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Book Review: Unfolding Covenant History: Judges and Ruth


Unfolding Covenant History (Volume 5*): Judges and Ruth
by David J. Engelsma
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 2005
Hardback, xxvi + 213pp.
ISBN 0-916206-86-6
£15.00 + £1.50 P&P = £16.50 (Click here to order from the CPRC Bookstore)

This beautiful book has as its main theme the covenant faithfulness of God with His unfaithful people. Although set in a terrible time of apostasy, the books of Judges and Ruth (which are contemporaneous) bring hope. The hope is not that Israel will reform herself (for she goes from bad to worse in her idolatry and spiritual whoredom), but the hope is in God. Israel is shown at her worst; God is shown at His best. Englesma writes: "Israel cannot annul the covenant. God will not. If the book of Judges does not teach this, it teaches nothing" (p. 99).

What is especially brought out in this volume is the relationship between these two books: "While the history of the judges is making plain that Israel needs a king (David and ultimately Christ) God is at work in Israel—and in Moab—providing the king whom Israel needs" (p. 155).

In spite of—and indeed through—Israel's sins, God works His purposes. In leaving Canaan to find refuge in Moab, Elimelech and Naomi acted "foolishly and wickedly" (p. 166), yet in the Providence of God they must leave Canaan for Moab for "in that accursed nation God has one of his own who must hear the word" (p. 199). The descriptions of the faith and piety of Ruth, a true "spiritual Israelite" (p. 195), are beautiful. God shows grace to this "Moabitish damsel" (Ruth 2:6) so that she can be the great-grandmother of David, whose infinitely greater son will be Christ. Engelsma is correct when he writes that the story of Ruth is not "merely a lovely romance" (p. 161).

There is much practical application to the modern Church in this short volume. Israel was tempted to worship heathen gods. The Church today faces "the great danger of false doctrine and the corruption of worship" (p. 46). Some examples stand out: the sin of Meroz, who refused to help the LORD (Judges 5:23; p. 59); the self-seeking of Abimelech (Judges 9; p. 90); the pride and envy of Ephraim (Judges 8:1; 12:1; pp. 80-81, 121); and the treachery of the men of Judah who delivered Samson to the Philistines (Judges 15:11; pp. 141, 154). All of these sins—and indeed the various virtues—of the judges (even unlikely candidates such as Jael [Judges 5:24] who drove a tent peg through Sisera's temple, and the left-handed Benjamite, Ehud [Judges 3:15], who stabbed fat Eglon in the belly with a dagger) are explained and applied to the modern Church. Highly recommended.

Martyn McGeown

*Unfolding Covenant History is an ongoing exposition of the Old Testament. The first 4 volumes, by Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema, cover the period of creation to the conquest of Canaan.