March 11 Reading: Joshua 1-4 Commentary

Below is our Joshua 1-4 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)


commentaryThe book of Joshua is named after Moses’ successor Joshua. Moses had been his mentor and now God called him to lead the people into the Promised Land.

Joshua in Hebrew means “The Lord Saves” – which is appropriate. Although Joshua would be doing the leading, it was God who would command the armies of Israel as they conquered this new land. God’s miraculous power is evident throughout the book. 

Most believe the events of this book occur over a 10 year time span as it outlines how the Israelites went about defeating their enemies and possessing the land. This was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12 and then further reiterated to Isaac and Jacob.

The process of conquering the land wouldn’t be easy. But with God on his side, Joshua and the people would find the courage to do what needed to be done (see Josh. 1:5-9).

Joshua 1 – Be Strong and Courageous

Most likely, Joshua had heard the Lord speak before. But we have no indication to this point of God speaking directly to Joshua. Moses had always been the one with which God communicated.

But now Moses is dead (v. 2) and Joshua is the new leader of the people. So now he is receiving the communication from the Lord. And in their opening discussion, God lays it all on the line for Joshua.

A Pregame Speech

The first 9 verses of Joshua 1 read like a coach’s pregame speech. Here are some things God said to Joshua:

“Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…” (v. 3).

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (v. 5).

“Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” (v. 6).

“Only be strong and very courageous…do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.” (v. 7)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (v. 9)

But the most important thing God told Joshua in these opening verses is found in verse 8:

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

The formula for success was simple – follow God. Joshua and the people would find the strength to do that if they mediated on God’s law continually and then chose to observe it.

Preparations Begin

Joshua sent word to all his officers to go through the camp and let the people know that in three days they would cross the Jordan (v. 10). They needed some advance warning so that they could prepare provisions (v. 11)

Joshua also spoke with the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh about their pledge to help the rest of the tribes conquer the land. These three tribes had asked Moses to give them their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan (see Numbers 32). God had told Moses this request was fine as long as they first committed to help their fellow Israelites conquer the land of Canaan. Once the conquest of the land was completed, they could return home to the land they requested.

To their credit, the tribes did not back out now that Moses was dead. They confirmed their oath with Joshua and the Lord by saying, All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you” (vv. 16-17). That must have been an encouraging moment for Joshua as a leader to know they weren’t backing out on their promise. 

Joshua 2 – Rahab and the Spies

Joshua sent spies into the land just as Moses had done (Num. 13). Their specific job was to scout out Jericho in particular. This would be the first major test in their conquest of the land.

The two spies sent by Joshua went to Jericho and found the home of a common prostitute named Rahab. We don’t know why they sought her out specifically. Maybe they thought she’d have the pulse on the local gossip or that it would be an inconspicuous place to hide. Whatever the reason, people found out they were staying there and told the king of Jericho that men of Israel had come to spy out the country (v. 3).

The king sent word through his messengers for Rahab to bring the men out. But she had hidden them on the roof of her home under stalks of flax. And then she lied to the messengers saying the men had left her home and city some time ago. The search outside the city began and the spies were never found (vv. 4-7).

Remember Me

What is astonishing about this encounter is that God touched the heart of a Canaanite prostitute to assist in his plan. It appears Rahab became a believer in God before the spies even arrived.  And she knew that God was about to do something miraculous in the land. In fact, all the people knew it.

In verse 8, she uses a personal name for God (Yahweh) that indicates her faith and describes the hearts of the people to the spies:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites…And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (vv. 9-11)

That’s an astonishing declaration of faith considering the source.

Because she knew this in her heart, Rahab requested that the spies show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death” (vv.12-13).

The spies agreed to this as long as Rahab did not tell anyone of their plans (v. 14). Additionally, they requested that she tie a scarlet cord in her window as a sign of their agreement and that her family be inside the house in order to be saved (vv. 17-20) when Jericho was destroyed.

An Enduring Legacy

Rahab wasn’t perfect. She clearly had character flaws before her encounter with the spies. And some would point to the fact that she lied to protect them. Whether that is excusable or not really isn’t the point.

What does matter is that Rahab gave her life to the one true God. In demonstration of that faith, her place in Biblical history is applauded. She and her family were saved from the destruction of Jericho (see Joshua 6:23). The writer of Hebrews regarded her as a heroine of the faith (Hebrews 11:31). And perhaps more significantly, she ends up becoming a mother in the line of Jesus (see Ruth 4:18-22; Matt. 1:5).

It once again shows that God loves all and is no respecter of persons. He is open for all to come to him. He can and will use anyone for his purpose.

Joshua 3 – Finally, Crossing the Jordan

It’s finally time to enter the Promised Land. All the hardships in Egypt and decades of wandering in the wilderness because of their sin (Numbers 13), had led to this. Only one obstacle remained – the Jordan River.

This crossing would have been difficult under any circumstances. But at this time of year, the Jordan was at flood stage (v. 15). So how would they get across? Would there be another Red Sea type miracle (Ex. 14)?

Israel was camped on the east side of the Jordan at a place called Acacia Grove (aka Shittim). It was a place familiar to Israel as they had been camped there when Balaam had intentions to curse Israel (Num. 22-24). It was also the location where God had punished Israel for going after Moabite women who were prostitutes (Num. 25:1-3). Now though, it would be remembered for a much more positive reason.

Joshua instructed his officers to go throughout the camp and prepare the people for departure (v. 2). The signal for when to leave was when the priests began to carry the ark of the covenant (v. 3). The people were to follow the path the priests walked to the Jordan, keeping a distance of two thousand cubits (about half a mile) between themselves and the ark (v. 4). Again, God led them, just like he had in the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire by night during their wilderness journeys.

Upon arrival at the exact crossing location, Joshua instructed the people to consecrate (sanctify) themselves “for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (v. 5). We don’t know if any specific spiritual rituals were done in preparation for the crossing. But the idea of holiness and being set apart from unclean things is a prevalent theme in the book of Joshua.

For Joshua and the People

Perhaps more than anyone, Joshua needed God to show up. He was the newly appointed leader of Israel. Probably the people trusted him. But they had not seen God work through Joshua yet.

To this point, God reaffirmed his commitment to Joshua as Moses’ successor. God told him in verse 7: “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” That must have been a comforting word in this moment for Joshua.

But the people also needed to see God at work. Many enemy people groups they would have to drive out awaited them (v. 10). They needed to know God was with them. And He was about to reveal himself to the people in a big way.

God instructed Joshua to have the priests carrying the ark of the covenant step into and then stand in the Jordan River. Immediately when the priests feet touched the waters edge “the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho” (v. 16).

All the people passed through the Jordan on completely dry ground (v. 17)! It was another Red Sea miracle.

Joshua 4 – A Stone Memorial

Memorials are important. They remind us of something important that happened. And they usually honor the person or group of people involved in that special moment.

In Joshua 4, God told Joshua to appoint 12 men (one from each tribe) to take 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan River (v. 9) and set up a stone memorial at the place where they crossed (v. 3). This happened while the priests were still standing in the now dry ground of the Jordan (v. 10).

What was the importance of this memorial? Joshua 4:6-7 gives the answer. It was to:

“…be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”

The memorial was built and all the people crossed the river (including all the armies of Reuben, Gad and half-tribe of Manasseh accounting for about 40,000 men – v. 12-13). At that point, the priests carried the ark up out of the river. The moment their feet touched the banks of the land, the waters began to flow again and the Jordan returned to its flood stage levels (v. 18).

This miracle had it’s intended effect for Joshua. Verse 14 tells us that “On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life.”

Additionally, it also exalted the Lord. The memorial Joshua set up at Gilgal (v. 20) was to commemorate the crossing (vv. 21-23). But we also see that God did this so “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

Questions to Consider:

God’s mercy and grace extends to all. In Joshua 2, a prostitute named Rahab received salvation when she believed. It just shows us that no one is beyond the reach of God. Do you put limits on the grace of God?

You cannot be stopped when God goes before you. The world can slow you down. But ultimately, God’s desire for your life will play out when you put him first.

How do you find strength and courage in the Lord to fight your everyday battles?

What has God done in your past that serves as a memorial for you today and keeps you focused on him? 

What other points would you want to know about in our Joshua 1-4 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.