For many people – believers or not – the Old Testament book of Joshua is a difficult book to read. The lectionary pays scant attention to it, and doesn’t engage any of the difficult passages.
I grew up in the church, and well remember the (very old!) flannel-graph portrait of Joshua: it was all about the walls of Jericho falling down. It was an exciting story! But in my priestly vocation, the more I taught Joshua in churches and academic settings, and as our world was repeatedly shocked by religiously-related violence, that child’s view of Joshua grew thin.
I wondered about the lives of the real people in the land. I wondered about the commands to do violence and “totally destroy” the inhabitants – was that really what God was saying? And I wondered how – and if – the book’s portrait of God comported with the Lord Jesus, and the God that he is. So, the questions grew for me: if this book is Word of God (and I was and am convinced of that), what does one do with the violence? How does this book relate to the New Testament? Why has the book been used (and wrongly used, I say) to support past and present colonial expansion? These are the pressing questions of students as I teach in a seminary setting; these are the pressing questions of parishioners who read the book of Joshua.
For the past few years, I’ve read, researched, written about, and prayed over the book of Joshua and its problems. Out of this, I’ve written a commentary on Joshua in the Story of God Commentary series (Zondervan publishers; available through Amazon).
As the publisher describes this series, it is a “new commentary for today’s world. It’s the first commentary series to explain and illuminate each passage of Scripture in light of the Bible’s grand story. This ‘story-centric’ approach makes these commentaries a fruitful resource for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and everyday readers.”
If you are wondering what to do with the book of Joshua, this readable volume may be of interest. (Next May, a series of my short lectures that follow the volume will be published through Zondervan; available on Amazon). The commentary won’t answer all questions about the book (and my work hasn’t answered all of mine, and even raised several more!). But it will engage readers in the narrative, cultural, and canonical contexts that help illuminate it. And, as we seek to live faithfully as the Church in the world, this volume can inform our discipleship as it brings the book’s message to today’s world of Winnipeg, of Canada, of the global context.
Lissa Wray Beal teaches at Providence Theological Seminary as a Professor of Old Testament, and chair of the Seminary Bible and Theology Department. She also serves in an honorary capacity at St. Peter’s Anglican, Winnipeg.