Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 11/16/2006 by Tim Challies.
Recommended. An imperfect but still helpful resource.
When I was a kid I loved reading through the historical books of the Old Testament. While the long sentences and words of Paul made my head spin, the action and adventure stories gave me delight. More than that, when I put down the text I would have the strong impression that I wanted to be like David, Daniel, and Moses. The ungodly characters like Ahab, Cain, and Korah – these gave me frightful lessons in the corrupting power of sin.
I don’t know that I always read these texts “correctly” in terms of hermeneutics. I probably read them moralistically and not with Christological eyes of faith. However, I am thankful nonetheless that God put it into my heart to desire to read these stories again and again. In parenting my sons, I find myself naturally turning to these stories quite a bit.
Turning to the book of Joshua, Pastor Paul W. Downey attempts to write a devotional commentary that is both edifying for laymen and helpful to pastors. He takes us through the book, showing how the strength of the man came from the strength of his God. Downey says upfront that the minute details of Palestinian geography did not compel him to write the book. Instead, he wants to be a catalyst for getting people into the spiritual truths of the book, leaving aside some of the scholarly issues in the text.
I do think this is a helpful resource, but a few problems exist along the way.
First, Downey seems unsure whether the reader is a lifelong Sunday School attendee, or a newcomer to the biblical text. He says “We may think we have a book mastered, having heard its stories from our youth”, but then he spoon feeds us definitions of simple theological terms. For the record, I think that defining one’s terms is a good way of writing. But I think Downey could strengthen the book by taking out all the language that sounds like he writing for folks who have read Joshua 100x already. Chances are the average church member has not, so he should just assume this posture and take things from that starting point.
Second, Downey speculates about unknown details of the story. For example, he postulates that Achan was able to steal the loot from Jericho because he was probably one of the unnamed escorts that moved Rahab out of the city. Now, saying something like this is not tantamount to heresy. However, this type of hermeneutic makes the reader feel like Watson standing next to Sherlock Holmes – “How did you solve that mystery?” My point is that such speculation is unnecessary because it doesn’t really add new insight into the text, for at the end of the day it is complete guesswork. There is no authority to be derived from such speculation. It would be better to stick with what the text actually says, line upon line, and give the reader a model of Bible study they too can accomplish.
All in all, this is a helpful resource for bringing fresh light to the story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. If you are teaching through the book of Joshua, it would be wise to invest in more resources than just this book alone. Commentaries by David Howard (New American Commentary Series) and Dale Davis (Focus on the Bible Commentary Series) would be a start. Even the twenty-page chapter on Joshua written by Mark Dever in his The Message of the Old Testament would provide a good starting point.