David Firth is tutor in Old Testament at Trinity College, Bristol. He has written commentaries on OT books such as 1 & 2 Samuel (AOTC) and Esther and Joshua (BST). The book of Joshua doesn’t always seem like a thrill of a read, but it shows us the completion of some of the promises God made in the Pentateuch (such as obtaining the land), and it prepares us for what follows in the life of Israel, “planting seeds for a larger story” seen in Judges–Kings and beyond (2).
Authorship and Date
Regarding authorship and date, Firth acknowledges the book claims Joshua wrote at least portions of the book of Joshua (see Josh 18:1–10; 24:26). Yet the book also records his death and the period after it (24:29–31), which would require another author. The phrase “until this day” occurs 16 times in Joshua. Firth lists different clues pointing to David’s court as being the likely place where an early version of the “book” of Joshua began (4). For example, Joshua 15:63 reads, “,” and this ceased to be true when David captured the city in 2 Samuel 5:6–10.
Two particular themes from Joshua are referenced in the OT—God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises (seen in Amos, Micah, Psalms, and Nehemiah) and the sin of the generation that entered the land (seen in the Psalms). Though the NT doesn’t cite texts from Joshua specifically, Stephen references scenes from Joshua, John 9:24 alludes to Joshua 7:19, and Hebrews references the sinful generation and Joshua as the one who brought rest. As well, Matthew, Hebrews, and James reference Rahab. Firth notes that these three NT books make “explicit something that is otherwise only implicit in Joshua itself—that there was always the possibility of the Canaanite population being integrated in not Israel on the basis of faith” (13).
As for genre, Joshua is both a narrative and history. Below I look at two of Joshua’s literary techniques.
Often when we read the OT, the narrator is omniscient and provides us with all the insight we need about different people and events. Other times we are given only one person’s perspective (such as in Nehemiah 1–2). But, though rare, the first five chapter of Joshua do something else—we receive almost no information from the narrator about whether what’s going on is right or not. We are often left in the dark until later, whether it be concerning the rightness of the oath between two Israelite spies and a Canaanite prostitute, or why Joshua gives the instructions he does when Israel crosses the Jordan in chs. 3–4. But we are not left without any clues, for in 6:1–2; 7:1; 9:1–4; and 11:15 the reader finally received some guidance that “forces us to reread” the earlier texts with the new information we’ve received.
This is like watching Star Wars and discovering at the end of The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Then you can go back and watch Episodes IV and V with new eyes.
This occurs when the order of events are told in a different order than the order in which they happened. This adds suspense to the narrative. Achan took some of the banned goods during the battle in Joshua 6, but we don’t discover this until Joshua 7. (This like watching The Sixth Sense and realizing at the end that Bruce Willis actually did die in the beginning of the movie).
Firth gives a few pages to the problem of violence in Joshua and notes that within the books as a whole, the descriptions of war make up only a small proportion of the book of Joshua. Yet it’s these small parts than make modern critics go berserk. Firth notes that though the Canaanites live in the land, it is not “their” land. Everything belongs to God, and he chooses to give the land to Israel. He would take the land away from the Canaanites due to their sin, just as he would eventually take the land away from Israel themselves due to their egregious sins. In fact, repentant Canaanites (like Rahab) could remain in the land as a part of God’s people.
He agrees with others (like Younger, p. 22) that Joshua employs ancient forms of rhetoric such as hyperbole when describing how the people “completely destroyed Hebron and everyone in it” in Joshua 10:37. It refers to “a comprehensive victory,” similar to how football fans today declare that they “slaughtered” their opponents (26).
For example, in 10:20a we see that Joshua “completely destroyed” the enemies, and yet in verse 20b there are fleeing survivors. As Firth writes, “In other words, hyperbolic language is used to stress the completeness of the victory, not the actual casualty figures” (192).
In 10:36–37 Joshua placed both Hebron and its villages under the ban, leaving no survivors. However, “less than five years later it would be assigned to Joshua and was by then already a city that needed to be captured (14:6–14)” (208). While it could be that all were killed and within five years the city was populated once again, but I think Firth is correct here.
This is a small taste of the book. It’s hard to summarize so much, so I’ll look at Joshua 2 and 10.
We see this in Firth’s comments on Joshua 2 when the spies visit the prostitute. First, Firth doesn’t see any issue with Joshua sending spies into Jericho. Joshua believed Gods promises and used wisdom to understand the lay of the town. What is interesting is how, unlike the spies Moses sent, these two guys are bumbling fools. In verse 1 the spies go to the house of a prostitute (because it wouldn’t attract attention to have foreign men go to such a house), and already in verse 2 the king (or “local chieftain”) has already heard about the spies.
One of Firth’s key goals is to take a close look at the narrative features of Joshua to help us to understand it better (16). The narrator in Joshua 2 uses double entendres and “verbs that are used as euphemisms for sexual activity but without ever indicating that something inappropriate actually happened” (84). Firth notes how the men who come to Rahab from the king ask her questions about these foreign men (“Where did they come from? Where are they going?) that she as a prostitute would not normally be expected to know.
Firth shows us the tensions in the text. When the Israelite spies make an oath with Rahab, was that wrong? Deuteronomy 7:2 rules out making covenants with Canaanites. Did Rahab ask for something that the spies could not/should not give to her? Or through her understanding of Yahweh as the only true God, was she actually an Israelite with whom an oath could be made? We discover in Joshua 6 that the oath was right, and what mattered was obedience to God—in this case, it was Rahab declare my loyalty to Yahweh.
Joshua 10:12–13 is another example of narration in Joshua. Here Firth goes against the grain of evangelical belief as he doesn’t believe the sun actually stood still. He does believe God could have done it, but his view of s based on the context and the words used (not ANE cultural beliefs about bad omens per John Walton). Based on the verb אוץ, Firth believes that the CSB’s “[the sun] delayed its setting almost a full day” is probably better translated as “[the sun] did not hasten to set about a whole day.” So although God sent a massive storm, it did not get darker earlier than usual. Rather than the sun standing still, Joshua’s prayer was about cosmic forces fighting for Israel “until they avenge[d] themselves on their enemies” (200). While I still agree with the standard evangelical view (read what Hess wrote about this in his TOTC commentary), I do think Firth’s view makes good sense and is a good interpretation worthy of being wrestled with.
I enjoyed Firth’s commentary. It reads like a commentary as you would expect, but Firth writes clearly and doesn’t bog you down with clunky text or ambiguous filler sentences. He has provided a good, exegetical and theological commentary on Joshua that you would be blessed to get. Firth gives 33 pages to biblical and theological themes such as Identity and the People of God, Joshua and Jesus, Land as God’s Gift, Power and Government, and more. He wants us to know how Joshua fits into the canon of Scripture as much as he wants us to know what’s in the book of Joshua. And even when Firth takes alternate views from what you might expect (like in 10:12–15), it is backed with good exegesis and reasoning, not a rejection of God’s supernatural power.
- Author: David G. Firth
- Paperback: 472 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (May 25, 2021)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.