Reviewed by Ingrid Faro
About the Author
Daniel I. Block is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Illinois. He has written commentaries on Deuteronomy, Judges, Ezekiel, Obadiah, and numerous other volumes. Ruth is the first in a new Zondervan commentary series, and shows great promise for the “Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament: A Discourse Analysis of The Hebrew Bible” (ZECOT), for which Block is the General Editor.
Ruth is Block’s second commentary on the book of Ruth (previous commentary: Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, NAC 6, Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999). His new commentary reinforces many of his earlier interpretations, while challenging others, especially in giving attention to the discourse analytic features. Block builds upon his earlier suppositions regarding provenance of the book, advocating for a late seventh century final composition, and more firmly develops a “royal reading” of the text focused upon the Davidic lineage.
Block’s new commentary showcases his detailed exegetical and scholarly expertise, along with pastoral aids, and sensitivity to the text. The rich content, together with his fluid and engaging writing style, makes this commentary suitable for a wide range of use: from classroom Hebrew exegetical textbook, to pastor’s reference complete with outlines of the text, to readers with no knowledge of Hebrew seeking greater insights into the book of Ruth.
This new Zondervan series is designed to evaluate the rhetorical and literary features of the Biblical books, as divinely inspired messages “composed to be heard in the public gathering of God’s people” long before access to printed text was available (9). Discourse analysis is a key feature in the interpretation of the text. The commentary provides tables for intercanonical comparisons, an outline of the book, along with unit-by-unit exegetical outline, and homiletical outline of each chapter, helpful for analysis of literary structure and sermon preparation. Block includes extensive grammatical notes and footnotes. He deftly identifies difficulties in the text, providing a range of recognized options, and supports his leanings when appropriate.
Translation of Ruth
Introduction to Ruth
Commentary on Ruth (containing six chapters)
Appendix A: A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth
There are three sections in Ruth: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. The Translation is the author’s own. The Introduction includes an overview of Ruth, and discussion of authorship, dating, and genre. The Commentary section contains six chapters, (pp. 59 – 261), followed by Appendix A: A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth, and helpful indices of Scripture, subject, and authors. The table of Contents, however, does not provide pagination for the six chapters in the Commentary section, which makes navigating this extensive section a bit cumbersome.
In each chapter of Commentary on the text, Block walks the reader through each literary unit of Ruth with exegetical acuity, rich in intertextual and intercanonical associations, scholarly research, and comparative rabbinic readings, masterfully supporting his exegesis, interpretations, as well as providing a breadth of alternative views and understandings.
In the Commentary section, each of the six chapters addresses the following: (1) main idea of passage; (2) literary context; (3) translation and exegetical outline; (4) structure and literary form; (5) explanation of the text (focusing on literary units deemed most critical for hearing the message of the book); and (6) canonical and practical significance. Each new commentary in the series is anticipated to follow the same basic outline.
Translation of Ruth (23-28)
Block provides a modernistic translation, well grounded in the Hebrew text, using contemporary idioms and explanatory language. For example, Ruth 1:1a-b is translated “Now it happened, in the days when the chieftains governed, that famine stalked the land” (23), with detailed explanation for his translation in the Commentary Chapter 1 (61-63).
Introduction to Ruth (29-58)
Block begins with a brief overview, provenance, genre and authorial intent. He notes that outside of the Book of Ruth, her name is only mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5) (29), and of the three main characters, Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi, “Ruth speaks least often, and her speeches are the shortest.” (30) These observations contribute to Block’s thesis that the primary authorial intention of Ruth is to highlight king David as head of the nation’s royal line (38).
While rightly pointing out that the date and authorship are unknown, Block calls into calculated question century-old prevailing scholarship dating Ruth to the Persian period. Other potential provenance is provided. Block leans to a late seventh century redaction, during the reign of Josiah, in which the rise and preservation of the Davidic dynasty is celebrated, with Ruth as symbolic of the “universal scope of the Davidic covenant” (32-34).
The early recognition of Ruth’s canonical status is attested by its presence in the Babylonian Talmud, and at Qumran (four fragments) (46). Its placement within the canon, however, is rather fluid. Four different canonical positions of Ruth are described and explained. Block prefers the Alexandrian Greek and current Protestant placement of Ruth as the bridge between Joshua-Judges and 1 Samuel-2 Kings within the Deuteronomistic History, providing verbal and structural linkages between Judges, Ruth, and the books of 1-2 Samuel (38-40).
In the theological message of Ruth, Block discusses the portrayal of God, the portrayal of the people of God, and the messianic significance of Ruth. The providential hand of God is made apparent, both apparent and hidden, through different means throughout Ruth, even though direct reference to God’s leading is only stated in 1:6 and 4:13. Block suggests that the most significant theological statement in Ruth is spoken by Naomi, in response to Ruth’s first return from the field of Boaz: “May he be blessed by YHWH because he has not abandoned his lovingkindness (חֶסֶד) toward the living and the dead (2:20).” (50). The attention to YHWH as a covenant keeping God, along with the theme of blessing, distinguishes this Book, pointing also to both Ruth and Boaz as exemplars of noble character and valor (חַיִל), and Torah righteousness.
Block also points out the often noted “distinctively feminine perspective” present in every chapter in Ruth,” from conversations between women, to Boaz’ sensitivity to her well-being, and protective treatment of Ruth throughout, along with his recognition of her strength, and admirable character. (53) Block also makes connections between the text of Ruth and the deuteronomistic laws to highlight places multiple occurrences where Boaz was keeping “the underlying spirit of Torah” rather than just the letter of the law. (54-55). Ultimately he sees Ruth as a book on the royal lineage of David, with missiological significance of the mingling of Gentile righteousness by faith in YHWH along with Jewish faithfulness embodied together by Ruth and Boaz. (56-57)
Commentary on Ruth (59-261)
Ruth 1:1-5 (58-77)
Block begins with an introduction to Ruth as the historical and theological bridge between Judges and 1-2 Samuel, explaining how David could emerge from the moral “morass” of the pre-monarchic period, and accounting for “the Moabite blood in this king’s veins.” (59)
Ruth opens with “setting the stage for Naomi’s emptying (1:1-2),” providing the backdrop of a famine in Bethlehem, during the time of the Judges, with an initial list of characters, mournful events, and the yet unspoken threat of extinction to the messianic line. (59-60). The opening lines shows the intent of placing the narrative in a historical context, through identification of Naomi’s husband’s name, Elimelech, “the narrator has introduced the motif of kingship” (67). Ruth’s speech in 1:16-17 provides the climax of the first act. The key word in this unit is the ten-fold occurrence of שוב “to turn, return,” with the main idea being “the unlikely origins of Israel’s royal hope” (60). Block artfully identifies the narrator’s reversals of expectations, puns, and plays on words in the Hebrew. Block concludes the first unit with a rich intertextual and intercanonical reading to help reveal the implicit theological implications.
Ruth 1:6-22 (78-111)
Here, Block begins with “Act I: In the Land of Moab: The Emptying of Naomi, The Crisis for the Royal Line.” News of the end of the famine in Bethlehem prompts Naomi’s decision to return to her ancestral home, thereby beginning the journey toward the resolution of Naomi’s personal crisis, and the crisis for the messianic Davidic lineage. In the dialogues between Naomi and her daughters-in-law, Ruth emerges “as a character of extraordinary courage and nobility in her own right,” with Naomi’s initial acceptance of her as family (83).
Two significant observations in this chapter include Naomi’s encouragement to her daughters-in-law to return to “the house of your mother,” rather than the more usual “house of your father,” when viewed with the other limited occurrences of this phrase, may indicate encouragement to remarry. Secondly, Naomi introduces a key theological term in the book through her blessing upon her Moabite daughters-in-law (1:8), the important Hebrew word ḥesed: Yahweh’s covenant kindness, love, grace, and loyalty. The Job-like grief of Naomi further establishes the scene and prepares the reader for the eventual reversal by her bitter words in 1:13g, “’for the hand of YHWH has gone out against me!’… in Naomi’s mind the divine source of her troubles was clear. She was not merely a casualty of bad luck or misfortune, but the victim of HYWH’s violence,” and contra Hubbard, no faith for her own future is identified at this juncture of the narrative (90). Block also provides a profound definition of the Hebrew word “love” (אהב), even though the term does not occur until 4:15: “covenant commitment demonstrated in action in the interests of the other person” (95). The last verse by the narrator (v.22) both summarizes the major events of the first Act, and sets the stage for the next Act in Ruth.
Block concludes chapter 2 with helpful short reflections from Ruth 1 on “Human Decision and the Plan of God,” “A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Land,” “The Nature of True Love,” and “The Struggles of Faith and Unbelief.”
Ruth 2:1-23 (112-162)
Block begins “Act II: In the Field of Bethlehem: Ruth’s First Encounter with Boaz, The Ray of Hope for the Line,” with the chiastic structure of Ruth 2. In the literary core of 2:11-12, “Boaz’ praise and blessing of Ruth,” sets the stage for the “hope for the royal line” (113). The three units within Ruth 2 each include the main idea, an exegetical outline, and explanation of the text. The short essays on the canonical and practical significance that Block includes for this chapter are “The Nature of Divine Providence,” “The Ray of Hope for the Royal Line,” “The Nature of Covenant Righteousness,” and “A Biblical Theology of Work.”
Block takes notice of the answer to Naomi’s prayer in 1:8-9 for Ruth, and rhetorical nature of the dialog used to express the excitement between Naomi and Ruth upon her return from Boaz’ field with abundant provision of grain and hope for YHWH’s provision of a kinsman redeemer. Block helpfully provides substantial background, biblical and from ANE literature, and explanatory reference for understanding the kinsman redeemer and the levirate marriage in Ruth, as well as where the deuteronomistic law differs from the custom exhibited in Ruth (146-149).
Ruth 3:1-18 (163-195)
In “Act III: At the Threshing Floor: Ruth’s Second Encounter with Boaz, The Complication for the Line,” Block notes the passing of several weeks since Ruth’s first encounter with Boaz. In Ruth 3, Naomi’s engages Ruth in “a daring scheme” (163). Block divides this unit also into three scenes, beginning with Naomi and Ruth at home to set the stage for Ruth’s encounter with Boaz, to the field (threshing floor) where Ruth encounters Boaz, and back to their home where Naomi and Ruth discuss the significance of her encounter with Boaz.
Block describes scene 1 of this unit in which “since he (Boaz) was obviously not making a move, Naomi took it upon herself to overcome his inertia” (165). He cites support that threshing floors could be publically owned, or used for social events or administrative proceedings (169). Block handles the highly discussed passage to “uncover the place of his (Boaz) feet” at the threshing floor with a fair hand. He explains the rationale, both literarily, culturally, and with cross-reference, for the sexualized interpretation of the text, but returns with equal strength to refute this interpretation, along with notation of the context and carefully crafted character development of Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi leading up to this risky but critical moment in the narrative (171-172, 178-185). Unlike Lot, Boaz is not portrayed as being in a “drunken stupor,” but merely sleeping and awakened by shivering (חדר) and thereby shocked to find someone at his feet, entirely capable of engaging in intelligent conversation, and concerned for Ruth’s reputation and safety alone at night. Block insightfully comments on the conversation between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor. After identifying herself as his “maid,” “she immediately subverted this social order by lecturing Boaz on his obligations. Accepting the lecture, Boaz declared in effect that he was the servant of Ruth, the destitute Moabite widow!” identifying Ruth as a well-recognized “noble woman, woman of worth or woman of strength” (only Ruth 3:11; Prov 12:4; and Prov 31:10), and immediately that day got to work on endeavoring to fulfill her request for marriage (183).
Block closes this chapter with continuing from previous essays of canonical and practical significance on “The Nature of Divine Providence,” and “The Nature of Covenant Righteousness.”
Ruth 4:1-17 (196-249)
In “Act IV: In the Town of Bethlehem: The Filling of Naomi, The Resolution of the Crisis,” Block ties together the calamities and concerns of Naomi, culminating in a successful legal marriage agreement with the elders of the city, and blessing for the characters of Boaz and Ruth. This builds toward the genealogic culmination of the Davidic line. Block deliberates, but divides this unit into two scenes, providing lengthy commentary on the legal proceedings and conversations that transpire. In this Act, the root word “to redeem to perform one’s duties as a kinsman redeemer” predominates.
Block discusses at some length the understanding of the city gate and guardroom of a walled city and the legal proceedings that occurred in the drama. However, he does not interact with archaeological data regarding Bethlehem, but draws from Gezer and general archaeological finds pertaining to fortified cities in the region during the second millennium BC. Block details the exegesis and implications of the scene at the city gate between Boaz, and “Almoni Peloni,” through the final transfer of the latter’s sandal, thus securing Boaz as the kinsman redeemer of Elimelech’s property and Ruth as his wife.
The final short scene (Ruth 4:13-17) is the genealogical resolution of the story/crisis, and serves as the conclusion and climax of the story. (229). The genre is a “modified ‘birth narrative,’” like those used of Sarah and Isaac (Gen 18:9-15), and Hannah and Samuel (1 Sam 1:1-20), in that the barren woman bears a child of special importance to the nation, and that the Lord is recognized as working behind the scene (231). The son, Obed, is called the child of Naomi, as is the role of kinsman redeemer. This scene addresses Naomi’s prayer for Ruth in 1:9, that she would find security in her husband’s home. In 4:13, God is portrayed for the second time in Ruth “as an actor in the drama by granting Ruth conception, though as in 1:6, he acted behind the scenes.” (233), followed by the chorus of the city women, acknowledging the Lord’s provision for Naomi and Ruth.
Ruth 4:18-22 (250-261)
The conclusion of the Commentary section provides the genealogical history of Israel’s royal line, “tracing the line of Israel’s royal family from Perez to David… Boaz’ location as number seven in the list reflects his critical role in this lineage” (250). The linear genealogy is generally reserved in the ANE for royal lineage. This one includes ten names
Each of the six chapters in the Commentary section contains discussion on the Canonical and Practical Significance of the unit, such as, The Nature of Divine Providence (God is recognized as being at work behind the scenes); The Nature of Covenant Righteousness (involving concern for the well-being of others, and the “law” as adjusted to do just that); The Power of Blessing (with recognition of people acting as agents of God’s ḥesed); The Transformation of Ruth; and God’s Faithfulness to his Redemptive Promise.
Appendix A and End Matter
Block concludes his commentary with “A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth,” including recommendations for the stage set-up and cast of characters, each with their scripts laid out. Helpfully, he also includes a Scripture Index, and Author Index, along with the Subject Index.
Throughout the commentary, Block’s scholarship blends with his high view of Scripture, providing deep reflection into the literary skill, attention to Torah righteousness, authorial intent for establishing a godly Davidic lineage, messianic foreshadowing of the inclusion of Gentiles, sensitivity to the concerns of women and foreigners, and the embodiment of a woman of excellence in the royal line. Block excludes reference to source critical issues, and maintains a conservative stance on provenance and interpretation, while presenting the major scholarly opinions with an open hand.
Block succeeds in providing a commentary on Ruth that reflects his extensive scholarship, and his own literary skill, offering a thorough exegetical and analytical work without being pedantic, academic yet inspirational, and enjoyable to read. Block’s commentary would serve well as: 1) a textbook for a course on the exegesis of Ruth; 2) a companion reading for personal or pastoral study of the Book; and 3) reference for teaching or preaching the text. The Appendix with dramatic reading in parts for a cast of characters is a welcome bonus, perhaps to coincide with a church’s reading for a celebration of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks/Shavuot). Highly recommended.
Ingrid Faro is Assistant Director of the MDiv program and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible