Following Andrew’s helpful post on study resources for Zechariah’s night visions, I thought I’d summarize different resources I’ve used while preaching/teaching through Joshua. Going through this OT narrative has been an enjoyable endeavor, even though the tribal allotments in the last part of the book have been challenging. To note ahead of time, most of the commentaries below weren’t too strong on the tribal allotment texts of Joshua.
[For the record, I do think the tribal allotments should be preached, not skipped (cf. Acts 20.27 & 2 Tim. 3.16). Matthew Henry (one resource worth using) mentions this in his commentary on Joshua 13ff. He says we shouldn’t skip this section of many names/locations, because “where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read!”]
First, I’ve been enjoying Richard Hess’ TOTC on Joshua. He is brief, to the point, and has done his geographical and ANE homework. Hess also takes time to compare the OT themes to NT ones, which are often insightful. This is an inexpensive commentary that really should be on your shelves if you study Joshua. It is one of my favorite resources for the book of Joshua.
David Howard’s NAC on Joshua is another good one. Howard deals well with the thematic aspects of Joshua; he also has great little excurses on words and details of the book. Using Howard’s commentary has made me notice things I would have missed without it (i.e. the positive aspect of the Transjordian tribes’ altar in ch. 22 – though I haven’t made my mind up on that episode yet!). I do recommend Howard’s commentary; it is pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a commentary.
Another one that has been helpful at times is L. D. Hawk’s commentary in the Berit Olam series. Hawk takes a sort of literary or narrative approach, especially focusing on the different boundary themes in Joshua. Because he takes this approach, it doesn’t read like a “normal” commentary. It is a unique commentary, and helpful because it is unique. Hawk’s wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I have it. You can see a sample of it following the link above.
Dale Davis also has a brief commentary on Joshua which has been quite helpful. This is a good one that gets right to the point and helps especially for preaching themes and Christian application. The low-cost of this one and the quality of it makes it one that a person really should get when studying Joshua.
In the Eerdmans’ Two Horizons OT Commentary series, J. Gordon McConville and Stephen Williams teamed up to write a theological commentary on Joshua. The actual commentary section is only about 70 pages long. The rest of the book is a discussion of the major themes of Joshua, along with a dialogue between Williams and McConville on the text and its theology. I appreciated this, but was expecting it to be better; many times it seemed like the theological discussion just hung out there with no conclusion or applicatory points. FYI, I found that it was helpful to read this “commentary” before I preached through Joshua so I could reference it more quickly and efficiently by making notes in the back cover.
I appreciated Francis Schaffer’s Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. This one reads sort of like a bunch of lectures that were delivered in an intermediate Bible class in college. I’m not criticizing the commentary for that; I liked this approach for the most part. Schaffer (like Davis above) is not afraid to utilize the NT and bring the text to bear on the Christian life. I do recommend Schaeffer’s commentary. His was one of the more enjoyable Joshua commentaries to read.
In the Anchor Bible commentary, Robert Boling and G. E. Wright cover Joshua (Wright died before this was finished; Boling was involved in its completion). I used this commentary at first – the Hebrew textual notes are detailed and helpful. However, I ended up consulting it infrequently because it required too much time and labor to extract anything helpful. After awhile, reading about the corrupt text of certain parts of Joshua gets more than a little annoying. If you’re going to do a deep study of Joshua, you’ll want this. If, however, you’re simply preaching/teaching through it, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.
Another one that wasn’t my favorite is the Marten Woudstra commentary on Joshua in the NICOT series. The commentary is evangelical, solid, and straightforward, but it is quite dry. It is a “bare” or “plain” commentary on the stories and text of Joshua; there were very few insights in this commentary one couldn’t get from studying the text him/herself. I’m selling mine on Amazon since I probably won’t use it again. [I realize this is a subjective (side) note, but the NICOT and NICNT formats (fonts and layout) are very ugly and outdated, in my opinion.]
I also used Donald Madvig’s commentary on Joshua found in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. It is very brief, and helpful only in the sense that it gives the reader a concise summary of the text with a few Hebrew notes. I got the whole set for a great price, so I did use this commentary and usually found it worth consulting in my studies.
Another one I used from time to time is J. M. Boice’s commentary on Joshua. To be honest, I wouldn’t spend more than a few bucks on this one (I’m borrowing it). Every now and then Boice is pretty helpful in the “application” department, but overall it isn’t worth reading because it borders upon moralism from time to time.
Calvin’s commentary on Joshua is fun to read. As with most of his commentaries, reading Calvin is a devotional exercise. His comments are usually brief, so it is an easy resource to consult when studying Joshua. I think Calvin even cracked a joke in this commentary while he was discussing the tribal allotments. He basically said, “Geography is my weakness. You’ll have to bear with my childish comments on the land!”
I’ve also found the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, the ESV Bible Atlas, and my Bible dictionaries (ISBE, Oxford, and Zondervan) to be helpful. For the Hebrew text, I used the standard BDB, HALOT, and Waltke/O’Connor.
Feel free to comment below if you wish to discuss these commentaries or add some that you’ve appreciated. There are others; I didn’t have time, energy, or cash to use any more!