The Promise-Fulfillment Tension (Joshua)

Moses is dead (Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:2). Joshua is the new leader of God’s people (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9). He leads the people across the Jordon as on dry ground (Josh. 3:17). As a result, “the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel” (Josh. 4:14). Yes, the name Joshua is Jesus in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. What is the promise of Joshua, aka Jesus?

Several promises are part of the backdrop: The promise of the seed who would crush the evil one (Gen. 3:15); the promises to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), and “to your offspring I give this land” (Gen. 15:18); and the promise to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers” (Deut. 18:18). How are these promises realized?

The Book of Joshua has three basic parts. First, Joshua leads the people in the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 1-12). Second, Joshua guides in the division of the land as the Lord commanded through Moses (Josh. 13-21). Third, as this slice of Israel’s history closes, Joshua leads the people in a renewal of the covenant, and he himself dies (Josh. 22-24). The close of the book also contains these words, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel” (Josh. 24:31).

Again, what is the promise of Joshua, aka Jesus? As far as the land is concerned, “The Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Josh. 21:44-45).

But already, there is a tension between promise and fulfillment. On the one hand, at the end of the conquest, the Lord said to Joshua, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Josh. 13:1). On the other hand, “when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies,” Joshua warned the people about the “nations that remain.” You must “not mix with these nations remaining among you,” and not “cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you” (Josh. 23:1, 4, 7, 12).

What are we to make of this apparent failure of complete conquest, this tension between promise and fulfillment? Calvin’s argument gives us good help.

The apparent failure reminded the children of God that they were to look forward to a more excellent state, where the divine favor would be more clearly displayed, nay, would be freed from every obstruction, and shine forth in full splendor. Hence their thoughts were raised to Christ, and it was made known to them that the complete felicity of the Church depended on its Head (Calvin, 1979, p. xxii).

God was using the delay in fulfillment to raise the thoughts of the people to the greater blessing they would receive in Christ. “Meanwhile the moderate foretaste, which believers received of the divine favor, must have sufficed to sustain them, preparatory to the more complete realization” (Calvin, 1979, p. xxiii).

The promise of Joshua, aka Jesus, is the promise God gives to us. We also experience this tension between promise and fulfillment. Calvin’s words apply to us. The foretaste of the divine favor we receive must suffice to sustain us, “preparatory to the more complete realization.”

Denny Prutow

Work Cited
Calvin, J. (1979). Commentaries on the Book of Joshua. (H. Beveridge, Trans.). Grand Rapids: Baker.

2020-07-23T11:56:49-04:00 August 31st, 2020|