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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Religious Teaching.

1.

Joshua plays its part in the OT's insistence on the worship of YHWH alone, as taught supremely by Deuteronomy. It also takes forward that book's theology of a single people of YHWH, worshipping him in the land he has given them, and subject to their covenant with him. Joshua makes its own contribution to the notion of a unified people, recognizing the particularity of the tribes and their lands, yet insisting on their oneness both in the responsibility for the conquest (Josh 1:12–15 ) and in their loyalty to the single sanctuary (Josh 22 ). Deuteronomy's requirement of a single place of worship is met here above all in Shiloh (Josh 18; cf. Deut 12:1–5 ).

2.

Closely connected with worship and land is the Holy War theology, of which Joshua is the OT's classic example. Put in place in several Pentateuchal texts (Ex 14; Num 22–4; Deut 2–3 ), it is here embodied in Israel's foundational narrative of land possession. The various victories manifest the central concept of the Holy War, namely the ḥērem, or sentence of total destruction on the enemy population. This sentence of destruction on a population, civilian and non-aggressor, and expressly commanded by YHWH, presents the greatest moral difficulty in the book for modern readers.

3.

In its own context, the ḥērem has an intelligible theology, involving YHWH's sovereignty over all nations, his ownership of the land, his right to grant it to whomever he wishes, his agency in the military victory, his judgement on the sin of the victims, and the need to remove from Israel any risk of religious contamination. (There is further comment along these lines in JOSH 5:13–6:27 ). This theology is idealized in our accounts, however. The actual Israelite entry to the land was not swift and tidy, as even a careful reading of Joshua itself makes clear. The contrast between the real and the ideal may be illustrated by a text in Deuteronomy (Deut 7:2–3 ), in which an uncompromising requirement is followed immediately by one that implies that Israelites and Canaanites do and will live alongside each other in Canaan. Of course, even the idea that these commands and accounts are an idealization may only compound the modern reader's problem, rather than alleviate it! It may help, however, to recall that Joshua is a conventional conquest-narrative (as we noticed above). In Old Testament times, kings went to war and wrote up their victories, attributing their success to their gods. Joshua is YHWH's victory account, an indispensable part of the narrative of the demonstration of his ownership of the land, and not necessarily realistic. Understood in that way, it may be seen as belonging to its time, and as superseded by other biblical perspectives on God (OT and NT), which present him as seeking the salvation of the whole world. Yet the ideas of divine gift, dependence on God, and even judgement, find echoes in the NT.

4.

The book of Joshua's theology of land has another unique feature (within Joshua–Kings) in the close connection it makes between the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. This is expressed especially in Josh 3–4 , where the crossing of the Jordan deliberately evokes the older crossing of the Reed Sea (Ex 14 ). The whole drama from deliverance from slavery in Egypt to possession of land in Canaan is thus unified here.

5.

These twin elements, Exodus and possession, give to Joshua its essential dynamic. The possession is always in the shadow of the first deliverance. To these is added the call to serve YHWH and obey his word, with severe warnings against compromise and failure to keep covenant. When interpretation of Joshua understands and maintains this tripod—liberation, possession, service—it can avoid the characteristic danger of the book, namely an appropriation of the divine authority given to Joshua for self-devised ends in modern conflicts.

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