I was excited to get this book for two reasons. First, the NIV Application Commentary series is fast becoming one of my favourites. I was sceptical of its three sections for each passage: ‘original meaning’, ‘bridging contexts’ and ‘contemporary significance’. But I’ve been completely won over. Some contributors pull it off better than others, but generally it produces commentaries that take seriously the original text in its biblical theological context while also offering lots of help in applying the text today. Second, for all the sometimes excessive output of commentaries that we have these days, we are ill-served with commentaries on Joshua for preachers.
I was not disappointed. Robert Hubbard’s commentary on Joshua is excellent and my best buy recommendation for Joshua.
The ‘original meaning’ sections are great. Too often commentaries are full of dry technical material on philology, geography and history that add little to the text. But, despite the thorough the nature of this section, Hubbard seems to manage to make it all count. I found it full of suggestive comments that would inform any sermon.
Hubbard believes the book was compiled by the Deuteronomistic historian from earlier (and early) sources. He contrasts the portrayal of the conquest of a short, wholly successful campaign (Joshua 6-11) and the portrayal of a protracted struggle for control conducted at a tribal level (Joshua 15-17, Judges 1). Hubbard therefore believes Joshua ‘offers a repetitive, stereotyped account marked by occasional hyperbole’ while affirming ‘its historical value’. ‘The presence of such traditional devices should caution readers against an overly literal interpretation of texts in Joshua.’ (39) He ‘accepts both the valuable contribution of Joshua to historical reconstruction and the limits of the book’s information (e.g. its selective contents, its highly-structured narratives).’ Personally I prefer to see the campaigns in Joshua 6-11 as the decisive battles that broke Canaanite resistance making Israel the dominant power in the land. This left the tribes with a mopping up campaign in which, according to Judges 1, they were only partially successful. On the violence of the book, Hubbard says: ‘I do not see myself ever feeling completely comfortable with what transpires in Joshua.’ I would have liked some acknowledgement that the violence of Joshua is the challenge of hell writ small.
My main complaint with the commentary is that does not really address how the promise of the land plays out for new covenant believers. At one point Hubbard reminds us that Christians have an inheritance in heaven (445), but there is little on tracing the theme of the land through to the renewal of creation in a new heaven and a new earth. There is no recognition of the way Jesus and Paul extend the promise of the land to the promised of a new earth (compare, for example, Psalm 37:4 and Matthew 5:5). The result is that the contemporary signifiance sections often have a somewhat moralistic tone with the opportunity to place the injunctions in the redemptive story lost somewhat.
In conclusion, a great commentary, but read it alongside a good biblical theology.