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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

- Joshua

by John Dummelow


1. The Book. In this book we have the record of the Conquest of Canaan by the people of Israel and of their settlement in the land. The value of the book consists chiefly in (1) its description of a critical period in the history of the Hebrews. The war not only gave them a dwelling-place among the peoples of the earth, but carried a step further the consolidation of the tribes into a nation. The elements of unity were already theirs, the chief of them being their common acknowledgment of Jehovah as their God. Their brotherhood in blood was consecrated and maintained by their brotherhood in religion. The discipline of the wanderings in the wilderness, the perils encountered in the successful attempts to obtain a lodgment in the land, and the hardships of the war endured by the Israelites side by side, served to strengthen the bond of union and to develop the sense of nationality. As is always the case with strong men, their noble qualities were brought out in the presence of difficulties. (2) The book is also valuable for its revelation of the Hand of God in the movements of men. He did not give them the land He had promised them without causing them to fight for it. But the gift is recognised in this book as none the less His. He sanctions their advance. He directs their movements. He makes them victorious. He allows them to be defeated. He makes them conquerors in the end. The book enables us to see a little into the way in which God works out His purposes in human affairs.

2. The life and character of Joshua. Son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, he bore originally the name of Hoshea (Numbers 13:8, Numbers 13:16; Deuteronomy 32:44), which was changed by Moses to the more significant form Jehoshua (’Jehovah (is) salvation’). His intimate relation to Moses—like that of Elisha to Elijah—afforded an unique education for the future leader of Israel, who had been divinely designated (Deuteronomy 1:37-38) as successor to the great Lawgiver, and was solemnly consecrated by him to that office by the laying-on of hands (Numbers 27:18-23, cp. Deuteronomy 31:14-23). The echo of Moses’ charge, ’Be strong and of a good courage’ (Deuteronomy 31:23), is still ringing in his ears as he takes up his work in the plains of Jordan; the ’grace’ of that ’laying-on of hands,’ showing itself (Deuteronomy 34:9) in a spirit of wisdom and a bearing that won the unquestioning obedience of the wayward host (Joshua 1:16-18; Numbers 27:20), is upon him from first to last. His authority is strengthened (Joshua 3:7; Joshua 4:14) by the miracle of Jordan, his courage renewed by the vision of the Heavenly Captain (Joshua 5:13-15). Even his temporary dismay at the rout before Ai is token of his absolute reliance on divine aid, and of his knowledge of the fortunes and tendencies of war (see on Joshua 7:6). The swiftness with which he deals his successive blows upon southern (Joshua 10) and northern (Joshua 11) confederacy bespeaks an alert and intrepid general; the impartiality with which he conducts the assignment of the tribal territories exhibits him as an ideal judge and ruler; and finally the tender severity of his admonition to Achan (Joshua 7:19.) gives us a glimpse of the true priestly heart beating beneath the warrior’s mail. In his unswerving faith and obedience to the call, in the incorruptible righteousness of his administration, in the gentle severity of his rebuke, as well as in his life’s work, Jesus (Hebrews 4:8) the son of Nun is a veritable type of Jesus the Son of God.

3. The Conquest of Canaan. The book of Joshua opens with the crossing of the Jordan by the forces of Israel and the establishment of a great headquarters’ camp at Gilgal. By invading Western Palestine by the ford near Jericho instead of advancing round the S. of the Dead Sea, Joshua was able to drive a wedge between the Canaanites on the N. and those in the S. of the country, and thus to prevent a union of all the tribes against him. The first attack was made upon Jericho. This was the key to Western Palestine, for it was on the way to all the passes of importance into the interior. Jericho taken, Ai, another town on the principal road to the W., soon followed. The Gibeonites by a trick secured an alliance with the conqueror, who marched to attack the kings of the S. and defeated them in a pitched battle at Bethhoron, afterwards overrunning their country and destroying their towns. Thereafter the victorious leader turned his attention to the kings of the N. and defeated them in a great battle near the waters of Merom. After that, according to the chronicler, ’the land rested from war.’ The conquest thus outlined was, however, far from complete. The enemy may have been routed but was not destroyed. The towns may have been overthrown, but many of them were probably soon re-fortified. And the complete subjugation of the enemy was accomplished slowly and with difficulty, not by a general campaign, but by individual tribes fighting for themselves and gradually extending their borders. We have illustrations of this in such accounts as that of Caleb driving out the sons of Anak from Hebron (Joshua 15:14), and that of the children of Joseph contending with difficulty against the Perizzites and the Rephaim (Joshua 17:14-18). The country was difficult for warfare, being mountainous, and favoured the defenders. The Israelites having no chariots could not meet their enemies in the plains (Joshua 17:16), and the valleys thus remained long in possession of the Canaanites. And in many cases the advance was slow and the success uncertain: see e.g. Joshua 17:12-13, and cp. Judges 1.

The inhabitants of Canaan at the time of the invasion, generally described as Canaanites, were divided into a number of petty kingdoms, and had no bond of union save hatred of the invaders. Amongst their divisions were the Amorites, Jebusites, Hivites, and suchlike; also there seem to have been here and there in the land surviving elements of an aboriginal people represented by the Rephaim and the sons of Anak. Their moral and religious condition is indicated by such passages as Deuteronomy 9:5 and Leviticus 18. It was so vicious and depraved as to render dangerous, if not indeed impossible, any association with them on the part of the Israelites. Uncompromising opposition to them was the only practical attitude for a people led by Jehovah, and holding His law. Hence arose the moral necessity for that order for their extermination, which has sometimes been a stumbling-block to the religious mind. The attempt to carry out that order had an effect for good upon the Israelites, in so far as it engaged them in a work of moral and spiritual sanitation: the failure to carry it out completely left open to them a source of weakness and danger, from which sprang many of their subsequent corruptions and defections from the pure worship of Jehovah.

The Canaanites were an agricultural people, somewhat more advanced than the Israelites in the arts of civilisation. The conquest of them, accordingly, meant for Israel a certain material progress, and an entry into conditions which constituted in many ways an ideal nursery of religion. They passed from a nomadic and pastoral state to the more complex stage of a settled, agricultural condition, with possibilities of village and city life. The division of the conquered territory and the settlement of the Israelite tribes upon it occupy Joshua 13-21 of the book of Joshua, which have consequently been called the ’Domesday Book of the Old Testament.’

4. Authorship. The title of the book is no indication of authorship, but like Judges and Samuel has reference to the principal figure in the history. The hero of the book is un-doubtedly Joshua, with whose deeds it is largely occupied. Joshua, is said to have written a record of the covenant with God, which the people made shortly before his death (Joshua 24:26), in ’the Book of the Law of God’; and some of the chroniclers of a later date may have borrowed from his own words some of the passages which have come down to us. This, however, is mere speculation. What is agreed by scholars is that the book is a compilation, similar to the Pentateuch, of which it is the continuation. Indeed, ’The five books of Moses’ so-called and the book of Joshua form a whole usually termed the Hexateuch. In its present form the book belongs to the same date as the Pentateuch, and the same older sources—the Primitive, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomic—are its basis. These sources contain traditions which were doubtless handed down either orally or in writing from the days in which the great deeds recorded were done, and in one case, at any rate, they give a quotation from the book of Jasher, a collection of songs of very early date (Joshua 10:12-13); and we need have little hesitation in accepting the outline of the history given in the book as substantially historical.

Analysis. The book falls naturally into three parts: Joshua 1-12, The Conquest; Joshua 13-21, The Division of the Land; Joshua 22-24, Closing Scenes.

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