The Book of Judges: NICOT (Review)

Published: RTR 72, no. 1, 2013

The Book of Judges

Barry G. Webb, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8028-2628-2. xx + 555 pages. US$50

One need only say that this commentary is everything that would be expected of a new addition to the NICOT commentary series: readable, well-researched and reliable. The focus is literary, yet without working in a historical vacuum. Webb decries the historical minimalism of those who take the new literary approaches. The early date for the exodus is accepted, although Webb believes that ‘nothing of great importance hangs on it for the exegesis of Judges’ (p. 12). For a reconstruction of the history of the Judges’ period, Webb relies heavily upon Provan, Long and Longman, History of Israel. He also decides to retain ’elep as ‘thousand’, rather than having it refer to a military unit of approximately 11 men (pp. 71-74).

Detailed discussion is had of critical approaches to the book’s pre-history, and of recent scholarship on the book. In contrast, the section on the book’s theological contribution is abrupt, leaving the unintended impression that evangelical OT scholarship is still restrained by the critical agenda. What is said, though, is well put: the main teaching point of Judges is said to be ‘the truth that Yahweh’s relationship with Israel has never been based upon Israel’s desert, but on Yahweh’s electing love’ (p. 54). 

Webb is sensitive to literary strategy, and provides numerous charts of textual structures. A series of excursus deal with more difficult issues (but not on the contemporary implication of Deborah being a judge). In an excursus on the vow of Jephthah, Webb demonstrates that the text portrays Jephthah as wrong to make the vow. The vow is an attempt to bribe God (p. 336). Alternative views of Jephthah’s daughter’s plight are referenced in a footnote but not discussed (p. 333).

On the refrain that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, Webb aligns this with the earlier refrain (in chs 3-16), that Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. The text moves from the sins of Israel (chs 3-16) to the sins of individuals and smaller communities within Israel (17-21), through the figure of Samson (13-16), who is a symbol of Israel, and about whose eyes the text has much to say.