Some time ago I learned about a literary device called a chiasm. (More on what that is shortly.) In the course of my investigations into chiasms, I was led to a book: Joshua’s Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua, written by Thomas B. Clarke. Mr. Clarke very kindly sent me a copy of the book, with the proviso that I write a review of it. That was a proviso easily met.
It’s a fascinating book, both for its material on chiasms, and for its study of the book of Joshua. Since I love both literary expositions and Bible studies, I was doubly blessed by this book. But I will state straightaway that this is NOT an easy book; it takes time and mental effort to digest the wealth of information Mr. Clarke has packed into his tome. I believe, though, that it is well worth the effort.
Let’s take a quick look at chiasms. As I said above, a chiasm is a literary device. Mr. Clarke says this about it: “A chiasm represents a writing style that – once understood – clarifies, emphasizes and reveals deeper meaning in the Scriptures than is revealed in just a surface reading of these same verses” (page 2). A bit later he adds the information that chiasms or chiastic structures are also called “inverted parallelism” or “symmetric parallelism,” and that “each chiasm is a repetition of phrases starting at the outside and going in” (pages 23-24). Since I received and started to read the book, he has written a longer explanation at http://www.bible-discernments.com/joshua/whatisachiasm.html, which is easier to understand. I love his brilliant description of a chiasm as a sort of sandwich, with the meat at the middle – the most important part – but the mustard, lettuce, and bread also being important parts of the sandwich.
Since the ancients didn’t have such modern techniques as bolding and underlining to emphasize what they saw as important points, they turned to other, more subtle, internal devices. Many of these devices involve repetition and parallelism. Chiasms start at a not-so-important point, move on in a series of steps to the crucial point, then move back to the initial point in inverted steps. Whether you understand the construction of a chiasm or not, what it does is essential: it points out, by its very structure, what the original author or speaker wanted to most emphasize.
For me, chiasms are a lot like those crazy optical illusions: I generally can’t see them until someone else points them out. But Mr. Clarke has a much better eye than I do, and he is eager to share what he sees. Taking chiasms as a way to emphasize an important idea, Mr. Clarke looks at the chiasms he finds in the book of Joshua. Since Joshua is a book primarily about the children of Israel taking over the Promised Land, we can easily make the next step to finding principles of spiritual warfare all throughout Joshua.
Mr. Clarke goes through the book of Joshua very methodically, chapter by chapter, passage by passage. He has found over sixty chiasms in the book, some running on for several chapters (what he calls “outer tier”) and some only a few verses (“inner tier”), and some in between (“middle tier”). Each chiasm, however long or short, points out a particular principle of our spiritual walk, especially in relation to the spiritual warfare we each must fight. These principles are loosely sorted into various categories in the end of the book, categories such as “Authority of Christ,” “Deliverance,” “Dependence on the Lord,” and “Fighting the Battle.” For example, under “Authority of Christ,” we find such principles as “The power of the Lord sets the captives free and causes the enemies of the Lord to fear Him,” and “Christ, through His death and resurrection, wants to remove any curses that have been placed on us.” These can be found respectively in the chiasms in Joshua 4:3-9 and Joshua 6:26-7:1. Many of these principles apply to far more in our spiritual walks than just spiritual warfare, which is as it should be, since our lives are not spent in unceasing battle; God gives us times of rest and times of building as well.
Mr. Clarke is not only methodical, he is very detailed. He has obviously done extensive research on his topic, even investigating in person many of the locations mentioned in Joshua when he and his wife were visiting the Middle East in 1999. He uses several personal illustrations but never strays far from the biblical foundation. He is careful to place the book of Joshua within its larger biblical context, and to elucidate the character of Joshua, which is key to many of the events in the book. And the principles he derives from the chiasms are clear and practical.
One thing missing from this book was a bibliography of the sources he used, which were varied and numerous. He footnoted extensively, but I missed having the bibliography to refer back to when there were several dozen pages between one citation from a particular source and the second one. But to offset that lack were a number of other features, including his inclusion of several locations identified by latitude and longitude, viewable if you have Google Earth available to you, which add to an understanding of the topography faced by Joshua and the children of Israel as they progressed through the land of Canaan. I also appreciated the listing of principles at the end of the book, sorted into their various categories.
In summation, it was a good book, with an intriguing new perspective on the book of Joshua and the principles of spiritual warfare therein contained. It is not an easy read, but is good for slower, more contemplative perusal. If you want a detailed study of Joshua, with attention to the deeper principles behind the mere facts of conquest, then this is a book for you.