It’s always puzzled me that, in the Bible, Joshua is constantly referred to as Joshua son of Nun. Not just when we first meet him – to identify who he is and what family he is from – but, in almost every reference to him, we are told that he is Joshua son of Nun.
Interestingly, this seems to have come about when the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) was translated into Greek in the third century BC, into what is called the Septuagint. And this is because the name Joshua is Yehoshua in Hebrew and this becomes Iesous (or Jesus) in Greek. And so saying Joshua son of Nun is really saying Jesus son of Nun. And this means that this Jesus is not confused with another Jesus. Of course.
But why would we confuse the two?
After all, isn’t Joshua a bloodthirsty warrior, the great conquering hero, smiting the people of Canaan in order to establish the Israelites in the Promised Land? While Jesus is the Prince of Peace, exhorting his disciples to love their enemies.
At the moment, I’m reading the book of Joshua (the sixth book of the Bible) with some friends. The book is set in the late Bronze age, maybe around 1300BC – and it does contain some horrific battle scenes. But, nonetheless, it’s interesting to see the biblical parallels between Joshua and Jesus.
Joshua is Moses’ assistant and, after Moses’ death, Joshua leads the Israelites across the River Jordan to capture the cities of Jericho, Ai and other places. God gives Joshua a blessing of invincibilty as He establishes His people in Canaan. And in the New Testament book Hebrews, Jesus is also seen to have a blessing of invincibility. He is like Joshua in leading his people into God’s rest. Hebrews 4.8-9 says, ‘For if Joshua had given them [God’s people] rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God [which Christ leads them into.]’
Joshua was particularly revered in the Middle Ages, as he seemed to the people of those times to personify the ideals of chivalry.
Reading up on this, I find that Joshua was one of the Nine Worthies – a list of nine historical, scriptural and legendary characters who epitomised chivalry. Three of these were from the Graeco-Roman world – Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Three were Jewish – Joshua, David and Judas Maccabeus (who led an uprising against the Romans in 164BC.) And three were medieval Christians – King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon (a Germanic knight and leader of the First Crusade.)
We don’t think too much of Jesus, our Saviour, as being like a chivalrous knight, a conquering hero – in the image of someone like Joshua. But maybe we should.
Our world is beset by the ravages of evil. We see mass suffering and persecution brought about by human sinfulness, greed and neglect. This evil needs to be fought against – so that people might be saved from the consequences of sin. Jesus shows us the way to do that – not by the sword but by a greater weapon – the weapon of love. And love’s power to bring lasting peace to our world.
Let’s recognise this power in Jesus, saying in the words of the great Easter hymn Thine be the Glory, risen CONQUERING Son.