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Bible Study Helps: Judges and Ruth

Mar 10, 2018

The events of these books take place between the death of Joshua and the rise of Samuel and Saul and covers a period of some several hundred years. Ruth seems to take place at the same time as the book of Judges: “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1).

Here I will spend most of my time on Judges and its 21 chapters, and a bit less time on Ruth and its 4 chapters. But both books are important parts of the Old Testament story line and deserve careful reading and study. First to Judges:


If the book of Joshua was all about the Israelisation of Canaan, then the book of Judges, as Daniel Block puts it, is all about the Canaanisation of Israel. All up a dozen leaders or judges are discussed in the book. In six of these stories we have a common and depressing fourfold pattern found:

-Israel falls into apostasy via disobedience and violation of the law;
-Divine punishment is unleashed via the enemies of Israel;
-Israel cries out for help;
-A judge or deliver is raised up by God to save his people.

As mentioned, the book is bracketed by the leadership of Moses and Joshua on the one end, and the monarchy on the other. Michael Wilcock puts it this way:

If, in the days of the exodus and the days of the monarchy, there was one practical fact of life about which no-one needed to be in any doubt, it was this: you knew who was (or at any rate was supposed to be) in charge…. But in the intervening years, between the authority represented by Moses and Joshua on the near side, and that represented by David and Solomon on the far side, Israel seemed to walk a fragile, swaying rope-bridge slung from one great cliff to another.

And so it was. Seven times in the book we are told that the Israelites did “evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1: 6:1; 10:6; and 13:1). As Henrietta Mears once put it, “Someone has called the book of Judges the account of the Dark Ages of the Israelite people. The people forsook God (Judges 2:13) and God forsook the people (Judges 2:23).”

A similar key theme found later on in the book and repeated four times is that there was no king in Israel and every man did what he pleased. Twice this whole idea is spelled out:

-Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (The KJV version is familiar to many: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”)
-Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

And an abbreviated form of this is found in 18:1 and 19:1 where only the lack of a king is mentioned, but the implication is there that the people kept getting into trouble as a result. If the phrase above sounds familiar, it should: it was uttered by Moses just before the Israelites crossed into the promised land.

In Deuteronomy 12:8–9 we find this: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which YHVH your Elohim is giving you.”

Yet by the time we get to the book of Judges that is exactly what is happening. The question of whether the request for a king was good or bad – a divine idea or a human idea – I have discussed elsewhere:

I have also previously discussed one of the more interesting stories found in the book: that of Gideon and his fleece. How should we understand this event, and can Christians today get divine guidance by means of such methods? See here for my thoughts:

Finally, just as with Joshua, many readers today will be uncomfortable with the idea of the conquest of Canaan which is also described further in this book. But as Dale Ralph Davis reminds us in his expository commentary:

If only the Canaanites could know how much emotional support they receive from modern western readers. And the conquest was frightful. But people who bemoan the fate of the poor Canaanites don’t view the conquest from the Bible’s own perspective. They forget one vital fact: the Canaanites were not innocent. Moses was emphatic about that; he humbled the Israelites by insisting that Yahweh was not giving them Canaan because they were such godly folks but because the Canaanites were so grossly wicked (Deut 9:4-6). If you want all the gory details, see Leviticus 18:6-30 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14. These texts show that the conquest was an act of justice, Yahweh’s justice. Israel was the instrument of his just judgment upon a corrupt and perverted people.

For more reading on this thorny issue of the taking of Canaan, see the resources I list here:

Judges Commentaries

Top notch commentaries mainly of a scholarly and academic nature from a conservative/evangelical perspective include:

Block, Daniel, Judges/Ruth (NAC, 1999).
Boda, Mark, Judges (EBCR, 2012).
Butler, Trent, Judges (WBC, 2009).
Cundall, Arthur and Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth (TOTC, 1968).
Way, Kenneth, Judges and Ruth (TTC, 2016).
Webb, Barry, The Book of Judges (NICOT, 2012).
Wilcock, Michael, The Message of Judges (BST, 1992).
Younger, K. Lawson, Judges, Ruth (NIVAC, 2002).

Devotional and homiletical works are numerous. Some good ones include:

Davis, D. Ralph, Judges (Christian Focus, 1990).
Webb, Barry, Judges and Ruth (PTW, 2015).
Wiersbe, Warren, Be Available (Victor, 2004).

See my review of Webb’s NICOT volume here:


The short and simple story of Ruth is well known. It is a tale of two women. But, as Leon Morris reminds us, it is much more: “Most of all the book is a book about God. It deals with unimportant people and unimportant matters. But it deals with them in such a way as to show that God is active in the affairs of men. He works His purpose out and blesses them that trust him.”

It certainly is about the providence of God, and we learn that through an amazing series of events the birth of the Messiah is made possible here. When Ruth married Boaz she became a part of the lineage of Jesus himself, being the great-grandmother of King David. As we read in the New Testament, Jesus traces his ancestry back to David.

As David Pawson puts it: “It is a beautiful story – a lovely rural romance. But we must ask what was God doing behind all this…. It becomes clear that God was preparing a royal line for a king of Israel. Ruth’s right choice in joining with Naomi and returning to be part of her people was part of God’s right choice, for he had chosen her to be part of the royal line.”

In his newish 300-page commentary on the book of Ruth, Daniel Block finishes by making this encouraging statement: “This book and this genealogy demonstrate that in the dark days of the tribal chieftains as recounted in the book of Judges the chosen line was preserved, not by heroic exploits by deliverers or kings, but by the good hand of God, who rewards good people with a fullness beyond all imagination.”

Ruth Commentaries

Atkinson, David, The Message of Ruth (BST, 1983).
Block, Daniel, Judges/Ruth (NAC, 1999).
Block, Daniel, Ruth (ZECOT, 2015).
Bush, Frederic, Ruth/Esther (WBC, 1996).
Campbell, Edward, Ruth (AB, 1975).
Cundall, Arthur and Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth (TOTC, 1968).
Hubbard, Robert, The Book of Ruth (NICOT, 1988).
Huey, F. B., Ruth (EBC, 1992).
Way, Kenneth, Judges and Ruth (TTC, 2016).
Younger, K. Lawson, Judges, Ruth (NIVAC, 2002).

Expository and devotional commentaries include:

Campbell, Iain D., Exploring Ruth: A Devotional Commentary (Day One, 2010).
Luter, A. Boyd and Barry Davis, Ruth & Esther (Baker, 1995).
Webb, Barry, Judges and Ruth (PTW, 2015).

Happy studying and happy reading.

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3 Responses to Bible Study Helps: Judges and Ruth

  • Given concerns current in society it is notable that Boaz comes out of the story in Ruth with honour. He was faced with a scheming older woman and a nicely bathed and perfumed young woman. The young one despatched to the threshing floor at night, he having eaten and drunk and sleepy at his most vulnerable, to: ‘uncover his feet and lie down’. As ‘feet’ is a OT euphemism for genitals (see 2 Sam 11:8; Is 7:20; Is 6:2) she may well have uncovered him below the waist so he does well.

  • The character of Boaz is inspiring.

  • I have to say Bill in recent articles by you that you have not only a very extensive knowledge of Biblically-based doctrines but also a good awareness of different views in Christendom and unScriptural views on different teachings and events of Christian history (from modern to ancient). This is supplemented by the extensive bibliographies that you post in the articles and I think you probably have seen almost everything under the sun due to your reading from what must be a very large private library.

    I have thought in the past that I could offer a perspective on a given topic – to pick an easy one: predestination vs. free-choice – and somehow contribute the (yes, it is very presumptuous) final ‘answer’ that can settle a debate. Not only is this hubristic thinking, it ignores what far more scholarly theologians who have dedicated their lives to different parts of understanding what the Bible teaches have contributed. It brings me back to the starting point which is if I really want to understand something is to do a lot of reading. I will probably discover that I have nothing to add!

    I do think that theological systems all have their shortcomings because they are mankind’s attempts to create a integrated system of belief. I may not be well enough informed, but most theological systems have their problem Scriptures that they just can’t shoehorn into their model. This is not meant to denigrate or devalue theologians or scholars, far from it. But in my search to study for a theological qualification and discussions with others, I have found some academics become fixated on their theological model or a particular view on a doctrinal topic – e.g. Israel and the Palestinians – and use their lectures to promote that view as correct. However, the Bible’s pronouncements can be far harder to understand: one retired Greek scholar I recently met argues that homosexuality is morally right after a detailed study on Leviticus 18:22 and other relevant passages.

    I think it is better to focus only on what the Bible states – let it define the topics that we cover and be authoritative – and therefore become Biblical experts to the degree that we are able in the time we have. If a theological system can be crafted that covers all of what the Bible teaches, then great. It’s a great resource that you are providing. Thank you.

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