Book Review – A Commentary on Judges and Ruth by Robert Chisholm

There are a few Old Testament scholars that I gravitate towards – Brueggemann, Block, Beale, (The B-Team), John Goldingay, and Robert Chisholm. When I venture into the strange world of the Old Testament, that is when I am asked to fill in for an OT class at EBC, I turn to these guys as dialogue partners. Since I really like what Chisholm usually has to say about the OT I figured that I should take a look at his latest commentary on Judges and Ruth.

Review

Let me just get this out of the way – this book is massive, its 697 pages long. Okay now that I got that off my chest let me talk a bit about the book.Judges and Ruth

Chisholm does some intense exegetical work in this book, he provides his own translation of Judges and Ruth, he breaks up the narratives into 1) mainline clauses, 2) offline clauses, and 3) discourse. This isn’t typical for a translation, but the benefit to doing this is that it helps him do exegetical work, it especially helps the reader appreciate the literary features of both of these books.

Chisholm’s approach is a “literary-theological method.” This is helpful for preachers and teachers. The days when people were doing source criticism (thankfully) are almost over. That way of doing exegesis is way too speculative. Because Chisholm refuses to play the source-criticism game, he can focus on the things that pastors are really concerned about – How is God speaking through this text (i.e. what is the theological message of this text?)

Chisholm claims that he has pastors in mind as readers of the text. The pastors who will probably benefit the most from the depth of exegesis Chisholm engages in aren’t many (scholars will greatly benefit from his nuanced discussion of the text), however Chisholm does step back and give a lot of big picture insight which will actually be very helpful for preachers/teachers.

He approaches each section of text through the filter of the following three questions:

  1. What did the text mean in its ancient Israelite context?
  2. What theological principles emerge from a thematic analysis of the text?
  3. How is the message of the text relevant to the church?

The fact that he breaks the commentary up according to these questions is very helpful for people who are trying to preach. The most basic hermeneutic for preachers is 1-What did the text mean? 2-What is the theological message? 3-How does it apply to us? So in writing the commentary according to his three questions, he allows preachers to interact with answers to the questions that they are already asking themselves on a weekly basis.

Pros

Because of the purpose of this blog (and space constraints) there are too many nuanced arguments to interact with in any detailed sort of way. [For instance I disagree with his interpretation of why Mahlon and Killion have died in Ruth.] However there are many things that Chisholm should be commended for. First, unlike most conservative commentators he is well attuned to feminist issues present in the text. He devotes an entire section in the introduction to Judges to this very topic. It was honestly my favorite part of his discussion of Judges. Second, he catches interesting literary nuances that most people tend to miss. For instance, when discussing Naomi’s move from Bethlehem, he points out the fact that readers who are accustomed to Judges, know that bad things happen when people leave Bethlehem – the reader will expect tragedy when reading about Naomi’s move. However, he points out, that the narrator actually turns the “leave Bethlehem and experience tragedy” narrative on its head. In the story of Ruth, leaving Bethlehem (eventually) leads the to birth of king David. For a Jew, this is the exact opposite of tragedy; it’s the greatest blessing that could be bestowed upon a woman. Finally, the homiletical sections are organized clearly and are full of helpful suggestions for preaching Judges and Ruth. Within the introduction for both of these books, Chisholm includes “Major Themes” and the “Book’s Purpose” these two sections give a framework for his homiletical outlines. For the homiletical outline Chisholm goes section by section giving short, one or two sentence statements about:

  1. The Exegetical Ideas
  2. Theological Ideas
  3. Homiletical Trajectories
  4. Primary Preaching Idea

Every preacher could benefit from reading these short sections. Though concise, they are full of theological depth and practical application.

Concluding Thoughts

I haven’t read any of the other Kregel Exegetical Library Commentaries but if they are anything like this one then I am in love with the series. Chisholm does thorough exegetical work and gives plenty of homiletical help to preachers and teachers. What more do you need from a commentary?

If you are looking for a commentary to use in preparing a sermon series on Judges or Ruth you need to pick up a copy of this book.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Kregel Academic in exchange for an impartial review.)

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