How Joshua Completes the Exodus
One of the many literary features found in the Bible is the phenomenon of the inclusio. An inclusio brackets a portion of Scripture by clearly repeating verbal elements at the beginning and end. Through the use of an inclusio, the biblical authors draw attention to that unit of text as a unit. A significant example of an inclusio can be seen by comparing Genesis 50:22–26 with Joshua 24:29–32. Here are the two texts with certain repeated features highlighted:
So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph's own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being 110 years old. And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel. As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.
The similarity that immediately catches the reader’s attention is the age at which both Joseph and Joshua died. Both died at the age of 110. Furthermore, apart from the name of the person who died, the verbal parallel in these two statements is identical in Hebrew:
way-yā-māṯ [Joseph] ben-mê-’āh wā-‘e-śer šā-nîm (Genesis 50:26)
way-yā-māṯ [Joshua] ben-mê-’āh wā-‘e-śer šā-nîm (Joshua 24:29)
Both passages also speak of the sons of Israel bringing the bones of Joseph out of Egypt. The similarity is clearer in the Hebrew than in the English translation I am using here (the ESV). In Genesis 50, Joseph makes “the sons of Israel” (bə-nê yiś-rā-’êl) swear to bring his bones out of Egypt and into Canaan. In Joshua 24, we read that “the people of Israel” (ḇə-nê-yiś-rā-’êl) brought the bones of Joseph out of Egypt and into Canaan. Both could have been translated “sons of Israel.”
There are other parallels that could be mentioned if we looked at the entirety of Joshua chapter 24, but the essential point is that because of the way Joshua 24 is written, it seems clear that the author wants the hearer or reader to be reminded of Genesis 50. This is the very nature of an inclusio. It forces the reader to think about the nature of the unit of text within the brackets or frame created by the inclusio.
What, then, does this particular inclusio communicate? Genesis 50:22–26 occurs at the very end of the book of Genesis, and Joshua 24:29–32 occurs at the very end of the book of Joshua. What falls between these two texts is everything in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. I think the most obvious point being made by this framing device is that the book of Joshua should be considered part of the story of the exodus. Why is this important?
If you ask most Christians to define the exodus, they will say that it was God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. In other words, they will think of the major events recorded in the book of Exodus – the plagues, the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Sinai. All of this is part of the exodus, but the exodus, God’s paradigmatic act of redemption in the Old Testament, involves more than God bringing Israel out of Egypt. Look at Exodus 6:2–8 where God tells Moses what He is about to do:
God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”
God promises not only to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt. He also promises to bring them into the land that He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God says, “I will bring you out, and I will bring you in.” The book of Joshua, then, is a vital part of the exodus story, because Joshua recounts the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring the people of Israel into the promised land. The exodus, the redemption of Israel, is incomplete if Israel is brought out of Egypt and simply left in the wilderness.
Note also that the entire exodus, bringing out and bringing in, is connected here in Exodus 6 to God’s covenant promise that Israel will be His people and He will be their God (v. 7). This takes us back to the promises found in Genesis. Interestingly, the Genesis connection is itself emphasized through another inclusio. Exodus 6:2–8 is framed by a reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in verses 3 and 8.
What stories comprise the bulk of the book of Genesis? The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12–50). Those stories are the necessary foundation for understanding everything that happens in Exodus–Joshua. Genesis is largely about the covenant promises that lay the groundwork for God’s work of redemption in the exodus. In short, the God who brings Israel out and brings Israel in, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Recall that the first hearers of these books were the early Israelites who had just been brought out of Egypt. They and their ancestors have been in Egypt for four hundred years. Now Moses has come along and amazing things have happened. The Israelites are naturally going to have some questions: Who are we? How did we wind up as slaves in Egypt? Who is this God who has done these miraculous things? Genesis tells them that this God is the creator of heaven and earth. It tells them about the entrance of sin into the world and of God's promises of redemption. It tells them that this God called Abraham out of paganism and made promises to him concerning a land and descendants. It tells them that they are the descendants of Abraham. It tells them how their ancestors ended up in Egypt.
Joshua 24 is a significant chapter in the story of God's work of redemption. God has brought Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land just as He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel is His people, and He is their God. In chapter 24, Joshua summarizes the history of God's dealing with His people thus far. In verses 2–4, he summarizes Genesis 12–50. In verses 5–13, he summarizes Exodus–Joshua. Verses 14–28 recount the renewal of the covenant. Then in verses 29–32, we read of Joshua's death in words that echo the death of Joseph and form an inclusio with Genesis 50.
There is much more obviously, but the main point is that by paying attention to literary devices such as inclusio, we can get a better grasp of some of the big picture ideas in Scripture. In a way it is similar to putting a puzzle together. Noting an inclusio such as this is like finding all of the border pieces and putting them together. Once the border is in place, figuring out where the other pieces go becomes much easier.