Barry Webb’s commentary, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is part of the “preaching the word” series and presents the books in a pastoral, conversational fashion.
Webb continually brings up details of the text that are overlooked, bringing to light wonderful insights where people may tend to skip over. Minor judges (like Shamgar) are at times given as much detailed discussion as those we might consider more important. There is a clear method to this, as Webb seems uninterested in sharing those things readers learned and re-learned since Sunday School. This is a book that feels fresh and exciting–and I’ve read one of Webb’s other commentaries on Judges!
These insights are not limited to the minor judges, however. The sections on Gideon, Ehud, and Samson (one of my favorite Bible personages) are particularly excellent. Each will make readers look with more depth even at stories they think they knew. For example, regarding Eglon, the king Ehud kills, Webb points out that readers of the story should reflect on the interplay between Ehud’s bringing a harvest tribute and the corpulence of Eglon. The fatness of Eglon is, ironically, in part due to his gleaning food from Israel! It is just this kind of deep look at the text that can be found throughout the book, time and again, regarding the judges and Ruth.
The tone of the book is quite pastoral. There are no sections of Hebrew painstakingly pored over word-by-word. Admittedly, I love that kind of commentary. That’s not the kind of commentary this is. Instead, it is presented in a kind of conversational style that takes you directly to the story. A good word to describe the style is “immersive”: reading the commentary makes one feel as though they are inside the Bible story themselves, experiencing it, and seeing the world anew as the contemporaries might have. It is a pretty thrilling experience.
The section on Deborah as a “maverick” is unfortunate, because it undercuts the importance of the woman Deborah (though calling her a “maverick” seems on-point). Webb has written elsewhere (his commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series on Judges) about how “there is no hint in the narrative or elsewhere in Scripture that her [Deborah’s] exercise of such a role [as leader/judge/prophetess] was contrary to God’s purposes, or a breach of his declared will in the way that the irregular worship practices of the period were” (Webb, The Book of Judges, (Eerdman’s, 2012) 188). Here, however, Webb qualifies this endorsement, carefully pointing to a pattern of male leadership throughout the Old Testament and arguing that Deborah is exceptional in her role here as prophetess/Judge. Yet in the same chapter, he also notes how the Old Testament is a patriarchal culture, which makes Deborah’s function as judge/prophetess even more exceptional! The exceptional nature, however, is not that it is improper–as Webb himself admits–but rather that her acting in this function, a prophetess called by God, challenges the very patriarchy that Webb has noted (and, at times, challenged himself) as the background for Old Testament practices. That is, Deborah functions as an attack on that paradigm, not a confirmation of it.
Though Webb notes that Deborah was praised in her function, he nowhere points out how this very act of praising Deborah for her role as leader and prophetess of Israel entails a theological truth of the gifting of God for women in such positions. I was disappointed to see this subtle shift in Webb’s affirmations about Deborah from his other commentary. This makes the section on Deborah less insightful than it could have been, however, particularly given her importance in the book of Judges.
Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is a beautiful, pastoral book full of insights that will have you scrambling to grab your Bible and make notes. Although it isn’t perfect, it is a worthwhile read that will open the pages of the books covered in new ways. It is recommended.
+Full of intriguing details
+Immersive, engaging writing style
+Continually takes readers back to the text
+Plenty of background information
-Inserts complementarian language into discussion of Deborah
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Barry Webb, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
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