Book Review: Unceasing Kindness (NSBT), Lau/Goswell

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For such a short book, I’ve always found the book of Ruth to be quite perplexing. Why does she remain with Naomi, the “bitter” woman? Then she meets Boaz, and for some reason is at his feet very late at night so of course she asks in a roundabout way if he will marry (“redeem”) her. But there’s a closer relative who could be the kinsman redeemer. He doesn’t foot the bill, so Boaz takes Ruth to be his wife, and eventually we get King David. And, of course, Christ is our kinsman redeemer. Why? Just because Boaz marries (and redeems) Ruth and now she has a child and land? How do we see that in what Christ does? In the book of Ruth, everything occurs ever so naturally. It’s too natural.

As a new volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Lau and Goswell’s volume on Ruth does what commentaries don’t have space to do. They look at Ruth in light of it’s canonical placement(s)yes, there are three different placements where Ruth is found in various manuscripts. Lau and Goswell focus “on the meaning of the text as intended by the author for [the] original hearers, but mindful of the fact that the book as we have it is set within a wider context of Scripture” (1). These include not only the books around Ruth, but the entire biblical canon. Both major and minor themes from Ruth are examined, with many reoccurring in multiple chapters. These major themes are redemption, kingship, and mission; the minor themes/motifs are kindness, wisdom, famine, refuge, seed, doxology, and the hiddenness of God and human agency.

Peter Lau (PhD University of Sydney) is lecturer in Old Testament Studies at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia and an honorary research associate at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Identity and Ethics in the Book of Ruth (BZAW) and co-editor of Reading Ruth in Asia (IVBS). Gregory Goswell (PhD University of Sydney) is academic dean and lecturer in biblical studies at Christ College, Sydney. He is the author of Ezra-Nehemiah (EP Commentary Series).


Chapter 1 sets the goal for the book: focusing on Ruth as the author intended and through the wider lens of Scripture (as the Author intended), setting Ruth up against Jesus, “the midpoint and endpoint of salvation history,” and discussing Ruth’s themes in light of the canon of Scripture (3).

In Chapter 2, the authors examine how those in the early restoration period (during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah) would have read Ruth. Some scholars argue that Ruth contradicts Ezra and Nehemiah, due to their insistence on breaking up exogamous marriages and their using Torah to exclude, restrict, and threaten the Israelites. By placing Ruth next to Ezra-Nehemiah and actually looking at what the text says, these issues fall apart. We also see how Ruth encourages Israel with the promise of the Davidic king, God’s seemingly-silent but all pervasive presence, and that they are not left to their own devices, but God is with them and is sovereign above the Persians.

Chapters 3-5 portray themes in relation to the OT contexts. At these angles, we can see similarities and differences between Ruth and the books ‘she’ is placed among. When it comes to the question of the correct canonical position of Ruth, Lau and Goswell say that “There may be no right or wrong answers to that question; rather the point is that the differing canonical positions make a difference to how one views and reads a book” (23).

Chapter 3 compares Ruth with it’s placement in the LXX (and in our English Bibles) in between Judges and Samuel. Ruth answers the question over how Israel will conquer their lack of a king (Judg 21.25).

Chapter 4-5 compares Ruth with it’s placements in the Hebrew scriptures. In some manuscripts, Ruth comes after Proverbs. With similar wording, Ruth is like the wise woman of Proverbs 31. She doesn’t “destroy kings” (Prov 31:3), but instead builds up the Israelite kingdom (Ruth 4.17, 21). Both show kindness (Prov 31.26; Ruth 3.10) and are praised by their husbands as being superior (Prov 31.28-29; Ruth 3:10-11). In Proverbs 1-9, the foil to Lady Wisdom is the adulteress, an Israelite woman who acts like a foreigner seeking to devour any man who will come into her. Yet Ruth is a foreigner who acts like an Israelite, seeking to know Yahweh and live righteously before all.

In Chapter 5, the authors examine how in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b), Ruth comes before the Psalms. Boaz commends Ruth for taking “refuge” under the “wings” of the Lord, a motif found throughout the Psalter (Pss 17.8; 61.4; 91.4). We see that “the ancestress of the chief psalmist anticipates the piety of David, who calls on God to defend and help him in his troubles” (61). It would be wrong to think that in the psalms we should try to separate the historical from the poetical, for both interpret each other. The theology of the OT is seen in God’s “kindness” and remembered in his historical acts.

Chapters 6-9 describe themes in relation to the Bible as a whole: famine (6), God’s hiddenness and human agency (7), redemption (8), God’s mission (9).

Chapter 10 concludes with summarizing each chapter and reminding the reader (and themselves) that ethics is not to be quarantined off from Old Testament narratives. “Who God is and how he acts (theology) has moral implications (ethics)” (165).

The Chocolate Milk

Chapter 2 was a unique chapter. While the other chapters are associated with themes and canonical placement, here Ruth is placed in conversation with Ezra and Nehemiah. While I did have some difficulty remembering what this chapter had to do with Ruth (Ezra-Nehemiah get more face time than Ruth), it exampled how God’s word does not contradict itself, but instead illuminates the text and nuances how we are to think about God’s word. All three books emphasize a relationship with God through human acts of generosity and kindness. If people say the Bible contradicts itself, ask them if they’ve done their homework.

I don’t know when I learned that the books of the Bible were ordered differently in the MT and LXX, but it was Stephen Dempster who introduced me into seeing a theological rational behind that ordering (in the Babylonian Talmud). In their volume on Ruth, Lau and Goswell go further than Dempster and examine Ruth through the lens of the different orders of the canon (i.e., MT, Babylonian Talmud, and LXX) and the books that surround Ruth in those respective sequences. While I must say that some of the canonical information was difficult to read, and has left me with even more questions, this was extremely beneficial and an excellent work of interpreting Scripture with Scripture. Lau and Goswell are careful interpreters, and I would enjoy seeing more books on the biblical canon and their relationship to those books which surround them in each of the canonical sequences.


Ruth has long been a mystery to me, but Lau and Goswell have done me (and the church) a service with this book. This book isn’t for the average person in the pew, but it for those who are well read and who want to study deeply the book of Ruth. Pastors and teachers should get a hold of this volume also. They won’t preach all of the details, but they will see the books where Ruth appears, making the unity of the Bible more pronounced in the minds of the congregation.


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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


Book Review: Dominion and Dynasty (NSBT), Stephen Dempster


There are 39 books in the OT. The Bible is a unity, but how do they all fit? How does Proverbs fit with Kings? Isaiah with Chronicles? Leviticus with Ecclesiastes? Stephen Dempster, Stuart E. Murray Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, New Brunswick, Canada, writes an OT theology on the final form of the canon. He reads the OT through a ‘wide-angle lens’ and looks at the overarching story of the OT.

Dempster begins the book discussing approaches to the OT made by other OT theologians (the concept of this chapter is explained in the Recommended? section below) along with his rationale for his approach, to view the OT (and the Bible) as a unity. The OT is not a ‘ragbag’ of differing themes and ideas about God, but is connected by the ideas of dominion and dynasty (or genealogy and geography). Not only this, but Dempster’s OT theology is based on the Hebrew OT, mainly the Babyonian Talmud: tractate Baba Bathra 14b [BB], saying that the details are best interpreted in light of the full text, the “Story” seen from Genesis to Chronicles. The Hebrew OT (the Tanakh) is divided into three ways, the Torah (the Law, or Pentateuch), Nebi’im (the Former and Latter Prophets), and Kethubim (Writings). 

Chapter 2 gives a short summary approach to what will follow in the book. Chapter 3 covers the beginning of the story seen in Genesis and the themes that will be unrolled throughout the book. Chapter 4 continues the storyline seen in Exodus through Deuteronomy, covering Israel’s relationship with God and the Promised Land. Chapter 5 covers the Former Prophets (Joshua through Kings) dealing with gaining the land, receiving a king, and then off to exile. Chapter 6 brings us to the storyline suspended, the poetic commentary of the earlier OT narrative, the Latter Prophets (Jeremiah to the Twelve) dealing with destruction, life, hope, and the future eschaton. Chapter 7 continues the poetic commentary with the Writings (Ruth to Lamentations) covering the return from exile, David, and being governed by wisdom. Chapter 8 ends the poetic commentary of the Writings and continues the narrative storyline (Daniel to Chronicles) which speaks of the coming kingdom of God and the end which points to the future hope. Chapter 9 is short, but it covers typology and OT connections to the NT.

The Spoiled Milk

One aspect of this volume that I’m uncertain about is why/how Dempster chose this particular reading of the OT. If you don’t already know, the Hebrew OT is ordered differently than our English OT (which follows the LXX, the Greek translation of the Masoretic text [i.e., MT, the Hebrew OT]). Yet, as stated above, Dempster follows after Baba Bathra 14b. I don’t have space to write out the MT order, but in the order Dempster follows Isaiah is placed after Ezekiel, and Ruth before Psalms. What I don’t understand is why Dempster chose this order instead of the common MT order. I understand that Scott Hafemann also chooses this order, and Roger Beckwith argues for it in his book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism. But it still strikes me as odd, especially since Dempster argues that order and placement in the canon does matter (In the English OT, Ruth is after Judges, which leads us to think differently about how it fits in the canon compared to its placement before Song of Solomon or Psalms).

However, in the end, the difference between BB and the MT seems to only be the different placement of two books, Isaiah and Ruth. For the most part Dempster’s interpretation would be similar to what it is now. And with a book like this, Dempster spends the time making connections rather than defending them (which, while interesting, would make this book much larger and not so layman-friendly). Most connections work, but some seem stretched. But really, the good far outweighs the bad.


Dempster does what many OT scholars have not done (due to their presuppositions). As he says in the first chapter, “[T]he fact remains that, of the approximately sixty biblical theologies written during the last century, there are almost as many theologies as there are theologians…. The ‘Bible’s own theology’ has turned out to be the interpreters’ own theologies” (15). Yet there is an appropriate way to read the text. We must immerse ourselves in the Bible to understand their culture, their mindset, their words. Something that everyone’s opinion is valid, thereby making all readings of the text invalid. Taking a cue from Judges, “there was no king (no true reading) in Israel and everyone read what was right in his own eyes” (17). It’s the same with sports: “‘No matter how much the golfer with a sand wedge or cleated shoes wants to play squash, the squash court expects something else: rubber soled shoes, a squash racket, and a player who has come to play squash'” (19, quoting Seitz). And while Dempster has his own interpretation, he looks through a lens that views the OT (and the whole Bible) as one unity, a “Story,” rather than an ‘alien’ lens. And a book that looks at the thematic connections of the OT and how God’s story plays out across the ages is well worth considering.


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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog.