Joshua is a Biblical character, much of whose life is described in the Book of Joshua. The Hebrew name Joshua means God is his help, or God the Saviour.

Joshua was the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim and the successor of Moses as the leader of Israel. See also History of ancient Israel and Judah. He is called Jehoshua in Num. 13:16 (A.V.), and Jesus in Acts 7:45 and Heb. 4:8 (R.V., Joshua).

He was born in Egypt, and was probably of the age of Caleb, with whom he is generally associated. He shared in all the events of the Exodus, and held the place of commander of the host of the Israelites at their great battle against the Amalekites in Rephidim (Ex. 17:8-16).

He became Moses' minister, and accompanied him part of the way when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:17). He was also one of the twelve spies who were sent on by Moses to explore the land of Canaan (Num. 13:16, 17), and only he and Caleb gave an encouraging report.

Before Moses died, he appointed Joshua as his successor. The people were encamped at Shittim when he assumed the command before crossing the Jordan. Upon Joshua devolved a twofold duty: to conquer the land, and to apportion it among the tribes. According to the Book of Joshua, God encouraged him to be strong and to cling to the Law, which was never to "depart out of his mouth." After enlisting the cooperation of the kindred east-Jordanic tribes, his first concern was to spy out Jericho. On receiving the report of his emissaries he gave the necessary instructions for the crossing by the Israelites of the Jordan. With the Ark of the Covenant carried by the priests in the van, on the tenth day of the first month of the forty-first year after the Exodus the Israelites set out to conquer the land. The river, miraculously divided as long as the priests with the Ark remained in its bed, was crossed north of Adam; and in memory of this occurrence Joshua erected over the place where the priests had been stationed a monument of twelve stones. Joshua ordered that one man from each tribe should take each another stone from that spot and deposit it on the western bank as a memorial. Here, at Gilgal, Joshua pitched his camp and remained for some time; and in order that all might be able to participate in the Passover, he directed that every Hebrew that had been born in the desert should be circumcised.

Now began the wars of conquest which Joshua carried on for many years, the record of which is in the Book of Joshua.

Jericho was the first city captured. After exploring it by spies Joshua invested it, finally capturing it. The ban was pronounced over the ruins, and all the inhabitants were destroyed save Rahab and her paternal family; they being spared because she had shown hospitality to the spies. Joshua became famous by this victory, but met a reverse at Ai in consequence of Achan's misdeed; however, after visiting condign punishment upon the offender he made himself master of the town, which was the key to the mountains rising west of the plain of Jericho. The Gibeonites made their peace with him, gaining advantageous terms by means of a clever ruse. On Ebal and Gerizim he caused the blessings and the curses to be read.

While Joshua was engaged in the north, five of the southern rulers made an alliance to punish Gibeon; but they were routed at Makkedah by Joshua, who came to the assistance of the Gibeonites. It was during this battle that a furious hail-storm set in, proving more deadly than the sword, and on this occasion also, at Joshua's command, the sun stood still upon Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. The fugitive five kings were discovered hiding in a cave at Makkedah. By Joshua's orders the cave was closed with huge stones until the pursuit was over, when it was reopened and the kings, after having been thoroughly humiliated, were slain, their bodies being hanged on trees until the evening, when they were taken down and cast into the cave. Then followed the conquest of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. In the south Joshua penetrated as far as Kadesh-barnea; in the west as far as Gaza. Later on he routed the allied kings of the north at Lake Merom—Hazor being the head of these kingdoms—killing the inhabitants and burning the city of Hazor.

In this manner Joshua within a few years had made himself master of the whole country with the exception of the Philistine and Phoenician coasts. Still he continued to guard in Gilgal his fortified camp; thence he governed the land, and there he began to allot the districts to the various tribes. Judah, Ephraim, and the half of Manasseh were the first to be settled, Caleb being allowed to take Hebron. After this, Joshua removed the Tabernacle and the Ark from Gilgal to Shiloh, and took up his residence there. Here he continued the work of apportioning the rest of the land by lot according to the families. Cities of refuge, in accordance with the Law, were appointed. Joshua himself received the city of Timnath-serah in Ephraim for an inheritance. Having thus completed his task, he gave Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh permission to return to their east-Jordanic territory.

When he was "old and stricken in age" Joshua convened the elders and chiefs of the Israelites and exhorted them to have no fellowship with the native population. At a general assembly of the clans at Shechem he took leave of the people, admonishing them to be loyal to their God, who had been so mightily manifested in the midst of them. As a witness of their promise to serve God, Joshua set up a great stone under an oak by the sanctuary of God. Soon afterward he died, at the age of 110, and was buried in Timnath-serah.


The character of Joshua is described by Edersheim:, "Born a slave in Egypt, he must have been about forty years old at the time of the Exodus. Attached to the person of Moses, he led Israel in the first decisive battle against Amalek (Ex. 17:9, 13), while Moses in the prayer of faith held up to heaven the God-given 'rod.' It was no doubt on that occasion that his name was changed from Oshea, 'help,' to Jehoshua, 'Jehovah is help' (Num. 13:16). And this name is the key to his life and work. Alike in bringing the people into Canaan, in his wars, and in the distribution of the land among the tribes, from the miraculous crossing of Jordan and taking of Jericho to his last address, he was the embodiment of his new name, 'Jehovah is help.' To this outward calling his character also corresponded. It is marked by singleness of purpose, directness, and decision...He sets an object before him, and unswervingly follows it" (Bible Hist., iii. 103)

In rabbinic literature

In rabbinic Jewish literature Joshua is regarded as a faithful, humble, deserving, wise man. Biblical verses illustrative of these qualities and of their reward are applied to him. "He that waits on his master shall be honored" (Prov. xxvii. 18) is construed as a reference to Joshua (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xii.), as is also the first part of the same verse, "Whoso keepes the fig-tree shall eat the fruit thereof" (Midrash Yalk., Josh. 2; Numbers Rabbah xii. 21). That "honor shall uphold the humble in spirit" (Prov. xxix. 23) is proved by Joshua's victory over Amalek (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xiii.). Not the sons of Moses — as Moses himself had expected — but Joshua was appointed successor to the son of Amram (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xii.). Moses was shown how Joshua reproved Othniel (Yalḳ., Num. 776). Joshua's manliness recommended him for this high post. David referred to him in Ps. lxxxvii. 25, though without mentioning the name, lest dissensions should arise between his sons and those of his brothers (Yalḳ., quoting Sifre, l.c.).

Initial text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, and from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Please update as needed.