At the end of Moses’s life, the Lord told him that he would not be leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Instead, “Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Deut. 1:38).
Joshua, an Ephraimite, had been Moses’ faithful assistant throughout the Exodus. He had gone up Mount Sinai with Moses, and Moses had selected him to be one of the twelve vanguards to go into the Promised Land. Originally named Hoshea (Hebrew for “salvation”), he received a new name from Moses: Joshua (Hebrew for “Jehovah is salvation”) (Num. 13:16). Now the Lord commanded Moses to “charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people” (Deut. 3:28).
Although Moses blessed Joshua with encouragement and strength, the Lord told him “Be strong and of a good courage” numerous times (Deut. 13:7, 23; Josh. 1:6-9, 18). Joshua apparently needed this repeated counsel. The apocryphal Testament of Moses may help us understand why:
When Joshua heard that Moses would die and leave him in charge, “he tore his garments and fell at Moses’ feet.” He cried, “You are going away, and who will sustain this people? . . . . what wisdom or intelligence do I have, either to judge or give an opinion in the house? . . . . Moreover, when the kings of the Amorites hear of your death . . . they will say, ‘He is no longer with them. Therefore let us go up and crush them from the face of the earth.’ What then will happen to these people, master Moses?” (Testament of Moses 11:1-19, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 1:933-934, hereafter OTP).
Like so many of the prophets, Joshua must have been a humble man who recognized his limitations. We know that Enoch, Isaiah, Joseph Smith, and even Moses himself felt deeply inadequate and unequal to their callings (see Moses 6:31; Isa. 6:5; JS-Hist. 1:23; Exod. 4:10). But the Lord gave Joshua the same promise He gives to all His children when He calls them to serve Him: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Josh. 1:5).
Because Joshua was willing to do what the Lord commanded, he was never without divine help. Now we understand why Joshua received his new name: Yehoshua, “Jehovah is salvation.” Joshua faced a mighty task: to clear the land of the iniquitous Canaanites and to allot inheritances to the tribes of Israel. The new name taught Joshua to look to the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, encouraged, and reassured that his mission would not fail.
Along with the new name, according to apocryphal sources, the Lord endowed Joshua with the authority of Moses: “Take his garments of wisdom and clothe yourself, and with his belt of knowledge gird your loins, and you will be changed and become another man” (Pseudo-Philo 20:2, OTP 2:329). Although the Melchizedek priesthood was withheld from the children of Israel, Joshua surely received it “by special dispensation” (see Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999,3:85).
From Moses, Joshua received “the book of mysteries” (ordinances) passed down from Adam to Noah to Enoch and Moses (3 Enoch 48:9-10, OTP 1:315). Moses instructed Joshua to conceal it in the earth: “Preserve the books which I shall entrust to you . . . arrange them, anoint them with cedar, and deposit them in earthenware jars in the place which God has chosen from the beginning” (Testament of Moses 1:17, OTP 1:927). (We are reminded of Moroni and the plates of the Book of Mormon, as well as of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
Thus endowed with power and knowledge from on high, Joshua is “another man” from what he was. Now he is ready to be “strong and of good courage.” By following Joshua’s example of willing obedience, no matter how inadequate we may feel, the Lord will also endow us with the power and knowledge to fulfill whatever He may call us to do.
Joshua’s first task is to prepare the people for the ordeal ahead. The Lord has judged that “the iniquity of the Amorites [Canaanites] is full” (Gen. 15:13-16) and that Israel should sweep them from the land. The Canaanites were a fearfully debased people. They practiced every imaginable sin, including burning their own children as an offering to their gods. Justice demands that “in that day” when any people are “fully ripe in iniquity, they shall perish” (2 Ne. 18:16). Israel was the instrument the Lord chose to carry out this sentence.
Of course, the children of Israel feel the same sense of inadequacy at this task that Joshua himself felt. Camped on the east bank of the river Jordan, faced with mighty opposition, they also need strength and encouragement to cross over and conquer.
Encouragement comes in the form of a sign. When the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river, the water stops flowing and the people “pass over on dry ground.” This repetition of the miracle at the Red Sea reassures them that the Lord will be with them (Josh. 3:5-17).
Now the Lord asks them to make a sacred space so that they can be re-consecrated to Him by taking on themselves the covenant (most of them are too young to remember the covenant made at Sinai). He has them take twelve stones from the dry riverbed and set them up in a circle. “This may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. . . . These stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7).
Joshua calls the place Gilgal, in Hebrew “circle” or “wheel.” Many such stone circles dot the landscape of the Middle East, most at least 2,000 years old and some as large as 400 meters across. Most of them are precisely circular, indicating that the builders invested them with great significance (Owen Jarus, “Ancient Stone Circles in Mideast Baffle Archeologists,” LiveScience, October 30, 2014). We might think of them as temples.
Because ordinances were performed there, Gilgal was a temple-like sanctuary. An angel tells Joshua to remove his shoes, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” Here Joshua orders all the men to be circumcised as a token of the covenant and administers the ordinance of the Passover “on the fourteenth day of the month” (Josh. 5:2-7, 10, 14-15). Both these ordinances point directly to the Atonement of Christ and serve to remind the Israelites that the Spirit of the Lord will be with them if they keep the commandments of God.
Endowed with power and re-committed to their covenants, the Israelites begin to occupy the Promised Land. The first obstacle is Jericho, the “temple of the moon god,” with its sturdy defensive walls. The Israelites conduct a procession around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day, they parade seven times around the city, blow rams’ horns, “raise a great shout”—and the walls fall flat. Then they “utterly destroy all that was in the city” (Josh. 6:15-21).
What takes place at Jericho is a purification ritual. According to Jewish lore, worshipers at the temple in Jerusalem circled the altar of sacrifice seven times at the Feast of Tabernacles to commemorate the seven days of creation and symbolize atonement for sin. The Promised Land must be cleansed of sin, which requires the eradication of wicked peoples; thus, the army of the Lord circumambulates the counterfeit temple and the Lord Himself brings it down.
The story of Jericho is a small-scale version of “the seven thousand years” of the earth’s temporal existence (D&C 77:6). For six thousand years the Lord “suffers long” with His children and their sinful behavior. But when the world “ripens in iniquity” in the seventh era, Babylon—the archetype of all the “sin cities” of the earth, like Jericho—”tumbles to the dust and great shall be the fall of it” (1 Ne. 22:14).
The purification of Jericho was total. Only the family of righteous Rahab, the innkeeper (“harlot” is probably a mistranslation—see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 5:1:2) who helped Joshua’s scouts, was spared. All the gold and silver objects found in Jericho were to be consecrated to a future temple of the Lord (Josh. 6:19, 23). But one rogue Israelite disobeys the commandment and nearly brings disaster to Israel.
When Joshua leads the army against the wicked city of Ai, the defenders chase them off and smite them “in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.” Joshua complains to the Lord, who informs him that “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also” (Josh. 7:5, 11). In this verse “accursed” (Heb. cherem) should be translated “set apart” or “consecrated”—someone has stolen from the treasure set aside for the temple.
When they identify the thief as one Achan of Judah, he confesses: “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel. . . . When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it” (Josh. 7:20-21). Very exact about his ill-gotten gains, Achan receives the exact penalty of the law and is stoned to death.
Even though they have just entered the Promised Land, covetousness, corruption, sacrilege, and a lying spirit—the trademark “Babylonish” vices—already show themselves in the house of Israel. The fate of Achan served as a lesson to Israel; the place of Achan’s execution was called the “valley of Achor (in Hebrew “the valley of trouble”) unto this day” (Josh. 7:26).
Eventually, Joshua cleansed the land of wickedness and “took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war” (Josh. 11:23).
In this way, Joshua is clearly a type of Christ, foreshadowing the great work of the Savior in cleansing each one of us of our sins. One day Christ will purify the whole world, just as Joshua cleansed the Promised Land. In allotting inheritances, Joshua’s work anticipates the atoning work of the Savior. The day will come when He will provide “inheritances” for each of his true disciples in His kingdom—for there are “many mansions” there. Just as Joshua led his people to “rest from war,” the Savior’s Atonement enables us to “enter into his rest . . . which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24). It is significant that Joshua and the Savior bore the same Hebrew name: Yehoshua, “Jehovah is salvation.” In the New Testament, “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua.”
In his last days, after successfully completing his mission, Joshua called all Israel together to recommit them to the covenant: “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left” (Josh. 23:6).
Joshua’s last message is the same message of our prophet today, President Russell M. Nelson:
“To each member of the Church I say, keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere” (“As We Go Forward Together,” Ensign, April 2018).
We get to choose every moment of every day if we will stay on that covenant path. Joshua put that choice before the house of Israel just as our prophet does today: Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth. . . . And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14-15).