Thursday, February 7, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Book (On Josh. 1:8)

The Bible often uses creative expressions that make us stop and think about what the text is really saying. These are my thoughts on Joshua 1:8. What does it mean that "this book of the Law should not depart from your mouth?"

Joshua 1:8 – My Literal Amplified Translation:

(1) This book of the law will not depart [be removed, be taken away] from your mouth,

(2) but you will meditate [muse, ponder, utter, recite] on it day and night,

(3) in order that you may take care [keep, guard, observe, retain] to do all that is written in it.

(4) For then, you will cause your way to thrive [advance, prosper, succeed]

(5) and then you will have success [prosper, act prudently].

Notes on Translation of the First Clause:

In English, we have a number of different ways of phrasing commands.

1. The Warning / Request – “Don’t do this thing!”

2. The Emphatic Command – “You WILL NOT do this thing!”

3. Event-oriented Command – “This thing will not happen!”

The Hebrew command in this verse is the third kind – “This book will not depart…” But it might be more easily understood rephrased as the second type. “You will not forget this book of the law.” The figurative phrase “Depart from your mouth” means no longer recited, no longer remembered, no longer taught, i.e. forgotten.

My Interpretive Translation:

“You will not forget this book of the Law; Rather, you will recite it continually so that you will retain it and do it. And in this, you will clear your path for success and you will prosper.”


This verse is structured as a command, a legal requirement much like the 10 commandments. It requires regular study of God’s word. In this regard, it has similarities with the frequent commands in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, challenging the people of Israel to remember the events of the Exodus and keep the laws that were given. Their possession of the land is contingent on their obedience.

Some Old Testament passages requiring obedience to the law can be applied to the Church in light of James 2:14-26 (i.e. v. 18, “But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” ESV). The Israelites’ obedience to the law was the evidence of their faith.

The word “mouth” is used metaphorically to represent speaking or reciting the law. This understanding is strengthened by the following sentence where the verb usually translated as “meditate” literally means “mutter.” Picture someone reading aloud to themselves in a barely audible mumble. “Mouth” is used regularly along with “lips” and “heart” to reflect the act of recounting or remembering or teaching God’s word, i.e., internalizing it. See other examples in Psalm 71:15, Psalm 89:1, Psalm 119:43, and Prov 4:5. See also Deut. 6:3-7 and 30:8-20 (esp. v. 14).

Traditional Jewish methods of teaching the law still revolve around oral recitation and regular oral reading of large parts of scripture. Josh 1:8 is promoting obedience by requiring constant oral repetition which would make it nearly impossible to forget the law. This passage and others that are similar to it have a threefold approach to following the law.

1. Remember It (Hear it. Internalize it. Heart)

2. Speak It. (Confess it. Mouth, Lips)

3. Do It. (Act on it.)

This brings to mind a number of verses from the New Testament.

James 1:22 says “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (ESV) Matthew 12:34b “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (ESV)

Also see Romans 10:8-10 where v. 8 quotes Deut. 30:14.


This verse is urging regular study and oral reading (not eating) of the Bible to promote active obedience of Scripture.

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