Joshua as a prophet like Moses

As the book of Joshua records Israel’s movement from life in the wilderness to life in the land of promise, it is not surprising that the book serves both as a retrospective on what has gone before, and the beginning of a significant new era for the nation.

I have been reflecting on the various ways Joshua looks backward to the Pentateuch and forward to the rest of the Prophets. I intend to post some of these reflections over the next few weeks.

Joshua begins with the Lord declaring that his servant Moses is now dead. The Mosaic era of Israel’s history has come to an end, and yet, the exodus that Moses began has not quite been completed. Israel has come out from Egypt, but they have not yet come into their own land. Moses and his mission continue to loom large in the background of Joshua. Can Joshua complete what Moses started? It is for this reason that the Lord assures Joshua: “As I was with Moses, I shall be with you” (Josh. 1:5, The Hebrew Bible, translated by Robert Alter).

Will Israel listen to Joshua? Moses told Israel of a prophet-to-come whom they must heed, and warned them that they would ignore his words at their own peril (Deut. 18:15ff). The end of Deuteronomy makes clear that Joshua himself is not that prophet: immediately after telling us that Moses had laid his hands upon Joshua and that the Israelites heeded him, the author then tells us: “But no prophet again arose in Israel like Moses” (Deut. 34:10, The Hebrew Bible).

Nonetheless, Joshua is presented throughout this book as someone very much like that great prophet. The trans-Jordanian tribes declare their allegiance to Joshua, and describe Joshua’s authority in strong terms that clearly evoke the authority of the prophet-to-come: “Every man who flouts your command and does not heed your word in all that you charge him shall be put to death…” (Josh. 1:18, The Hebrew Bible).