A Study of Foreshadows in the Book of Joshua
Editor’s note: Jonathan Lichtenwalter is a student in our ARS Apologetics Certificate Program. This paper was submitted as part of the program. Enjoy
Into the Nations: A Study of Foreshadows in the Book of Joshua
Joshua is a book filled with campaigns and conquest, war and slaughter, judgement and wrath. The reader may be asking, “What in common does the message of the gracious Christ being spread to all nations have to do with Joshua, an account of one nation’s war, slaughter, and conquest?” What we will see as we study out the scriptures in Joshua is many connections to the New Testament in the form of foreshadows about Christ and His Church, along with many of the same principles that should lead God’s church. “Just as God’s people had required a ‘savior’, Moses, to leave slavery in Egypt, they required a savior to enter the Promised Land. This new prefigure of the Messiah was Joshua.”[i]
Joshua and Jesus
First, the very name Joshua is an obvious prefigure of Jesus. The name simply means “Yahweh saves.” Jesus is simply the English translation of the Hebrew name from Greek into English whereas Joshua is the translation from Hebrew into English. It’s also interesting that Isaiah is also essentially the same name in Hebrew. So why does this matter? Well, I think it’s not just a coincidence that the man who led Israel into the Promised Land has the same name as the man who will lead us into Heaven.
This wouldn’t be the first time that God would use a man named Joshua to foreshadow the Savior Joshua. Zechariah 3:8-9 and 6:11-13 is a place where Joshua is used in a more obviously prophetic way! Let’s take a look:
“Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day…
“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’”
Wow! What a specific prophecy! It seems as if God is saying, “If Joshua son of Nun won’t convince you as a foreshadow of the Messiah, maybe Joshua son of Jehozadak will.” To miss that this is a prophecy about Jesus, you’d have to be trying pretty hard! God starts off saying that he will bring his servant the Branch, which the Jews unmistakably recognize as a messianic name throughout the scriptures, to remove the sin of the land in a single day. It’s also interesting to note that where Jesus came from, Nazareth, comes from the root noun nezer which means branch or shoot in Hebrew. The stone is another image of messianic symbolism (see Psalm 118:22) and the number seven normally symbolizes perfection or completeness throughout scripture. The second image in Zechariah 6:11-13 is about how Jesus will be both a priest and a king, something unheard of in Judaic tradition since priests were not allowed to hold political office (Deut. 18:1-8 and Num. 1:50-53). Jesus is the stone and Joshua in these prophetic images.
Foreshadowing Freedom From Sin, Baptism, and Heaven
We begin to see the foreshadows of Christ and the church that are found in Joshua much earlier in the Biblical narrative. Joshua himself started his life as a slave in Egypt. Most messianic prefigures of the Old Testament had to come from Egypt both to prophecy Christ coming from Egypt (see Matthew 2:15) and to foreshadow the reality of sin (Egypt) being overcome by Christ.
The Israelites were called out of Egypt into the Promised Land. In order to get there, they had to pass through the waters (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). This wouldn’t be the first or last time water would foreshadow baptism in the Old Testament. Some examples of other water foreshadows to New Testament baptism include the creation account, Noah and the ark, Naaman the Syrian, levitical cleansing laws and more.
Just as the Israelites were called out of Egypt through the waters in Exodus, so the new generation of Israelites were called to go through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land of Canaan after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The Israelite people have the ark going before them to show that it is by God’s power and authority that they are able to pass through the waters. It is not anything they have done, or a “work” for them to walk through the Jordan to the other side. It is simple obedience from faith (Col. 2:12).
Joshua then set up twelve stones with twelve men, twelve being the number throughout the Bible for God’s people. In the same way, we become the people of God by going through the waters (1 Peter 2:9-10). Next, they are circumcised in Joshua 5, another foreshadow or type of baptism, which means the removing of the flesh (Col. 2:10-12).
The land of Canaan meant freedom, no longer wandering in the wilderness, the conquering and judgement of sin, and the reign of righteousness. For Christians, Canaan foreshadows our redemption from sin, and the great power we have as saved, Spirit-inhabiting disciples of Jesus (see Eph. 1:3, 11, 19, 2 Cor. 5:17, Heb. 13:21, 2 Peter 1:3, and Phil. 4:13). Just as the Israelites had great power through their faith in God’s salvation to conquer all the Canaanite inhabitants we have great power in Christ to overcome sin and every obstacle to the reign of God’s Kingdom.
Stuck in the Wilderness?
The wandering in the wilderness can both foreshadow sin (before being baptized) or living a defeated Christian life (the Israelites who had passed through the waters out of Egypt). “Canaan is a life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call… Just as Canaan represents the victorious Christian life, the wilderness represents the defeated Christian life.”[ii] Canaan (the Promised Land) is the land that symbolizes both freedom from sin in Christ and our eternal “promised land” of heaven. However, there is some disagreement on the latter.
Some would say Canaan is not a metaphor for heaven, because heaven will have no battles, enemies (Josh. 12:9-24), or stumbles and struggles.[iii] While I agree that entering the Promised Land might be more directly applicable to our lives on earth as Christians (see Exodus 3:7-10), I still also see many parallels between the “Promised Land” of Canaan and the eternal Promised Land. Not all foreshadows, prefigures or types fit the context precisely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fit simultaneously into more than one New Testament idea. However, since the foreshadow fits more closely with the victorious Christian life, this will be the main focus of this paper.
The days up to and in the wilderness for the Israelites were characterized by faithlessness, complaining, and rebellion. Someone has said, God took the Israelites out of Egypt, but God led the Israelites into the wilderness to take Egypt out of them (see Deuteronomy 8:1-5)! Some Christians are still living life in the wilderness. We are not living the victorious life God wants for us. By looking at Joshua, hopefully we will see how we can start living the victorious life God has for us. However, seeing that it took the Israelites 40 years to get Egypt out of them, perhaps we could be a bit more patient with the struggling Christian who still finds their self in the wilderness. Hopefully it will not take 40 years for them to get out of the wilderness, but maybe they will not get out of the wilderness overnight! My point here is that surviving sin after baptism does not necessarily mean that the conversion was illegitimate, but simply that we will need to work with God in getting the Egypt (sin) out of us.
All of that generation had opportunity to repent up until the day they died in the wilderness. Perhaps we will see some of this generation of Israelites in heaven. Of course, many who died there in the wilderness likely did not make it to heaven because of their rebellion (see Heb. 3:14-4:2). However, their rebellion or sin after walking through the waters (being baptized) did not mean that their baptism had no power (1 Cor. 10:1-3). It seems their conversion (baptism) was legitimate, but their sinful nature did not go away. This also confirms the fact that one can lose their salvation after they receive it by deciding to permanently live by their sinful nature rather than in obedience. People do not fall away just because they never received salvation in the first place. They fall away because they have decided to rebel against God permanently and in their hearts return to Egypt.
There are also some vital foreshadows from this wilderness-walking time for the Israelites. God had to humble and test the Israelites so they could be trusted with his blessings. He did this by giving them manna in the desert to survive for forty years. Likewise, we as Christians must learn to feast daily on the bread from heaven if we are to live the life of freedom that God desires for us (John 6:30-35). “The message to those under the New Covenant is clear. If we feel we have ‘arrived’ after being saved by the blood of Jesus, we are fooling ourselves. We must constantly be trained to rely on God for our spiritual food and water or we will never enter our spiritual promised land: heaven.”[iv]
Foreshadowing Our Inheritance in Christ and Spiritual Warfare
One significant foreshadow or type from the book of Joshua to the antitype (the Church) is the inheritance of the land of Canaan to our inheritance of God’s Kingdom. The book of Joshua foreshadows both our deliverance from sin into possession of all the blessings of the Kingdom of God, as well as our inheritance of the world in bringing those spiritual blessings into the lives of others. This inheritance was prophesied to God’s people all the way back to Abraham (see Genesis 15:12-16), reconfirmed to Moses (Deuteronomy 7:1-2), and finally becomes reality in the book of Joshua. Much of the book of Joshua (chapters 12-22) are about Joshua dividing up the land for the Israelites. For us, this can be a pretty boring part of the book, but does not have to be because for the Israelites it meant the specific fulfillment of God’s promises.
Joshua 1:3-4 says, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory.”
While this makes me think of the victory we have over sin as Christians, I must say I see even more of a parallel to or foreshadow of our mission as disciples! Consider the Great Commission given by the new Joshua (see Matthew 28:26-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-47, and Acts 1:8). Much like the old Joshua had a great commission to conquer all the lands before them, we are given a great commission to conquer all of the territories before us with the gospel. Both great commissions required great courage and faith to carry out. Although I must say the task of making disciples (changing people’s hearts and lives through the gospel) seems more difficult than what the Israelites were told to do!
Just as Joshua had the Israelites each depart to their own inheritance (Jos. 24:28), we each are commissioned to conquer all of the places God has placed us as our inheritance. Just as the Israelites had the Canaanites to contend with before they could enter the Promised Land, we now have Satan and his army as our enemy. However, Satan is no match for God’s army! Lutzer, in God’s Devil, makes this point quite well:
“Satan is just as strong as we believe him to be. Because the Israelites believed the city of Jericho was unconquerable, it was. The citizens of Jericho saw it quite differently: they were terrified of the Israelites and were puzzled as to why they did not come and claim their inheritance forty years earlier. Indeed, Joshua and Caleb knew that God had removed the protection of the city (Numbers 14:9). It was not the strength of the city but the unbelief of the Israelites that postponed the victory.”[v]
The mission of the Israelites in Joshua foreshadows how we as Christians have no chance of bringing the gospel into all of the world by only our own power and effort. This is why the only way we will be obedient to the command is if we truly believe it will be God that will give us the victory. It will take faithful action with the belief in our inability to do anything significant by our own power. Just as it took many miracles and divine help for the Israelites to defeat the Canaanites who were much stronger than them, it took God’s intervention in the book of Acts and will take God’s power for us to obey the Great Commission.
So does this mean we are to just go and make disciples without making any plans, but giving it all up into God’s hands? Yes and no. There are places where God gives the Israelites a rather strategic plan, such as in the victory following the Israelite’s defeat because of Achan’s sin (see Joshua 8). But there are many places where God gives the Israelites seemingly ridiculous and illogical plans, such as at Jericho (Joshua 6) or when God calls Gideon in Judges 8. God also saw it as a total defiance of his power when David counted his fighting men in 2 Samuel 24. In this case, David was operating from a place of pride in his own power rather than a reliance on God’s power. If the plan is from a place of reliance on God’s power then it is good; if not, we are in danger of operating from a place of faithlessness, humanism and pride as David did. We should be careful that our plans are coming from a place of total dependence on God and his plans.
However, we should be planning and strategizing to take the whole world for Christ, while depending on God’s leading by His Spirit. Spirituality is not the absence of planning, but rather we make plans and work while still surrendered to whatever God’s plan is (see Prov. 15:19; 16:1,3). We can see in the book of Acts that there was perhaps some planning and then going immediately. They never let planning stop them from continuing to preach the word (see Acts 5:42). They did not over-plan because they knew victory was with the Lord, not their plans. Plans may be necessary to take action, but the outcome of the plan that we make in obedience to God is both dependent on our faithfulness and God’s will.
Near the end of Joshua, we see that the Israelites were almost successful in the mission to drive out or kill all the Canaanite inhabitants. They had a good start, but there was land still to be taken, and they let up. Few had the zeal to continue fighting until victory was sure. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh belonging to the house of Joseph (Jos. 16:4) did not have the faith and perseverance to do what God commanded and drive out the Canaanites. In verse 13, they did not drive out the Canaanites completely as God commanded. The faith of some of the tribes of Israel was in decline at this point.
Our purpose and mission is both similar and very different from the Israelites. The Israelite’s were to drive out the Canaanite’s and bring in the reign of God’s people into the land. Ours is to love people and bring as many as possible into a biblical relationship with Jesus and baptize the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). So how are we doing in obeying this command? Do we give up on reaching certain areas because it seems too difficult for us? Is Satan too “strong” there? Is there too much sin in people’s lives for us to reach out to them? When we finally do come into an area do we drive out the sin and bring in the Holy Spirit? Or do we half-heartedly obey and refuse to drive Satan out from the lands God has given us? What land is yet to be taken from Satan’s rule that we have grown lazy and faithless in taking? Can we really say we are obedient to God’s command to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations (see Luke 24:46), or have we grown comfortable with what we’ve done so far, not realizing that we aren’t done until we’re done with this life?
In Joshua 17:14-18, Ephraim and Manasseh come whining to Joshua that their land was too small. Joshua’s response was in effect, “Stop whining. You can take as much land as you want because God himself has told us that he has given it to us.” (I’m pair-a-phrasing.) But they continue whining, “We can’t take that land. The Canaanites are too strong, and they have iron chariots.” Joshua responds in effect saying, “Just do it. The land is yours.”
Are we more like Joshua in his faithfulness or more like the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in their self-dependence and faithlessness? Who will be the Joshua in our lives to tell us, “Just do it. The land is yours.”?
Christ is also seen in Joshua chapter 6. Some believe that this man standing with drawn sword may actually be Christ himself! This is supported by the fact that when Joshua bows down to him, he does not, as an angel would, tell him to stop bowing in worship. Let us not forget the militant side of Christ. Yes, he is loving. Yes, he is merciful, but he will also carry out God’s justice on those who refuse to repent and be saved (Revelation 19:15). We should not forget the Christ with drawn sword as we remember the Christ who is loving and merciful. To us who are saved, he is loving and merciful, but to those who refuse to repent he is the Christ with drawn sword who will bring swift justice. In this world, we are also in a war. Being a Christian is not about sitting back and relaxing. Until we are heaven, we are still at war (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 6:7, Eph. 6:10-20)!
In conclusion, the foreshadows found in the book of Joshua are astounding and faith building, but just as we see foreshadows, we see principles and lessons that can transform our lives as Christians. Let’s allow the book of Joshua to challenge us and change our lives as we see how it was looking forward to our new Joshua and Savior: Jesus Christ!
Citations and End-notes
[i] John M. Oakes. From Shadow to Reality. Illumination Publishers International. Copyright August 15, 2006. United States of America.
[ii] Max Lucado. Glory Days. Thomas Nelson. Copyright 2015. Nashville, Tennessee.
[iii] I found this argument in Max Lucado’s book “Glory Days”
[iv] John M. Oakes. From Shadow to Reality. Illumination Publishers International. Copyright August 15, 2006. United States of America.
[v] Erwin W. Lutzer. God’s Devil. Moody Publishers. Copyright 1996. Chicago.