This is a pivotal section, between the Exodus/Desert wanderings of the Hebrews, and their settlement in the land promised to them. Its also the pivot point between Moses, the lawgiver, and subsequent generations of slowly centralizing power, and a tug of war between the two functions that were united in Moses: government and prophecy. And its the time when Canaanite and other population of the land begin to make way for Israelite settlement, although the latter will never totally replace the former.
Again, the modern reader is disturbed by accounts in this section of total destruction of cities, cultures and even people, including noncombatants. It was probably meant to be disturbing and frightening. What emerges in the stories of Jericho, Rahab and the Gabaonites (chapter 10) is that surrender and incorporation into Israel was a well-understood offer, which Rahab and her family took advantage of. The seven days of marching around Jericho may also have served as a daily reminders and offers of peace to those who surrender. And the Gabaonites, who put on the pretense of having recently come from afar, seem to have understood that they could sue for peace, if they surrendered as well to Israel’s God. They may have thought that they would get better terms as (apparent) outsiders.
In his book, Divine Presence Amid Violence, Prof. Walter Brueggeman argues that Israel’s invasion of Imperial Egypt’s buffer zone and client states was effectively a revolution of the less powerful and dispossessed against their oppressors: Egypt and its centralized, royal, imperial, idolatrous, militaristic and monopolistic vassal states. God had already declared himself on the side of the poor and powerless before the Exodus. And the law and worship which God was instituting with the Israelites were the terms and foundation of Israel’s humanity, dignity and autonomy, as free, just and self-governing persons, families, clans and tribes. They would thereby also avoid the imperial evils of power concentration, class disparity, endless wars of imperial aggression and expansion, and the permanent exploitation and disadvantaging of the poor.
But as the New Testament itself says, the best was yet to come with Jesus, who leads this same fight, but now by weapons of the Spirit, and not by those of the flesh. Dr. Willard Swartley, professor emeritus of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, has taught and written much about the parallels and contrasts between Joshua of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament. They are both the same name, in Hebrew, making them effectively the first and second Joshuas.
The first Joshua took over from Moses. So did the second: “The law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus the Christ (John 1: 17).” The first Joshua led 12 tribes through the promised land. The second Joshua led 12 disciples. The first Joshua fought sinners. The second Joshua fought sin. The first Joshua killed sinners. The second Joshua died for them. Thus the sword of the first Joshua gets inverted to become the cross of the second Joshua. Yet theirs’ is essentially the same campaign, with the same zeal and earnestness, for the same God and his kingdom on earth, resulting in human liberation, but with different weapons: the second ones (the weapons of peace) superceeding and fulfilling the first.