Book Review: Bethlehem Road by Michael Whitworth

As his latest addition to a series that may eventually culminate in a commentary/guide to every book of the bible, Michael Whitworth has selected the love story told from the time of Judges in Israel’s history—the book of Ruth.

Ruth is a short book, and so is the latest guide. Whitworth frames his guide within the context of the period of the Judges, reminding us that this story is a story of people moved by God to do what is right in a time when nobody seemed to be doing what is right.

The story begins, as he says, with “three graves, three widows, and endless questions”. It is a story for those who seem to be on a road to sorrow.  But in this story, “God uses the obedience of his people to comfort the brokenhearted and redeem their suffering.”

Everything in the story, then, is upside down. Whitworth highlights the grace that operates in Ruth’s status as foreign, woman, female, and widowed, only to demonstrate how she is taken into God’s “wings of refuge” due to her own perseverance and the kindness of Boaz.

Whitworth makes the story relevant as well. People talk these days about entitlement. Boaz could have felt entitled to his place in society, but instead made sacrifices in order to redeem Ruth from her place of helplessness.

Our author treats the subject of the “scandalous” scene with dignity and honesty. To him, there is no doubt the scene is scandalous and would invite judgement from the judgmental. But he does not believe anything actually sexual took place, that these characters were honorable to that regard.

Whitworth is kinder than I am to the nameless kinsman, believing that he is just not mentioned by name because it’s not important to the story. But he does bring up the possibility that not having his name recorded may be a consequence of the kinsman’s decision to seek his own estate rather than redeem Ruth. Even if we don’t call him a villain, choosing not to be a hero doesn’t say much good about his character.

Whitworth also has a good eye for the little nuances and hints, such as the fact that the ephaph of barley Ruth gleans is the same amount her grandson, David, delivers to his brothers, a way of connecting their stories. When Ruth returns to Naomi, he points out, her question, “Is that you, my daughter?” anticipates a transformation.

In Ruth, he states, “human action is the vehicle for achieving divine blessing and the fullness of human community.”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/103948034″>Bethlehem Rd</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user30351583″>Hidden Bridge Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

It’s a good guide to a good book. Whitworth hasn’t cut down on the cheesy jokes, so there is room for improvement. He takes scholarship and doles it out in ways common readers familiar with the Bible should find easier to understand.

I hope he continues.

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