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Thursday, April 10, 2014

"A Commentary on Judges and Ruth" (Robert J Chosholm Jr)

TITLE: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library)
AUTHOR: Robert J. Chisholm, Jr
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013, (704 pages).

One is muggy and gloomy with situations deteriorating in a downward spiral. The other is spirited and bright, with each page turning into greater hope and living revelation. That is the contrast between the book of Judges and the book of Ruth. Robert Chisholm, Professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, has three main aims in this commentary of two Old Testament books.
  1. What do the texts mean in their original contexts?
  2. What biblical principles can we learn from them?
  3. What does it mean for us in contemporary times?
Using his own translation of the two books, Chisholm adopts a "literary-theological method" in this commentary instead of a "extensive text-critical analysis." When in doubt, he chooses to let the texts speak for themselves rather than speculating upon what they mean. Believing that the preaching and teaching of the Bible ought to be offered to all, not just ivory tower seminarians, Chisholm provides ample resources for preachers and teachers to use for the sharing of the Word.

On The Book of Judges

He situates the book in between the end of Deuteronomy and the early beginnings of Kings. It was a time in which Israel was struggling with what it means to occupy the Promised Land, and the critical role of godly leadership which was increasingly missing. It also led to a spiritual deterioration that exhibits symptoms of utter horror and bloodshed. The central themes dwell around "Israel's propensity to sin, the Lord's disciplinary judgement," and how Israel was saved time and again by God's liberators. It also highlights the reason for God's continued insistence on rejecting idolatry. The prologue of the book tends to be generally positive, where each time Israel failed, God would send someone to rescue them. After Samson, there seems to be a turn for the worse. There were rising civil conflicts, selfish acts, culminating in sordid atrocities, murders, and rapes.  All of God's Ten Commandments were violated, as if the acts in Judges stood against everything Deuteronomy warned about. In contrast to Dorsey, Gooding, and Tanner, who suggest that the  chiastic structure points out Gideon as the central figure, Chisholm prefers to see it from a "United Israel" perspective. The stories point to a general disunity of Israel, and not about any one leader per se. Whatever happens to any one region impacts the entire nation. He supports this interpretation by arguing that the author of Judges sees Israel from one united angle. For instance, from a linguistic standpoint, the book of Judges uses the word "Israel" generally to speak for all Israel, instead of simply a region. Chronologically, one sees the different periods of rule through cycles of oppression and liberation, with some overlaps. Using the literary structure of the rhetorical statements "again did evil," "after him," and other chronological clues, Chisholm proposes that Judges occurred somewhere between 1190 and 1070. A synchronic approach is preferred to diachronic because the latter seems more speculative and fantasy. Chisholm summarizes Judges as having three primary purposes:
  1. Judges is about the defense of God's Name, endangered because of Israel's failures
  2. It demonstrates God's commitment and faithfulness to His People
  3. It is a polemic against idolatry.
Other themes include the need for godly leadership, the pitfalls of idolatry, and the consequences of failing to observe and obey Deuteronomy's instructions. Finally, Chisholm does not leave readers helpless about contemporary applications. He builds the homiletic bridge for us to travel. The three part preaching paradigm is consistently shared: 1) Exegetical idea; 2) Theological Idea; and 3) Homiletical Trajectories.

On The Book of Ruth

Chisholm is convinced that the book is a "historical short story" with a high redemptive element. He engages several scholars' interpretations before offering his own. He sees Ruth as God's instrument for deliverance, and Boaz as one used to impart and to receive blessings. Four major theological themes are highlighted.
  1. God is concerned for the needy
  2. God uses ordinary people like Naomi and Ruth, whose simple virtues of loyalty and kindness are timeless principles
  3. God rewards faithfulness and faithful people according to His good time; In fact, God's blessings extends beyond the lifespans of any one generation
  4. There is a Messianic trajectory, with Boaz seen as a type of Christ; sacrificial love; royal genealogy.

So What?

This book is a joy to read with many inspiring thoughts and provocative ideas for teachers and preachers. Though some of the material can be rather involved and heavy, especially the engagements with various scholarship propositions and arguments, there are many contemporary applications that can benefit a wide segment of the Church. This is especially for those in the ministry of teaching and preaching, where Chisholm meticulously guides the reader through the three-fold sermon preparation process. There is the exegetical idea phase to help navigate the literary structures and the literal contexts. There is the interpretive cycle backed with various scholarly views to keep readers updated on the different interpretations. There is an exceptionally helpful homiletical trajectory to bridge the ancient and the modern mind. In one book, we see the unity of Israel and the orientation of the Old Testament toward a Messianic revelation.

For me, this book is not just a commentary. It is a preaching guide made accessible to teachers, preachers, and students of the books of Judges and Ruth. For anyone who is unsure about how to approach Judges, or needing new ideas on teaching from the Book of Ruth, this book will be an able guide and a reliable resource for us. I highly recommend this commentary for your study and use at Church or seminary settings.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Academic in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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