Younger: Judges and Ruth

judges_ruth_review_20210914
K. Lawson Younger, Jr. 2002. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Commentaries are important to our faith.  Commentaries provide the lens through which we understand scripture either through personal study or the preaching that they are exposed to.  When I am not teaching, I read commentaries devotionally.

The author of the Book of Judges famously writes: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6 ESV). Sound familiar?  Not coincidentally, the postmodern period is also characterized by this same characteristic—an extreme focus on equality. Other focuses are possible.  Tension between different groups in society over the rights of individuals and the rights of the community highlight, in part, change in the values held most dearly [1]. The focus on individual initiative in the Book of Judges speaks to the moral challenge of our own time [2]. By contrast, the Book of Ruth paints a picture of faithfulness and God’s providence in the midst of otherwise chaotic and desperate lives.

Younger describes the purpose of the Book of Judges as:  the consequences of disobedience to God with the resultant moral degeneration that characterized the history of this period (23). A judge was more of a tribal leader rather than a government official in charge of deciding legal matters as we might think of a judge (22). Leadership was less formal, more charismatic. The book ends on the period of the judges were the death of Joshua and the coronation of King Saul—a period of no more than 400 years (24). Ruth, being the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17), also lived during this period.

The structure of the Book of Judges aids in observing the moral degeneration of both the judges and the people. Younger notes the following cycle being repeated throughout the accounts:

1. Israel does evil in the eyes of Yahweh;
2. Yahweh gives/sells them into the hands of oppressors;
3. Israel serves the oppressor for X years;
4. Israel cries out to Yahweh;
5. Yahweh raises up a deliverer (i.e. judge);
6. The spirit of Yahweh is upon the deliverer;
7. The oppressor is subdues;
8. The land has “rest” for X years (35).

In reviewing the particular judges, Younger notes that over time the judges were increasingly ignorant of God and his covenant, and increasingly prone to idolatry. The two most famous judges, Samson and Gideon, therefore exemplify this trend showing serious personal flaws.  The book speaks not of their suitability as role models, but of God’s forbearance and love.

Perhaps of most interest to a contemporary audience are the roles of Deborah and Jael, both women. In a male dominated society, both women assume roles normally reserved for men, in part, to highlight the degeneration of the men, in this case, Barak and Sisera (138-146). Younger makes the point that rather than setting Deborah and Jael up as role models, the author of Judges uses them as a foil to highlight the degeneration of the men. Elevation of the women does fill the gap created by responsibility-avoiding men, but it is not the author’s focus.

Much more could be said about the Book of Judges—especially in view of contrary opinions. However, in a short review it is more interesting to turn to the Book of Ruth.  Ruth is a stark contrast to the Book of Judges.

The key verse in the Book of Ruth highlights the transformative power of faith:

But Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 ESV)

Through faith and fidelity to God’s law even an immigrant woman from Moab living in Israel finds protection under God’s providential care.  God later acts through her faithfulness to bring about both the Kingship of David and the redemption of Jesus himself. The Book of Ruth accordingly displays the faithful remnant in Israel that transforms the nation itself during a general period of decline and degeneracy.

The themes outlined in the Younger study deserve more attention. The usual treatment of the judges and of the characters in Ruth as heroes of the faith fails to capture the subtly of the actual stories. Younger paints a more realistic picture—one that informs our own times.

[1] Most professionals, for example, are trained to value objectivity most dearly—the dominant value held in the modern period. In the feudal period loyalty was the highest value. At any given point, the priority placed on these values may differ among social groups.

[2] The NIV Application Commentary has been my default commentary over the past decade because the series takes the narrative of scripture seriously. Once I am acquainted with an orthodox interpretation, I can judge a book from other dimensions. I have taught from the series the Books of Romans, Luke, Genesis, Revelations, John, Matthew, Galatians, and 1 & 2 Corinthians (I may have forgotten some books). The series takes seriously John Stott’s division of the homiletical task into 3 things: the author’s context (original meaning), the reader’s context (contemporary significance), and the need to bridge the two (bridging contexts).

References

John Stott. 1982. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Younger: Judges and Ruth

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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