A Review of The Book of Judges (NICOT). By Barry Webb.
The Old Testament book of Judges is an important book, serving as a bridge – along with Joshua – between the Pentateuch and the rest of Israel’s history, from monarchy to divided kingdom. It covers roughly a 400-year period in which judges, or perhaps more correctly, deliverers, were raised up by Yahweh to bail out the Israelites who kept getting themselves into trouble by disobedience and rebellion.
While this is a vital Old Testament volume, surprisingly there have not been too many good commentaries on it, at least from a conservative and/or evangelical perspective. Indeed, for a long while, there were only two somewhat brief commentaries available from this camp.
Back in 1968 Arthur Cundall offered us one, as part of the TOTC series. It was half of a two-part commentary, with Leon Morris taking up the book of Ruth. In 1992 Michael Wilcock presented us with another somewhat short commentary on this book in the BST series.
And there it stood basically for a period of some thirty years. But in the past decade, this shortage has finally been addressed. No less than four substantial commentaries on Judges have appeared since 1999. In that year Daniel Block gave us a 765-page offering in the NAC series (also covering Ruth, with Judges receiving around 580 pages).
In 2002 K. Lawson Younger Jr., gave us a helpful 500-pager in the NIVAC series. And in 2009 Trent Butler produced a 540-page work for the WBC series. All this has now been supplemented by Webb’s important 555-page work, just recently released.
If one just concentrated on Block, Butler and Webb alone one would be very well served indeed on the book of Judges. All three are quite comprehensive and quite incisive. And while the tendency for new commentaries is to go into overkill on critical and textual and background issues, Webb tries to keep a healthy balance here.
Indeed, he admits that he is not a great fan of the overly technical volumes, which have on offer almost as much secondary material as actual interaction of the text. Some of the critical commentaries can be off-putting, says Webb, and he wants to avoid that approach:
“I have not tried to achieve the kind of exhaustive thoroughness that insists on putting back into the text all the data that the author has left out.” And again, “I have always felt cheated by the kind of exegetical vivisection that kills by analysis until all that’s left is lifeless bits and pieces, classified and arranged, conquered rather than read.”
Because the book of Judges is a dynamic narrative, not a dry theological treatise, Webb has opted for something other than a bare academic exposition. This is not to deny that all the helpful elements found in the NICOT series are missing here; we have plenty of critical and textual discussions, proper exegesis and hermeneutics, and solid theological reflections.
Indeed, a helpful 85-page section on introductory matters does a helpful job of covering all the usual issues. Included in this is a lengthy section on “Judges and violence”. Of interest is the fact that earlier commentaries did not make quite so much of all this. Sure, they asked how the common Old Testament theme of Yahweh as Warrior fits in with the teachings of Jesus, but discussions were kept to a minimum.
Today it is quite common for commentaries to give quite a bit of attention to these issues, both in the introductory chapters and throughout the commentary proper. Some almost seem apologetic and uncomfortable with it all, almost reading the text anachronistically.
One picks that up, for example, somewhat in Pitkanen’s 2010 commentary on Joshua as part of the AOTC series. There he often refers to the conquest of Canaan as “genocide” and seems rather embarrassed by much of it. Webb of course is not unaware of such matters, and is sensitive to the potential problems New Testament believers face when confronted with such things.
Thus he tries to deal carefully with these issues, but always with an eye to staying faithful to the text, and seeing the bigger theological picture. He looks at various unhelpful, if not unbiblical, approaches to handling such texts, and offers his own take on the subject.
He argues, “There is nothing in these implications of the Judges passage [2:20-36] that is inconsistent with the New Testament; in fact, all are also taught there in one way or another. However, the fact that the canon does have Two Testaments indicates that there are discontinuities as well as continuities.” Webb does a good job of articulating and explaining both.
As to the rest of the commentary, it offers fair, judicious and insightful comments and analysis of the book as a whole and its theological message, along with its component parts. Difficult or contentious passages are dealt with carefully, allowing various options to be heard, as he makes his preferred case.
This is a very welcome addition to one of my favourite commentary series. It is slowly nearing completion (NICOT/NICNT was begun way back in the 1950s). While we now have several very good and very thorough commentaries on Judges, this is certainly one well worth getting.
(Available in Australia at Koorong)
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