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A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth by Robert Chisholm Jr.

This new commentary on Judges and Ruth by Professor Robert Chisholm Jr. is a real treasure.  Not only is it painstakingly detailed in its analysis of the Hebrew grammar and syntax of these books, but it gives the reader numerous ideas on how you could preach these books faithfully.  With over 80 pages of Introduction to the Book of Judges and over 30 pages to introduce Ruth, Dr. Chisholm covers much ground from the outline of the book to the theology of the author.  I have not quite found a commentary that this kind on the market that is so attune to the details of the text while also giving the reader some pointers for the application of the text in preaching.  Chisholm uses exegetical rigor and pastoral sensitivity nicely in this book and speaks clearly at most points.  Being away from seminary for several years, this commentary pushed me back to my days studying Hebrew, looking at the forms of Hebrew verbs and how they are used in context. 

Chisholm is careful to draw out the significance of women in the book of Judges in his introduction to the book.  His writing is balanced though, as he writes, “Fortunately two courageous women rose to the occasion and compensated for Barak’s weakness.  However, the necessity of women playing a militaristic role, rather than inspiring the hero, was symptomatic of a decline in the quality of male leadership.” (72)  Demanding Deborah’s help in battle, Barak early on rallied the support of women among the people.  Yet, it was not without consequence that rallying women for battle ready service denigrated one’s manly service in the army.   In the story of Samson, Delilah lures him into her gaze and this leads to his demise (76).  Samson ends up grinding grain, the kind of job a female would typically do.  There is a direct correlation in the moral decline of Israel and the place that women have in this fall.  Early on there were heroic actions done by women, but later on in the book of Judges we see the surrounding nations deceiving Israel by the hand of different women.

In the same vein, Chisholm picks up on an interesting part of Judges 14 in relation to Samon picking a wife.  Chisholm writes, “To exonerate Samson’s parents and the Lord, it is tempting to view the Lord’s involvement as passive.  According to this scenario God simply allowed Samson to follow his selfish, wrong inclinations and then incorporated them into his overall plan, much like he did the sinful deeds of Joseph’s brothers.  However, the inclusion of the phrase “from the Lord” (literal translation) suggest that the Lord was the driving force behind Samson’s behavior” (403).  God nudged Samson and proceeded with full knowledge over the situation.  This rubs against our view of God at times who allow people to run their course in sin, but brings us back into a view that says that God truly is sovereign over all things. 

In the book of Ruth, we find an emphasis on names.  Naomi literally means “be lovely, pleasant,” but Naomi didn’t think this was appropriate.  Chisholm mentions that she “wanted a new name, (mara), meaning “bitter,” because she was convinced that God had brought bitterness into her life.  The verb used here reflects her deep emotional pain…the word also in Zecharaiah 12:10, where it describes the bitter grief one feels over the loss of an only child.” (610)  We feel the weight of such bitterness in the heart of Naomi here and how the biblical record in other places, Zechariah and Job seem to flesh this kind of bitterness out.  Chisholm rightly brings us into the place where Naomi is sitting and allows to glimpse into the way one would feel who is overcome with bitterness.

Overall, this book was very good on the grammar of both Ruth and Judges, the theology and application of the book, and the way one might preach these books well.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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