Sermon on the Mount, The Emmaus View

Appendix E: Ruth and the chronology of Judges (Version 1.5)

There are assorted approaches to assessing the duration of the period covered by Judges. However, all have to take account of the numerous durations mentioned in the text, the statement that the forth year of Solomon’s reign was four hundred and eighty years after the Exodus (1 Kgs 6:1), and Jephtha’s statement (Judg 11:26) that three hundred years had passed since the conquest1.

The conquest of Canaan began forty-one years after the Exodus. Thus, Jephtha’s comments date to around the year 341 post-Exodus (P.E.), for Israel occupied the territory east of the Jordan immediately proceeding Joshua’s campaign. As Caleb was forty at the time of the first spying mission and eighty-five as Joshua’s campaign approached its close (Josh 14:10), the conquest itself occupied about four years. The period of the Judges therefore started in about the year 45 P.E. The cumulative events up to the time of Jephtha’s comments give a date about twenty-five years less than Jephtha’s three hundred, suggesting that the unmentioned durations were all relatively short. The sum of the remaining periods up to Solomon significantly exceeds the time available between Jephtha and 480 P.E., suggesting this portion contains significant overlap. Aligning the philistine incursions east of the Jordan, in Jephtha’s day, with those west of the Jordan, that preceded Samson, resolves this rather neatly.

The genealogy of David spans the period of the Judges and the seven individuals Nahshon, Salma, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David and Solomon (1 Chron 2:11-12) are all there are to cover a 480-year period. Unless each was the youngest son of a very elderly parent, this suggests the genealogy is incomplete. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to identify where some of its individuals fit. Jesse was clearly David’s father and Solomon was clearly David’s son. At the opposite end, Nahshon was of the generation who died in the wilderness (Num 7:12). Moreover, Matthew’s marriage of Salma to Rahab of Jericho (see Chapter 8) suggests that he was indeed Nahshon’s son. As the scriptures portray Obed as the child of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:16), this leaves the question whether there are intercalated generations before Boaz, after Obed or both. The waxing and waning of the curses of Moab (Deut 28:15-51) help suggest an answer.

In Judges, the curses regularly come and go according to the basic cycle explained in the book’s introduction (Judg 2:11-19). Israel would rebel, the curse of foreign domination would bite, they would eventually remember the Lord, and then a Judge would deliver them. However, Moses stated that at such times Israel would serve their enemies in hunger, thirst and want (Deut 28:48, 51). Thus an Israel brought into foreign hands by the curses, should also be deprived of its crops and suffer famine. Conversely, one where a Judge had reasserted godliness was likely to be experiencing blessing. The curse/blessing cycle in Judges should therefore see freedom go hand in hand with plenty and domination accompanied by famine.

Such a plenty/famine cycle drives the narrative of Ruth and demands its association with a period of Israelite apostasy. Furthermore, the famine that triggered Elimelech’s move lasted at least ten years (Ruth 1:4) but was sufficiently local in effect to leaving Moab untouched. This suggests its cause was economic rather than meteorological.

There is much to commend the era of Eglon and Ehud as the setting of the book of Ruth’s economic migrations. Only this cycle focuses on Israel suffering whilst Moab prospered and vice versa. Moreover, Eglon’s obesity graphically conveys (Judg 3:17-18) Moab benefiting from Israeli tribute. Furthermore, Ehud’s emergence as a leader would neatly explain the sudden inversion of Moab and Israel’s relative fortunes as Moab experiences death whilst Israel experiences recovery (Ruth 1:5-6). It could also provide a context for the two husbands sudden demise, either because they fought for their adopted country or because disease weakened Moab. Moreover, it requires Ruth to put the Law above her personal safety, as found with the other women in Matthew’s genealogy (see Chapter 8).

A later setting for Ruth remains possible, but this one fits particularly well, not only from its setting but also from its timing. It is reasonable to assume that the Mesopotamian domination that followed Joshua’s demise did so fairly soon. The Judge Othniel then delivered Israel from them eight years later. Even had Boaz been born relatively soon after Salma married Rahab, this is too early to align with Ruth. However, forty years of peace then eighteen years of domination by the Moabite Eglon brings us to the point where a Boaz born soon after Salma’s marriage would have been at least in his sixties, as envisaged in Ruth (Ruth 3:10). Ehud then ushered in eighty years of peace, so by the next cycle even a Boaz born to Salma in his old age would have been over ninety, or more probably dead.

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1 Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 1993), 119-23.