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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 64, 2016

DANIEL I. BLOCK, Ruth (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015). Pp. 304. Hardback. US$32.99.

In his scholarly study, Daniel Block describes the book of Ruth as “one of the most delightful pieces ever produced” (40). Helpfully placing his thoughtful translation of the Hebrew text at the beginning of his work, he reads Ruth as a drama of four acts and a genealogical postlude, and provides a script for dramatic reading. The book of Ruth fills the historical and theological gap between the books of Judges and Samuel, explains David’s emergence as king and presents a positive interpretation of his Moabite ancestry. Block appropriately grounds Ruth within both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, identifying many allusions to their characters, laws, values and themes. Block praises the work ethos of Ruth and Boaz. Having arrived in Bethlehem destitute, Ruth works long and hard gleaning in Boaz’ field to provide for Naomi and herself (2:2–7, 17–18; cf. the industrious woman in Prov 31). As a manager, Boaz provides a workplace of reverence for God and respect for the workers. He and his harvesters greet each other with a blessing (2:4), and he provides them with water and food (vv. 9, 14). Leading by example, he winnows with the harvesters and sleeps at the threshing floor (3:2–4, 14). Though and/or because she is an alien, he treats Ruth with sensitivity, kindness and generosity; welcoming, protecting and feeding her (vv. 8–9, 15). As a paradigm for godly leadership, Boaz provides a secure environment and produces the earliest recorded workplace anti-sexual harassment policy (159).

In Chapter 3 Naomi hatches a daring but risky scheme to seek well-being for herself and Ruth. Following Naomi’s directions, Ruth prepares for her midnight encounter with Boaz. Acknowledging the use of several words with double meanings (galah ‘uncover/uncover nakedness’; shekav ‘sleep/lie with’; margelotyv, from regel ‘feet/genitals’; vv. 4, 7–8), Block rejects an overtly sexual interpretation of the scene. Though Naomi had instructed Ruth to act upon Boaz’ instructions (v. 5); ironically, Boaz promises to do everything Ruth asks of him (v. 11). Bloch interprets her request as marriage (v. 9). Rather than treating Ruth as a Moabite prostitute, Boaz praises her as a noble woman (hayil v. 11; cf. Prov 31:10). He thoughtfully sends a gift of grain for Naomi as a token of his determination to gain the right to Ruth (vv. 14–17). In the morally suspect and practically dangerous scene, Boaz did not reject or dismiss Ruth, and did not take advantage of her sexual vulnerability. Instead, he showed her respect and generosity (Deut 14:29; 16:10–17; 24:19–22; 26:11–13; 27:19), thus enacting hesed.

In Chapter 4 the scene shifts to the world of men at the city gate. The dialogue between Boaz and Peloni Almoni (a word play designating an unidentified closer kinsman-redeemer, vv. 3–8) deals with issues of the redemption of Elimelech’s estate through the law of gō’ēl (Lev 25:23–28) and the preservation of his lineage through a Levirate-type marriage (Deut 25:5–10). Block undertakes detailed discussions on these traditions, as well as Naomi’s entitlement to and intention for the land (and Ruth’s relationship to it). He concludes that Boaz’s primary concern was Ruth’s well-being, Peloni Almoni’s was the ownership of the land and the narrator’s was the preservation of Elimelech’s (and David’s) line.

In a positive reading of their characters, Block argues that Naomi, Ruth and Boaz all exhibit goodness, righteousness and loyalty. Naomi is a destitute widow who is deeply wounded by her calamities yet still has faith in YHWH (1:13, 20–21). Her concern is for Ruth’s well-being and an heir for Elimelech (3:1). Her lost family is restored through Ruth’s devotion and the birth of Obed, her redeemer (4:14–15). Boaz is “a prominent man of noble character” (hayil 2:1) who acts as ‘the wings of God’ in offering refuge to the poor and marginalized (2:12). Ironically the covenantal quality of ?esed is attributed only to Ruth the Moabitess who is integrated into the people of God and becomes an ancestor of the royal and Messianic line (Matt 1:3–6). In leaving her birth land, declaring her faith in YHWH and committing herself to Naomi, she is compared to Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs (1:16–17; 4:11). She contributes positively to King David’s line and provides a universal element to Jesus’ identity (Luke 1:26–38). In his refreshingly hopeful reading of the text Block notes that the inclusion of Ruth in God’s covenant family and salvation plan demonstrates that divine grace and hesed are available to us all (261).

Review by
Whitley College, University of Divinity