This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2005 vol. 162 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
JudgesWestminster John Knox Press, Louisville January 31, 2003
This clear, well-written theological commentary provides a helpful summary of previous works and some original contributions as well. The author makes occasional references to the Hebrew text in arguing for his interpretations. Also he has obviously researched recent studies of Judges. The bibliography at the end enables the reader to locate easily the books referred to in the commentary.
McCann, who is evangelical professor of biblical interpretation at Eden Theological Seminary, is solidly biblical in his approach. Some of his convictions, however, will bother conservative students of the Bible. For example he regards Judges as the product of a deuteronomistic historian who lived many centuries after the period of the judges, which period he dates from 1200 to 1020 b.c. He also says readers should take the Scriptures seriously but not literally (pp. 28, 33). This statement prepares readers for a less-than-face-value explanation of the text, but McCann proceeds to take Judges more literally than his admonition might suggest. One example of this is his treatment of the Canaanites. He says the Canaanites should be understood as symbolic of any people opposed to the plans and purposes of God (to solve the problem of God’s command to exterminate them); yet he believes real Canaanites opposed the Israelites during the amphictyony. Perhaps he means readers should look for a broader application of the text, but his statements seem to refer to its interpretation.
The themes the author believes are central and that he traces through Judges are idolatry and self-assertiveness, the opposite of submission to God and His ways that the Torah requires. He shows that this response to God’s will resulted in ever-increasing apostasy and political and social deterioration in Israel. The escalating violence in Judges shows itself in the increasing abuse of women as well as in other forms of violence. McCann also places strong emphasis on God’s grace. In spite of Israel’s determined decision to depart from the Lord and follow her own will, He cannot and does not let the nation self-destruct but pursues His people and rescues them repeatedly in spite of themselves.
The Book of Judges is difficult to interpret because the biblical writer seldom includes evaluative statements about Israel; in most cases he simply records the Israelites’ actions. To pass judgment on the appropriateness or lack of appropriateness of their acts and words, one must interpret this book in the light of the Mosaic Law. The Gideon narrative is especially difficult, since Gideon said many good things while at the same time doing some very bad things. McCann’s interpretations of the judges’ actions and motivations occasionally depart from traditional understanding, which he readily admits (p. 110). Some conservatives will undoubtedly regard these interpretations as “a stretch” at best. Nevertheless he has given reasons for his interpretations that are plausible if not entirely convincing.
One of the strongest points about this commentary is its excellent applications. McCann has done a splendid job in relating the lessons of Judges to contemporary life. This is a very helpful and enlightening piece of research. The primary audience is teachers and pastors, and it will provide much help to believers who desire greater insight into the Book of Judges.
—Thomas L. Constable