Schwab, George. Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel according to Judges.
The book of Judges is a sordid tale of what it looks like when “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Some of the more famous Old Testament stories and “heroes” are found within its pages, men such as Gideon and Samson. A closer look shows these men as deeply flawed, wretchedly wicked; yet, despite all this, God’s plan and purposes prevail through them nonetheless.
I learned a lot from this book, particularly in the way that Schwab focused each chapter. The book of Judges, he writes, is stylized history, not a simple chronological account. He writes, “The text wants to be read as factual history, unlike how some critics regard it. But it has nonhistorical features, contra a literalistic approach…The reader should let it be what it is–essentially a theological argument using patterned history as illustration” (19). The book is a political tract used to campaign for David’s kingship, and was also likely used by Josiah in his reforms, as well as teaching and consoling the exiles in Babylon. Judges is also an application of the sermons in Deuteronomy. Schwab shows how each passage functions in each of these roles.
One small thing that I appreciated about this book is how often Schwab simply asks interpretive questions. I laugh at how one commentary will assert an interpretation, while another will assert a different interpretation–both saying the other is wrong. Schwab will offer his interpretations, but also offer suggestions or possibilities as questions and leave them as such. For me, it’s quite winsome, because it shows humility at what can’t be known, but also honors the reader with more food for thought. For example, when discussing the selection of Gideon’s 300:
The second testing was in how the men drank at the stream. One group “lapped” and the other “knelt.” Whoever exhibited doglike lapping behavior (actually using hands rather than tongues) was kept. Kneelers were sent home. So the battle would be between canine and locustlike men. Is it a coincidence that Caleb means “dog”? Is this a tacit way of saying that those who resemble Judah’s hero are God’s elect? (105).
Another interesting feature of the book is how Schwab helps the reader understand why Hebrews 11 includes men from Judges. Judges is brutally honest about how weak or wretched Samson, Gideon, Barak, and Jephthah are, and yet Hebrews holds them up as paragons of faith. Judges shows us what Spirit-empowered men are capable of, in spite of their sinfulness, all for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
The Gospel according to the Old Testament series is one of my favorites, and this volume doesn’t disappoint.