Book Review: Joshua (EBTC)

Joshua EBTC David Firth Review

Reading, let alone reviewing, a book by a former teacher is always a daunting thing. In this case, a commentary by my Old Testament lecturer (At St Johns, now he’s at Trinity College Bristol) David G. Firth is a particularly daunting prospect as we work together on the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (He’s the series editor, I’m the in house editor) and other projects. This was the first Evanglical Biblical Theological Commentary (EBTC) on an Old Testament book I’ve worked through – I previously enjoyed Matthew Harmon’s EBTC on Galatians, and plan on looking at Kostenberger’s Pastoral Epistles EBTC later on in the year – and so I was intrigued to see how it would work. The simple answer is well – Firth ably and calmly points out where the story of Joshua finds fulfilment, allusion, explanation and other things in the story of Jesus and the Early Church in the New Testament, as well as some key cross-canonical connections with other books of the Old Testament.

The EBTC sets itself a particular goal – distinguishing it from, say an exegetical commentary like a Tyndale or a Baker OT (like Goldingay’s Genesis, recently reviewed), a theological commentary (like Ford’s John, out of a series but written for WJK’s ‘Belief’ series) or a critical commentary (like Wilson’s ‘Matthew’ which I reviewed here). There are almost as many kinds of commentary as there are commentary series (with lots of overlaps!), but Lexham claime the EBTC:

locates each biblical book within redemptive history and illuminates its unique theological contributions. All EBTC volumes feature informed exegetical treatment of the biblical book and thorough discussion of its most important theological themes inrelation to the canon – all in a style that is useful and accessible to students of Scripture“.

Firth faithfully fulfils these aims – particularly in regard to the themes, which make up a significant percentage of his introduction but are carefully traced and reintroduced throughout the commentary proper. Firth also writes in a surprisingly readable style, for a commentary seeking to do as much as he does. His footnotes – which for me hit that ‘goldilocks zone’ of being just enough but not overwhelming’ – show that there is serious and sustained engagement with secondary scholarship, but for Firth the focus is on the text. I particularly appreciated his comments on the genre of Joshua in the introduction: “we can describe Joshua as a work of narrated history… that is, it is told with artistry and selectivity” (p. 23). The rest of the introduction is very helpful – and would make for good standalone reading, or preparation for thinking about preaching through Joshua as Christian Scripture. Firth doesn’t ignore the hard questions (this is one the hallmarks of his ministry, as I noted in my review of his ‘Including the Stranger‘), but also sits and wrestles with the text in a way that the themes and suggestions he draws out make for helpful comment, and geniunely encouraging devotional reading.

To give you a flavour of things, here are some particular quotes that resonated with me:

  • a church that joins inGod’s mission is a church that fully experiences God’s presence” (p. 77) – a helpful reminder and challenge.
  • The worship that honours God is the worsip that prioritizes faithfulness to him”  (p. 122) – a good challenge, even to us now as we live in a world of idols.
  • Consistently, Scripture urges us to know what God desires through prayer and the giving over of ourselves to him, something Israel signally failed to do in establishing their treaty with the Gibeonites” (p. 186) – this is a dense but readable sentence; combining biblical theology, practical theology, and exegesis of the text at hand. This is a hallmark of Firth’s work here.
  • Our security is not defined by visible patterns but by the presence of the invisible God. For an Israel that always knew itself to be a weak, minor power, this was good news. And it continues to be good news today” ( p. 212)
  • In the midst of commenting on battles and pauses between battles in 12:1-6, “obedience to God is foundational to the experience of rest” (p. 231)
  • On Joshua’s closing speech: “Joshua’s speech presents a challenge to readers of future generations to put aside all other gods and serve God alone” (p. 400-1)


I think I can recommend this book to a wider readership than might be expected for a 400ish page commentary. This is for three reasons. Firstly, Firth writes in a way that actually seeks to explain rather than eclipse meaning – he wants people to understand the text, not just appreciated how careful or widely read a scholar he is. Secondly, by including the text of Joshua in the book, the format encourages the reader to read the text being commented on – this is not a feature of every commentary series (And indeed probably shouldn’t be, in order to keep books short, and also to remind readers that the book of the BIble they are reading is part of a larger whole!) but here it is helpful. Thirdly, Lexham have done a beautiful job on the production of this book. Whilst it is quite pricey, it’s good value in terms of level and readability, and importantly the physical copy I read doesn’t feel threatening. The nice design, soft touch jacket, and relatively small size (it’s not as physically tall, deep or wide as an Eerdmans NICOT or Apollos AOTC, for example) mean that it is quite an inviting book to read.

Overall, I think this is a successful commentary in that it faithfully engages the text, conforms beautifully to it’s series style, and is rich with application and inspiration/encouragement for the Christian reader of Scripture. It’s difficult to get across, though, just how unusual for a commentary this is – I read and work on lots, but this is a book that I would re-read, and it will likely be in my Top Ten this year.

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