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Deuteronomic History in The Book of Joshua

The book of Joshua narrates the partial conquest, distribution, and settlement of Canaan. It covers the period from the beginning of the conquest to the death of Joshua. It emphasizes the following: the engagement of the holy war, as God through his people repeatedly defeats the idolatrous Canaanites; the gift of the land to God’s people, thus fulfilling his covenant promise to the patriarchs; and Israel’s need for continuing covenant faithfulness to the one true God.

Who is Joshua?

Joshua the son of Nun (1:1) was a great warrior who disciplined his forces and sent out spies – but he also prayed and trusted in God. As a young man he lived through the bitter realities of slavery in Egypt, but he also witnessed the supernatural plagues and the miracle of Israel’s escape from the Egyptian army when the waters of the sea opened before them. In the Sinai peninsula it was Joshua who led the troops of Israel to victory over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-13). He alone was allowed to accompany Moses up the holy mountain where the tablets of the testimony were received (Ex. 24:13-14). And it was he who stood watch at the temporary tent of meeting Moses set up before the tabernacle was erected (Ex. 33:11).

He was God’s chosen servant (24:29; Deut. 34:5) to bring Moses’ work to completion and establish Israel in the promised land. In that role he was a striking Old Testament type (foreshadowing) of Christ (Heb. 4:1, 6-8).

Characteristic of both Deuteronomy and the Books of Joshua and Judges are the strong moral notes, the sermonic style and the emphasis on the word of God spoken through the leader, whether Moses or Joshua or one of the judges. These give a theological emphasis to the ancient stories so that the reader will not miss the action of God in a given situation. The authors have added very old and authentic traditions, but at crucial points have added comments and judgments according to the thought of Deuteronomy. One of their favorite means of adding their comment to the original story was to place a speech in the mouth of one of the heroes that gives warning to the people.

Some examples of the Deuteronomic editors’ work can be seen in important moments in the story:

The narrative in Joshua chap. 1 begins with a word from Yahweh promising to be with the people in the wars ahead, but warning them to observe all the laws which Moses had given them. In fact the main concern of this chapter is covenant loyalty. God urges courage and promises success – but only if Israel obeys the law of God that Moses has given them.

In Joshua chap 12, when all the land of Canaan is conquered, God spoke to Joshua once again about dividing the land among all the tribes. It looks back to the former conquest of Moses which establishes a concrete connection to The Book of Deuteronomy and The Deuteronomic History.

And lastly, in chapter 23, the deuteronomic editors place a final speech in the mouth of Joshua, in which he exhorts the people to obey the law, to be faithful to Yahweh, and to renew the covenant. He warns that God will punish them if they turn away from the covenant. Therefore, through the speeches in the mouths of either the Lord or of Joshua, the editors gave a meaning and a purpose to the collection of traditional stories they had joined together.

In fact, the closing chapters of Joshua (chapters 22-24) deal primarily with continued loyalty to Yahweh and renewal of the covenant which are no less than the essence of the Deuteronomic History.


Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Manila, Philppines: St. Paul’s Philippines, 2003.

Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. A Guided Tour. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2004.

Halley, Henry H. Halley’s Bible Handbook. ePub Format. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000.

Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.


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