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Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth

Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

[Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in MOBI / Kindle format.]

  Part of Crossway’s Preaching The Word series, this devotional commentary does an excellent job of examining the major content of Judges and Ruth. Taking place in a difficult era of salvation history, these two books offer hope against the dark backdrop of Israel’s repeated spiritual and moral failures. Mr. Webb, a retired professor from Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia, does an outstanding job of explaining them in their historical context, while also making relevant applications to the modern situations faced by churches and individual believers.

Mr. Webb’s writing is lucid and interesting, and he has a keen sense of the drama of Judges and Ruth. He is also superb at bringing out reflections of Christ in the types and shadows of these Old Testament books. He brings out interesting insights from Hebrew word studies, biblical geography, and extra-biblical history without becoming bogged down in overly technical academic jargon or inconsequential details. Throughout his commentary Webb maintains a reverence for God and His word, and frequently makes gospel applications from the text. His style is expositional, yet it offers much spiritual heart-food for the reader who desires to contemplate the Lord’s glories. I heartily commend this book to anyone interested in Judges and Ruth – or even to someone looking for a good Christ-centered book.

Some choice quotations to whet your appetite:

On the “Minor Judges”:

“In the marathon of life there are few stars and many runners. The same is true in the history of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. Thank God for stars like Othniel, Deborah, Barak, and Gideon who encourage and inspire us by their example. But thank God, too, for also-rans like Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who remind us, by simply being there with their modest achievements and all too human failures, that little people, too, have a contribution to make to the great sweep of God’s saving purposes in the world that reaches its climax in Christ and flows on into our own day and age. Also-rans is what nearly all of us are! But praise God that we, too, have a noble calling and can be used to display his astonishing wisdom to a proud, incredulous world. May it be our joy to do so, with God’s help, and to his glory.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3733-39.

On Samson:

“Given the heavy blend of passion, heroism, and tragedy it contains, it is not surprising that the Samson story has attracted the serious attention of great creative artists. No one can view Samson and Delilah (Rubens, 1577–1640) or Samson Killing the Lion (Léon Bonnet, 1833–1922) or hear Handel’s impressive Samson oratorio (1740) or read John Milton’s epic poem Samson Agonistes without being aware of both the creative power of the artists themselves and the greatness of the Biblical narrative that inspired such endeavors. Handel’s oratorio was composed in the same year as his Messiah, and Milton’s poem followed hard on Paradise Lost, and the treatment in both cases shows that they did not regard the Samson story as a piece of comic relief after the treatment of nobler themes. They took Samson seriously, and the author of Judges clearly means us to do the same. That is not to say that the story has no humor in it. The sight of Samson bursting out of Gaza at midnight, for example, like a crazed orangutan escaping from a zoo, taking the gates with him, is a moment to be relished—especially since the joke is on the Philistines. But beneath all the surface chaos and mad careening here and there of the wild-man hero there is a steady building toward a predetermined end of profound theological significance. Samson is God’s man, as Israel is his people, and neither he nor they can finally escape their destiny. Samson may be a testosterone-charged male behaving badly, but he is also much, much more. More space is devoted to him than to any other judge.1 He alone has his birth and destiny announced in advance by a divine messenger, and in his story the whole central section of the book is brought to a resounding climax.”

Ftnt. #1: It is longer than the Jephthah narrative of 10: 6— 12: 7. The Gideon-Abimelech complex as a whole (chaps. 6— 9) is longer than the Samson story, but the Gideon narrative itself (6: 1— 9: 28) is shorter. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3744-57.

On Ruth 2: “Ruth has not just left her native land and her father’s house, she has also left her foreign gods: ‘The LORD repay you . . . the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!’ (v. 12). We can almost see the wheels turning inside Boaz’s head at this point. Moabites had been placed under a ban of eternal exclusion for cursing and seducing them into worshiping their gods (Numbers 22:1–6; 25:1–3). But what of a Moabite who abandons those gods and embraces the Lord God of Israel? And what if she is also poor, an alien, and a widow—one of the very people the Law commanded Israelites to protect? What does it mean to truly keep the Law in these circumstances? Would Boaz be wrong to embrace such a one? The answer that seems to be forming in his mind and showing itself in his actions is that he would not. And the rest of the book confirms that he is right.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 4833-39.