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Wrestling with the Book of Joshua
Andy Judd reviews David Firth's New Commentary
David G. Firth.
Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary.
Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021.
Reviewed by Andrew Judd
Straight to the poolroom!*
David Firth’s commentary on Judges is amongst the first volumes in a promising new commentary series from Lexham Press, the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Thomas Schreiner, and Andreas Köstenberger, the series aims to do what it says: understand how each individual book contributes to the theology of the Bible as a whole, from an evangelical perspective.
Firth has set a high bar in this volume, and if the rest of the series is like this then sign me up now for the box set. (I might even make an exception to my space-saving digital-first book-buying policy because the hardcopy I reviewed is beautifully designed and produced).
The commentary begins with 30 pages of great introduction, giving a judicious take on source-critical and historical issues and the problem of violence from an evangelical perspective. It then offers another 30 pages of biblical theological themes. This is the refined gold. Rather than take an overarching biblical theological theme and shoe-horn each passage into it, Firth begins with eight themes in Joshua and traces their intertextual and theological resonances throughout the rest of the OT and into the NT. The themes are well chosen and the analysis is first-rate. The exposition part of the commentary then follows, with a familiar structure: the text is provided (in the CSB), then some literary and historical context, then verse by verse exegesis, then a ‘bridge’ (basically reflections on how the passage applies to us today). Doing the overarching themes first, then providing additional application in a bridge is smart because it avoids flattening each text into the same type of application - typology is great, but sometimes thinking about moral principles is exactly what the text calls for.
The exegesis is informed by Firth’s high view of scripture but also by his engagement in current scholarship. The way he deals with the ‘sun standing still’ in Joshua 10, for instance, illustrates the payoffs for such a sophisticated evangelical approach: yes God could have made the sun stop in the sky, but that’s not actually what Joshua is asking for when he quotes this poem to God requesting help in battle.
It is fashionable to complain that there are already too many commentary series. But commentaries are the main way that end users - ministry practitioners - access the research relevant to their core business. There will always be room on my shelf for a book like the one Firth has written, which puts distilled, up-to-date scholarship to work illuminating a difficult book, showing what it means for us today with sensitivity and deep insight. Five stars!
*For readers not familiar with this iconic phrase from the Australian classic film The Castle, please refer to Mike Bird for context and a re-enactment.