The Hebrew canon divides scripture into three categories: Law, Prophets and Writings. In this arrangement, Joshua heads “The Prophets,” with Judges following second, while Ruth is placed in “The Writings.” In the Christian canon, however, Joshua, Judges and Ruth follow sequentially, continuing the linear narrative that begins in Genesis and extends through Esther. Although written by different authors at different times, Joshua, Judges and Ruth function together, continuing the on-going story. From this perspective, Joshua and Judges fit seamlessly together, while Ruth is a recapitulation to the “time when the Judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1).
The book of Joshua received its name from its principle character, and the Talmud tells us that “Joshua wrote his own book,” although Talmudic tradition suggests that Eleazar, Aaron’s son, recorded the death of Joshua in the book’s final chapter, and Phinehas, Eleazar’s son, recorded the death of his father. During medieval times, the Jewish scholar, Abrabanel, proposed that Samuel wrote Joshua, believing that the recurring expression “until this day” indicates a considerable lapse of time between the events in the story and its writing.
Judges draws its name from the fact that several of its main characters are said to have “judged” Israel, although the Hebrew verb (sopetim) has a much wider semantic range than the strictly judicial function of modern times. Better translated “ruler” or “leader” than “judge,” the thirteen judges in our narrative lead Israel during times of national crisis. The Talmud identifies Samuel as the author of Judges, although one could certainly argue that Judges is an anthology of several separate stories, compiled at a later time.
Like Joshua, Ruth draws its title from its principle character, and the Talmud attributes authorship to Samuel. Modern scholarship, of course, takes issue with the traditional authorship, but there is little compelling evidence supporting anyone else.
Joshua, Judges and Ruth take us into a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. After four hundred years of slavery, the Exodus and a grueling forty years in the wilderness, a new generation, born into and hardened by the wilderness experience, is poised to invade and conquer the Promised Land. The job requires strict obedience to God’s command and a ruthless determination to follow God’s lead. In Joshua, the Israelites begin the conquest at Jericho, totally destroying everything and everyone in the city, and they spread the invasion into the central mountain range, and then to the north, south and coastal plain. By the end of the book, the land is subdued and allocated to its new inhabitants. Joshua is a book of conquest.
Judges is a book of settlement. At this point in our story, Israel is no more than a loose confederation of twelve tribes, each living life in rather isolated tribal territories bounded by mountains, rivers and valleys, having little to do with one another. When outside forces threaten, the tribes coalesce and a leader—or judge—emerges to fight off the threat. Once it is subdued, the tribes revert back to a loose confederation. All the while, however, as one generation succeeds another, the leaders become weaker and the people more corrupt, until the final, terrible story of the Levite from the hill country of Ephraim and his concubine triggers the slaughter—and near-extermination—of the entire tribe of Benjamin by their brother Israelites. Indeed, “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.” In a time of political, economic and religious chaos, the Israelites have become worse that the people who were in the land to begin with, and as readers we can only ask: “What happened to the theme of redemption introduced in Genesis 12?”
Ruth answers the question. Back “in the days when the judges ruled,” there was Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. In sharp contrast to Joshua and Judges, Ruth presents the greatest love story in the Scripture, the love between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, and the love between Ruth and her suitor, Boaz. When we leave the book of Judges and look back over our shoulder, we see a charred, smoking and bloody landscape, reeking of death and destruction. But if we look closely, we see a flash of light in the muck, the sparkle of a diamond in the mire: Ruth. Only four chapters long, Ruth moves us from the dark days of the judges to the bright light of a new dawn. For the great love story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz leads us to the birth of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of king David. At the end of Ruth we are on the cusp, poised between chaos and Camelot.
Lesson #1: “Be strong and courageous . . .” (Joshua 1: 1 – 2: 24)
Lesson #2: Crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 3: 1 – 5: 12)
Lesson #3: “And the walls came tumblin’ down . . .” (Joshua 5: 13 – 6: 27)
Lesson #4: Trouble at Ai (Joshua 7: 1 – 8: 35)
Lesson #5: The Sun Stands Still (Joshua 9: 1 – 10: 43)
Lesson #6: Conquest and Settlement (Joshua 11: 1 – 22: 34)
Lesson #7: Joshua’s Farewell (Joshua 23: 1 – 24: 33)
Lesson #8: Calamitous Compromise (Judges 1: 1 – 3: 5)
Lesson #9: The Judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah (Judges 3: 7 – 5: 31)
Lesson #10: The Judges: Gideon (Judges 6: 1 – 8: 35)
Lesson #11: The Judges: Abimelech (Judges 9: 1-56)
Lesson #12: The Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah (Judges 10: 1 – 12: 7)
Lesson #13: The Judges: Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson (Judges 12: 8 – 16: 31)
Lesson #14: Micah’s Idols (Judges 17: 1 – 18: 31)
Lesson #15: A Levite and His Concubine (Judges 19: 1-30)
Lesson #16: Israel Attacks Benjamin (20: 1 – 21: 25)
Lesson #17: Ruth: A Love Story
Effective as of February 10, 2017
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