I. Title, Content, Canonical Placement
The book of Joshua is named for the man who led Israel into Canaan after the death of Moses. The English title is a rendering of the Hebrew Y'ehôshû'a. The name means “Yahweh is salvation.”
The Greek form of the name, used both in the Septuagint translation of the OT and in the NT, is Iesous. From this it is readily apparent that Jesus and Joshua bore the same name. Joshua was God's captain to bring the people of Israel into their inheritance within the land of Israel. Jesus is God's Captain to bring all God's people into their eternal inheritance. Thus Joshua was a forerunner and a foreshadowing of God's salvation that was to come in Jesus.
The book spans the years from the death of Moses to the death of Joshua and the times of those elders associated with him who survived him. Joshua may be divided into two major subdivisions. The first is an account of the main features of the Israelites' invasion of the land of Canaan. This phase begins with the destruction of Jericho, then moves on to a major southern and a major northern campaign. These successes meant that the Canaanites would not be able to prevent Israel from beginning to settle in the land.
The second major section of Joshua records the allotment to the twelve tribes of territories within the land. Six cities of refuge and forty-eight Levitical cities were also designated. Then follow Joshua's final charge to the people and a renewal of the covenant. The book ends with notices of the death and burial of Joshua, the burial of Joseph's remains, and the death and burial of Eleazar the high priest. The land that had been promised had become their possession. There could be no better confirmation of this than burying their honored dead within its borders.
The placement of Joshua within the canon of the Hebrew Scripture is significant. The events in Joshua follow the death of Moses recorded at the end of Deuteronomy. The high and low points of the settlement process—the period of the Judges—follow chronologically upon the deaths of Joshua and the elders. The book belongs chronologically where it is.
Joshua is the first book of the section called “Prophets” in the Hebrew arrangement of the Scriptures. This section is divided, in turn, into two subsections, the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets are the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings (both originally undivided). The Latter Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve (the so-called “Minor” Prophets).
The fact that the books we often class as books of history are included within the Hebrew arrangement as prophetic books is of great importance. They are history written from a prophetic point of view. These books share the view of those men and women called by God to deliver God's oracles to Israel. Israel was God's people. They had been brought into existence by God, they were blessed of God, and they were accountable to God.
Just as the oracles of the Latter Prophets were God's word to God's people, so the recorded history of the Former Prophets was (and is) God's word to God's people. Whatever is important to carry forward the understanding of God's involvement in Israel's history is included. Many details (and even important subjects) about which we would like to know are not included; to have included them would detract from the prophetic message of this history of Israel. In that it teaches, exhorts, encourages, and warns God's people of all ages through its recounting of this period of Israel's history, Joshua is a prophetic book. As these are the primary functions of all prophecy, rightly understood, it is fitting that Joshua stands at the head of the section titled “Prophets” in the Hebrew Bible.