Joshua is first mentioned in the Book of Exodus, chapter 17. We read that the Amalekites, a nomadic nation and longtime foe of the Israelites, had readied for battle against the Israelites; and Moses commanded Joshua (Hosea) to lead the Israeli army against the attack. In Sunday School and Bible study material, the story is told not because it is the first mention of Joshua, but because of the way God provided a miracle through Moses’ staff. “As long as Moses held up the staff with his hands, the Israelites had the advantage” (Exodus 17:11 [NIV]).
It is in the Book of Numbers, chapter 13, verse 8, that we read Hosea is listed as the leader of the tribe of Ephraim; but in verse 16, his name was changed “by this time” to Joshua. It is at this time that the Lord commanded Moses to send men to explore the land of Canaan, “the land I am giving to Israel” (Num 13:2). It is in the next chapter, that we get a glimpse of the character of Joshua. His bravery is obvious in the attack against the Amalekites, but here, he and Caleb stand out among the rest.
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Num. 14:6-9).
For this brave remark, the people of Israel were ready to stone Joshua and Caleb; but the glory of God appeared. He spoke and gave honor to these two brave spies:
In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected (Num. 14:29-31).
In what would be the following thirty-eight years, no mention is made of Joshua specific. Whether or not he led the Israelites in the attacks to conquer the land can be presumed, but is not fully known. The next mention of Joshua is in Numbers chapter 27, when the Lord reveals to Moses that He is about to take his people into the Promised Land. God gave Moses the privilege to see the land from a mountain top, but did not allow Moses to enter. “After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes” (Num. 27:13-14). When Moses pleaded with God for a worthy successor, God told Moses that Joshua was His chosen.