Lessing, R. Reed & Andrew E. Steinmann. Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. Chapter 8, “Joshua” pp. 145-162.
Lessing reminds his readers from the outset that Joshua contains much more than the narrative of the entry of Israel into Canaan (Lessing 2014, 145). The book contains claims that much of the material was written by Joshua, son of Nun. Many scholars, however, noting the statements which indicate that the narrative is from the distant past, consider the final form to come later. Lessing notes many statements of “to this day.” He also notes that old place names are explained with more recent names. There is also a reference in 10:13 to a book which refers to later information (Lessing 2014, 146). Followers of Higher Criticism have attempted to find Pentateuchal sources, but have largely abandoned those efforts. Rather, classifying Deuteronomy through Kings together as a unified historical corpus, they assign a late authorship during the Babylonian exile. All the critical notions Lessing mentions assume a necessary conflict of ideologies and later attempts to assemble text which, by its nature, does not seem to require such a process (Lessing 2014, 148). Lessing gives some examples of the process imposed on the plain meaning of the text.
From a literary standpoint, much of Joshua is historical narrative concerning the entrance of Israel into Canaan and the subsequent conquest. The book also deals with the division of the land among different tribes. The closing is a charge from Joshua to God’s people (Lessing 2014, 150).
Lessing observes that the narrative of conquest may suggest either a capture of the whole land under Joshua or an initial strike under Joshua followed by the various tribes seeking their own victories (Lessing 2014, 151). Lessing concludes that Joshua’s campaign was the start of the invasion. He thinks the tribes then worked to establish their reign in the different areas. Some scholars have seen the move differently, as a peaceful infiltration or a peasant revolt (Lessing 2014, 152). Archaeological evidence for a fall of Jericho about 1400 BC is problematic (Lessing 2014, 153). Carbon dating is questionable, with a potential error of about 170 years. The city of Hazor can clearly be dated as falling around 1400 BC.
Lessing identifies the primary theological themes of Joshua as a “holy war and the extermination of the inhabitants of the land” (Lessing 2014, 155). That which is devoted to God is not available for human use. This can explain the idea of sacrifice and the concept of devoting a people to God by destruction in warfare (Lessing 2014, 155). Those who were disobedient to God were liable to destruction. Lessing points out that the status of Israel as set apart from the native idolatry was so as to preserve a people for the Messiah (Lessing 2014, 156). Christians are not called to violent overthrow. “Instead, Christians are called to live among unbelievers, but to avoid being joined with them in their sins (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1)” (Lessing 2014, 156). Christ is seen in Joshua as God involves himself directly in the fight against his enemies. God shows grace clearly as he fulfills his promises. He gives the land of promise to Israel (Lessing 2014, 157). Despite Israel’s failure and rebellion, God’s promise is fulfilled. It is God who gives the people victory over their adversaries (Lessing 2014, 158).