Thursday, July 23, 2009


I was looking through Hubbard’s new commentary on Joshua (in the NIV Application Commentaries series). In addition to being a seasoned and well-trained OT scholar, Hubbard brings an added advantage to his commentary: he’s a retired naval chaplain.

This reminds me of how often, at a personal level, a commentator is out of touch with the world he exegetes. Mind you, the world of the Bible is in some respects a lost world. A bygone era. So, to that extent, a commentator has to disconnect from his own world to reconnect with the world of Scripture. When you step out the front door, it’s not as if you’re stepping right back into the ancient Near East or the Greco-Roman empire.

At the same time, there are enduring continuities as well as discontinuities between our world and the world of the Bible. Hubbard is writing about warfare. And Hubbard himself has seen it firsthand. Moreover, as a navy chaplain, he’s had to give soldiers moral and spiritual counsel on combat. He’s not been at liberty to duck the tough questions.

Many professing believers are offended by a book like Joshua. To them, it’s embarrassing that a book like this is part of the canon. They affect pious disapproval for what they find.

And there’s a grain to truth to their reaction. The world of Joshua is a truly appalling world. But, of course, to attack the book itself is a classic case of blaming the messenger.

To be sure, there’s more to Joshua than historical reportage. There is also a stated policy. Inspired policy, no less. And many professing believers are offended at the stated policy.

But of course, Joshua has a stated policy for dealing with belligerents. After all, the Israelites had to have a realistic way of dealing with belligerents. Because they had to live in that world, they had to survive in that world. As a practical necessity, they were forced to take countermeasures. As Hubbard points out:

“The peoples of Canaan initiated hostilities against Israel, not the other way around (Josh 9:1-2; 10:1-5; 11:1-5; cf. 2:2-3). Israel’s northern and southern campaigns (Josh 10-11) were in response to those hostile initiatives, not preemptive strikes. Even though the peoples knew the power of God (according to Rahab and the Gibeonites), they choose to stand against him. This fact should caution us against viewing the peoples of ancient Canaan simply as victims of some sort of injustice” (44).

In time of peace, it’s easy to disdain a militaristic history book. From the comfort of our peacetime lifestyle, it’s easy to wag our finger at a militaristic history book. We’re above that sort of thing. We’ve put that behind us once and for all. Or so we imagine.

But in time of war, a book like Joshua suddenly becomes far more relevant–and eerily familiar. In wartime we find ourselves having to confront the same ugly and unavoidable realities. What do you do when you can’t afford to lose?

It isn’t as easy to be judgmental when our own foes are just as ruthless as the enemies of ancient Israel. We, too, have to defend ourselves against implacable foes. There are no pretty solutions.

We’d often benefit from having a soldier’s perspective on OT warfare. Having a soldier write about soldiers. Someone who’s seen action write about OT warfare.

Joshua is written from the viewpoint of a field commander. We need to assume the same viewpoint to evaluate the action.

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