Joshua. Concordia Commentary

By Adolph L. Harstad
Saint Louis : Concordia (2004). xxxii + 906 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 115-117

The Concordia Commentary series represents an impressive series of commentaries for those pursuing biblical studies. The stated purpose of the series is to “assist pastors, missionaries, and teachers of the Scriptures to convey God’s Word with greater clarity, understanding, and faithfulness to the divine intent of the text” (xv). Contributors to this series belong to conservative Lutheran denominations. Four convictions serve as guidelines for each commentary (and author) (xvxvi). First, the editors and authors believe that the Old and New Testaments place their focus on Christ. They refer to these volumes as Christ-centered or Christological commentaries. Second, they believe that Law and Gospel are the overarching doctrines of the Bible and that is what these commentaries seek to unfold. Third, they accept without reservation that the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are, in their entirety, the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Fourth, since God gave the Scriptures for the benefit of all humanity, their living context is the church.

The author of this volume on Joshua presently teaches at Bethany Lutheran College and Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. Prior to this, he has pastored churches in other states and also served as a missionary in Zambia.

After a brief bibliography (6 pages) and a helpful introduction (36 pages), the bulk of the volume focuses on the interpretation of the text of Joshua (almost 800 pages). Each pericope of Joshua is treated under three headings: translation, textual notes (sometimes longer than the commentary), and commentary. The textual notes treat issues of grammar, syntax, word meanings, as well as text-critical problems. Every major section of Joshua begins with an outline and a brief overview of the section. Each section concludes with a brief backward look, summarizing that section. A number of excurses are scattered throughout the commentary. After the commentary proper, Harstad provides a number of potential preaching texts and themes from Joshua, a thorough glossary of key terms, eleven maps, and abundant indices (subjects and passages). Eleven figures are scattered throughout the introduction and commentary. Throughout the commentary proper are fifteen icons that highlight some aspect of the message of Joshua. Some of these are tied to the theme found in Joshua and others point to interpretive conclusions that cohere with the Lutheran perspective of the authors (e.g., baptism, Lord’s Supper, ministry of Word and Sacrament, the church, etc.). An example of one of the more interpretive conclusions involves Harstad’s connection of crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism for the nation of Israel with Christian baptism (cf. 1 Cor 10:2) (173). Finally, as part of their understanding of Law and the Gospel, the authors are amillennial and conclude that the ultimate fulfillment of OT promises takes place through the church (7, figure 1).

With a commentary this large, only select issues can receive attention. Harstad accepts the early date for the Exodus from Egypt (ca. 1446 B.C.), placing the beginning of Israel’s conquest of Canaan to ca. 1406 B.C. Harstad defends Rahab’s decision to lie in protecting the spies (Joshua 2) as something intended for the good of the spies (something Luther calls an obliging lie). The intent of the speaker of the lie determines the appropriateness or sinfulness of a lie, according to this view (115-18). When discussing the events that took place at Gilgal, Harstad connects circumcision with Christian baptism as the event that brings a person into relationship with the covenant (243). In Joshua 10, Harstad views the “long day” of Joshua as a miracle in which God caused more hours of sunlight in order to facilitate Joshua and his army’s devastation of the southern coalition of Canaanite cities. He makes no effort to explain the mechanics of the miracle because the text of Scripture does not provide an explanation. When commenting on Joshua 11 and 13, Harstad correctly points out that Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan was not totally comprehensive. When it says “the land had rest from war” (11:23), chapter 13 refers to parts of the land of Canaan that were not yet conquered and passes on the responsibility for conquering those areas to each individual tribe. This is an important point to understand because various scholars suggest that Joshua’s claim to have conquered the entire land of Canaan contradicts the reality found in the book of Judges.

As part of his commendable attempt to explain the contemporary relevance of various parts of Joshua, Harstad makes applications that do not seem to be the main points of OT passages. For example, he connects the “landlessness” of the Levites with the situation of pastors who live in parsonages and do not own their own homes (509). However, the Levites were set aside for a different reason with a role different from pastors. Also, what about pastors who have jobs or own their homes?

The commentary offers a number of helpful features. Harstad’s belief in inspiration and inerrancy as an important theological underpinning for his interpretation adds to the value of his work. He also interacts with historical, geographical, and archaeological issues at numerous points. His textual comments provide helpful technical information about the Hebrew text, raising issues that clearly relate to one’s interpretation of the passage. Also, this commentary is huge and costs the same as another volume in this series that is half the length. One of the greatest frustrations is totally understandable. Harstad’s Lutheran belief system shows up repeatedly in the application he makes or the way he interprets various OT institutions and theological realities. This should be no surprise since the series is written for a Lutheran publisher. It will serve as a helpful resource as long as it is used carefully (good advice for any commentary).