Judges, Ruth. Vol. 6 of The New American Commentary

By Daniel I. Bock
Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman (1999). 767 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 100-101

The New American Commentary is a proposed 40-volume series initiated in 1987. Nearly three-quarters of the series has been produced. The series emphasizes theological exposition accompanied by extensive footnotes that assume a working knowledge of the biblical languages. Each commentator has a Baptist background. Daniel I. Block, the author of this volume, is professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Southern B aptist Theological Seminary. To date, Judges, Ruth is the largest and most detailed volume in the series.

Block noted that “commentaries are never the final word” (8, in “Author Preface”). This volume, however, takes a gigantic step forward toward that ultimate goal. In a word, Judges, Ruth is substantial. It is not a frothy commentary, long on application and short on exegetical spade work. Yet the commentary is not complete. It has some disappointing gaps: no reference to the significant work of Leon Wood (Distressing Days of the Judges [Zondervan, 1975]), no discussion of the view that “the angel of Yahweh” is the preincarnate Son of God (and thus no mention of James A. Borland’s Christ in the Old Testament [Moody, 1978; Christian Focus, 1999]), and no reference to the significant studies of Basil A. Rebera (e.g., “Yahweh or Boaz? Ruth 2.20 Reconsidered,” Technical Papers for The Bible Translator 36/3 [July 1985]:317-27).

Block promises the reader a treatment involving answers to four basic questions addressed to the authors of Judges and Ruth: “(1) What are you saying? (the text critical issue); (2) Why do you say it like that? (the cultural and literary issues); (3) What do you mean? (the hermeneutical and theological issues); and (4) What is the significance of this message for me today? (the practical issue)” (8). Generally, Block delivers as he promises.

In the “Introduction” to Judges (21-73), Block successfully avoids identifying himself with any particular date for the exodus from Egypt (25-26, 59-63). He concludes that “the final form” (54) of Judges was composed during the reign of Manasseh (66-67, 513). The central theme of the Book of Judges is identified as the Canaanization of Israel (58, 71). From that theme, Block encourages the Christian reader to apply the truths of Judges to the increasingly paganized and worldly character of the church (71-72). Jephthah is presented as a prime example of paganized Israel in his selfish, stupid, and brutal sacrifice of his daughter as a burnt offering (365-79).

The volume employs visual charts and diagrams to convey a wealth of information. A partial list of such visuals includes:

  • maps (20, 766-67)
  • semantic diagram of sapat (24)
  • the hierarchy of Israel’s genealogical social structure as reflected in Josh 7:14-18 (32)
  • the pattern of chronological notices in the Book of Judges (59-60)
  • the cyclical pattern of Israel’s premonarchic history (132)
  • structural and formulaic elements in the “Book of Deliverers” (Judg 3:7–16:31, 146-47)
  • the layout of Eglon’s palace in Jericho (164)
  • a synopsis of the prose and poetic accounts in Judges 4–5 (178-81)
  • comparison of the sacrifices by Abraham and Jephthah (371-72)
  • a schematic representation of the plots of the account of Samson and the Timnite woman’s wedding (428)
  • the parallels between Gen 19:4-8 and Judg 19:22-24 (532-34)
  • the structure of Ruth’s response to Naomi (640).

The commentary on the Book of Ruth is far more modest in scope than the one on Judges. It is well done, but falls short of Frederic Bush’s Ruth/Esther in Word Biblical Commentary (W ord, 1996). Unfortunately, in at least one place, a major typographical and editorial error mars the volume’s content (viz., the incomplete first point in Block’s discussion of the promonarchic view of the book’s refrain, 59). In spite of shortcomings, when it comes to the Book of Judges, this commentary should not be neglected. It is indispensable.