A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by B. Jason Epps
David Firth is a tutor in Old Testament at Trinity College, Bristol. He is the author of numerous books, including The Message of Joshua.
Firth notes first and foremost that Joshua is a book of transition from the Pentateuch to the rest of Israelite history. He acknowledges that even though traditional Jewish interpretation is that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua, internal markers such as “until this day” and a geographic focus on the key areas of 1 and 2 Samuel lead him to believe that Joshua was written by an unknown author in the time of David. He does still acknowledge that the material in Joshua is true and that it goes back to the time of Joshua.
He also argues that the book of Joshua connects the themes begun in the Pentateuch, most notably the completion of the conquest. He argues that the book also reinforces the covenant and God’s faithfulness. It is on these grounds that he argues that Joshua is not just a collection of random bits of history but should be read as an interconnected whole.
As far as Joshua’s canonical position, Firth notes two scholarly approaches. One is to read Joshua as the conclusion to the Pentateuch. He notes that this approach has several weaknesses. For one, it is heavily based on the documentary hypothesis. Two, in this view, the distinctiveness of Joshua is not appreciated. The other view, seeing Joshua as part of Deuteronomistic history, Firth argues, is slightly more helpful in that it views the book of Joshua as being able to refer to Deuteronomy and build off of it. But one of the major weaknesses is that a large portion of Joshua has nothing to do with Deuteronomistic material. As such, this approach is also lacking. He then demonstrates that the themes from Joshua permeate the entire canon from the prophets to the Psalms to even Jesus’ identity, elevating the importance of Joshua and reinforcing the idea of the canon as a holistic entity.
He argues that the genre of Joshua is multifaceted. First, he acknowledges that Joshua is narrative, but he notes that for Hebrew narrative, focalization is key. Focalization is the information given by the narrator to interpret the events, ranging from zero focalization, where the narrator is omniscient, providing guidance to readers, and internal focalization, where the reader only knows what the character knows. As he discusses these concepts, he provides readers with clear examples and with the tools necessary not only to analyze Joshua but the Old Testament as a whole. The other genre he explores and identifies is history. He notes that while Joshua is history, we need to acknowledge it does not always follow our modern conventions of what historical literature should be. He essentially brings these two concepts together when he discusses Joshua being viewed as history and as Scripture, stating that Joshua, like other biblical books, was not written just to dictate a historical account, but with an intentional theological purpose.
He then discusses the problem of violence in Joshua, first by noting a very small portion of Joshua is actually violent. He ultimately resolves the problem of violence by noting that the land of Canaan was ultimately promised to Abraham and since the land was theologically always God’s, He could freely assign Israel to it. He also notes that the terms “destroy completely” may not have the extreme severity that we might associate with them. One element that I think he is clearly missing in this discussion is the fact that Israel’s enemies were destroyed on account of their sin, according to Genesis 17, so these were not pure and innocent people. Also, his analysis of the possibility of “destroy completely” seems to fail for two primary reasons. One, in the majority of contexts where it is used it is clear that the destruction is complete. In fact, there are several instances where the Israelites are reprimanded because they did not destroy things completely, for example, Achan’s sin. Also, his discussion seems to be lightly built on our modern sensitivities toward violence. He does note, however, that since the land belongs to God, God could drive out the Israelites from the land just as He did the Canaanites. In saying this, he misses a key distinction, however. The Canaanites ceased to exist while the Israelites were preserved and ultimately brought back to the land.
At the end of the introduction, he provides a general outline for Joshua to help orient readers. He then discusses key biblical themes in Joshua such as faithfulness and obedience, and God’s community being open to all. He also draws parallels between Joshua and Jesus, demonstrating how Jesus was the ultimate savior from sin but also notes that the land is viewed as God’s gift to Israel. He also notes the importance of godly leadership both in Joshua faithfully taking over from Moses and the failings occurring when unfaithful leaders rose into the positions. He notes that power and governing are also a central theme in the book of Joshua and it is not in the book of Joshua an oppressive form of government, but rather a power that is focused on eliminating sin. He also notes that in the Israelites’ governmental structures, in contrast to contemporary systems, no one, not even the king, was above God. He also notes that the theme of rest is crucial to Joshua, noting that rest results in trust and dependence upon God. The final theme of Joshua according to Firth is God’s promises and his fulfillments.
In Firth’s commentary, each chapter covers several chapters of the biblical text, each containing the major arcs of the text. He then divides each chapter into several pericopes. Each of these units is clearly marked in the table of contents for ease of navigation. Firth includes the full text of the passage at the beginning of the chapter. Then he provides the context of the section, where he connects elements stated in the text to each other and what was stated before. Then he moves to the exegesis of specific verses. The focus of the exegesis is typically a verse’s interconnectedness to the passage as well as to the Bible itself. Typically he covers from one to three verses in these blocks. The commentary itself is not technical in the sense that biblical language words are not expressly mentioned. He is, however, thorough in analyzing the high points of each section as well as noting their synergy. At the end of his individual verse analysis, he has a section entitled “bridge” where he summarizes and connects the themes begun in the previous section to what follows. This helps maintain and reinforce the unity of the book. One helpful feature of this commentary is that the page numbers for particular sections of scripture are clearly marked so readers can go to a particular passage with ease.
In general, I would highly recommend this commentary to anyone who desires to have a greater understanding of the book of Joshua and its relation to the rest of the canon. Since it is written in an accessible way, this commentary could be effectively utilized by students, pastors, and lay people.
B. Jason Epps
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Buy the books
JOSHUA: EVANGELICAL BIBLICAL THEOLOGY COMMENTARY, by David Firth