Introduction to Joshua and Judges
Joshua and Judges tell the story of Israel’s occupation of God’s promised land and the formation of a national government. Their overall theme is that when God’s people abide by his commandments and his guidance, their work prospers and they experience peace and joy. But when they follow their own inclinations and set themselves up as the ultimate authority, then poverty, strife, and every kind of evil bring grief and suffering.
Conquering, settling and governing a territory was the work of God’s designated leaders, prophets, armies, and all the people of Israel. While there is every reason to expect these books to contribute to our understanding of work from a biblical perspective, it takes some work on our part to uncover how the work we see in Joshua and Judges applies to the circumstances of our contemporary workplaces. But if we look carefully, we find that insights for today’s issues does arise from the incidents in the text, including leadership development and management, the relative roles of hard work and God’s guidance in attaining our objectives, conflict over resources, the tension between driving for success and serving others, God’s guidance in our work, and the ever-present peril of making an idol of our work. The events in Joshua and Judges give us models—both good and bad— for resolving workplace conflicts, motivating workers, meeting the challenges of elective office, and planning for new leaders to succeed those who retire or depart. The characters we meet in the books illustrate the remarkable value of women’s leadership, the economic effects of war, and the complicity of the powerful in the abuse of the vulnerable at work.
The primary story line of both Joshua and Judges is that while God’s chosen people are repeatedly rebellious against God, turning to serve other gods and forgetting God’s covenant with them, God is always ready to respond to their crises and deliver them. Only when they cease even to desire God’s blessings do they fall into misery and social devastation. This is a remarkably contemporary message, as well. We often find ourselves drifting away from God as we decide how to handle the many opportunities and challenges that arise in our work. We discover that we have elevated other concerns above receiving his love and loving and serving him through our work. The message of Joshua and Judges is that God is ready, now and here, for us to return to him and receive his blessings in our life and work.
We will organize our treatment of the books around four major themes, which roughly correspond to the flow of the narrative: Conquest, Coordination, Covenant, and Chaos.
For a helpful overview of the key themes of Joshua, see David M. Howard, Jr. Joshua, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), pp. 56-64.