Barry Webb is known for his careful exegesis and pastoral approach to key Old Testament books. In Five Festal Garments, part of InterVarsity Press’ New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Webb seeks to provide some reflections on what we know traditionally as the “Scrolls” — the five shortest books of the Hebrew canon. This book explores the themes of The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. While Webb readily admits in his introduction that these reflections are subjective and not comprehensive in nature, he still does an excellent job of providing an informative and thematic look at these often-mysterious passages of Scripture.
The chapter I enjoyed most was Webb’s examination of the Book of Ruth. Webb has recently released a commentary on the book of Judges and Ruth, so it was interesting to see how the two books related to one another. The chapter on Ruth explores the “garment of kindness” and, as we might expect, begins to unpack the concept of hesed in Ruth’s story. Hesed is a word meaning “lovingkindness,” but a one-word, one-sentence explanation of what hesed means does not suffice. Thankfully, Webb spends lots of time weaving the hesed theme in his account of Ruth’s story, outlining the story into acts and episodes, like a screenplay unfolding before our eyes. One of Webb’s helpful contributions was him discussing Ruth’s location in the canon, and also how the story of Ruth ties into our soteriology.
Helpfully, in each chapter of the book, Webb wants to leave no stone unturned, and in commentary-like fashion addresses the whole of the book. Webb spends significant time on some themes and verses, and scans others, but nonetheless makes sure he covers it all for us. It is like having a brief, but robust commentary for all five books rolled into one, making it a valuable resource certainly in trying to understand these five books.
Overall, I recommend this series, and this particular installment of the NSBT series is a good example of why this series is beneficial. More than a micro-level understanding of certain nuances in word usage, this book is a macro-level look at how these books affect the major parts of our theology. A special thanks to InterVarsity Press for this review copy.