Top 5 Commentaries on Judges

There are several outstanding commentaries on Judges.  Choosing the “top 5” is not an easy task, especially putting them in a ranked order! Before starting the official commentary list, I must mention a great resource for studying the book of Judges.

Judges: Such a Great Salvation by Dale Ralph Davis

Price: $

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Dale Ralph Davis has written many Old Testament commentaries and expositions, all of which are great, and his Judges: Such a Great Salvation is no exception.  It is less of a commentary and more of a running exposition, though he does discuss some technical issues when pertinent to the understanding of a passage.  Davis is an engaging writer and this book is an easy read while also being a solid study guide to the book.  I recommend this book for personal or small group study, or for a pastor/teacher who is wanting to see the “forest” of Judges and not necessarily the minute “trees”.  This book is well worth the meager $10 price.

1. Judges by Trent Butler (World Biblical Commentary)

Price: $$$

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This is an outstanding technical commentary by a well established Old Testament scholar (Butler wrote the commentary on Joshua in the same series).  Butler actually takes a somewhat conservative view of the book, especially when compared to his less conservative views of Joshua.  He sees the book as a theological history of Israel that is mostly sequential, but not necessarily chronological.  This is a technical commentary so there is plenty of textual/translation notes, form and structure discussion, and exegesis of the Hebrew text.   Though Butler is more than capable of discussing the details, he also seems to have a keen eye for the story, able to follow the narrative of Judges in an often illuminating way.  The two negatives that stand out to me and are somewhat expected because of the technicality of the commentary are: (1) Limited connections made with the New Testament (at the same time these connections can become overstated in other commentaries and often leads to allegorical interpretations of the text) and (2) lack of pastoral application.  However, don’t let these negatives discourage you from using this commentary, there are plenty of other commentaries that major on these points.  Overall, the capability of Butler to dig into detailed exegetical discussion but still follow the overarching story of Judges makes this commentary number 1 on my list.  I highly recommend this book to the academic minded laymen and especially those who are teaching and preaching on the book.

2. Judges and Ruth by Robert Chisholm (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Price: $$$

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You get a two-for-one deal with this commentary as Dr. Chisholm has written a commentary on both Judges and Ruth.  Chisholm is a longtime Old Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and has worked extensively with the historical books of the OT.  I do have to admit something up front: Dr. Chisholm is a professor of mine and someone I count as a mentor and a friend.  However, regardless of my personal bias Dr. Chisholm is an exceptional scholar and has written a stellar commentary on Judges.  This is an exegetical commentary, thus, he moves clause by clause through the Hebrew text with his own translation, categorizing each clause along the way.  This is an instructive way to study the text.  Then, Chisholm moves on to the exposition of the pericope with technical discussion in the footnotes when needed.  The strength of this commentary lies in Chisholm’s ability to follow the narrative carefully and have ample interaction with other scholars.  Additionally, he includes great applications and even homiletical suggestions!  Thus, this is a great overall commentary for a pastor or teacher.  Not only will you get a healthy dose of detailed discussion of the text, but practical and homiletical help as well.  This commentary is highly recommended and useful for the laymen, pastor, and scholar alike.

3. Judges, Ruth by Daniel Block (New American Commentary)

Price: $$$

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Another two-for-one deal here, and yet again, I have not read any of the commentary on Ruth.  But, yet again, like Chisholm, Block’s commentary on Judges is superb.  It’s really bugging me to have this commentary listed as number “3”; it’s just too good to be number 3, but I have had Dr. Chisholm as a professor, so he edges out Block because of my personal bias.  In all seriousness though, Block’s commentary cannot be overlooked.  Daniel Block is a seasoned commentary writer and distinguished evangelical Old Testament scholar.  His commentary is semi-technical so no knowledge of Hebrew is needed when Block discusses issues with the text (all Hebrew is transliterated), but of course some knowledge of Hebrew will make the discussions more fruitful for the reader.  The strength of this commentary are two-fold: (1) attention to intertextuality and the author’s use of other OT passages and (2) theological reflections at the end of every narrative section which are normally right on point.  Additionally, Block makes numerous connections to the New Testament when appropriate.  All in all, if you have the ability to purchase just one commentary on Judges, this is probably the most well-rounded commentary available.  Recommended for both laymen and pastor/teacher.

4. Judges by Mark Boda (Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary Numbers-Ruth)

Price: $$$

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Mark Boda is an esteemed evangelical Old Testament scholar, currently teaching at McMaster Divinity College.  Boda’s commentary is part of Book 2 in the REBC Series that includes commentary on: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.  This commentary is not a two-for-one but a five-for-one!  The commentary series as a whole is normally more introductory and non-technical, but Boda has delivered a fantastic semi-technical commentary on Judges.  Every section of text has an “overview” paragraph that looks at the overall sequence of the narrative, then the narrative is broken down verse by verse, after that a few exegetical notes are added for readers who know Hebrew or are interested in the Hebrew text, and lastly, there are theological/practical “reflections” at the end of every section.  Boda is strong in seeing intertextual connections to the Pentateuch, following the plot development of the narratives, and he frequently gives the reader exegetical gold nuggets in the “notes” section. My only negative is that I wish there was more (space restraints are understandable in this commentary series)!  This might be the best bang for your buck commentary on Judges, because you don’t only get a strong commentary on Judges, but four other commentaries come along with it!  I really see all Christians, regardless of background, benefiting from this commentary.

5. Judges by Barry Webb (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)

Price: $$$

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Don’t let Webb’s ranking fool you, this commentary is also very good.  To be honest, any of these top five commentaries, especially 2-5 could be switched up.  All of them will serve a student of God’s Word well.  Webb’s commentary is semi-technical, although the footnotes do include much technical discussion for the reader that is interested.  Webb comments on the Hebrew quite frequently (always transliterated) and is often insightful when doing so.  Two things stand out to me about this commentary: (1) The introduction, specifically “Its [Judges] contribution to Old Testament Theology” and “Judges as Christian Scripture” (where Webb deals with Judges in the New Testament, Judges and women, Judges and violence) and (2) the format of the commentary is easy to use and very accessible.  The commentary proper is also solid, just not as detailed as Butler’s commentary and not as focused on application as the others.  In conclusion, this is another commentary suitable for any Christian wanting to gain insight into the book of Judges.