You will find an introduction and outline of Joshua, here.
Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Worship to use before reading:
Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning. To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight. Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I. Joshua receives his commission 1:1-18
II. Joshua conquest Canaan 2:1-12:24
A. 2:1-6:27 The destruction of Jericho at Passover: 6:1-27 The destruction of Jericho: There is more going on in this story than just history. Notice the description of the ritual. Some scholars believe this story is based more on the remembrance of a ritual celebration than historical events. Others believe this is a description of a historical event. The mention of a treasury (v19) suggests the final composition takes place at a latter time, when Israel had a central shrine. Problematic for modern readers is the order that everything in the city is to be “devoted to the Lord for destruction” (v17). See Deut 20:10-18. The root word translated as “dedicate” can also mean “holy”, “to set apart”, “treat as sacred”, “dedicate”, “forfeit”.
The same two men who made promises to Rahab are sent to rescue her and her family.
Commentators and scholars have “dealt” with the problem of holy war in a variety of ways, some of which are more helpful than others but none of which entirely remove our discomfort. Some believe that this sort of wholesale destruction, especially of people never actually happened and that the later authors were making the theological point that Israel should have been obedient to God’s commands and because they were not, Israel itself was destroyed. Others propose that this was a common practice and Israel was no worse of no better than any other people of the time. Some think this practice of destruction was some sort of improvement over practices of plunder and exploitation. Some attempt to make a distinction between and “old testament” God and a “new testament” God. All of these responses have some strengths and some weaknesses. One thing to notice is the emphasis on God’s control. For the Deuteronomistic historians God was in charge, told Israel what to do and Israel simply needed to obey. For more on this topic consult the “Read More About It” resources listed below.
B. 7:1-8:29 The destruction of Achan and Ai: The story of Achan contrasts with the story of Rahab. A faithful Canaanite and an unfaithful Israelite. Notice also the important link between an individual’s actions and their effect on the larger community. Notice that a “great heap of stones” is raised over Achan’s body and also over the King of Ai’s body. Joshua’s prayer in v6-9 recalls Moses’ prayer of Deut 9:25-29.
C. 8:30-35 An altar on Mt. Ebal: This section seems out of place. Mt. Ebal is “a long day’s march” (Cooke,634) from Ai but does recall Deut 27:1-8 where Moses tells Israel after they enter the land they are to build an alter on Mt. Ebal. So far we have not been told of the conquest of this area.
D. 9:1-10:43 Destruction to the south:
9:1-27 The Treaty with the Gibeonites: In some ways the story of the Gibeonites is similar to the story of Rahab, as Cooke writes, “Those who submit may be saved and included, while those who rebel will be excluded and exterminated.” (Cooke, 625) The Gibeonites come up with a plan to enter into covenant with Israel. This story shows how important covenants were. Even though the covenant was entered into by trickery, Israel honors the covenant.
10:1-27: The Battle with the Five Kings: Five kings join forces to attack the Gibeonites and Israel goes to the Gibeonites aid. Again God in in control of what happens.
10:28-43: The conquest of the south: The text presents the conquest as happening rapidly. This was probably not the case. Some of these cities were incorporated into Israel at latter dates. The point here is that the land was divinely given and that Joshua and Israel were obedient.
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of Joshua.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Cooke, Robert B. “The Book of Joshua”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Dentan, Robert C., Leslie J. Hoppe “Joshua” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Rast, Walter E. “Joshua” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.