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Book Review – A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Robert Chisholm Jr.)

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013. 704 pp. $39.99.

jrFrom the pulpit to the pew, there is a general anemia in the Church in relation to the Old Testament. Lay Christians struggle to read/understand/apply large parts of the OT, and teachers/Bible study leaders/preachers neglect vast amounts of the OT or struggle through, teaching the facts of the content and/or jumping to moralistic applications while missing the the theocentric, redemptive-historic heart of the texts. Commentaries are a great help to both the interested lay student of the Word as well as to preachers and teachers. A majority of commentaries are either largely academic without much direct homiletical help, or preaching/application oriented but not as rigorous in exegesis and the technical issues of scholarship. In A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, the latest addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library, Chisholm has provided a valuable resource for the Church that combines the best of both worlds.

Designed for pastors and teachers, this commentary is written from the conviction that relevant exposition of Scripture needs to answer three questions: 1) what the text meant in its context; 2) what theological principles emerge from a thematic analysis of the text; and 3) how the message of the text is relevant to the church.  Chisholm answers these questions in this commentary through a three-step process:

(1) I begin with a close exegetical-literary reading of the text that surfaces the thematic emphases of each major literary unit. Such analysis yields an exegetical idea for each unit that succinctly captures the message of that unit in its cultural-historical context. (2) In step two I move outside the boundaries of the specific text being studied and develop a theological idea for each literary unit. These theological ideas express the enduring principles or truths that are rooted in the text and are relevant for a modern audience. (3) In the third step I develop homiletical trajectories from the theological idea of the passage…Following the trajectories enables us to produce one or more preaching ideas for each literary unit.”

(Chisholm 14)


This approach is evident in the introduction to each book; in addition to some background material typically covered in commentaries, Chisholm devotes attention to literary structures and themes and provides a proposed preaching series through the respective books that models the homiletical process discussed in detail throughout the commentary. The introduction to each book ends with a brief evaluation of major commentaries for that particular book, commenting on approach, format, and usability.

Each section of the commentary proper follows the same pattern (with a few minor exceptions. First, Chisholm provides a translation of the text (his own, slightly revised from what he prepared for the NET Bible) and narrative structure analysis. In the translation, Chisholm arranges the text in a way that reflects the clausal structure of the original Hebrew text, enabling the reader to see the contours of the text as envisioned by the authors. He distinguishes between the three main elements of a narrative: mainline clauses, offline clauses, and quotations (explained further and categorized on pp. 81-86). This is followed by a brief look at the literary structure. Next is the exposition, which covers subunit-by-subunit rather than going verse-by-verse. The final part of each section is on message and application. Here Chisholm 1) summarizes the thematic emphases of the pericope and provides a succinct exegetical idea; 2) summarizes the theological principles and provides a theological idea; and 3) summarizes homiletical trajectories and provides a preaching idea.

The strength of this volume lies much in the fact that it’s homiletics-oriented but still semini-scholarly; it helps the reader see the main points of the biblical texts without getting bogged down in too much technical detail and background material. But because the exposition is not verse-by-verse, it would be helpful to have another commentary alongside this one, a more technical volume that looks at the text verse-by-verse. The literary-theological method employed is also a great strength of this commentary. Most commentaries stay in the texts at hand; they are exegetical but not theological. Chisholm’s volume goes outside the boundaries of the specific texts being studied and illuminates the theological themes of each literary unit.

I highly recommend Chisholm’s commentary to pastors, teachers, and Bible study leaders as an aid in preparing to teach and preach  from the books of Judges and Ruth.  It’s also a good commentary for serious lay students of the Word; even if not preparing to teach or preach from the texts, we can learn from the “message and application” portions of this volume how to properly draw application from the texts.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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  1. Clara

     /  May 9, 2014

    ooooo 😀 interesting!! we just finished learning about Ruth a few weeks in class. I will definitely have to look into this commentary, especially because Ruth and Judges are one of my favorites in the Hebrew Bible.


    • That’s awesome, Clara! Ruth and Judges are not in my favorites in the Hebrew Bible. Reading this definitely makes me want to study these books more.



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