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Joshua, son of Nun of the tribe of Ephraim[1], was the leader of the Israelites after Moses. Under his leadership, the Israelites crossed the river Jordan into Canaan and conquered the land there, marking the end of the Exodus and the fulfilment of God's promise to give that land to Abraham's descendents.

The events of Joshua's leadership are told in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament.

The name Joshua means saviour, and is derived from a similar root to Jesus[2].


Conquest of Canaan

The siege of Jericho

Following the death of Moses on the plain of Moab, Joshua became the leader of the Israelites. He prepared his army to cross the River Jordan but following the order of Moses, he allowed the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh to settle on the land east of Jordan while taking their fighting men with him for the conquest of Canaan. Joshua sent two men to spy on the city of Jericho on the western side of the River Jordan. The king of Jericho discovered that there were spies in the city but a prostitute named Rahab helped them escape.

After the spies had returned, Joshua was prepared to cross the Jordan. He ordered the Levites to carry the Ark of the Covenant before them and the flow of the river stopped where they passed and allowed the Israelites to go over the river. Joshua ordered one man from each of the Twelve Tribes to take a stone from the bottom of the river and place them on the shore to commemorate the crossing. God ordered Joshua to have all the men circumcised, as those who had been born during the Exodus had remained uncircumcised. The place where this occurred received the name Gilgal.

After the Israelites had arrived before Jericho, Joshua followed the orders of God and had the Levites carry the Ark around the city preceded by the armed guard and seven priests carrying trumpets made from ram horns, while the rear guard followed the Ark. They walked around the city once in a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. After the seventh time, the priests blew the trumpets and the men raised their war cry. The walls of Jericho collapsed and the Israelites marched into the city and massacred the populace. Only Rahab and her family were spared and they were received among the Israelites. The entire city was burned to the ground and only the gold and silver and the articles of bronze and iron were taken to the Lord's house. After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua declared that anyone who rebuilt the city would be cursed.

Destruction of Ai

Joshua sent three thousand men from Jericho to the city of Ai as he had learned that it could be conquered with only a small army. However, a man named Achan had stolen some of the things dedicated to the Lord and He allowed the Israelites to be defeated. Achan was discovered by God and he confessed his crime. The Israelites took him and his family to the valley of Achor and stoned them all to death.

Following the orders of God, Joshua took his forces near Ai and moved 30,000 men on the northern side of the city, between Bethel and Ai. In the following morning, Joshua marched before Ai with his forces and sent five thousand men to the western side of the city. The king of Ai went to meet the main force of the Israelites with his army. Joshua feigned retreat and the men of Ai went to chase after them and left the city unprotected. Joshua pointed towards Ai with his javelin as a sign for the men he had left behind the city. They quickly took Ai and set it on fire. Joshua turned his forces against the men of Ai while the men who had taken the city attacked them from the other side. They were caught in the middle and killed.

All the people of Ai were put to the sword and only a desolate spot remained where the city had been. The king of Ai was hung on a tree near the city for a day and then thrown near the entrance of the city which was then covered with large rocks. Joshua built an altar dedicated to the Lord on Mount Ebal from uncut stones that had not been touched by iron tools. He copied the law of Moses on the rocks in the sight of the Israelites.

Treaty with the Gibeonites and the defeat of the Amorites

The Hivites who lived in Gibeon sent a delegation to the Israelites and made it appear as if they had come from a distant country. They offered to make a treaty with the Israelites, and thinking that they lived far away, Joshua agreed. When he learned that they lived nearby, Joshua could no longer break the oath he had sworn, so the Gibeonites became slaves to the Israelites.

Hearing of the victories Joshua, five Amorite kings formed an alliance against him. This included Adoni-Zedek, the king of Jerusalem, Hoham, king of Hebron, Piram, king of Jarmuth, Japhia, king of Lachish and Debir, king of Eglon. They all went to attack Gibeon with their forces and the Gibeonites asked help from Joshua who was camped in Gilgal. He marched with his forces to Gibeon during the night and suprised the allied kings. Their forces were thrown into confusion and they were forced to flee. On the road from Beth Horon to Azekah God hurled hailstones on their armies and they killed more men than the Israelites had.

Joshua ordered the sun and the moon to stand still and God halted the earth so that it appeared the sun remained in the middle of the sky for a whole day. The five kings hid inside the cave of Makkedah, so Joshua ordered his men to seal the cave with rocks while they pursued the rest of their army. After the remnants of the Amorites had fled to their cities, Joshua had the kings brought before him and killed them all. They were first hung from trees and then buried inside the cave. Joshua destroyed Makkedah during the same day and massacred its inhabitants. The Israelites subdued the whole of southern Canaan and destroyed all the kingdoms and the people who lived there.

Defeat of the Northern Kings

A great alliance against Israel was formed by Jabin, the king of Hazor which included the king of Madon, the kings of Shimron and Acshaph, the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west, the Canaanites in the east and west, the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country and the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. Their armies gathered at the Waters of Merom and Joshua went to meet them with the Israelites. The allied kings were defeated and the Israelites pursued them to their kingdoms. Joshua captured the city of Hazor which had been leader of the alliance. The king of Hazor was executed, the city was burned and population was put to the sword. He also conquered the other kingdoms in the area and killed their inhabitants but did not destroy the other cities. He then went against the Anakites in Hebron, Debir and Anab and destroyed them almost completely. Only some of them remained with the Philistines. After this the war ended with the defeat of 31 kings.

Division of Israel

Previous divisions and the territories of Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh

Following these conquests, Joshua had already reached an advanced age and was unable to conquer the rest of the territory that God had promised to the Israelites. Following the orders of God, Joshua prepared to divide the land between the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh had already received their portion of the area, which extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the middle of the gorge, and included the whole plateau of Medeba as far as Dibon to the border of the Ammonites. It also included Gilead, the territory of the people of Geshur and Maacah, all of Mount Hermon and all Bashan as far as Salecah.

Joshua and the High Priest Eleazar prepared to divide the rest of the territories by lot in Gilgal and the tribe of Judah was the first to approach them. Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite had been promised the land he had explored 45 years ago. Joshua kept the promise and gave Hebron to Caleb. The rest of the tribe of Judah received the territory that extended from the desert of Zin to the mouth of Jordan and from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. However, Judah could not drive the Jebusites from Jerusalem and they remained there among them.

The descendants of Joseph received the territory extending from Jericho to Bethel where it crossed over to the territory of the Arkites in Ataroth, descended westward to the territory of the Japhletites as far as the region of Lower Beth Horon and on to Gezer, ending at the Mediterranean. The territory of the tribe of Ephraim went from Ataroth Addar in the east to Upper Beth Horon and continued to the Mediterranean. They could not drive the Canaanites from Gezer and held them as slaves. The rest of the area was given to the clans of Manasseh who had not yet recieved their territories. The Manassites could not occupy the northern cities in the Valley of Jezreel which were held by the Canaanites. They complained about this to Joshua but he urged them to drive the Canaanites out and take their land even though they had iron chariots.

The territories of the remaining tribes

Joshua gathered the assembly of the Israelites to Shiloh to divide the land among the seven remaining tribes. He had each of the tribes appoint three men to make a survey of the remaining lands. When this was done, Joshua divided the lands to the tribes by lot. The tribe of Benjamin received land between the territories of Judah and Joseph, extending from the River Jordan to the city of Kiriath Jearim which was in the territory of Judah. The tribe of Simeon received seventeen towns and their villages within the territory of Judah as far as Baalath Beer. The tribe of Zebulun received twelve towns and their villages. Their territory went as far as Sarid and extended to a ravine near Jokneam to the west.

The territory of the tribe of Issachar included sixteen towns and their villages. Their boundaries extended from Tabor, Shahazumah and Beth Shemesh to the Jordan. The tribe of Asher received twenty-two towns and their villages and the territory extended to Carmel on the west and in the east it touched the territory of Zebulun. The tribe of Naphtali received nineteen towns and villages and their territory touched Zebulun in the south and Asher in the west. The tribe of Dan received sixteen towns and their villages in the area facing Joppa. They had trouble taking possession of their territories so they attacked and conquered Leshem and gave it the name Dan.

Joshua also designated five cities as places of refuge for those who had accidentally killed someone and fled from his avenger of blood. The tribe of Levi did not receive a portion of the inheritance because the descendants of Joseph had divided into two tribes. However, they were given forty-eight towns in the territories of the other tribes. Joshua himself received the town of Timnath Serah in the territory of Ephraim and settled there after the division.


During his final years, Joshua summoned all the tribes before him and promised that God would help them conquer the territories of the promised land that their enemies still possessed. However, he warned that if they did not follow the law of Moses and turned to follow the customs or the gods of their neighboring peoples, He would abandon them. Joshua brought all the the tribes to Shechem to renew the covenant between them and God. He ordered them to choose between the Lord and the gods of the other nations and all the tribes swore they would serve the Lord. Joshua set a stone under an oak near the holy place of God as a witness of their covenant and then sent to people away. Joshua died at the age of 110 and was buried in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the land of Ephraim.


  1. Jewish Virtual Library
  2. Reformed Answers
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