Review of Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2013, 697 pp., $39.99.
In the past Judges and Ruth have not been particularly well served by commentators (Leon Wood’s Distressing Days of the Judges being one notable exception). Many studies in the past were more homiletical than analytical. The Book of Judges presents some unique problems for the Bible interpreter. Such issues as the date of certain judges, the extent of their careers and influence, the numbers in the Book, not to mention the overall chronology of the period, offer challenges which can impact how one approaches the other historical books.
Thankfully that situation has changed in recent years with the publication of solid works by Butler, Block and Webb, supported by those by Younger and, to a lesser extent, Davis. Thus, the gap has been filled. How then does this new contribution from Robert B. Chisholm in Kregel’s Exegetical Library measure up?
Chisholm provides his readers with a long and detailed eighty-eight page introduction to Judges, which, by the way, includes a very useful selected annotated bibliography. The author quickly orientates the reader to the major problems in the book and surveys the several attempts which have been made to solve them. The chief problem has always been fitting the various localized activities in the central section, which add up to 410 years, within the framework of 1 Kings 6:1, and its 480 year time slot for all the events from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. This taxes all interpreters of Judges, but Chisholm’s careful analysis of the chronology is very well done. He notes that the pan-Israeli perspective implicit in the narratives (for theological reasons pointing to the ideal unity of the nation, 30-31), do not encourage attempts to compress the chronological markers (37).
The author has worked out three proposals to address the problem of 1 Kings 6:1. The first two are based on a fifteenth century dating for the Exodus, which is the standard evangelical dating, while the third works with a thirteenth century date. Of the three options Chisholm himself opts for the second (44 n.47), which excludes Eli and Samuel as judges.
The commentary itself includes extended section outlines, a note on the literary structure, with expository sections. Then there are separate notes on application, helpfully divided into thematic, theological, and homiletical subsections. I really appreciated the way the translation has been arranged around the Hebrew clauses. This feature is bound to be helpful for those who lack competence in Hebrew, but who want to get a feel for the original. The author’s prose is a little academic but still very readable. These features make the work both informative and manageable for the busy preacher or Bible teacher.
Chisholm has been given enough space to fully treat his material and he makes good use of it. The reader will find lots of help from lexical, theological and background sources in each chapter. If we take the episode concerning Jephthah’s vow as an example, we see Chisholm fully in command of his interpretive choices and well able to furnish a convincing piece of commentary. Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter (354-355), yet one must not interpret the silence of God in the matter as Divine approval of Jephthah’s actions (364). While discussing whether an animal may have been in Jephthah’s mind as he made his rash vow, we are informed that “The construction of Iron Age houses would allow for an animal to come through the doors of a house” (353). Nevertheless, a human being may also have been included in the vow.
In a long footnote he ably dispatches a feminist interpretation of Jephthah’s daughter which turns her into a “poster child for her fellow feminists!” (356-357 n.73).
The Commentary on Ruth covers a hundred and forty-eight pages (with a thirty-two page introduction). Ruth certainly does not suffer from relative neglect in comparison to Judges, particularly in the exegetical department. In his comments on the first chapter Chisholm discusses Daniel Block’s interpretation that the author of Ruth views the marriages of Naomi’s sons in a negative light, which is why they died early on in the story. In effect, God struck them down (595ff.). As this impacts the interpretation of chapter one quite heavily the lengthy cross-examination of Block’s thesis is profitable as an example of thinking through the text. As with Judges, the author includes a helpful annotated bibliography of select commentaries on Ruth. All in all, Chisholm’s work on Ruth is fully up to the high standard of his commentary on Judges.
One significant complaint I have is the inexcusable lack of indices in the book. Although this would have added twenty plus pages to the book, it would have been worth it. This decision of the publisher might bear some reconsideration. Of less import to this reviewer is the way Chisholm handles the numbers in Judges (e.g. 110 n.2). Notwithstanding this is a very good commentary and is right up there with the one by Daniel Block.
Finally, a word about the book as a product is in order. As with Kregel’s excellent Psalms Commentary by Allen Ross, this book is well produced, with clear type, legible footnotes, and clear headings. One can find their way around the commentary without much trouble. The binding and cover look strong and durable.
This book was sent to me by the publisher. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.