Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015
304 pp. | $32.99
Penned by Daniel Block (Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College), this commentary on Ruth is the third and latest offering in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament (ZECOT) series. Per the publisher, the series:
“serves pastors and teachers by providing them with careful analysis and interpretation of the biblical text, rooted in a study of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and intended to track the flow of the argument in each book and passage.”
Block, the author of this volume, is also the General Editor for the ZECOT series, which was formerly called Hearing the Message of Scripture. The series follows on the heels of the well-received Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series.
Information on both the ZECOT and ZECNT series can be found here.
Structure and Contents
The commentary commences with abbreviations, a selected bibliography, and the author’s translation of Ruth. After these prefatory materials, it offers an introductory section, including discussion of the following items: title, date, authorship, genre, intention, literary style, canonical position, and theological message.
Prior to the commentary proper, an outline of Ruth is provided, dividing the book into an introduction, four acts, and a conclusion, along with associated subdivisions for each of these sections. These divisions and subdivisions supply the basic framework for the textual commentary.
Within the formal commentary portion of this volume, each major division begins with an introduction, and ends with notes on that division’s canonical and practical significance. In between, comments are made on each smaller subdivision of the text, under these headings: Main Idea of Passage, Literary Context, Translation and Exegetical Outline, Structure and Literary Form, Explanation of the Text, and Canonical and Practical Significance.
Following the commentary proper is one appendix (featuring A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth), and then Scripture, subject, and author indexes.
The more I preach, the less I appreciate most biblical commentaries. Why? Well, on the whole, they are simply not that helpful. They are either too critical (enmeshed in intramural debates), or not critical enough (pastoral, but ill-informed). They only infrequently include sufficient grammatical and syntactical notes to assist me as I am doing my own translation of a passage. That said, I am currently preaching a series in the book of Ruth, and have had the opportunity to put Block’s commentary through the paces, as a homiletic aid. After doing so, I must admit that I am more than a smidge impressed. In terms of its value to someone who is preparing to teach or preach, this commentary ranks highly.
Here is a sampling of things I like about this commentary:
On the whole, the volume is simple without being simplistic; it is sophisticated yet accessible. As such, it ought to appeal to lay Bible teachers and scholars alike.
The usability of this commentary is enhanced by the following items: logical organization, a clear layout, intelligible font choices, generous line spacing, wide margins, sharp graphics, and explanatory diagrams. In short – it’s just plain easy to read and understand.
No commentary is comprehensive. Thus, a critical factor to the success of a commentary involves which items the author chooses to focus and expand upon, and those that he or she merely hints at in the footnotes. In my view, Block’s discretionary choices in this volume have been made well. As such, the content of this work is both select and substantial.
The author has retained the Hebrew text, rather than resorting to transliterations. As I see it, this is a plus. In addition, detailed syntactical outlines are provided for each textual subdivision. These outlines display both the Hebrew text and an English translation, along with explanatory notes.
This volume includes a number of unique features, including the special attention it gives to discourse analysis, and related items such as notes on canonical, theological, and practical matters.
Critiques? I have a few – though they are relatively minor. Here are two that stand out:
Like so many Old Testament scholars, Block has an aversion to so-called Christ-Centered Interpretation (see his two part essay on this here and here). Even as Block seeks to provide a resource attuned to canonical, theological, and practical concerns, his efforts (in my view) are at times handicapped by his methodological resistance to seeing Christ in Ruth.
Because Block does so many things well in this commentary (offering insights from a smorgasbord of approaches to the text), readers interested in deeply exploring one or more critical or historical aspects of Ruth may be less than satisfied at turns.
Biblical commentaries are rarely able to achieve a balance of academic precision, theological coherence, and pastoral sensibility. However, in his work here on Ruth, Block has hit a trifecta. Especially for the teacher or pastor, I would recommend this volume highly. Even as I find myself relying on commentaries less and less (for some of the reasons mentioned earlier), this is one specimen that I would nonetheless advocate turning to.
About Tim Harmon
Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.