Precise chronology of the times of the Old Testament has produced a great deal of uncertainty. In order to correctly interpret the meaning of biblical texts, one must understand the historical context. The Early Dynastic Period occurred before the time of the patriarchs. The Sumerians were responsible for many cultural achievements, including the invention of writing, and made significant contributions to dozens of fields. During the time of the patriarchs, there were many significant rulers, such as Hammurabi. Hammurabi is most well known for preserving 282 written laws. These preserved laws prove that the patriarchs, Egyptians and ultimately Hebrews would have been familiar with written laws. Egypt arose during the Early Dynastic Period as well. it was during this time that the Israelites began to prosper and multiply in the delta region, waiting for the covenant promises to be fulfilled. The Egyptian economy well could have become dependent on the labor of the Israelites. The Judges of Israel arose during the Late Bronze Age.
The reign of David occurred during the Iron Age I. David, who was the first king to abide by the requirements of Deuteronomy, left Solomon an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River to Egypt. One of the next major kings of that time was Nebuchadrezzer. During the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city of Jerusalem was set under siege and surrendered on March 16, 597. Ultimately, leaders such as Darius and Xerxes from the Persian Empire attempted to invade Greece in 490. Xerxes was assassinated, succeeded by Artaxerxes I, who sponsored the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
The historical writings of the Bible are primarily theological in nature. These books offer a common perspective on history and theology. Israel’s history is viewed in terms of loyalty to the covenant. The reader can identify reoccurring formulas which highlight the author’s purpose. From a literary standpoint, each book must be autonomous, though they have characteristics that draw them together. Some scholars argue that the people of the Ancient Near East would not have had a linear view of history. The Israelites needed to conform to the covenant and keep the law (rather than relying on certain rituals) in order to exert some control over history. Ultimately, the Israelites were incredible record keepers. In the ANE, historical writing served as an avenue through which a king could boast of accomplishments. However, the God of Israel is revealed through historical writings. God is revealed as One who has a plan for history and who intervenes to ensure that the plan is executed.
Joshua 21:43-45 says so the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; everyone was fulfilled. These verses, are a summation of the theological and historiographical purposes of the book of Joshua. God kept his promises, honoring his covenant with Abraham, which he always intended to fulfill. The Lord had a plan for the nation of Israel, from the time he chose them, and was capable and willing to fulfill that purpose without ‘divine intervention’.
Many who read the book of Joshua have focused their study on Joshua himself. However, this is not an accurate way to approach the book because he is not the focus of the writing. Instead, the focus is Yahweh. Contemporary study of the book of Joshua has focused on composition and historicity. Much like the book of Exodus, scholars disagree on the exact dating of the included events. For those who accept the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, there are no restrictions as to how soon after Joshua’s lifetime the book could have been written. Historians also debate the historical authenticity of the book based on archaeological records. To combat said argument, John Bimson sought to redefine the Middle Bronze Age II, and manipulate the dates for other historical eras. However, most archaeologists believe that these periods cannot be manipulated so quickly and radically.
Before the time of Joshua, there was a political stalemate between the Egyptians, Hitties and Hurriam Empire. These three powers continually shifted military might based on the power and influence of their reigning government. Egypt, the Hitties and the Hurrian Empire were vying for control of the busy Syrian ports and control of major trade routes. As Egyptian influence faded, two key problems arose: city-state began to attempt to enlarge their territory and groups of displaced people, such as the Hebrews, were driving out the current inhabitants (224).
As the stage was set for the Hebrews to enter the Promise Land in the book of Joshua, God revealed himself through the context of military conquest and the person of Joshua. Joshua is not the focus of the material, though he certainly plays a central role in the events of the book. God created the military strategies described in the work, engineering victory and carrying out the ban in defeated cities. Joshua uses military stories to depict its theological themes. Joshua 2:24 says, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands,” reemphasizing the central theme that the Lord is the one who will do the fighting and will enable the Israelites to possess the land. God was also involved in the disposition of the land, fulfilling the covenant promises the Lord made. The Israelites were banished from the Promise Land because of their disobedience. The narratives [of Joshua] demonstrate, more than anything else could, that the Lord was keeping the covenant promises he had made to Abraham. The book also serves to reinforce the fact that the Israelites were to remain wholly devoted to Yahweh, destroying all evidence of paganism in the conquered lands.
A modern reader of Joshua should realize that Proverbs 21:31 holds true, “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord”. The Lord confirms that he is sovereign and will execute his plan and carry out his promises. Sometimes people look at their lives much like the book of Joshua, they view themselves as the lead character instead of God. Rather, one should be sure to see God in the little things, recognizing that he does not impose into the life of a person, because humanity ultimately is part of the outworking of God’s eternal plan. One must remain faithful and obedient to the Lord, and He will surely lead them, using them to carry out his redeeming plan for humanity. Similar to the book of Joshua, not one of the Lord’s good promises to us will fail.