahab, her father’s household, and all who belong to her (Josh. 6:25).
After the destruction of Jericho and Ai, the shifty people of Gibeon—who had deceived Israel—cry out to Joshua for deliverance (Josh 10:6). The people of Israel had been bamboozled by their neighbors only a short time earlier, and many in Israel wanted to execute the Gibeonites for their duplicity (Josh. 9:18–21).
Despite this, Joshua remains faithful to his word and delivers them from the coalition of kings in southern Canaan. Both Rahab and the Gibeonites were undeserving of God’s mercy, yet both were delivered by Joshua.
Jesus also offers salvation to the undeserving. Paul wrote in Romans 5:6–8 of Christ’s mercy toward us: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Like Joshua, Jesus brings salvation to those whose lives and actions neither earned nor deserved such deliverance.
3. Warrior Who Conquers His Enemies
Joshua is often remembered as a warrior, a conqueror who destroyed the Canaanite armies. At the battle of Ai, he is credited with burning the city and executing its king (Josh. 8:28–29). He executed the kings of the southern Canaanite coalition (Josh. 10:26) and had the city of Hazor burned in the north (Josh. 11:11). God’s promise to Joshua that no one would stand against him all the days of his life (Josh. 1:5) was proven true throughout the conquest.
Jesus is also presented as a conquering warrior at times in the New Testament, especially regarding the spiritual realm: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
At the cross, God the Father “disarmed the rulers and authorities” of the angelic world “and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15). Jesus defeated death through his death and resurrection so that we can say, with the apostle Paul: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).
And just as Joshua put his foot on the necks of his enemies (Josh 10:24), so in the future Christ will, at his coming, put all rule and authority under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25).
4. Prophet Who Speaks the Lord’s Words
Joshua functions as prophet for Israel at several points in the conquest narratives. He speaks to the people on God’s behalf, communicating divine revelation to the nation (cf. Josh. 3:7–8, 9–13). He promises a curse by the word of the Lord upon the one who would rebuild the city of Jericho (Josh. 6:26), enacted centuries later upon Hiel of Bethel (1 Kings 16:34). Most dramatically, Joshua commands the sun and moon to stand still in the sky while the Israelites chase down their enemies (Josh. 10:12–14).
Jesus functions as prophet to Israel in strikingly similar ways. He speaks to the nation on behalf of God, but also as God, and therefore as the one who perfectly reveals God’s true character and nature (John 1:18). Jesus’s ministry is sprinkled with predictive prophecy (John 2:19; Matt. 20:18–19; 24:2). His calming the sea and raising the dead firmly place Jesus within the tradition of the prophets of Israel, of which Joshua was a prototype.
5. Victor Who Shares the Inheritance with His People
Joshua’s division of the land of Canaan as inheritance for Israel may seem an anticlimactic sequel to the conquest narratives. Yet for ancient Israelites, this was the happily ever after they had sought since before their slavery in Egypt. For the first time in over 400 years, the people of Israel were coming back into the land God had promised them as an eternal possession (Gen. 15:18; 17:8). And after Joshua gives the people victory over their enemies, he stands alongside Eleazar the priest as the Lord reveals which Canaanite cities and regions would be given to the different tribes. Israel’s promised inheritance had now been realized (cf. Josh. 21:43–45).
Jesus, after conquering death, brings his people into a great inheritance. Some are available to believers. We have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God the Father, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have been adopted as God’s children, becoming heirs of the covenantal promises to Israel (Gal. 3:29).
There is also an eschatological aspect to our inheritance that will be fully revealed when Christ returns and the dead are raised. As Joshua gives his people rest in the land of promise, so Christ promises us an eternal home with him in a glorious new creation (John 14:1–2; Rev. 21–22).
6. Servant Who Faithfully Enacts the Lord’s Will
A key question in the book of Joshua is whether the successor of Moses would live up to his reputation and legacy. Although Joshua has his moments of failure, the final analysis of his life demonstrates he lived for the glory of God: “After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died” (Josh. 24:29).
Joshua’s epitaph recounts none of his victories or successes; it highlights his faithful service to the Lord. In this we have a powerful picture of Jesus, who said of himself that he came as a servant to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus is the ultimate servant of the Lord who perfectly kept the law and perfectly lives for the glory of his Father.