John R. Wilch Concordia Publishing House 2006-11-01

Wilch, professor emeritus at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catherine’s, Ontario), has produced an impressive exegetical commentary on the Book of Ruth. The series is designed to “assist pastors, missionaries, and teachers of the Scriptures to convey God’s Word with greater clarity, understanding, and faithfulness to the divine intent of the text.” Like the other volumes in this series, Wilch’s work reflects a high view of Scripture, a commitment to thorough research and sound exegesis, and a Christotelic hermeneutic. Though a Christotelic approach can fall prey to allegorizing, Wilch has avoided such excess. As the series subtitle suggests, the commentary is not restricted to determining what the text meant in its original context. The approach is canonical and theological in its orientation, utilizing the principles of analogy of faith and analogy of Scripture within the framework of the Lutheran tradition.

Each major literary unit includes the author’s translation accompanied by extensive, thorough textual notes that deal with morphological, syntactical, lexical, and text-critical issues. Hebrew is used liberally throughout these notes. The commentary proper follows, offering detailed exegetical comments on the text arranged in a verse-by-verse manner. Those trained in the biblical languages will find the textual notes useful. The commentary proper is very readable. It serves as an exegetical reference work and also provides insights with respect to literary synthesis and theology. Consequently pastors should find it a helpful tool in sermon preparation.

The lengthy introduction is worth reading. Wilch discusses the nature of the story, its setting (he dates the book to the period of the monarchy), the text, and the book’s purpose, motifs, theology, and relevance. Emphasizing the genealogy, which appears at the end of the story, Wilch argues that the book’s primary purpose is “to demonstrate how David and his house had already been preordained by God for the high honor of royalty in Israel” (p. 29). Within the framework of the book’s Christotelic dimension, Wilch detects the following theological themes: providence, faith, human agency, sacrifice, substitution, redemption, suffering, cross-cultural witness. In discussing the book’s relevance, he addresses the themes of crisis, fidelity, prayer, love, service, righteousness, sexuality, the Law’s spirit, fulfillment, and even evangelism.

Commentators disagree over how to interpret the tragic deaths of Elimelech and his sons. Some see divine judgment here, but there is not enough evidence in the immediate context or in the broader context of the Old Testament to sustain that view. On the contrary it would seem that their deaths, like the famine and their move to Moab, are incidental details that set the stage for the story to follow, rather than main themes that should drive one’s interpretation of the story. In this regard Wilch correctly states regarding 1:5, “Again, no judgment is expressed, so it would be presumptuous to claim that their early deaths were punishment from God” (p. 127).

Interpreters disagree over the antecedent of the relative pronoun in 2:20 (“May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead”). Do “who” and “his” refer to Boaz or the Lord? One might think the Lord is the antecedent since the pronoun immediately follows His name. However, linguistic analysis of the collocation used by Naomi reveals the antecedent is Boaz, not the Lord (see Basil Rebera, “Yahweh or Boaz? Ruth 2.20 Reconsidered,” Bible Translator 36 [1985]: 317–27). Unfortunately Wilch, like many other commentators, opts for the alternative view that the Lord is the antecedent (pp. 235, 240–41).