At first glance Joshua seems to just be a story of the Israelites and the settling of the Promised Land, however, there may also be a prophetic vision of God’s plan for Salvation of His people. The book of Joshua shows the difference between living a life, like Moses, under the Law of the Old Testament and under the freedom, which came from Jesus Christ, as Joshua did. One could certainly make a strong case that Joshua 1-6 can be looked at as a metaphor of Jesus Christ and man’s salvation through Him. The evidence ranges from Joshua’s name to the meaning of the Jordan River. The implications would mean that God was discretely showing the Israelites His plan for future salvation well over a thousand years before Christ.
Joshua chapters 1-6 are a very exciting time for the ancient Israelites. They had escaped from their tyrannical Egyptian rulers under the leadership of Moses, finished wandering in the desert for 40 years, and were just beginning to start to inherit the land God promised them. However, as they near the boundary of the Promised Land, the Jordan River, Moses is not allowed to enter, and dies on Mount Nebo overlooking the land “flowing with milk and honey”. The newly anointed Joshua son of Nun will be the one to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
For one to begin to see the importance of the comparison between Joshua and Jesus Christ, you must first look earlier in the book of Exodus when the Israelites were still living under an Egyptian rule. Their lives were filled with hard labor and bondage under their leaders. They were even forced to make bricks for the Pharaoh’s buildings without any straw for them and still meet the same quotas they had before (Exodus 5:6-14). They were a people without hope or direction in life seemingly doomed to an enslaved death. However, God did not forget His people and sent Moses as his messenger to bring them out of Egypt and free them from their hard yokes. When this was accomplished the Israelites were given a vague sense of direction to the Promised Land. The time before God’s law was a sinful and wicked place for the most part. God even had to wash the world clean of man with The Flood and start over again (Genesis 6-9). The bondage the Israelites endured in Egypt is analogous to life before the law. Without God’s law there was no direction for the people, one was free to decide what was right and wrong in one’s own eyes. The law gave man a sense of direction by setting down in stone the morals that people must follow. It is important to note that the Ten Commandments did solve the problem completely, but simply gave a general direction to follow, just as Moses gave a general direction to the people: out of Egypt.
Another important similarity between the story of Joshua and the salvation of man is to take an in-depth look at Moses. Moses is commonly construed to be a symbol of the law of God (Crystalinks). After Moses leads the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years, they arrive at the Jordan River about to enter into the Promised Land. However, Moses is not allowed to cross the river and lead his people to where God promised them. This is because he murdered a slave driver in Egypt and had to suffer the consequences for it. This is where the law falls short for man. The law simply points out sin and gives a general direction, it does not give a solution to rid oneself of it and be pure in God’s eyes. Romans 6:23 says that, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ out Lord”. Moses committed sin when he committed murder, and in the end he had to die instead of crossing into the Promised Land because of it.
After Moses dies, Joshua is officially the new leader of the Israelite people. Moses’ responsibility was to lead the people to the Promised Land, now it was Joshua’s responsibility to lead them into the Promised Land and settle it. Before this was possible however, the Israelites had to cross the Jordan River during its flood stage. To do this, the priests led the presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant across the river first, and “the water from upstream stopped flowing” (Joshua 3:16 NIV). A divine act from God allowed the Israelites to cross. The coming of Jesus Christ around 1400 years later is a stunning parallel to this part of the story. Since the law was not the complete solution to the problem of man and sin, what was? The people needed some kind of medium to be able to cross from sin into a relationship with God. This medium would come from God sending His son, Jesus, to help cross “the river”. This was just as how God chose Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. They are no longer bound by the hopelessness of trying to live a perfect life under the law.
Aside from the similarities between the actual stories, there is other evidence to support the connection between Joshua and Jesus, such as the actual names of the two. According to Uittenbogaard, in Hebrew Joshua is actually composed of two parts. The first part directly means the name of God, or YHWH. The second part of Joshua means “to save” or “to deliver”. When put together the common English translation is “The Lord saves”. Joshua is also from the original Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus. During the ministry of Jesus, both names may have been very similar in pronunciation, if not the same altogether (Uittenbogaard). Certainly, this point is not black-and-white, and there are many interpretations about the various origins and usage of the words “Jesus” and “Joshua”. According to a self-proclaimed Christian website, Joshua comes from the original Hebrew Jehoshua, which was then turned into Jeshua, which the Greeks interpreted as Jesus (Easton and Taylor). However according to a Jewish source, there is much more debate about interpretation of names and their origins. Much of these debates are on the actual name of Jesus being Yeshu, or Yeshu, each having different origins (Kjaer-Hansen). The overall feeling is that everyone has an opinion, and that nobody really knows the whole story of the names of Jesus and Joshua, or at least lacks sufficient evidence to support their theories.
What makes the comparison between both of these stories even more compelling is that it is not the only time in the Old Testament that there is a prophetic story of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with analogous stories that portray Jesus coming to the world and giving salvation to the people. An example of one of these stories is the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4:1-8. Cain and Abel both presented God with an offering from their occupations, Cain offering produce from the land and Abel presenting the firstborn from his flock. God did not find favor with Cain’s offering, but did accept Abel’s offering. Earlier in Genesis 4, God curses man saying, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it” and that “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”. So according to this man has to work to reap the benefits of the land. God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice because it was of his own works and attempts to please Him. God does accept Abel’s sacrifice however, because it is a sacrifice of flesh. To relate this to Joshua and Jesus, God sent his Son so that His people could have salvation through Him. Jesus was the sacrifice of flesh for mankind, which was an offering that pleased God.
A modern interpretation of the crossing of the Jordan by C.F. Vos paints a very conservative view of Joshua leading the Israelites people across the Jordan. In this work, we see Joshua, or whom I assume to be Joshua, as a strong, heroic leader with the rest of the Israelites passing the priests holding the Ark of the Covenant and crossing the dry river. Judging by his interpretation, this artist is reading this story as a literal occurrence of God divinely stopping the Jordan River so His people could cross. Also, it is very interesting that in this depiction, there are no types of luggage or animals to carry it, only people walking with whatever they have on their back. Perhaps this is over-analyzing the picture, or perhaps the artist is showing that figuratively the people are totally trusting God to provide for them and to take care of them in this new land.
Everyone has their own opinion on how the Bible should be read and how it should be interpreted. A specific story in the Bible can be called an outright lie, myth, moral story, or a literal truth depending on who your are talking to. However, I find that the story of Joshua as compared to the salvation of men does further prove the truth of the Bible. It shows that God is not simply sitting in Heaven aimlessly, but deliberately planning the future of mankind. Joshua exemplifies this, as God showed that He had a plan for the salvation of man over a thousand years before Christ’s actual coming. However, it is not from Joshua alone that this is proven, but from the intricate fulfillment of so many other prophetical stories in the Old Testament that is another confirmation that the Bible is not simply a grouping of moral stories, but part of an intelligently designed, God-breathed plan. All of the Old Testament stories relating to Jesus were prophetic, thus it would seem if someone were to want to write a story similar to that they would follow a similar format. However, the coming of Christ is so different from any of the other stories, and fulfills so many prophecies so precisely that I believe it must be true.
Easton, Matthew and Taylor, Paul. “Jesus”.
Kjaer-Hansen, Kai. “An Introduction to the Names Yehoshua/Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus and
Yeshu. March 23, 1992. http://jewsforjesus.org/answers/jesus/names
Uittenbogaard, Arie. “Meaning, origin, and etymology of the name Joshua”. © 2007.