Right In Their Own Eyes—The Gospel According to Judges, by George M. Schwab. Phillipsburg: P and R Publishing, 2011. 233 pages.
George M. Schwab is an Associate professor of Old Testament at Erskine Seminary. He holds a Masters of Divinity. And his doctorate is from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is a contributor to the Expositor Bible Commentary series.
Schwab’s book is one book in the Gospel According To the Old Testament series of books. Their purpose is threefold:
- To lay out the pervasiveness of the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament
- To promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament
- To encourage Christ-centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament
Siegbert Becker noted that Martin Luther recognized the value of philosophy. Its validity is that it asks good questions. The problem is that it doesn’t answer the questions it asks.1 Schwab asks some really good questions on the beginning pages of his book. He notes that Judges is a very difficult book, both in content and chronology. The question any reader of Judges asks is: “How can we read and understand Judges properly?” He offers an interesting solution:
When Judges is in tension with nature (the bees in the carcass), with history (recapitulation of Joshua), with archeology (Gibeah), and with what is possible (three thousand on the roof), we must engage in creative rethinking, giving it the benefit of the doubt. We invent a city of the same name, we imagine a way to have iron chariots, we dispute archaeological conclusions, we speculate about insects. But at the same time we must be flexible in how we read, allowing the author to creatively modulate the story (p. 19).
There is much in this statement that we would agree with. We want to let the author of Judges write and speak how the Spirit intended him to. Where we would differ is in the role our own imagination, creativity and reason have to play. Schwab insists that when we are in doubt, we need to “invent.” Confessional Lutherans insist that when we are forced to choose between insubstantial (or nearly insubstantial) speculation and silence, it is better to remain silent.
Insufficient Scholarship—Suffusive Speculation
Throughout Right In Their Own Eyes Schwab invites us to conclude that what God’s Word says can’t really be trusted. Going against the clear context in Genesis, he invites us to conclude that there are two creation accounts and that these creation accounts conflict with each other (14).
He also invites us to conclude that, more than likely, Sisera did not have 900 iron chariots because it would have been an oxymoron. For chariots were “useful for speed and agility” (17). Perhaps Schwab wasn’t subjected to a History of War class in high school. But this reviewer was. And if he had sat in on my class he would have learned that there were two classes of chariots (heavy and light). The light ones are indeed “useful for speed and agility” in the proper setting. But this was not the class of chariot Sisera was using. He was using a heavy chariot. The purpose of this instrument was to run over infantry with horses and then finish the job with iron wheels which wouldn’t fly off or fall apart as they crushed the skulls of those they rode over.
Schwab suggests that the reason why Eglon was so eager to have a private audience with Ehud was that he thought that Ehud was offering to have sex with him (54-55). And he concludes that Jael exhausted Sisera by having sex with him from three to seven times. And after he was exhausted from the exertion she killed him (84-85). There is a shred of evidence for the latter. There is no evidence for the former.
There are many other examples of over-speculation and insufficient scholarship throughout this book. It is difficult to read through a book which trains you to mistrust it so thoroughly.
Where’s the Gospel—The Good news?
One would expect that a book titled, “The Gospel According to Judges” would have what its title offers. While Schwab makes it clear who Jesus is and what he came to do in short and sparse examples (e.g. 117), he consistently robs us of the good news (what did Jesus do for me?) by putting the work of salvation and conversion on us (37, 59, 60, 67, 70, 93, 106, 130, 175, 179, et multa al).
The saddest example of this is found in his commentary about Samson. What consolation would you give to parents like Samson’s parents? They were faithful in raising their son in God’s word. But when Samson grew up, he threw it all away. What gospel is there for parents today who have brought up their children in God’s word and seen them walk away from the faith? What gospel is there for Samson himself? He was a man who had it all—so gifted, so blessed, so treasured by God above. And he lived to seemingly only serve himself. Is there grace—undeserved love left for a man like him who repents after he has squandered God’s grace? Is there room for him to not only be saved and forgiven, but to also live out his remaining life striving to be faithful because he is so thankful? Those are questions I yearned to have Schwab answer. This is as close as he came to answering my questions:
A Spirit-filled and Spirit-anointed person can be larger than life, can be whatever is needed, since God calls such a one. This is where the bar is placed for Christians. In the Spirit, they can rise to any occasion, accomplish any task, resist any temptation, risk any loss, for the glory of God in Christ and his gospel…Samson the “little sun” blazed with the Spirit, and we are like fires, too, lamps set on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:15-16). We shine like stars (Phil 2:15)….This is what is needed today. (175)
I waited to hear gospel. Instead, the author piled commands on me. I waited to hear of God’s grace, his undeserved love for us in Christ. Instead, again and again, I heard about obedience and duty. Schwab asked many good questions. He missed the opportunity to provide adequate answers. It is truly saddening that instead of centering our souls on Christ (as this series of books sets out as its goal), he centered them on us. For these reasons I recommend that the reader avoid this book.
1 The foolishness of God, Siegbert Becker. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1999. Pages 64-65