EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The book of Joshua is, of course, named after its central character, the appointed leader (both spiritually and militarily) over all of Israel during wartime who is on a quest of settling God’s chosen people into the Promised Land, Canaan. Joshua, himself, is an Old Testament type of Christ.
We can look at a few passages of Scripture to see this typography in motion from the beginning. But first, consider what is said of this strong leader a couple of books back, in Numbers 27:16–23:
Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation [a leader over all Israel is meant here], Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.
And the Lord said unto Moses, “Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit [meaning the Holy Spirit], and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.”
And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.
The book of Joshua also begins with this charge: “Now after the death of Moses…the Lord spake unto Joshua…saying, ‘Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses’” (Joshua 1:1–3). Let’s look at some comparisons between Joshua and Christ:
- Joshua was the chief servant of God over all of His people, whose selfless actions on the battlefield resulted in his role as the savior over their earthly bodies. Jesus was/is the absolute, ultimate Chief Servant of God the Father over His people, whose selfless actions throughout His life and on the cross (a spiritual battlefield, if there ever was one!) resulted in His role as the Savior of souls.
- Joshua accomplished all he did because he was “a man in whom is the spirit” (Numbers 27:18). Jesus accomplished all He did because He operated within the Spirit, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 42:1) and fulfilled in the New (Acts 10:38).
- Joshua was “magnified” (Joshua 3:7) before all of Israel at the Jordan River, where the flow of the water stopped for the Hebrews to cross to Jericho. Jesus was magnified publicly as the Son of God upon His emergence from John the forerunner’s baptism in this same river (Matthew 3:16–17).
- Joshua led God’s people to inherit the Promised Land, and the most notable battle was won with a peaceful demonstration, followed by a shout and a trumpet blast (Joshua 6). Jesus leads God’s people to inherit the Promised Land after the conclusion of this life (heaven and eventually the New Jerusalem in Revelation); notably, He accomplished this first through a peaceful demonstration at trial and on the cross, followed by: a shout, the sound of the Temple veil tearing in two, the rumblings of earthquakes, and the very raising of the dead from the tombs (Matthew 27:50–53).
Oh, and then there’s this interesting “coincidence.” The name “Joshua” is the same as “Jesus,” but spelled differently—like “Hailey” and “Hailie” or “Caiden” and “Kayden.” Both “Joshua” and “Jesus” mean “the Lord saves.” Therefore, it’s not hard to see where Jesus may be presented here. It’s like asking, “Does Jesus show up in this book of Jesus?” Yeah. He’s all over the place!
Evidence also points to the conclusion that Jesus was the literal, corporeal “Captain of the Host of the Lord” who shows up as a mysterious figure with a sword to speak with Joshua in person early on in his career. Watch this:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?”
And [the mysterious figure] said, “Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, “What saith my Lord unto his servant?”
And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13–15)
Did you catch that this figure who showed up was God in the form of a human male? As He stated, He was merely the “Captain of the Host of the Lord,” which could be referring to a messenger angel or archangel of God in the highest form of celestial leadership…until the man allowed Joshua to fall down and worship Him. Angels—true angels of the One and Only God, that is—will never accept worship because they know God forbids the worship of both angels and of humans (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5–8; Revelation 19:10; 22:8–9; Matthew 4:9–10; Luke 4:7–8; Romans 1:25; Colossians 2:18). If this was not an appearance of God, the worship would have been stopped. Furthermore, the presence of God at the burning bush experience of Joshua’s predecessor, Moses, was also referred to as “holy ground” that required the removal of footwear (Exodus 3:5), and angels elsewhere make no such command. It’s clear that we are dealing with a theophany here, at least.
It’s not unusual that God the Father would show up and speak directly to anyone at any time and in any form He pleases because, well, He’s God. Yet, scholars who have worked long and hard to separate which theophanies are the Father from those that are the Son conclude that the evidence here, based on the allowance of John 1:1–18 (where it is explained that Jesus is the “Word” [more on this later]), is stacked in favor of a Christophany. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, compiled by multiple respected theologians who undergo sharp peer review before they are considered collaborators, states: “As with…the two disciples at Emmaus, there was a flash of revelation and Joshua knew he was in the presence of God. It seems clear that Joshua was indeed talking to the Angel of the Lord, another appearance in Old Testament times of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”[i] Other commentators, such as Matthew Henry, author of Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, think the conclusion of a Christophany is so obvious in this Joshua account that they state it as a fact without the need for much elaboration: “There appeared to him one as a man to be noticed. This Man was the Son of God, the eternal Word.”[ii]
Perhaps this was the belief of the writer of Hebrews also, as the internal evidence of the Jesus/Joshua parallel suggests: Joshua was the captain of the armies of Israel, but Jesus is literally the “Captain of Salvation” in Hebrews 2:10.
In addition to these ruminations, try to remember the importance of the man’s introduction. Joshua immediately wanted to know if the warrior was on his side or the side of the enemy. The answer was neither. He stated he was for the Lord only—as should be Joshua and the rest of the God’s nation. The implication is clear that Joshua should place the Lord and His will into a position of far grander importance than even his own human brothers and sisters readying for Promised-Land inheritance. Only then would he be completely receptive to the sometimes odd ways God would conduct battle, such as through a shout or trumpet as central weapons, which incidentally would become the best and only way Joshua’s brothers and sisters would be saved. We should all follow this warrior’s example.
Behold, the Christ of Joshua! The Captain of the Host of the Lord!
Before we move on, note that Jesus, our Savior, descended from the bloodline of the “scarlet thread” savior-ess, Rahab, in Joshua 2. Many remember her for being the harlot of Jericho. Though that might be true, her story is a brightly shining example of redemption that illustrates how God will use any willing believer to carry out His miracles and will. Rahab’s maneuvering (marking her house with a scarlet thread) saved the Israelite men from certain capture and death so they could retreat to their Hebrew camps and inform their tribes of enemy status. In trade, they promised (and then kept their promise), Rahab would not be harmed. This not only ensured victory for the Israelites in conquering the land of Jericho, it resulted in Rahab joining the tribes of Israel, from whose offspring the Savior Messiah would be born.
And that brings us to the Promised Land. Finally, after generations of pain, the people of Israel arrived—home in the land God had prepared for them. This event is paramount in Israel’s history, as it solidified the relationship between what God says and what He does, as shown in the long-awaited journey to and settling in the territory He had promised to bless them with and protect them in.
Jesus is preparing a Promised Land for us (John 14:1–3), too—and He, too, does what He says He will do.
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Unfortunately, the land the Israelites finally secured was eventually lost because of their wickedness. The generations following Joshua’s death did not honor God in raising their sons and daughters in the way of Yahweh as they had vowed, and soon they fell into worshiping pagan gods. Their repetitious, idolatrous rebellion against God resulted in the invasion of enemy troops, and when the enemy won, a conquered Israel came under the domination of pagan nations.
Following this, for what feels like an eternity, the storyline settles into a most infuriating pattern (similar, but not identical, to the pattern discussed in the books of Law): The people cry out to God for deliverance; He sends a judge to deliver them; the judge eventually passes away and Israel forgets about God again; Israel then gets into trouble with its enemies and cries out to God…who sends a judge…who delivers Israel…who turns to idols and cries out to God… Seriously, the whole book outline could be: cries, deliverance, rebellion, cries, deliverance, rebellion, and on and on (Judges 2:18–19). For the modern, believing reader, this book is a history of how human nature continues forever to fall into the worst behavioral patterns as a result of the Fall. It makes the woman who continues to date abusive men, the kid who won’t stop lying, and the business executive who keeps cheating on his taxes—all despite echoing promises that it’s the last time—more relatable. But this pattern of human weakness, as expressed in Judges, is an extreme example that just keeps giving.
Note that references to judges in the Bible don’t indicate anything like the judges of our time and culture. This term doesn’t even refer to the pre-nineteenth century judges wearing white horsehair wigs and black robes, wielding wooden gavels in court. Instead, imagine a biblical judge as a heroic soldier, military commander, chief political executive, spiritual leader, savior and deliverer, and the top judicial officer—all wrapped into one person presiding over all of God’s people. Judges of these ancient days carried heavy responsibilities, no doubt, and they weren’t in office because of birthright or by election, but by selection. He or she was chosen by God, Himself, appointed to lead His people. (And yes, even during these days when patriarchy was the guiding system, there was a female judge over Israel. Not only was Deborah a powerful and well-respected judge, she was an appointed prophet of God as well! Her bold, fearless, Joan of Arc-style march to the battlefield ensured Israel’s immediate victory followed by forty years of peace.)
Here is what Judges 2:16–19 states about the nature of God presiding over His people:
Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them… And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge…because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers [children of future generations were even more wicked than their fathers!], in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.
This is only one tiny section of Judges, though elsewhere this pattern is illustrated repeatedly: God wants to bless, protect, and ultimately save His people, and that remains His nature, character, and will regarding them despite their painful, recurring rejection. No matter what corndog ideas they kept getting in their stubborn heads about how bowing to a false idol would result in the out-performing of Yahweh (that must have been what they were thinking, or else they wouldn’t have worshipped a pagan entity at the risk of incurring God’s wrath in the first place), they continued to fail while He continued to show up in a big way. It’s in His very nature—regardless of human nature—to reconcile with the humanity He has become estranged from as a result of both the Fall and the continual whoring after other gods.
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Some people (usually nonbelievers, if we’re being honest) love to see the book of Judges as an account of our Lord capriciously “delivering Israel into the hands of her enemies” (see, for example, Judges 2:14), and the offense of the repeated behavior is in God’s failure, not man’s. But often, misunderstood and misinformed statements like these come from folks (whether respectful or not) who haven’t studied the nature of sin, how it contrasts to holiness, and the relationship of whether (or how) those two elements may or may not coexist. It’s a theological mountain with a billion peaks at least (and we’ve already addressed it somewhat back in our Genesis reflection), but as a short reminder: Humans are born into a fallen species, and though we share the likeness of God from the Creation event (Genesis 1–2)—which is where we inherit that inexplicable but universal, constant, and internal draw toward being and doing good—we also have a share in the sin nature, which is where we inherit that weakness to give into sin and temptation. Therefore, we daily experience the ever-present dichotomy of both natures, good and evil, within us. We so understand this on a collective level that even secular cartoons depict characters struggling to know whether to follow the advice of the little devil perched on one shoulder and the little angel on the other. But when we read Scripture and ponder God, we have to remember He is only holy always. As “only holiness,” He cannot sin or have anything to do with it (He cannot occupy the same space as sin).
Therefore, when Israel falls into sin, an oil-and-water reaction happens. The distance between God and Israel increases, just as it was between the Creator and Adam and Eve in the Fall account. In fact, that is a story of how the ugly, black thing called “distance” between humans and the Almighty first came about. Similarly, Judges provides the account of people attempting to bring God (and His protection from enemies) closer to them with cries of penitence and “we’ll-never-do-it-again”-isms—and then failing, with an Adam-and-Eve flair, to obey God, which forces Him to back off and deliver Israel to her enemies because it’s the fate they seal in their own sin and rejection of God.
This is paramount to understanding God’s actions in Judges.
God is not against His people; He is for them!
Judges is not an account of God turning His back on Israel over and over; it’s an account of God’s people turning their backs on Yahweh over and over—and He, our precious, sweet, Creator God, continues to show mercy and love by providing one savior-judge after another. That is the nature of God. It’s giant leap to the opposite edge of what the skeptics have made it. A slightly tweaked wording of the cycle in Judges could be: They shove Him away; He retreats; they invite Him back; He comes back with an embrace in the form of protection and a judge He has raised up from within the tribes to save them all; they shove Him away; He retreats; they invite Him back…
With that point clearly made, we are now able to see the resemblance between the judges (plural, as in what their office stands for—not as in any individual judge [because some of them blundered badly]) and the Judge-Savior the Father sent to save us all at a later time. You see, Jesus’ act on the cross was foreshadowed not just by the events in an Old Testament book and the similarity to its heroes, but in the very nurturing nature and character of His Father, who was always going to provide a savior/Savior no matter what His children deserved!
Considering their job description responsibilities, in the most glaring sense, we can view any biblical judge who did right in the eyes of the Lord as a type of Christ. Jesus was and is the Supreme Deliverer, sent as Savior of an idolatrous, sinning people. In that sense, even though some of the judges in this book didn’t always serve as the ideal role model that Jesus was, they foreshadowed Christ and revealed the nature and will of God—that His people will be saved, delivered, always. What each of the judges in this book were chosen to do militarily and politically, Jesus was chosen to do spiritually.
But in Jesus, there would never need to be another cycle, because He is the Perfect Lamb, the spotless sacrifice who died one time for all and forever. Jesus, as He is archetypically presented in the book of Judges, is the Last Judge and the Last Lawgiver. Every battle the judges fought on Canaanite soil was a precursor of the battle the Judge fought both on the soil of Golgotha’s mound outside Jerusalem as well as in the invisible realm. Every law-giving decree the judges pronounced over the nation of Israel was a prototype of the Lawgiver’s New Covenant sealed in the flesh and blood of the Last Judge.
Here’s the other whammy hidden within the parallels between the book Judges and the Covenant of Christ: The Covenant sealed in the blood of Christ on the cross was given in the same nature as the grace in Judges: No matter what today’s people do, no matter how constantly we fail to obey God, no matter how “over and over” we force Him away with our idolatrous ideas or unfaithfulness, the Judge the Father raised once and for all will always be victorious in extending salvation to every child of God. Unbelievably, the free gift of salvation belongs to every human on the globe, including the Gentiles whose heritage may not be in any way linked to the people who cried out for the intervention of judges in the beginning.
It’s sobering to think about. God is so good. Each time we think we have Him figured out, we come face to face with another layer of His salvation plan, His progressive revelation as played out first in Israel’s history and finished in the days of the Christ, and we’re confronted all over again with the implications of all He has done for His people.
For those who still may not be convinced of the parallel between Jesus and the judges of the Old Testament, there’s one interesting character we would like to take a closer look at: Samson. This particularly popular judge (Judges 13–16) is without doubt a type of Jesus. Both Jesus and Samson were born in miraculous ways following an angel’s announcement of their arrival, and the resemblances continue to climb.
- Samson was chosen by God before his birth to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Joshua 13:5); Jesus was chosen by God before His birth to deliver all of mankind from sin (Matthew 1:21).
- The Spirit of the Lord came upon both men powerfully (Judges 14:6–19; 15:14; Luke 4:18; Matthew 12:28).
- By the power of the Spirit of the Lord, both Samson and Christ were victorious over the enemies of God’s people.
- Samson was betrayed for money by his companion, Delilah (Judges 13); Jesus was betrayed for money by His companion, Judas (Luke 22).
- Samson and Jesus were both beaten and bound near the end of their lives.
- Most astonishingly: Samson defeated more enemies through his death than he did while he lived (Judges 16:30)…and so did Jesus (Colossians 2:15).
Pretty neat, huh?
There are more parallels, but if you haven’t already noted them, we don’t want to give them away just yet. More about Jesus as a type of judge will be covered in the discussions of 1 Samuel through 2 Chronicles. Many scholars who separate sections of Scripture by theme see Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles in a bundled arc (and some put Joshua at the front of that list). We are sorta following that idea here, which is why more about Judges will appear in that subsequent section.
However, we have one major problem with that bundled-theme concept that a lot of scholars follow: It minimizes Ruth.
For reasons we will now take necessary time to explain, we just can’t do that with this book! As short as it may be, we simply can’t grasp the fullness of Christ’s work without it.
UP NEXT: AMAZING MANIFESTATION OF JESUS IN THE BOOK OF RUTH?
[i] J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures: Volume 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 339.
[ii] Henry, M., & Scott, T., Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), “Joshua 5:13.”