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Reviews: Two books on Ruth and Esther

Posted 31 Jul 2020

Carl Chambers and Christopher Henderson review two recent books on Ruth and Esther

David Strain book cover
RUTH & ESTHER: There is a Redeemer and Sudden Reversals

This is an excellent little book which is well worth a read by anyone with a hunger to know God’s word better.  Esther may not mention God in any verse, but each chapter of David Strain’s book not only expounds the text, but also points to Christ in a heart-warming way. He is similarly faithful in opening up Ruth.

The ‘Focus on the Bible’ Series aims to be ‘Readable, Reliable, Relevant’.  David Strain’s treatment of Ruth and Esther score highly on each account.  The divisions of the text, and thus chapters of the book, are appropriately done, with Ruth broken into six chapters and Esther, nine.  In each chapter, Strain expounds the text carefully and movingly.  You can tell that this has been worked on by someone who is diligent with the text and the particular nuances that each book brings, just as much as you can hear the preacher’s voice and tone as he opens up God’s word.  It was particularly pleasing to see each chapter lead us to fulfilment in Jesus in a real and relevant way: obviously essential but sadly not always included in Old Testament commentaries (or sermons?).

I used the book for quiet times and found great nourishment, so I recommend it to anyone who enjoys this kind of devotion.  They’re not the reason why you read a book, but this commentary is full of illustrations and applications which make it particularly helpful.  To whet your appetite: check out the one about the Papua New Guinea tribe that was converted through the genealogy of Jesus, including Ruth.  There’s a helpful summary of Ruth in ‘how can the name of Elimelech be maintained in Israel, now that he has no heir?’ and some neat little illustrations which any preacher will easily be able to adapt for their own context. 

See also how Ruth chapter 1 speaks directly into our behaviour on a Saturday night, or any other night, for that matter. Elimelech’s choice to leave the promised land may have seemed rational, humanly speaking, but it represents a distinct distancing from God’s promises; I was convicted of how sloppy I can be in rationalizing human decisions in ignorance of God’s complete call on my life.

Then enjoy the erudite comparison between defining providence and discerning it, in Esther.  And the occasional turn of phrase which I fear I may repeat without referencing the source, for instance: in the context of addressing overwhelming anxiety when everything seems against you (the Jews facing annihilation in Esther), Strain explains and expounds how “you kill the germ of anxiety with a hefty dose of divine sovereignty”. Oh, the wonder of God’s greatness and goodness in a book which doesn’t even mention him!
Although not an academic book, as such, it was lovely to see at the end two pages of both Subject Index and Scripture Index (which are not in the other copies of this series I have).  If you’re looking for a shorter but scholarly devotional commentary on either of these books of the Bible, then you’ll be delighted with what you find here.

Carl Chambers
St Michael and All Angels, Wilmington

Christopher Ash book cover
Teaching Ruth & Esther (PT Resources)

“Ah, I love the book of Esther!” or “Ah, I love the book of Ruth!” were sentences I heard many times at theological college, but not always for the best of reasons. Christopher Ash has done us a great service in helping us to love these books for the Christ-centred gospel messages they are intended to convey.

After a brief and helpful introduction on our approach to Old Testament stories and how we preach them, Ash takes us through each book. Ruth is tackled in four sections, according to the chapter divisions in the Bible, Esther in five. For each section there are various introductory remarks, always helpful, followed by Ash taking us through the text verse by verse. Thus it reads as a commentary for Bible teachers, though I personally enjoyed it so much I would happily recommend it to anyone who wanted to read something on Ruth and Esther for their personal edification.

Each chapter then finishes with some pointers on preaching the text and then a section on leading a Bible study. The Bible study section includes excellent suggested questions and makes Ash’s work not just a gift for preachers, but sufficient for any Bible study leader who wishes to take a group through these books.

Ash’s book is an exceptionally clear and helpful aid to anyone preaching or teaching these books. Amongst the many valuable features of the book, there are little sections throughout the commentary on “wrong turnings” – points a preacher may be tempted to make and why Ash thinks they shouldn’t. What I appreciated most, however, was Ash’s careful and clear lines to Christ and his thinking on how these texts apply to our situation, so that his pointers for application are richly insightful and exegetically clear. As an example of this, his sensitive treatment of the end of Esther was superb, as he shows us how even this difficult text is there to teach us good news.

This is a book that immediately falls into the category of “indispensable”. Other commentaries ought to be consulted, as for the preparation of any text, but this is the one that needs to be on the shelf. It is the kind of book that comes with a caution: do your own work on the text first, or you will be tempted to be lazy!

Christopher Henderson
Christ Church, Westbourne

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