The book of Joshua is interesting because of its presentation of opposing themes. On the one hand, the story demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His people. He had promised them their own land, and in the book of Joshua, He gives it to them. On the other hand, the book full of instances where the people ignored God’s directions, acted with greed, and relied on themselves rather than God.
These themes are reflected in the prayers in the book, though there are few. In fact, God speaks to Joshua and others more often than they speak to him!1 God is often angry at his people in these stories. Perhaps the key passage about prayer is not a prayer at all, but a mention of no prayer: “So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the LORD” (9.14). It is clear from following events that they should have prayed and sought guidance from God.
There are eight prayers in the book of Joshua. There are two blessings, but they are brief, and the content is unknown: “Joshua blessed him/them.” There is one intercession, one curse, one lament, a confession, a vow, and a petition. (One might even question whether the confession is really a prayer of confession: a man is asked to confess to God, yet he does not offer a prayer, he just admits what he did). Though every prayer type is found in the book of Joshua, each is short and shallow. We are rarely told what the person said in the prayer.
All of this fits the purpose of the book of Joshua. God kept His promises, but the people were often selfish and sinful. They ignored God. What can we learn about prayer from such a book? The lessons are all negative. The book of Joshua, more often than not, teaches us what to avoid doing.
The book is in six sections: the Israelites enter into the land of Canaan (1.1–5.12), the wars against the people of Canaan (5.13–11.23), the division of the land among the Israelite tribes (12.1–19.15), a call to keep the law as handed down by Moses (20.1–21.45), a threat of a civil war (22.1–34), and a conclusion which comes at the end of Joshua’s life (23.1–24.33). Most of the prayers occur in the sections about the wars and the civil war.
The paucity and shallowness of the prayers does not mean that they are not sincere. Most seem to be so. Yet, those praying appear distracted, as if they are too busy to spend much time in prayer. Or perhaps the author of the book did not think prayer was important to his story. Yet, the next book, the book of Judges, is filled with the kinds of prayers found in the other books we have studied. Joshua stands apart when it comes to prayer, and this is likely no accident.
Most scholars believe that Joshua and Judges were written by the same person, or at least compiled and edited by the same person. This, along with the fact that God speaks to people in Joshua more often than they speak to him, indicates that the author may be trying to teach us something about prayer: treat it lightly at your own peril!
- See the frequent refrain “and God said to Joshua” in 1.1; 3.7; 4.1, 4.15; 5.2; 7.10; 8.1, 18; 10.10; 11.6; 13.1; 30.1. See also 5.6. ↩
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