JoshuaWritten by Charles Price Reviewed By David Pennant
The words Bible Study Guide accurately describe this book. It seeks to make the contents of the book of Joshua accessible to today’s church, and is targeted mainly at Bible Study Group leaders. It also has preachers and individuals in view.
The book is a valuable source of ideas. Especially helpful are its relevant references to other passages in Scripture, such as Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11. In addition, the handling of passages likely to raise questions such as the commendation of the lying prostitute Rahab, or the miraculous damming up of the river Jordan, is useful. The discussion of the killing of seemingly innocent people even referred briefly to Genesis 15:16—I would have liked more on this.
However, the book is not a fullblown commentary, and perhaps understandably in a book of this size, I found only limited coverage of some themes that might have been useful. Insights from archaeology are addressed as if there were no variant views. The difference in perspective between Joshua and Judges regarding the success or otherwise of the conquest is not raised. Also, the book follows the current fashion of referring to Joshua as history (p. 19), whereas it used to be known as part of the former prophets; I suspect we have lost something important here.
I regard this book as a well-constructed tool. All tools can be used for both good and bad purposes. Imagine a group of new converts who wish to study Scripture together, but who lack an obvious leader. This book would be excellent in getting them started. They could lead in turns, passing the book from member to member.
However, at the same time, there are features of this approach which trouble me. These concern the extent of the unravelling of enigmas in the Biblical text, and the proposed applications of its mysteries for today. Scripture tells us that new-born babies need to be spoon-fed, true, but this kind of feeding is stated to be inappropriate for adults (Heb. 5:12–14). While some limited expert opinion may be helpful for inexperienced house group leaders, do most of us really need our spiritual food as pre-packaged as this? Indeed, Jesus only spoke to the people in parables (Matt. 13:34), and God’s normal means of communication through his prophets is by means of riddles (Num. 12:6–8). In the light of these statements, are we wise to invite an expert to clarify, explain and apply the Bible’s teaching in such detail, in a form that Bible Study group leaders can adopt, and then pass on to others to absorb?
My own experience of Bible Study groups is that they are most fruitful when the members share their own meditations on the Biblical text. This involves the leaders precisely not providing answers, although they could have some tentative thoughts up their sleeves for an emergency. After all, God’s opening words in the book of Joshua told him not to expound the law to others, nor to hear the law expounded by others, but rather to meditate on it himself (Jos. 1:8).
My concern is that in effect, the task of meditating on Scripture has here been done for us by someone else. Indiscriminate reliance on this approach could actually hinder people in today’s church from learning to hear from God through Scripture for themselves.
If, in the words of the song, you need somebody older and wiser telling you what to do, then look no further than this well-written book. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it should be used sparingly.