The Books of Joshua and Judges give what can be seen as contrasting views of the conquest of the Land of Canaan by the Hebrews. Joshua portrays a quick and decisive conquest of the Land whereas Judges portrays a more gradual conquest of the Land over time until the tribes took ownership of their territorial homelands. The question remains why the two seemingly contradictory accounts and also what is the intent of the authors of these two books in their writing and can that answer the above questions? The following will be also include a look at the practical application of intent of these two books in my life and lessons that I take away from them.
The Two Accounts
The Book of Joshua presents the life and leadership career of Joshua the successor of Moses and the leader of the Hebrews into the Land of Canaan (Josh 1:1-9). In the Book of Joshua beginning with the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6) there is a quick presentation of the conquest and laying waste to the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan. In the Book of Joshua there is more of a slower populating of the Land of Canaan that took an extended period of time and included meaningful opposition, unlike the account in Joshua that focused on Joshua’s quick successful raids and defeats of the Canaanite peoples.
The questions arises how these two seemingly contradictory accounts can be reconciled? Wright referenced in Kaiser (1998), put forward that Joshua 1-11 represented a limited number of attacks in Southern Israel that were followed by the completion of the conquest of the Land to the tribes in their localities (p. 145-146). According to Wright the Book of Joshua includes the initial attacks to begin the conquest of the Land and taking out initial opposition forces during the life of Joshua to which the completion of the conquest was to be done by the individual tribes claiming their allotted portions of the Land.
Younger referenced in Broyles (2001) saw the account in Joshua as an initial softening up of the Land for further conquest and the account in Judges narrating the initial failure to complete the conquest that began with Joshua (p. 142-143). This akin to Wright places the Book of Joshua as the initial wave of attacks to break down the major sources of Canaanite power and then allow for later claiming of the Land by the tribes who were responsible for their own allotted inheritance in the Land.
Dever referenced in Kaiser (1998), put forward that Joshua and Judges were two distinct narratives on the origins of the Hebrews entering and populating the Land of Canaan, the Book of Joshua being an account of the conquest glorifying Joshua as a hero of the Hebrew People and great military leader with the narrative focusing on his great military victories and the Book of Judges as another account that focused on the two century struggle to complete the conquest of the Land (p. 146). Rather than seeking to harmonize Joshua and Judges accounts like those mentioned above, Dever proposed that they are two distinct accounts of the conquest of Canaan, Joshua an account focusing on and glorifying Joshua as military leader and focused on his initiation of the conquest and Judges being an account of the full picture of the two century long process of conquest and populating of the Land by the Hebrews.
Meaning and Response
“Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:6–8, ESV)
With these words God commissioned Joshua to be the leader of the People to take the Land promised to Abraham. The key to blessing and success for Joshua and for the Hebrews entering the Land of Canaan was tied to their following of the Torah and their continued meditating on the words that God spoke to Moses embodied in the Torah.
As I have looked at the Book of Joshua I have seen that it can be understood as a lesson on what happens when the People held true to the Torah and followed God’s commands and they lived in blessing and success in their endeavors to claim the Land promised to Abraham. While the People were faithful to the Torah and followed God’s commands and were led by Joshua, a man committed to God and His Torah (Josh. 24:15) they were successful in battle and destroyed the Canaanite peoples they went up against.
In contrast, the Book of Judges detailed the falling away of the People from Torah and into idolatry after the death of Joshua when the next generation of those that were faithful abandoned the faith of their parents grounded in their forgetting God’s promises (La Sor, Hubbard & Bush, 1996, p. 153-154) that led to their failures and the lengthening of time of the complete conquest of the Land. By straying from the Torah, the People no longer were prosperous and had to struggle whereas when they were faithful as in the Book of Joshua prosperity and success was theres in abundance. Elwell (1995), concurred with this assessment of the lesson/message of these two book when he contrasted the giving of the Land to the People as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to His promise to Abraham and the corresponding faithfulness of the People to the Torah as seen in Joshua and the contrasting faithlessness and disobedience to the Torah that caused for failure in completing the conquest in Judges (Judges 1:1).
The two accounts give me a powerful look at what the consequences are for faithfulness to God and His commands as seen in the successes of Joshua when the People were faithful to the Torah and walking in God’s ways and the reverse side of the equation the failures of being unfaithful and not walking in God’s ways as can be seen in the Book of Judges as the lightning fast conquest of the Land in the days of Joshua slowed and faltered as the People became unfaithful to Torah and even went after the gods of the Canaanites.
Given Joshua and Judges lesson of the importance to following God and the importance of faithfulness to Him alone is a powerful and practical lesson for me to seek to embrace in my own life more each day. God in the Book of Joshua charged Joshua to be faithful and he charged the People to be faithful to God and His Torah as a way of receiving blessing and security (Josh. 1:8) and Joshua before his death shared the obverse for unfaithfulness, divine judgment (Josh. 24:19).
The glories of Joshua and the failures of Judges were all tied to faithfulness and unfaithfulness and I take these two books as a challenge to seek a life of faithfulness to stay in line for God’s blessing and relationship to Him and seek to model Joshua that concluded his life with the powerful words,
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”” (Joshua 24:15b, ESV).
In the above I have examined the question of the two accounts of the conquest of Canaan in the Books of Joshua and Judges and shown how the two accounts can be accounted for including as harmonic accounts and even by some like Dever that saw the two books as two different stories of the Canaan conquest (possibly akin to the two Creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2). I came to see the intent of the books to teach the lesson of blessing for obedience as seen in the Book Joshua and failure as seen in Book of Judges, both books demonstrating success or failure in the conquest of Canaan dependent on the People’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to Torah. This lesson is practical in my own life as I can see that the pathway of blessing is in obeying God and walking in His ways and there is only sorrow and failure for walking outside of His pathway.
Bimson, J. (2001). Chapter Four: Old Testament History and Sociology. In C. C. Broyles (Ed.), Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Elwell, W. A. (1995). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (1998). A history of Israel: from the bronze age through the Jewish Wars. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
La Sor, W. S., Hubbard, D. A., & Bush, F. W. (1996). Old Testament survey: the message, form, and background of the Old Testament (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Satterthwaite, P., & McConville, G. (2007). Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories (Vol. 2). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.