Dale Ralph Davis. Judges: Such a Great Salvation (2000, previously published 1990).
This commentary was suggested by Alex when I recently asked him, as I frequently do, to help me decide what to study next in my quiet times (the perks of marrying a biblical scholar!). Dale Ralph Davis is a pastor-scholar who has written extensively on the Old Testament. His other commentaries in this series are Joshua (2005), I Samuel (2001), II Samuel (2007), I Kings (2007), and II Kings (2005). In the past I enjoyed Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on I Samuel, so I began this study with high expectations.
When using a commentary for personal biblical study, I prefer to read the Bible first, then turn to the commentary with my own observations and questions ready in hand. Reading the history of the period of Israel’s Judges, there were plenty of them! All that I ever seem to be able to retain about Judges is that it is about how Israel totally forsakes the covenant with Yahweh and about how totally depraved humans are. The book is, in Davis’s words, “so earthy, so puzzling, so primitive, so violent –in a word, so strange, that the church can scarcely stomach it” (9). It can be difficult to even see God in this work, much less learn more about our great savior, Jesus Christ. Reminding us that Judges, like all Scripture, is “to be a revelation from God about God,” Davis excels at highlighting the narrator’s subtle messages and showing us how to read God between the lines and see the stage being set for the glorious entry of Jesus. (“How after chapters 19-21 . . . can you account for the fact that there is still an Israel? It can only be . . . because Yahweh’s grace is far more tenacious than his people’s depravity and insists on still holding them fast even in their sinfulness and their stupidity. Nor is he finished raising up saviors for them (Acts 13:23)!” (223).)
Davis adroitly handles the challenges of writing about Judges. He neither sugar-coats its unpalatable and tragic aspects nor minimizes its interpretive difficulties. See “That all Scripture is profitable does not mean its interpretation is simple (196)” and “I propose that careful observation of the way in which the biblical writer tells his story provides us with clear clues about his intention . . .” (197).
As a scholar Davis is both thorough and broad in scope, citing countless books and articles in several languages. He navigates interpretive differences of opinion, laying out both the scholarly consensus and secondary interpretive ideas while clearly defending his own (mainly consensus) views. His breadth of knowledge is intriguing: he brings a literary appreciation (including references to Dr. Leland Ryken’s excellent The Literature of the Bible (179 and other places) and draws historical parallels (Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler both make appearances).
A real strength of Davis’s commentaries is their wide accessibility. His use of anecdotes, illustrations, literary comparison, and humor (“You never know when you might need a good millstone!” (124)) make it readable and his rich content is delivered without being either intimidating or oversimplified.
For me, Davis’s particular genius lies in application. This commentary is preachable. He has succeeded in writing a practical, useful sort of work, not so typical for a scholar! Your average, nonscholarly, young mother of three will find plenty of application in every chapter of Judges with his assistance.