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I have mixed emotions every time I begin preaching through a book of the Bible. I’m delighted to begin another adventure, but I am also afraid of the challenge that lies ahead. Each book presents a homiletical hurdle: Some sections resist being sermonized.
Despite intense study, it is difficult to move from exegesis (what it meant) to theology (what it means for the church). This article attempts to help preachers clear this hurdle when preaching through Joshua by presenting a series of 22 sermons.
A theme for the series provides unity and purpose. Each preaching portion includes a sermon title, a key verse or verses (KV), a dominant idea (DI), a major interpretative issue to explore (II) and a link to the gospel for those who desire to practice or explore Christ-centered interpretation (GN). The data is designed to suggest angles from which to preach the thought-blocks of Joshua. Results from your own exegesis and study of commentaries will flesh out the sermons. My desire is that this article might sway you to consider preaching through Joshua. Even if you do not decide to preach through the whole book, maybe this material will help you decide to stay a little longer in the book than you originally planned.
Here are some challenges you can expect to face when preaching through Joshua:
• Huge sections are heavy on history and light on theology. Below you’ll see a couple of sections in Joshua that record numerous battles and the division of the Promised Land. Be prepared to summarize the repeated actions of winning battles and taking possession of pieces of the land. Sermons such as numbers 13 through 15 below should focus on the theology presented in these lengthy narratives. That theology will be conveyed through key repetition of what God does (driving out the inhabitants of the land by defeating a long list of kings) and what God’s people do and don’t do (did not drive out all the inhabitants; some of God’s people were aggressive in going after particular parts of the land).
• Aim at bolstering believers’ faith as much as instructing them on how to live. I have to fight the urge to press too many details of Joshua narratives into applicational points. It is profitable, and just as relevant at times, to allow the narratives to strengthen our faith without necessarily telling us what to do. An emboldened faith always results in renewed worship and obedience.
• What do we do with Joshua’s example? Joshua is certainly a main character and must be reckoned with in the exposition of the book. Note the times when God intends for Joshua to be exalted among the people, for instance. You will have to find balance in finding meaning in Joshua between Joshua functioning as an exemplar (mostly positive, “go and do likewise” stuff) and as a sign pointing to Jesus. It is difficult to equate Joshua’s importance to the importance of pastoral leadership. I’m not saying it’s impossible, only difficult.
• How consistently do you want to apply some form of Christ-centered interpretation? The Book of Joshua provides opportunities for various levels of Christological interpretation. Some will be very conservative with this approach while others will be very aggressive and, therefore, creative in allowing the gospel to flesh out the interpretation of Joshua for the church. Look for clear allusions to Christ, but also the not-so-obvious connections. You should find these Christological connections do not create new meanings, but simply display how the grace of God-in-Christ makes it possible for God to save and sanctify those who believe.
• Resist the temptation to alleviate the tension between what God promises and what His people achieve. One of the difficult sections in Joshua revolves around God’s promise to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land. God’s people, however, fail to drive the inhabitants completely out of the land. What God promised evidently did not come true. What happened? This shows the interplay between God’s actions and our actions as it relates to experiencing all that God has planned for us. I’m suggesting it’s best to keep that tension intact as opposed to softening it. Theology is best communicated in the thick of such tension.
Preaching Theme: The story of Israel’s invasion, conquest and division of the Promised Land bolsters the faith of believers and instructs them in their quest to enjoy all God has provided for them in Christ.
1. Joshua 1:1-6: How God Makes His Life Possible for Us who Believe
KV: 1:3, 5-6 present Joshua as the key to Israel’s success.
DI: God’s people are guaranteed victory and life in the Promised Land as they follow their Commander.
II: What is it about living in the Promised Land that parallels our Christian life?
GN: Christians enjoy God’s eternal life because they follow their Commander-Christ to victory. On the cross, God did to Jesus what He said He wouldn’t do to the Israelites (cf. v. 5 “I will not…forsake you”), and this secures our victory.
2. Joshua 1:6-9: The Condition to Having ‘Good Success’ in Your Effort to Enjoy God
KV: The command to obey is repeated in verses 7-8.
DI: Enjoying God’s eternal life is conditioned upon obedience.
II: Why does obedience require strength and courage? How are “good success” and “prosperity” defined in the Old and New Testaments?
GN: Joshua’s obedience points to Christ who completely obeyed God’s law and made His perfection available to us who believe.
3. Joshua 1:10-18: “Help them until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as He has to you.”
KV: Verses 14-15 record Joshua’s instructions for the two and a half tribes to help their brothers.
DI: Enjoying God’s rest is a family affair, not every man for himself.
II: Why does God describe entrance into the Promised Land as “rest”? Why is every able-bodied warrior needed in this fight?
GN: Jesus’ sacrifice made His rest available to all who believe (Hebrews 4). Jesus died for all disobedient people. On the cross, God punished His Son in place of the disobedient ones.
4. Joshua 2: The Story of Rahab: Gaining Confidence that Our Mission Is Succeeding
KV: Verses 2-3, 9, 14, 24 highlight the land the Lord gave to His people.
DI: The unlikely alliance with Rahab gives us confidence that our Lord has provided abundant living for believers.
II: What is the significance of a prostitute believing in God?
GN: God guarantees His blessings for believers through Christ, born in Rahab’s line (Matthew 1:5). Salvation was secured for us as Christ gave His life in place of us (Josh. 2:14: “Our life for yours even to death!”). The oath taken in Joshua 2 points to the oath of God-in-Christ in Hebrews 6Hebrews 7.
5. Joshua 3: Crossing over into Abundant Life: The Impossible Barrier of the Jordan River
KV: Verses 3, 6, 11, 13-15, 17 contain references to the ark of the covenant. Verse 7 states that God would use this event to “begin to exalt” Joshua “in the sight of all Israel.”
DI: God is present and at work in our lives, and we can follow Him to enjoy more of the life He provides.
II: Why was the ark of the covenant of the Lord so significant during this miracle?
GN: Our Great High Priest went through the waters of death ahead of us just as the priests who were carrying the ark. As Joshua was exalted in the Jordan, so also our Lord was exalted at His baptism (Matthew 3:13-17).
6. Joshua 4: Twelve Stones: Remembering What God Has Done to Bring You This Far
KV: Verses 5-7 present God’s instructions to build a memorial and the reason why.
DI: In order to make progress in the spiritual life, remember God’s mighty, saving acts.
II: Why was it important for each tribe to send a representative in after Jordan River stones? Why was it so important that Joshua be exalted (cf. v. 14)?
GN: It is important to note in verse 19 that God’s people come up out of the river on the same day the Exodus occurred. That day is also the time when the Passover lamb was chosen for sacrifice four days later. The great acts of deliverance at the Exodus and the Jordan River point to the ultimate act of deliverance at the cross.
7. Joshua 5:1-12: What God Requires Before We Go Any Further in the Spiritual Journey
KV: Verses 2-7 record the Lord’s instruction to Joshua to “circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”
DI: Even though God was going to give them victory, God’s people had to be spiritually ready for their part of the fight to enjoy God’s life.
II: What did this second circumcision signify about God’s people? What would having uncircumcised Israelites do to their chances of winning the battles in Canaan?
GN: On the cross, our Lord “rolled away the reproach” of our sins (Josh. 5:9). The Passover celebration in verses 10-11 also points to our Savior’s sacrifice. Spiritual victories are guaranteed for those who by faith in Christ meet the conditions of God’s covenant.
8. Joshua 5:13-15: Before You Fight for More of God’s Abundant Life, Meet the Commander of His Army
KV: Verse 14 identifies the armed man who met Joshua.
DI: Our Holy Lord fights for us in our quest for spiritual maturity.
II: What’s the importance of this encounter happening immediately before the battle of Jericho? Why does the commander of the army of the Lord not say he was for Joshua and God’s people?
GN: In order for Jesus to be for us, He ends up being God’s adversary on the cross and confers His righteousness on all who believe in Him. This puts us on the Lord’s side and assures He will fight for us so we can experience abundant life. One day, Jesus will arrive again with a sword to administer God’s final justice and secure for us complete salvation.
9. Joshua 6: The Fall of Jericho and the Rise of Our Faith
KV: Verses 3-5 outline God’s outrageous plan of attack. Verses 4, 6-9, 11-13 highlight the presence of God in the ark of the covenant.
DI: Christians fight for their spiritual lives in full dependence on God’s power to deliver.
II: What does God’s method of attack say about His salvation and how we experience it?
GN: Colossians 2:13-15 teaches us that God-in-Christ has disarmed the spiritual authorities. The curse Joshua exclaimed in 6:26, “At the cost of his firstborn,” describes how God gave His people victory over sin and death.
10. Joshua 7Joshua 8:1-29: Sin’s Devastating Effect on Our Ability to Fight Spiritual Battles
KV: Verse 1 reports Achan’s sin and God’s response. This explains the following defeat at Ai. See also God’s explanation in verses 11-12: “Israel has sinned…”
DI: Christians experience defeat in their spiritual lives individually and corporately when sin is not confessed and dealt with.
II: How could God punish an entire nation for one man’s rebellion?
GN: This story is not just about one man being responsible for spiritual defeat. It’s also about one Man being responsible for spiritual victory for all who believe. Our Savior is pictured in a couple of ways: (1) Achan was from the tribe of Judah through whom our Lord would enter the world. (2) Jesus’ crucifixion and becoming a curse for us is seen in the way in which the king of Ai was executed (v. 8:29).
11. Joshua 8:30-35: Pausing Each Sunday to Renew Our Relationship with God
KV: Verses 32, 34-35 contain references to God’s Law, first written and then read.
DI: Covenant-keeping ceremonies help keep our relationship with God strong so He can show Himself strong in our lives. Advancing in the Christian life is the result of a healthy relationship with God consisting of trusting and obeying.
II: Why was it important to read the blessing and the curse in the Book of the Law?
GN: We know the rest of the story: Due to disobedience, God’s people experienced the curse of the Law, not the blessing. Years later, our Savior entered the scene to be sacrificed on the cross not far from that location on Mount Ebal. Galatians 3:13 says, “He became a curse for us so His obedience could be credited to our account.”
12. Joshua 9: Our Failures, God’s Successes
KV: Verse 15 records Joshua’s decision to make a covenant of peace with the Gibeonites. Verses 6-7, 11, 15-16 mention making a covenant with them. Verse 14 states that “the men…did not ask counsel from the Lord.”
DI: Israel’s second major failure teaches us how important it is to depend on the Lord daily as we strive to live for Him and obey Him.
II: What is the significance of the repetition of the Gibeonites’ assignment, “cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation”?
GN: Three times near the end of the chapter we read of the Gibeonites becoming “cutters of wood and drawers of water” (vv. 21, 23, 27). In verse 27, we read that this service was performed “for the altar of the Lord.” This was said to be a curse (v. 23 “you are cursed…”). Our Savior was the Servant who suffered the curse of God (Galatians 3:13). All the wood cut and water drawn by the Gibeonites was used to sacrifice sacrifices which pointed to the ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus. At the cross, one Servant died so other servants of God could live by faith (Joshua 9:20-21, “Let them live”).
13. Deuteronomy 10Joshua 11Joshua 12: Our Lord Is Fighting for Us
KV: 10:10-14 records what the Lord did supernaturally to defeat the enemy nations (also 10:42 “…the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel”). The phrase, “Do not fear,” is repeated in verses 10:8, 25; 11:6.
DI: Despite facing powerful foes, Christians can take courage in their fight to enjoy more of God’s life because He fights for them (and along with them).
II: What is the significance of God listing all the kings whomJoshua defeated (v. 12:24) “in all, thirty-one kings”?
GN: The action of the “chiefs of the men of war” of putting “their feet on their necks [of the defeated kings]” (v. 10:24) foreshadows Jesus defeating our enemies through His death and resurrection (Psalms 110:1). Jesus’ death and burial mirrored the plight of the five defeated kings who were hung on trees and buried in caves closed by large stones (Josh. 10:26-27).
14. Joshua 13—17: Learning to Finish the Job of Battling Temptation and Sin
KV: Verse 13:6 records what God promised He would do (“I Myself will drive them out…”). Tension develops in 13:13; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; and Joshua 17:12-13 as God’s people fail to drive out the enemies completely.
DI: Our disbelief/disobedience, not the strength of our enemy, is what keeps Christians from enjoying all the life God has made possible.
II: How can we explain God’s statement that He will drive out the enemies with Israel’s failure to do so? What is God implying by allowing His people to experience partial victory?
GN: Only our Lord Jesus’ death on the cross would make victory over our enemies possible. In His seeming defeat, God conquered on our behalf.
15. Joshua 14—19, 21: “Give me a blessing”: Making Sure You Get Your Piece of Salvation Pie
KV: Verses 14:6-12; Joshua 15:16-19; Joshua 17:3-6; Joshua 19:49-50; Joshua 21:1-2 record individual requests for land.
DI: Five individuals display the kind of faith and tenacity necessary to enjoy God’s abundant life.
II: What does the inheritance of the land teach us about our salvation? Why are these individuals who make special requests set forth in the narrative?
GN: Caleb’s description of being someone who “wholly followed the Lord” (vv. 14:8, 14) points to our Savior who perfectly obeyed God’s laws. His death allows believers to inherit eternal life.
16. Joshua 20: Finding Mercy Within the Justice of God
KV: Verse 6 explains how long the manslayer stays in the city of refuge.
DI: God in His mercy continues to make provision for saints who sin.
II: What does the need for cities of refuge say about the kind of life lived among God’s people?
GN: Jesus’ death that forgives sin is pictured in the death of the high priest that allowed the manslayer to return to his own town. This allows God to extend mercy while maintaining justice.
17. Joshua 21:43-45: “Not one word of all the good promises…had failed”: Believing in Our Promise-Keeping God
KV: Verse 45 provides assurance that God keeps His promises.
DI: This summary of Joshua provides Christians with great confidence in God’s ability to deliver on His promise to save/sanctify believers.
II: How does this summary square with earlier references to Israel’s inability to drive out its enemies completely? What does this tension say about the Christian life?
GN: We know all the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). According to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus provides rest beyond the rest provided by Joshua (Hebrews 4:1-10).
18. Joshua 22:1-9: Five Requirements for Maintaining Abundant Life
KV: Verse 5 contains five instructions.
DI: Enjoying God’s kind of life is conditioned upon loving and obeying Him.
II: What is the connection between loyalty to God and His people enjoying life in Canaan? How does that translate to living the Christian life?
GN: In verse 8, the concept of dividing the spoil portrays our Lord who would do the same (Isaiah 53:12). On the cross, Jesus’ clothes were divided (Matthew 27:35). His sacrifice resulted in the ability of believers to meet the five requirements.
19. Joshua 22:10-34: “The people of Israel…spoke no more of making war against them”: Handling the Tension Between Unity and Holiness
KV: Verses 12-20 (the accusation) and verse 31 (resolution).
DI: Attempts to maintain holiness must be balanced with the need to maintain unity.
II: What was wrong with building “the altar at the frontier of…Canaan” (v. 11)?
GN: Jesus’ death was the offering that created His unified body that needs to be preserved.
20. Joshua 23: The Condition for Enjoying Abundant Life, Plus a Severe Warning
KV: Verses 6-8, 11 (conditions) and verses 12-13, 15-16 (warnings)
DI: Joshua’s second farewell sermon teaches how faith in Christ empowers us to obey our Lord and enjoy God’s life.
II: Why does our Lord stop fighting for His people when they disbelieve/disobey (v. 10)?
GN: On the cross, Jesus, the only perfect, law-abiding citizen gave His life so believers could escape the wrath of God (vv. 15-16).
21. Joshua 24:1-28: “Choose this day whom you will serve”: Renewing Our Commitment to Fear and Serve God Alone
KV: Verses 2, 14 (idolatry) and verses 19-20 (Israel’s inability to serve the Lord).
DI: Joshua’s final farewell sermon teaches that Christians remain faithful to the Lord.
II: Why is idolatry so damaging to a person’s life? How does faith in Christ deliver from idolatry?
GN: The rest of the story includes another covenant made by Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 8:6-12; Hebrews 13:20-21). By faith in Christ we fulfill our obligation to the covenant and live lives that please God (Galatians 2:20).
22. Joshua 24:29-33: How Three Burials Bolster Our Faith
KV: Verses 30, 32-33 mention three burials.
DI: These three burials give Christians hope by highlighting God’s faithfulness to His promises about a future resurrection and complete salvation.
II: Why would Joshua end with three burials, and why are these three men listed?
GN: Our Savior’s death and resurrection secures for believers their eternal rest in a “better country” (Hebrews 11:16).
I’ve given 22 potential sermons. You may have detected repeated themes that could shorten the series; you may have noted lengthy sections that potentially yield more sermons. Whatever you decide, enjoy preaching through Joshua for the glory of God and the good of His church.
Harstad, Adolph L. Joshua Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2004.