Written by an experienced preacher, this commentary traces the stories of figures such as Gideon, Samson, and Naomi and Ruth, highlighting God’s redeeming love in the midst of rebellion and disobedience.
About the Author
Barry G. Webb (PhD, University of Sheffield) is the senior research fellow emeritus in Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and books and his work has been published in eight different languages. Barry and his wife live in Australia and have three daughters and five grandchildren.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
After Joshua: The Legacy of a Great Leader
THERE ARE MOMENTS in the lives of people and nations that change everything. The birth of a first child is like that — his or her parents' lives are changed forever. So is the death of one's last surviving parent, the passing of a generation. We call such things boundary events because they are moments of irreversible transition. In the life of a nation it may be the passing of a great leader or the achievement of independence. Sometimes transitions to a new situation are traumatic and fill us with foreboding. The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the year I was born, was an event like this. No longer could nations look to merely conventional weapons to protect them. A change had taken place that was irreversible, and those who understood this and had the means to do so began to arm themselves with new weapons. We had entered the nuclear age. The Second World War was ending, but another had already begun, and there was no going back. Those born after August 6, 1945, were born into a world that was radically changed from the one their parents had known.
The book of Judges opens with a boundary event of this kind. Joshua has died. An era of progress and confidence has ended, and the future is uncertain. Joshua was not just anyone. He had been a man of tremendous importance for Israel. By his personal example of courage, faith in God, and military leadership, he had brought Israel into its promised inheritance in Canaan. He was not perfect, but he was unquestionably great — the greatest man of his generation — and Israel would feel the loss of him keenly. As its name suggests, the book of Joshua is dominated by Joshua from beginningto end. It begins with the death of Moses, Joshua's mentor, an even more towering figure than Joshua himself. That, too, was a mammoth boundary event. But by the time Moses died Joshua was already in place to take Israel forward. Moses had personally commissioned him. Deuteronomy 34:9 tells us that "Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him." So after Moses there was Joshua. But after Joshua there was no one in particular. There was a leadership vacuum, and Israel was in crisis.
The crisis was mitigated to some extent by Joshua's legacy — the imprint he left on Israel. Great people exert a powerful influence on others, an influence that often outlives them. But even great people have flaws, and their legacy can sometimes be more harmful than good. That was the case with Solomon, for example, whose failures in the latter part of this reign left Israel compromised and divided (1 Kings 11, 12). Joshua's legacy, on the other hand, was positive: "the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua" (2:7). Joshua had been the greatest man of his generation, and those who knew him aspired to be like him. Even after his death they followed his example of godly living. Several things in 1:1–21 show the impact his life had made.
Unity (v. 1)
We have all witnessed the sad spectacle of divided families. Thoughtless words have been said or selfish actions taken. People have been hurt and found it hard to forgive. Strong people have gotten their way at the expense of weaker ones. Quarrels over money, especially disputed wills, have split families into warring factions that have led to stalemate rather than settlement. Bitterness has set in, and blighted relationships, and the damage done to the family can last for generations. The same thing sometimes happens in nations. Leaders maintain their hold on power by playing factions against one another, resulting in an appearance of unity without any real concord. When they finally die or fall from power, open warfare ensues as competing factions struggle for supremacy in the vacuum left behind. For all they may have achieved militarily, economically, and so on, their legacy is disaster — a nation divided against itself. Not so with Joshua. After his death what we find is not this or that faction vying for supremacy, but the Israelites acting as one: "the people of Israel inquired of the LORD" (v. 1). Joshua was the kind of leader who drew people together rather than setting them against one another, and that is a mark of true greatness.
People Who Seek God (v. 1)
A leader has to lead, and to do that he must stand out in some way from others. He must exercise authority and have that authority respected. But Joshua had never claimed to have absolute power or focused attention on himself as though he was Israel's supreme leader or as if they would be lost without him. He had always directed his followers to the Lord as the one to whom all alike were accountable, including himself. This was something that had been impressed on him by his predecessor Moses (Deuteronomy 31:1–8, 23) and powerfully reinforced by his own encounter with God, the true "commander of the army of the LORD," in Joshua 5:13–15. So although Joshua left a huge gap when he died, the Israelites knew they were not leaderless. They "inquired of the LORD," seeking direction from him as their supreme commander. They knew they were his people, his army. Joshua had never eclipsed God in their vision, and it is a central part of his legacy that they continued to look to God as their leader after Joshua himself was no longer with them.
It's not clear how the inquiry was made. Perhaps it was through a priest, using oracular stones (the Urim and Thummim) as in 20:27, 28. According to Numbers 27:18–21 this is how Joshua had been given instructions about Israel's movements in the wilderness. But the nature of the response here (a whole complex sentence rather than a simple yes or no) suggests that in this case something more was involved than the use of the Urim and Thummim — most likely the delivery of a spoken oracle by the priest himself or (as elsewhere in Judges) a prophet or the mysterious "messenger of the LORD." We're simply not told. What is significant is not how the inquiry was made, but the attitude it reveals. The Israelites inquired of the Lord because they recognized him as their supreme leader, as Joshua had done, and believed he had not abandoned them now that Joshua was gone. This, too, shows the powerful impact Joshua had made on their lives. We will return later to the significant response to Israel's inquiry in verse 2.
People Who Know They Need One Another and Work Together (vv. 3–21)
This is another aspect of the national unity that was part of Joshua's legacy. Joshua had never been an autocrat. He believed in teamwork. He was a man who knew how to delegate responsibility and work cooperatively withothers and had modeled this in his leadership. Again and again in the book of Joshua we see him exercising leadership along with Eleazar the priest, the elders, and heads of families and tribes. The phrase "he and the elders of Israel" is particularly revealing about the way Joshua had shared his leadership with these key men. He had mourned with them when Israel suffered a heavy defeat at Ai (Joshua 7:6) and literally walked with them "before the people" as they went up to Ai a second time (Joshua 8:10). It was a great and courageous example of team leadership that put humility, trust, and cooperation before self-seeking, personal status, and competitiveness. These were the men who would eventually have to shoulder the responsibility of leading in their own right, and the book of Judges indicates just how profoundly their understanding of what that entailed was shaped by Joshua's example: "And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua" (2:7). Furthermore, as we are about to see, Joshua's example of noncompetitive, cooperative leadership impacted not only the elders of Israel but the whole nation.
In the time of the judges the major people groups that made up Israel were the twelve tribes, named after their ancestors, the twelve sons of Jacob. This gave the people of each tribe an identity more specific than simply "Israelites." This was a good thing in itself, because people need to feel they belong to something smaller and more strongly kinship-based than a nation. In the modern world this is expressed (among other ways) in the need many feel to do genealogical research and produce a family tree that shows their connectedness to others sharing the same forebears. But there are dangers when the desire for a distinct identity goes too far. Kinship connectedness can descend into a kind of tribalism that threatens the unity of the larger community to which the tribes belong. It can set tribe against tribe in a way that leads to rivalry and the kind of fierce competitiveness that destabilizes nations and can ultimately destroy them. This very nearly happened in the period of the judges, as the closing chapters of the book show. In the period immediately following Joshua's death, however, and no doubt due to his influence, relationships between the tribes were marked by cooperation rather than rivalry.
Joshua had led Israel in a series of military campaigns that broke the back of Canaanite resistance and then divided up the land by lot, giving each tribe a specific part of Canaan as its inheritance in the land the Lord had given them (Joshua 1:10 — 12:24; 13:1–51). But in his farewell speech he had made it clear that much remained to be done. Canaanites still lived in the allocated territories, and each tribe faced the challenge of taking possession of what had been assigned to it and establishing its presence there. This would not be easy, and some territories would be harder to occupy than others, especially those with large Canaanite populations and fortified cities. Nor were all the tribes equally capable of such an undertaking. Some were larger than others, with more manpower and resources. If Israel as a whole was to accomplish the task Joshua had left them, they would have to work together, which is exactly what we see them doing in the first half of Judges 1.
In response to Israel's inquiry in verse 1, Judah is named as the tribe that should go first (v. 2). But the men of Judah do not launch out on their own. On the contrary, the very first thing they do is to ask the men of Simeon, their "brother" Israelites, to go with them and help them fight the Canaanites in their territory, and they offer to help the Simeonites do the same in theirs, an offer the Simeonites readily agree to (v. 3). This is referred to again in verse 17, and these two verses frame everything in between. In other words, the cooperation between these two tribes was basic to the whole series of campaigns fought by Judah and its fellow Israelites in the southern part of Canaan (vv. 9–17). The smaller tribes and clans, such as the Kenites and Benjaminites (vv. 16, 21), had the most to gain from this kind of partnership, but so did Judah, and ultimately all Israel, because it set a pattern that made the nation stronger whenever and wherever it was repeated. The way ahead was going to be difficult and would put the unity of Israel under severe strain. But the fact that they started this way was a good sign and another indication of the powerful influence that Joshua had had on the nation.
The Blessing of God
Joshua's legacy was good, but it was not the fundamental cause of the success enjoyed by the men of Judah and those associated with them. That lay in God, not in them, just as Joshua's own achievements were not in the end attributable to Joshua himself but to the God he served. That was certainly how Joshua had seen things at the end of his long life: "And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed" (Joshua 23:14). God had been faithful; he had made promises to his people and had kept them. The same is true for the good things that happen after Joshua's death here in Judges 1. God promised victory to Judah (v. 2), and he was true to his word: he "gave" the Canaanites into the hand of Judah and Simeon (v. 4), and the Lord was "with Judah" (v. 19). God doesn't send people into battle without being with them. He blesses those he sends with his presence and help. The real reason the men of Judah were successful was not their good strategy or military might, or even their unity and cooperative leadership, but the evident blessing of God upon them in fulfillment of his promise.
Two mini-narratives embedded in the passage show us this blessing of God at closer range. Like a good camera man, the author doesn't just sweep across the scene of Judah's battles to show the general direction and shape of things. He also zooms in at a couple of points to give us a closer look at two representative examples of what was happening. The first scene we are shown at close range is military (vv. 4–7); the second is domestic (vv. 11–15).
Victory (vv. 4–7)
The first joint operation of the men of Judah and the men of Simeon was at Bezek, near Jerusalem. It was an ambitious campaign that penetrated enemy territory in the high country at the center of Canaan and resulted in a massive victory (v. 4). But the battle itself is reported in only one verse and is clearly not what the writer most wants us to dwell on. His main interest lies elsewhere. He quickly narrows the focus to one man, Adoni-bezek (the "lord" or "ruler" of Bezek), and shows us the kind of man he was and the fate he suffered (vv. 5–7). It is a gruesome passage, but what it's about is not revenge. Israel had not suffered at the hands of this man. Others had, though, and now God brings terrible, just retribution on him for what he has done (v. 7). Among other things, this mini-narrative shows us that much more is going on than God's giving the land to Israel. He is also judging the Canaanites, especially their rulers, for their evil lifestyle. The men of Judah and Simeon are his agents in this case, but it is fundamentally God's doing. It is God who gives this tyrant into their hands, and what they do to him is God's judgment on him (v. 4). This is the negative, flip side of God's blessing on his people; they share in his judging of the world. It is a high honor that all his people are destined one day to share (1 Corinthians 6:2).
But as Christians who now stand on the other side of the cross, what are we to make of the form that God's justice took in this particular case (v. 6), especially in view of Jesus' command to love our enemies and do them good, not harm (Luke 6:27)? We have already noted that it is not revenge. But what more can be said? Positively, it is a case of the principle of justice enshrined in the Law of Moses: "If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him" (Leviticus 24:19, 20). The responsibility to dispense justice of this kind lay with duly appointed judges (Exodus 21:22), not private individuals, and limited punishment to what was fair: the offender got no more and no less than he deserved. Given the extreme brevity of the account, it's not clear whether or not there was any judicial process involved in Adoni-bezek's case; probably not. That is the nature of warfare; it delivers summary justice in situations where the normal processes of justice have broken down. But that does not make the punishment meted out to Adoni-bezek unjust. In view of the sheer volume of suffering he had inflicted (by his own admission he had mutilated seventy) he was actually treated rather leniently!
Finally, we should note that though Jesus forbade personal revenge, he upheld the principle of just retribution and the right and responsibility of judges to administer it (Matthew 7:2; 5:25, 26). We may be glad that in the gospel age in which we live the administration of justice is the role of the state rather than of the church (Romans 13:1–4) and that, on the whole, wrongdoers are dealt with less severely than Adoni-bezek was. But this passage stands as a reminder that cruel tyrants are not all- powerful. Unless they repent, God will call them to account, and his people will share in his victory over them.
Marriage (vv. 11–15)
The blessing of God is more immediately apparent in this second scene. It features not a cruel tyrant who gets his just deserts but a young man who is richly rewarded for his bravery. Othniel distinguishes himself in battle at Kiriath-sepher and wins the hand of Achsah, Caleb's daughter, as his wife. And what a prize she is! Caleb had been a close associate of Joshua. They were among the twelve men chosen to spy out Canaan in preparation for the conquest, and the only two of their generation who were promised that they would enter it because of the faith they had shown in God's promises (Numbers 13:6; 14:6, 30). Caleb in particular had been commended by God as one who had "a different spirit" and fully followed the Lord (Numbers 14:24). So Achsah had a rich heritage, which she brought with her when she became Othniel's bride.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Judges and Ruth"
Copyright © 2015 Barry G. Webb.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 11
1 After Joshua: The Legacy of a Great Leader (1:1-21) 19
2 Judgment Day: What Went Wrong? (1:22-2:5) 29
3 Losing Our Children: "Another Generation… Who Did Not Know the Lord" (2:6-15) 39
4 The Program (2:16-3:6) 51
5 Othniel: A Model Savior (3:7-11) 65
6 Ehud: Holy Laughter (3:12-30) 75
7 Shamgar: The Man from Nowhere (3:31) 87
8 Barak: Captain Lightning (4:1-24) 93
9 Singing (5:1-31, First Reflection) 103
10 Mothers (5:1-31, Second Reflection) 113
11 Mavericks (5:1-31, Third Reflection) 123
12 Gideon: The Making of a Leader (6:1-8:3) 133
13 Gideon: Self-Destruction (8:4-35) 149
14 Abimelech: The Son from Hell (8:29-9:57) 157
15 First Interlude: Tola and Jair (10:1-5) 171
16 Jephthah: The Negotiator (10:6-12:7) 177
17 Second Interlude: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15) 191
18 Samson: The Savior No One Asked For (13:1-25) 201
19 Samson: Saint and Sinner (14:1-16:31) 209
20 Religious Chaos: Micah and His Idols (17:1-18:31) 217
21 Moral Chaos: The Levite and His Concubine (19:1-21:25) 227
22 Emptiness: Going Away and Coming Back (1:1-22) 247
23 Seeking: The Kindness of God (2:1-23) 255
24 Finding: The Promise of Rest (3:1-18) 263
25 Fullness: Four Redeemers (4:1-22) 271
Scripture Index 289
General Index 299
Index of Sermon Illustrations 302
What People are Saying About This
“I have been instructed and often moved by these scholarly and pastorally perceptive expositions. Barry Webb opens up the texts carefully and accessibly, and does so with the sensitivity of an experienced pastor. Such pastoral scholarship is powerful and edifying.”
Christopher Ash, Former Director of the PT Cornhill Training Course, The Proclamation Trust; Writer in Residence, Tyndale House; author, The Priority of Preaching
“Expository preaching involves much more than defining Hebrew and Greek words, or cool and collected explanations of obscure issues raised by biblical texts. It involves grasping both the theological message of the Scriptures and letting that message grasp us who preach week in and week out. Barry Webb is not only the finest interpreter of the book of Judges; he is also the book’s finest expositor. His presentation of the principle enduring theological points of each literary unit in Judges and Ruth is clear, practical, and passionate. This book is a great gift first to preachers, but ultimately to God’s people who will hear from them the living and life-giving Word of the Lord from these books.”
Daniel I. Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College
“These are insightful, stimulating, often challenging expositions from the pen of a great exegete and preacher.”
James Hely Hutchinson, Director, Institut Biblique Belge, Brussels
“In his homiletical commentary, Professor Webb’s sermons lead us through the chaotic waters of Judges until we arrive at the end of Ruth where the storm finally settles with the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. In this exegetically accurate, highly engaging, and masterfully accessible commentary, a seasoned scholar with a pastor’s heart captains us to the only surety of our soulsthe great redeemer, Jesus Christ.”
Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Senior Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Illinois; author, Matthew and The Song of Solomon (Preaching the Word)
“Barry Webb has a special skill for a comprehensive interpretation of Scripture: solid exegetical scholarship is combined with deep theological insights and relevant pastoral wisdom applied to our present day situation. The narrative style of the commentary makes it easy to read. Webb’s prudent work clarifies in an astonishing manner the theological meaning of Judges and Ruth as a part of the entire Biblical canon testifying to God’s work of creation and redemption, to his sovereign grace and faithfulness. This is Biblical theology at its best and very helpful for preachers and all believers.”
Miikka Ruokanen, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Helsinki; Guest Professor, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and Fudan University, Shanghai
“What happens when a society turns its back on God? Judges and Ruth opens up the era of Israel’s judges in a way that resonates in so many ways with the social, religious, and moral crises of our own age. This is a book worth recommending to anyone interested in leadership. Many commentaries are good for reference, but difficult to read. Barry Webb has given us one that you will find difficult to put down. Making Christian sense of Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and the rest of the Judges and bringing them alive so that they “still speak” is a task beautifully executed by one who looks back over a life-time of study of the Bible, experience of life, and observation of the world. It is a seamless blend of scholarship, devotion, life-wisdom, and understanding of modern society.”
David Seccombe, Former Principal, George Whitefield College, Capetown
“In this careful reading of the text within the immediate context of Judges and Ruth, the wider Old Testament message, and ultimately the whole story of the Bible, Barry Webb gives us what we need most from a commentarya gospel driven encouragement to love and serve our Lord more deeply.”
Peter Sholl, Director, MOCLAM, Monterrey, Mexico
“Barry Webb’s teaching and preaching have been a gift to the churches. Barry preaches the Word with a gentle clarity that shows he deeply understands both the text and the people to whom he is preaching. This expository commentary on Judges and Ruth bears all the hallmarks of Barry’s scholarship and much-loved preaching. Those preparing to preach on these two wonderful books will benefit greatly from Barry’s expositions as well as all who read them. This is the kind of preaching that nourishes faith as we advance in the knowledge of God and of the Savior he has provided.”
Mark D. Thompson, Principal, Moore Theological College