Book Reviews

Faithful God: an Exposition of the Book of Ruth, By Sinclair Ferguson. Bryntirion, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2005, 157 pp., $10.19. Reviewed by Mr. James D. Oord

Once again, Sinclair Ferguson has come out with a useful expositional commentary.  This commentary on the book of Ruth is a stand-alone commentary, not part of any series. It is — understandably — a very short commentary, since its subject matter, the book of Ruth, is very short.  He divides his text into four sections (one for each chapter of Ruth) plus a preface dealing with when and why he wrote the book, a prologue dealing with “Ruth’s story and ours,” and an appendix with a letter by John Newton on the guidance of God.  The book is written in a very approachable and warm style that lends itself to both devotional reading and casual study.

Dr. Ferguson begins his book by reminding us that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, and training.  He points out that although the book of Ruth might not be an enormous “work of deep theological reasoning” like Romans or a “magnificent symphony on the work of Christ” like John’s gospel, it is still an important part of scripture, tracing “the details of God’s working in the unfolding of the events of history” (page 11). It contains important lessons about life as members of the kingdom of God.  Throughout this book, Sinclair Ferguson’s goal is to guide us to not only understand the book of Ruth in its original context, but also to give us a firm exegesis and biblical application of it.

One overarching theme in the book of Ruth to which Dr. Ferguson draws his readers’ attention is the providence of God.  The book of Ruth shows us that God works through what seem to be the little things in life.  He does not always work through wonders like the plagues in Exodus or the miracles of Jesus in the gospels.  Dr. Ferguson points out that we may not always be able to detect the workings of God’s providence in our lives, but that, like Ruth, He may work in mysterious ways beyond our comprehension or recognition.

Throughout the book Dr. Ferguson endeavors to bring us to see four basic “reflections” in every passage: first, to reflect on the various characters in the story, examining their actions and attitudes exegetically; second, to reflect on God and see His hand in the story; third, to reflect Jesus and how each passage points to Him; and fourth, to reflect on our own lives and see how God works in our lives today. In his commentary, Dr. Ferguson does a good job of showing us these reflections in every passage and still remaining thoroughly biblical, expository, and exegetical.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading and studying this book.  It is broken up into four main chapters, each corresponding to a chapter in the book of Ruth.  Each one of these chapters is further broken down into smaller, easily manageable chunks.  This made the book very easy to read, even for people with a short attention span like me.

The second chapter (after an introductory chapter) focuses on Ruth’s “surprising conversion” in chapter 1.  Here, Dr. Ferguson points out that Ruth’s famous speech in chapter 1 (“wherever you go I will go…”) is actually a speech chock full of conversion language.  The continued use of the word “return” (and other synonyms) clearly indicates a conversion to Yahweh.  Dr. Ferguson weaves his arguments expertly, culminating in a discussion of the cost of discipleship (because Ruth certainly had no easy road before her and she knew it!) and a challenge to us to see “God’s autograph” on our own lives, specifically in our spiritual walks.

In the third chapter, Dr. Ferguson focuses on Boaz and the concept of hesed, that is, God’s covenant love for His people.  He discusses covenant faithfulness, love and grace in this chapter, calling us to live gracious lives and to examine our motives.

The fourth chapter contains an excellent description of the kinsmanredeemer (levirate) law central to Ruth, ultimately pointing forward to the great redeemer, Jesus Christ. Dr. Ferguson also includes many helpful applications drawn from the text, including discussions of covenant marriage, divine providence, and maintaining hesed in our lives.

The fifth chapter closes the book with a wonderful exposition of Ruth 4 and shows how Ruth (as the grandmother of David the king) and this whole story fits into the larger context of God’s ultimate “mission” of salvation.  Ferguson closes with praising God for His glorious faithfulness.

Within the commentary, Dr. Ferguson frequently discusses important Hebrew words and their function in the book of Ruth and in the Bible as a whole (for example, shub, the Hebrew word for “return,” and its importance in the story of repentance and conversion). However, this fact should not frighten the interested lay person from picking up Dr. Ferguson’s commentary.  His discussions of Hebrew words and language are very accessible, interesting, and applicable.

He also explores the historical and theological contexts of the book of Ruth (for example, why exactly Naomi and Elimelech’s emigration from Israel was wrong in light of the importance of land in the covenant).  This feature also was very interesting and vastly opened my eyes to the original meanings and significance of the book.

I would recommend this book to any student of scripture, whether he be scholar, pastor, seminary or college student, or just someone interested in learning more about the book of Ruth.  It is accessible enough to pick up and read with minimal training, but also offers great insight into the passages that are invaluable in preaching or teaching the text.  If someone wants to study the book of Ruth in great depth, he might want to pick up a few other heftier commentaries, but this commentary is a marvelous starting point, a true treasure for every thoughtful Christian scholar’s library.

Celebrating Salvation, by Rev. Clarence Stam, Premier Publishing – Winnipeg (Second Printing: 2005) $16.67

Rev. Clarence Stam has once again provided the Church of Jesus Christ with a wonderful book, this one entitled Celebrating Salvation. This book, now in its second printing, focuses upon the aspects of our Savior’s life as confessed in the Apostles’ Creed:  His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. It also includes a section on the Holy Spirit.

Rev. Stam introduces the book by acknowledging that the work is a compilation of material gathered over the course of his ministry while preparing sermons.  His focus is to be faithful to the Word and in particular the passage that he exegetes in each chapter.  Upon reading Celebrating Salvation, one can only agree that the congregations that heard these sermons preached were blessed with good, solid, Biblical preaching.

The opening chapter starts with the sovereignty of God surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.  In a delightful, succinct way, Rev. Stam proceeds to tie in the song of the angels, the naming of the newborn, and other events surrounding the Incarnation with the Old Testament and with relevant themes of current celebrations of Christmas.

Rev. Stam offers five messages on the death of Christ, each one focusing on an aspect of Christ’s humiliation.  In one message, Rev. Stam aptly points out that the carrying of the cross by Simon of Cyrene was not done to relieve the burden from Jesus, but to add to His humiliation (page 82).  Each message clearly explains the purpose for the death of God’s Son and the need to acknowledge that salvation comes only by the atoning sacrifice He made.  Rev. Stam writes, “we can never come closer to the cross than through this text” (page 127).  By explaining the text, Rev. Stam truly brings us closer to, not only the cross, but the purpose of the cross. After reading five messages on the death of Christ, one eagerly anticipates the five messages on the resurrection of Christ.  Rev. Stam does not disappoint!   Rev. Stam vividly writes about the how the resurrection affected Peter and John, Thomas, the Jewish leaders, and the reader.  In the final message in this section, Rev. Stam writes about the determination that Jesus had that the news of His resurrection be proclaimed to the entire world.   In this chapter, Rev. Stam deals with important issues such as the general offer of grace and the significance of baptism.

The theme of baptism is continued in the first of five messages on the ascension of Jesus in which Rev. Stam contrasts water baptism with Spirit baptism.  Other messages on the ascension concern themselves with the event itself, as well as the role of the ascended Christ and the mandate to the disciples.

Seven messages are written about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Each message approaches the event of Pentecost in a different way.  One explains how the event is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Feast; others deal with the gifts of the Spirit and the work of the Spirit in the church.

Particularly comforting to the Christian are the four messages that focus on the return of Jesus Christ.  Rev. Stam writes about the binding of Satan, the definite destruction of the devil, the day of judgment, and the heavenly glory of the saints.  Each message assures the Christian that the work of Christ accomplished on the cross guarantees the believer a salvation worth celebrating!

Celebrating Salvation is an informative digest of the work of Christ that is a delight to read.  It offers both comfort and challenge to the Christian as we seek to celebrate the salvation given to us by grace through the sacrifice of God’s Son.