This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2006 vol. 163 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Judges and RuthCambridge University Press, New York January 12, 2004
This volume, in accord with the series design, is synthetic in nature, providing an overview of the text’s structure and message. Those familiar with Matthews’s other publications will not be surprised that he devotes much attention to the cultural background of these biblical books, including social customs and laws.
For example, utilizing social-scientific criticism, Matthews reconstructs a “protocol of hospitality” (pp. 68–69). Commenting on Judges 4–5, he argues that Sisera violated the code of hospitality in several ways. By drawing attention to these violations the narrator justifies Sisera’s murder and provides Jael with a motive for killing him. “By approaching Jael’s tent, Sisera has violated custom, and Jael’s invitation can then be seen as a subterfuge to lure him to his death, using the hospitality code as a framework.” Her deception is designed to “preserve her life and her honor” (p. 71).
Consistent with his focus on social customs, Matthews provides a nice summary of laws pertaining to Nazirites (pp. 134–36) as a prelude to his study of the Samson narrative. Of course it is not clear if Samson was bound by all these laws. Matthews seems to favor Cartledge’s view, arguing that “the only Nazirite obligation imposed on Samson is not to cut his hair” (p. 141). If this is so, this certainly impacts how one reads the story and interprets the events of Samson’s life.
Other excursuses on cultural backgrounds and social customs focus on ancient warfare, the position of “judge,” Baal and Asherah, marriage, the Philistines, Levites, and endogamy (the custom of marrying within a specific group). In the Ruth commentary Matthews’s remarks about hospitality protocol and gleaning (p. 228), Ruth’s encounter with Boaz at the threshing floor (pp. 231–35), and Levirate obligations (pp. 235–37) are particularly helpful. Other strengths of this commentary include its sensitivity to literary features and its ample bibliography on Judges (pp. 18–36). Matthews even includes a website address where he provides an updated list of sources.
Interspersed throughout the commentary are several sections titled “Bridging the Horizons” in which the author addresses especially important interpretive issues and attempts to show how the message of Judges may be contemporized. Because of this concern for application, as well as its readability and focus on backgrounds, pastors will find the commentary useful.
—Robert B. Chisholm Jr.