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4-10 Joshua: Potential Messiah?

Joshua’s Potential

Joshua didn’t give the people rest (Heb. 4:8); but he said he had (Josh. 22:4). He failed to fulfil the potential of Josh. 1:13-15- that he would lead the people to “rest”. The Messianic Kingdom could, perhaps, have come through Joshua-Jesus; but both Joshua and Israel would not. Dt. 1:38 states clearly that “Joshua…he shall cause Israel to inherit [s.w. possess]” the land. Yet by the end of Joshua’s life, Israel were not inheriting the land in totality. He didn’t live up to his potential. Note, in passing, that God’s prophecy here was conditional, although no condition is actually stated at the time. God’s opening commission to Joshua was that the people were to possess the whole land promised to Abraham, right up to the Euphrates (Josh. 1:4). But Joshua ended up drawing up the borders of the land far smaller than these; he didn’t even seek to subdue the territory up to the Euphrates, even though God had promised him potential success and even commanded him to do so. Joshua was to divide up the whole land promised to Abraham, amongst the tribes of Israel (Josh. 1:6). And yet in the extensive descriptions of Joshua dividing up the land, we don’t find him dividing up that whole territory up to the Euphrates. He seems to have lacked that vision, and fallen into the mire of minimalism, just content with a utilitarian, small scale conquest, rather than seeing the bigger picture of the potential Kingdom which God wanted to give His people. 

Joshua and Caleb were earlier characterized by the comment that they “wholly followed the Lord” when they went to spy out Canaan (Num. 14:24; 32:11,12; Dt. 1:36; Josh. 14:8,9,14), and urged Israel to go up and inherit it. This refers to the way that the Angel had gone ahead of them, and they faithfully followed where the Angel had gone, and believed that Israel could follow that Angel wherever it led. When Israel finally did go into the land, they were told that Joshua would ‘go before’ them, and they were to follow him and thereby inherit the land (Dt. 31:3). From this we see that circumstances repeat in our lives. As Joshua had been told to be strong good courage in order to take the land, so he had to tell others (Josh. 10:25). As God charged him to be courageous and obedient to the book of the Law, so Joshua on his deathbed charged his people (Josh. 1:7,8 cp. 23:6). Joshua had faithfully followed, and now he became the leader who was to be faithfully followed. Likewise, he led the Israelites in battle whilst Moses stood on the hill with arms uplifted in prayer for his success. And in capturing Ai, it was Joshua’s turn to stand on a hill with arms uplifted [also in prayer?] whilst Israel fought. However, Joshua seems to have somehow gotten out of synch with the Angel when he meets Him in Josh. 5:14 and asks Him whether He is for or against Israel. We must walk in step with the Spirit / Angel in our lives; and yet no matter how much we’ve walked in step with Him, we can always allow pressure of circumstances to let us fall out of step with Him. 

Joshua is repeatedly made parallel with Israel; his victories were theirs; what he achieved is counted to them. In the same way, the people of the Lord Jesus are counted as Him. Joshua was to be strong and possess the land (Josh. 1:6), just as they had been told to do, using the same Hebrew words (Dt. 11:8). Indeed, Israel and Joshua are given parallel charges, to be strong and of good courage to take the land (Dt. 31:6,7). Both Israel and Joshua are given the same charge to keep the words of the covenant, that they might “prosper” (Dt. 29:9; Josh. 1:7).  

This connection between Joshua and Israel is developed in Is. 59:21, which describes the new covenant which God will make with Israel in the Messianic Kingdom in terms evidently reminiscent of Joshua- as if the new covenant was made with him, thereby enabling him potentially to be part of a Messianic Kingdom even in his day: 

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: my Spirit that is upon thee [“Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him” Dt. 34:9; Num. 27:18-23] , and my words which I have put in thy mouth [Dt. 18:18- God’s words were put in Joshua’s mouth], shall not depart out of thy mouth [“this book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth”, Josh. 1:8, s.w.], nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever”. 

Indeed, the Messianic prophecy of Dt. 18:18 had a potential Messianic and primary fulfillment in Joshua: “I will raise them up [God ‘rose up’ Joshua- s.w. Josh. 1:2; 7:10,13; 8:1,3]  a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Joshua’s life was framed to be like that of Moses- e.g. he too was told to remove his shoe when on holy ground, also held his hands up whilst Israel fought their enemies]; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him [Joshua is constantly presented as telling Israel what God commanded him- Josh. 4:8,10,17; 6:10; 8:8: “according to the commandment of the Lord shall ye do. See, I have commanded you”; 8:27]. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him”. 

The ‘likeness’ between Moses and the prophet like unto him was in that the prophet would also speak God’s words in a similar way. Josh. 11:15 therefore significantly comments: “As the Lord commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua: and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses”.  Joshua was a potential Messiah.

We have shown earlier that Ps. 91 is Moses’ commentary upon Joshua, the young man who dwelt in the tabernacle (Ps. 91:1 = Ex. 33:11), Joshua the potential Messiah. The Psalm describes how Joshua was miraculously preserved from the punishments which befell his generation in the wilderness; thousands fell at his side from the various plagues sent to waste away his peer group. But he was preserved. In this context we read that the Angels would be given charge over him, lest he dash his foot against a stone during that wilderness journey (Ps. 91:11,12). Yet these words were understood by the Lord Jesus as relevant to Him personally, when He was in the wilderness (Mt. 4:6). The Lord Jesus clearly saw Joshua as a type of Himself.   The double application of Psalm 91 to both Joshua and Jesus makes Joshua a potential Messiah.

It would therefore appear that Joshua potentially could have been the Jesus-Messiah figure, leading Israel into what could have become the Kingdom of God. He could have given the people rest; but he didn’t. Yet the possibilities and prophecies relating to Joshua were then reinterpreted and fulfilled in another ‘Jesus’, the Son of God. Solomon was another case of this. God’s servant Joshua was intended to “prosper” (Josh. 1:7); but in the end it was the Lord Jesus through His death who was the servant who would “deal prudently” [s.w. ‘prosper’, Is. 52:13]. And so, in His foreknowledge, God spoke of “another day” when His begotten Son would fulfil what all those men could potentially have achieved, and so much more (Heb. 4:8). The lesson for us is that so much has been potentially prepared for us to achieve. Our salvation may not necessarily depend upon achieving all those things, but all the same, so much potentially is possible which we refuse to reach up to, because we are petty minimalists, like Israel, satisfied with their little farm in the valley, rather than seeking to possess the fullness of the Kingdom prepared for them.