Ruth is a hugely popular book of the Bible for preachers/pastors to preach through. It is a short, compelling and at times very practical book. If you haven’t preached through Ruth, I assure you that you will at some point. However, there is a rich, theological depth to this book which may be easily overlooked if you don’t have the right people pointing you in the right direction! Here are my top five picks for the preacher’s library.
This is a huge commentary, but don’t let that put you of. Block is an excellent, evangelical Old Testament scholar. While he is perhaps better known for his work on Deuteronomy, this commentary is the ‘must-have’ on Ruth (and Judges for that matter). His examination of the text leaves no stone unturned and no debate avoided, yet it is written in a winsome and readable manner. In addition to the impressive scholarly work undertaken there is clear, pertinent application found scattered throughout. If you can only consult one commentary on the book of Ruth make it this one.
The NIVAC series is very popular among preachers and pastors, and rightly so. However, its structure of Original Meaning/Bridging Contexts/Contemporary Significance is, in my experience, undoubtedly better applied in its treatment of the Old Testament. While the exegetical work in Younger’s chapters on Ruth is a little light in places, the bridging contexts and application sections are very helpful in thinking through application in the contemporary setting. In particular Younger offers invaluable help in crossing the vast time span between the time of Ruth and today in his bridging contexts sections. His treatment of redemptive history and Christological links in Ruth is most appreciated.
In some ways I was a little disappointed with this commentary. Many of the commentary chapters seemed excessively short, and skipped over many questions that I had of the text. However, there was freshness to McKeown’s treatment of the book of Ruth that forced me to pause and think. While I did not agree with all of his conclusions or angles, it was thought provoking and beneficial as I developed my understanding of the details in Ruth. Despite all of that, the best thing about this commentary (indeed this series) is the second half of the book in which theological themes, and other topics are handled. I used the second half of the commentary much more than the first. There are useful chapters on character studies, theological themes such as providence and redemption and even good chapters lending to application such as feminist studies and missiological significance. Wrestling with this commentary would certainly enrich your sermons on Ruth!
This commentary is a little dated and dry. The primary benefit to having this book in your library is that it is completely dedicated to the book of Ruth. There are two particular reasons that this is profitable. First, the introduction is detailed, running to 75 pages (see here for my recommendations on Bible Introductions). This is of invaluable help in planning and preparing a sermon series on Ruth. Second, because it is dedicated in its entirety to the book of Ruth there are some more minor debates which are treated more fully here than in other commentaries. Indeed, Block in some instances refers readers to Hubbard’s detailing of the argument. It was helpful in understanding some of the finer details with respect to the levirate law.
- John Piper, A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and Sovereignty in the Book of Ruth, Inter-Varsity Press, 2010.
Piper’s book is of course not so much a commentary as a series of sermons. However, it is packed full of his passion, crammed with compelling arguments and overflowing with application. Overall, Piper’s treatment of Ruth differs a little from the heavy academic commentaries, which is always a helpful corrective when preaching. There is lots of fodder for the development of illustrations too, which is always a difficult skill to master in preaching. This short book also warms your own heart too.
Any preaching I have done from the book of Ruth has been based on the solid foundation of these five commentaries. They have led, guided and challenged my understanding of the text, giving me a deeper appreciation for the beauty in and the depth of the book of Ruth. Therefore, if you are going to tackle Ruth, I would suggest you put some of these commentaries on your bookshelf.