Introduction to Bible Interpretation
- The interpreter;
- Literary context (literary context is the words, sentences, paragraphs, or chapters that surround and relate to a text);
- Historical context (historical context is the culture, customs, languages, beliefs, and history of the author and his original audience);
- Analysing narrative;
Introduction to the book of Joshua
Where does the book of Joshua fit into the Bible as a whole?
Joshua is the first of the “historical books” in the Christian Bible and the first of the “former prophets” in the Hebrew Bible;
It follows the Pentateuch (Law or Torah) and precedes the book of Judges and the rest of the early history of the nation Israel. The law was given to Israel and Joshua is the beginning of the application of the law;
The book follows on so smoothly from Deuteronomy that some believe it originally formed part of the same body of writings with the same author. However, this is a minority view.
The special significance of the book is that it describes the fulfilment of God’s promises to the patriarchs. This is of course very similar to the Christian experience of becoming a believer – entering out of slavery into the freedom and rest (eventually) of God’s Kingdom. It is almost impossible to appreciate the significance of this without reading Hebrews 4 first;
The theological significance of the book of Joshua in relation to our lives as Christians is summarised by Norman Geisler, “Moses led Israel out of bondage, but it was Joshua who took them into blessing. Moses brought them through the Red Sea, but Joshua took them over the Jordan. Moses is the symbol of deliverance and Joshua the emblem of victory. It is one thing to be redeemed from Egypt (the world) but quite another thing to be victorious over the world. Joshua teaches us the lesson that faith is “the victory that overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4)” – A Popular Survey of the Old Testament.
The Eastern border of Israel’s settlement was the plateau east of the Jordan (the Transjordan)
West from there is the Great Rift Valley where the Jordan River flows. The deepest point of this valley drops into the Dead Sea. The shores of the Dead Sea is the lowest point of dry land on earth (423m below sea level)
West from the Great Rift Valley is the Central Hill Country. It runs from the mountains of Galilee in the north to the Negev in the South
West to the Central Hill Country lies the Coastal Plain which runs along the Mediterranean up to the ridge of Mount Carmel in the North which runs into the sea.
Canaan was organised in small city states, each with its own king. These little city-states continuously moved from one coalition to the other. The southern and later northern coalitions against the Israelite invasion were rare exceptions of unity in the area.
The human author of Joshua remains anonymous and any absolute or definite assertion regarding the book’s authorship will end up being mere speculation. However, there is much evidence that Joshua himself was the author of the majority of the book. Some passages may have been added by those that outlived him.
The book of Joshua must have been finally edited around the early monarchy. However, the core of the book was written to the victorious Israelites who were now settling into the new territory.
The book of Joshua has three purposes: The historical, the doctrinal and the Christological purposes
The historical purpose
The book narrates the story of how God brought His holy nation into the Holy Land in fulfilment of his promises to the patriarchs.
The doctrinal purpose
One of the main doctrines is the assertion of God’s faithfulness to his promises. It shows us that a victorious life can be lived in this world, but by faith in God. Finally, it indicates that even though God’s gifts are free, we must often struggle to boldly take hold of our God-given possessions – POSESS THE LAND!
The Christological purpose
The name “Joshua” means “Jesus” or “Saviour”. The character of Joshua certainly foreshadows Christ. Many believe that Christ is portrayed in this book as the Commander of the army of the Lord (Josh 5:14). The Christological purpose of the book is beautifully outlined in Hebrews 4 (well worth reading before starting to really get into the “nitty-gritty” of the book of Joshua)
Outline of the book – main sections as well as subsections within each one of the main sections.
Section 1 – Entering the Promised Land (1 – 5a)
- The preparation of the people (1 – 3a)
- The passage of the people (3b – 4)
- The purification of the people (5a)
Section 2 – Conquering the Promised Land (5b – 12)
- The revelation of the victory – The Lord is in the camp (5b)
- The realisation of the victory – no sin in the camp (6 – 11)
- The record of the victory – triumph in the camp (12)
Section 3 – Possessing the Promised Land (13 – 24)
3.1 Distribution of the land (13 – 21)
3.2 The dispute about the altar (22)
3.3 Discourse and death of Joshua (23 – 24)
Some problems in Joshua
The historical accuracy of the book
“Some important Canaanite cities are judged to have been destroyed in the thirteenth century, suggesting an invasion of the land. Excavations at such widely separated places as Bethel, Lachish, Eglon (?), Anshan (?) and Hazor indicate that this invasion was widespread, leaving its effects in the south, centre, and north of Canaan. The extent of the damage, which left thick layers of ash and, in some cases, almost complete destruction, indicates that the warfare was severe. As a result, several modern scholars have expressed confidence in the historical reliability of the pertinent portions of Joshua.” However, many problems remain to be solved, e.g. excavations show that Jericho was destroyed much earlier than the generally accepted date of the invasion (ca 1,250 BC), and that it was not resettled until the early ninth century. Excavations at Ai indicate that the city was destroyed ca 2,200BC and not rebuilt until about 1,200BC.
The Armana letters
“These letters were written by kings of city-states in Palestine and Syria, appealing for help against armies spoiling the lands of the Egyptian king and warning that, unless aid was sent quickly, his lands were lost.” These letters provide many details of the conditions in Palestine around 1,400 – 1,350BC. “Scholars favouring a date of 1,446BC for the Exodus and 1,400 for Joshua’s invasion of Canaan have suggested that the Armana correspondence may actually reflect conditions resulting from this invasion. It sometimes has been claimed that the name Joshua occurs in these letters.”
While these excavations and other extra-biblical discoveries do not disprove anything contained in Joshua, they do “serve as a reminder that the formation of Israel’s tribes and their settlement in Canaan may have been more complex than has yet been fully grasped.”
Herem, or Killing in the name of Yahweh
God commanded Israel to completely exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan, including men, women, and children. Many have called this a primitive and barbaric act of murder perpetrated on innocent lives. Several factors must be considered when viewing this situation:
- There is a difference between murder and justifiable killing (e.g. capital punishment, self-defence and justifiable war;
- The Canaanites were not innocent. Amongst others, they practiced religious prostitution and child sacrifice, that plagued Israel for centuries;
- The innocent people of the land were not slaughtered (e.g. Rahab);
- God waited for hundreds of years for the wicked nations to repent (cf 2 Peter 3:9) before he finally decided to destroy them (God’s judgment is like amputating a leg for the good of the body as a whole);
- The battles were not merely a religious law. Israel was under theocratic rule and obeyed God’s commands pertaining to these very specific circumstances. It is therefore by no means a general rule. In fact, Jesus clearly stated that we should love our enemies.
Most of the material in this section was obtained from Lasor et al, Old Testament Survey; Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament; and The New Living Translation Study Bible)Tweet