Joshua: Personal Background

Brent Thorwall
Crystal Lake Evangelical Free Church


The man Joshua: his training to be the leader of the Israelites.

See Num 13:16. Note that Joshua’s name was originally Hoshea, which means “salvation” or “he saves.” But Moses called him Joshua, which means “The  Lord saves.” Henceforth even his name would remind Joshua that God is the source of power and salvation. (Aside: Joshua translated into Greek is the
name Jesus.) We know nothing about Joshua’s father, but his grandfather was a leader of the tribe of Ephraim (cf. 1 Chr 7:27).

The following are passages where Joshua is mentioned before he becomes the leader of Israel. Why was Joshua chosen by God to be the next leader of Israel, and how did God prepare Joshua for the responsibility? Consider  these passages and look for:

a) what event is taking place,
b) what characteristic of Joshua is revealed,
c) what preparation did he receive from this experience, and
d) what did you observe that you may not have noticed before (about
Joshua or anything else in the passage).

Ex 17:8-13 We first meet Joshua when he is chosen to be the military leader to fight the Amalekites. (The Amalekites were Semites who knew who God was, and chose to fight his people as a rebellion against God.

1) Joshua learns that God will not tolerate the rebellion of men,  2) that power is from God (not because of anything man can do; Joshua wins the battle while Moses’ arms are lifted, and loses when they fall), and 3) the importance of remembering God’s teaching (“write this down and make sure Joshua hears it”, cf. Josh 1:8).

Ex 24:1-18 We see that Joshua is Moses’ right-hand man. Joshua accompanies Moses and the elders to Mt. Sinai to meet with God. Moses is on his way to get the Ten Commandments. Joshua learns about

1) the reality of God, 2) the glory of God, and 3) that there is no vast chasm between the seen and unseen worlds. God is here in space-time [cf. 2 Ki 6:15-17].

Ex 32:1-35 On the way down from Mt. Sinai, Joshua sees the tablets written  by God…and when he reaches the base of the mountain, the people are sinning grossly against God: they have made and are worshipping a Golden Calf  (which they are even referring to as “YHWH”). Joshua learns

1) the terribleness of sin, 2) that just using the name of God means nothing [cf. Matt 25:10-12], and
3) there is a place for Godly anger (Moses’ reaction to the activities of the people).

Ex 33:7-11 Moses and Joshua spent their time at the Tent of Meeting outside the camp. God comes and talks with them directly at the Tent. When Moses goes back to the camp, Joshua stays at the Tent.

1) He sees the reality of God’s glory, and 2) observes that God can and will guide; he is interested in the
daily concerns of the people.

Num 11:24-29 The Spirit of God rests on the elders of Israel who are  talking to Moses at the Tent of Meeting (while Joshua observes). The elders begin  to prophesy. So, too, do the elders Eldad and Medad, even though they are not  in the group at the Tent of Meeting. Joshua tells Moses to restrain them, but
Moses rebukes Joshua for trying to restrain God.

1) Man should not confuse himself with God,
2) nor should he try to bind God with man-made rules.

Num 13-14:38 Joshua is to represent his tribe (Ephraim) in the group of men chosen to spy out the land. Joshua is willing to stand against the  majority, that is, to stand with God. The other ten spies see “the giants in the  land,” but Joshua and Caleb see that God is bigger than any giants. (Cf. 1 Sam 17:20-37 on the viewpoint of the army versus David’s view of Goliath.)

1) The majority is not always right, 2) rebellion against God is a terrible thing, with disastrous
consequences, and 3) God keeps his promises (from their peer group, only Joshua and Caleb will see the Promised Land).

Num 26:65, 27:18-23, Deut 31:1-8, 14, 23 Joshua is ordained to be the next leader of Israel.

1) Leadership is from God, not from men (not even Moses), 2) even though you are in front of the people, God is in front of  you, so don’t be afraid (look back on your life: God has taken good care of you, so why be concerned about tomorrow?), and 3) Moses will die–no man is indispensable, but every man is unique (cf. Deut 34:10, no one else like Moses).

Num 32:1-33 The two-and-a-half tribes are permitted to inhabit Transjordan, but only if they will make a commitment to help the other tribes gain their inheritance in Canaan. They agree.

1) Be careful to fulfill your responsibilities to God and to the people of God, even to the subjugation of your own needs and desires, and 2) do not restrict God (he does not tell the two-and-a-half tribes
they must inhabit Canaan). [Aside: The Promised Land is probably more than Canaan, but excludes Edom and Moab; cf. Num 21:21-35; 34:10-12; Deut 2:12-25, 31; 3:8, 18; Ps 136:19-22.

Deut 34:9 “Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom…and the sons of Israel listened to him…” Putting an individual through a leadership training program does not guarantee that he will have leadership abilities.  Joshua had to choose to be the leader God wanted him to be. Cf. Josh 24:15 “choose whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Otherwise, there might have been another Kadesh-Barnea–“We can’t do it; they have chariots, we don’t…”

Why did God choose Joshua? Was it because of his military expertise?  Not primarily. Rather, Joshua demonstrated obedience, faith, and teachableness. Just as God used the plagues to teach Israel about himself,  he used several life experiences to teach Joshua about his relationship to God and to God’s people.

What can you learn about God from Joshua’s experiences, and how should it influence your daily life? What is God doing for you to teach you theological truths? When you receive blessings from God, do you focus only on the physical aspects and miss out on the spiritual?

Take time to look again at the lessons Joshua learned. Which of these have not permeated your outlook? Do you think like Joshua and Caleb, or like the other ten spies? Do you try to limit the effectiveness of God? Are you willing to stand against the majority? Do you subjugate your desires to your responsibility to God?

What other issues and applications do you see that we have not yet considered?

Outline for study taken from:

Schaeffer, Francis A. Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1975. Davis, John J. Conquest and Crisis: Studies in Joshua, Judges and Ruth.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1969.

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