Over the course of this summer, I’m leading a Bible study on Ruth with college students. SHIFT hasn’t historically done things over the summer, but since we were just stepping into being more involved, I wanted to do at least something during June and July.
For a variety of reasons, I thought Ruth would be a good book to study. First, it’s relatively short. Because of this, it’s also a story many people are already familiar with, making it easier to dig in a little deeper. Second, it’s a great place to start learning to see the Gospel in the Old Testament. The way Boaz acts models Christ in many tangible ways. Third, it’s particularly relevant in both sociological and political senses. I’ll elaborate on this more in the future, or you can use your imagination.
When doing a Bible study, I like to focus on helping students really see what’s there in the text. I also like to draw theological principles from the narrative that can then be used as starters for application. I’m also fond of digging into historical and cultural background in order to make the “weird” parts make more sense. Often, those parts end up being more important than you think. Ruth, as we’re about to find out in chapters 2 and 3, is no exception.
All in all, it’s the perfect test book for a two month summer study. It also helps that Ruth was the focal point for one of my Hebrew classes at Dallas. That gives me a bit of a head start in preparing each week as I could shoot from the hip and probably be fine. But, I like to do a little refreshing and the main way I’ve been doing that is with Daniel Block’s Ruth.
One of my favorite commentary series is the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. A few years back, they released a counterpart to it called Hearing the Message of Scripture. I posted about the inaugural volumes on Obadiah and Jonah respectively. They’ve since rebranded the series to complement the NT one and now it’s just called Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament.
This volume by Block is the first in the rebooted series. I like the layout of the commentaries because they mimic the exegetical method we were taught at Dallas. There is the added feature that these commentaries focus on discourse analysis.
Because you’re curious what that means, here is Block explaining the goal of the series:
The primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard. While we recognize the timelessness of the biblical message, the validity of our interpretation and the authority with which we teach the Scriptures are related directly to the extent to which we have grasped the message intended by the authors in the first place (9-10).
He then goes on to elaborate how this connects to discourse analysis:
Discourse analysis, also called macro syntax, studies the text beyond the level of the sentence (sentence syntax), where the paragraph serves as the basic unit of thought (10).
In this way the series differs a bit from its New Testament counterpart in focus on larger units for comment. The NT series lays out each verse in Greek and then comments verse by verse. This series goes discourse by discourse.
When it comes to the individual chapters of the book, the structure is similar. Each chapter of the commentary has these sections:
- The Main Idea of the Passage
- Literary Context
- Translation and Exegetical Outline
- Structure and Literary Form
- Explanation of the Text
- Canonical and Practical Significance
There is usually a select bibliography as well that begins the commentary (similar to NICOT). Particular to this volume, Block opens with a translation of Ruth as a whole and divides the book into Acts like a play. He also offers an outline for a dramatic reading of the book at the end.
In terms of the commentary itself, there is untransliterated Hebrew in the main body, but usually parenthetically. Readers untrained in the original languages can ignore these parentheticals, as well as most of the footnotes where the more technical discussion takes place (again, not unlike NICOT).
One potential downside is that it would be difficult to locate specific comments on a specific verse in this commentary. For what I’m using it for, it’s not a downside since I’m reading straight through sections at a time (I read everything on chapter 2 today for instance). But, if you had a quick question about a phrase or a word, it’s not as easy to locate Block’s comments on it as it would in a different series.
However, that’s why it is usually best to consult several commentators on a given book. I would normally do that, but I also happen to be doing some editing work on an on-line study Bible, and I read through the Ruth notes today for work and for Bible study prep (nice how that works out sometimes). I’m also going to consult another volume (the NICOT one, you probably know my second favorite series at this point) here as a I wrap up this post.
In the end, I would highly recommend not only studying the book of Ruth in more detail, but using this volume on Block as a companion to help you see how the story fits together. There is much more to Ruth than a casual reader in English would pick up. Using a tool like this will help you see with new eyes what’s been there all along.