Paul Overland has written a weighty commentary on the Proverbs—633 pages before the indices. I would say that the contribution Overland makes here is toward reading Proverbs “cohesively,” where we are “noticing clusters of sayings and whole poems” (2). Instead of missing the forest for the trees, we understand the trees more when we see the forest. When we see that a block of text is its own poem, then it sheds light on the individual lines. Moving between poems can be detected by shifts in theme, or an inclusio which closes with a word used in the beginning (such as how “blessed” in starts and ends Prov 3:13–18). Sometimes a poem ends with a “binary character summary,” which is “superficially simplistic” but it challenges the reader with the question “Whom will you emulate?” (8).
Content and Layout
Most commentaries in this series have four sections:
- Form and Structure
Overland goes above and beyond that, and necessarily so because Proverbs’ structure isn’t easy to understand. To give an example of how Overland structures each section, I will write out his headings for Proverbs 3. He titles Proverbs 3:1–35 as “What counsel does wisdom offer for healthy relationships?” He provides a four-part overview of Prov 3:
- Section I opens with two parts:
- a wisdom commendation (Prov 3:1–2),
- and imperatives for healthy relationships (3:3–4);
- Section II focuses on the human-divine relationship (3:5-12);
- Section III gives another wisdom commendation (3:13-26); which leads to
- Section IV human-human relationships (3:27-33).
Overland then provides understanding of how Prov 3 fits in the context of Prov 1–2 and 4–5. He offers some tips on what to watch for, that being portions focusing on the necessity of wisdom above anything else, instructions on how to relate both to God and to people. Character summaries recap the entire lecture.
He provides a detailed 4-and-a-half page translation and outline. The translation and outline are placed side-by-side, which is very helpful visually.
Next comes Notes on the Text, which are comments on the (transliterated) Hebrew, grammar, why Overland translated certain words or phrases the way he did, etc.
With Form and Structure, Overland provides the borders to the poem, key words that show that the poem does begin at 3:1 (like how it follows the character summary of 2:21-22 and begins with “my son”) and that it ends at 3:34-35 (another character summary). Overland then offers both macro- and microstructural features. The macrostructural features pertain to words, phrases, and chiasms that occur in more than one of the four sections of Proverbs 3. Microstructural features could be chiasms, assonance, thematic coherence, reversal, etc.
Then comes the Comment section. This section is usually somewhat brief. At least, with Proverbs 3, this section is five-and-a-half pages and the explanation section is one page. Overland provides a few paragraphs on what, say, Section I (3:1–4) means before looking at a few specific verses (he takes a close look at 3:3 and offers a very brief note on 3:4). Concerning Section III (3:13–26), Overland makes a brief comment on 3:13–20 before taking a close look at 3:18, 19, 19–20, 20, and 25.
The Explanation section doesn’t offer application, but it does hone in on Proverbs’ thinking on specific subjects (drawn from the text itself) that hopefully will guide you on where to place your emphasis of application (see Koptak [NIVAC] for help here). So Overland won’t write your sermon for you, but he will help you see the shape of Proverbs, which will help you discern the theme of each section.
For example, I preached on Prov 3:11–26 recently. Even though that breaks the mold of Overland’s sections. I think 3:11–12 are separate from what comes before given that 3:11 contains “my son,” so 3:11 begins a new section/poem. If discipline/wisdom/blessing are the controlling themes of 3:11-26, then it’s easier to see why the father says what he does.
If the good things in 3:1-10 don’t seem to happen, don’t despise the Lord’s disciple for he loves you like a son (3:11-12). His discipline leads to wisdom (3:13-18), which will make you “blessed” (3:13, 18). Wisdom is a “tree of life” which brings immortality, and this wisdom is God’s ancient wisdom (3:19-20) which he used both to create the world and to wipe away sinners (3:20, 25) to preserve the righteous.
In 3:21-26 we see the benefits of God’s wisdom both practically and relationally. Because we know God loves us, we can sleep peacefully. When sudden terror comes on the wicked (3:25), wisdom has been there before (3:20), and God will be with us all along the way for he is out confidence (3:26). God’s discipline leads to wisdom which leads to a long (even eternal) blessed life. Knowing the structure and themes helps write the sermon.
What about Proverbs 10–31?
Overland really impresses on Proverbs 10–31. Contra Longman but in agreement with Waltke, O’Dowd, and others, Overland believes that there are clusters of proverbs in these sections which revolve around a certain theme, even if not every verse in that cluster touches on that theme. Perhaps you have a cluster of five verses where verses 1–2 and 5 speak about wealth, and verses 3-4 speak about anger and laziness. While each verse has important meaning on its own, reading them together colors how money or wealth might influence anger or laziness.
Overland divides Proverbs 19:10-17 into three sections revolving around three themes of power, relationships, and satisfaction (395). Section 1 (19:10-17) analyzes the problem, Section II (19:18-20:1) offers the answer, and Section III (20:2-4) recaps the three themes. The main point of this speech is for the son to cultivate his character so that it is marked by faithful love (19:22). This happens through knowing how to use power rightly, how to place relationships above wealth, and how to guide children who are angry scoffers.
Overland shows that the author ties Sections I-III together with chiasms, palistrophes (or longer chiasms), inclusios, and shared themes.
Palistrophe—here there are shared themes, words, or phrases with the first and the last three verses in this speech.
- 19:10 matches with 20:4 (the outermost step)
- These verses present actions that are negative.
- 19:11 with 20:3 (the middle step)
- Restrained anger
- 19:11—”slow to anger” and “overlooking and offense”
- 20:3—”keeping aloof of strife”
- 19:12 with 20:2 (the innermost step)
- A king’s anger is like a growling/roaring lion
Certain words or themes are found in at least two of the sections.
- Lazy: 19:15 (Section I); 19:24 (II); 20:4 (III)
- Power operating harmfully: 19:12 (I); 19:19 (II); 20:2 (III)
- Wealth: 19:10a, 13, 14a, 17a (I); 19:19; 22b (II); 20:3 (III)
- Laziness leading to hunger: 19:15 (I); 19:24 (II)
- Phrase repetition leading to escalation: In 19:12, a king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion; in 20:2 his terror is like the roaring of a lion. Wrath and growling escalates to terror and roaring.
These sections are dense structure-wise, but, if they are correct, they pay off dividends by tying these proverbs together and making the teaching value all the deeper.
This is a really helpful commentary. While not labeled as a commentary for pastors, if you think knowing the structure of a text is important (and you should), then this is a pastoral commentary. The reason I say that is because while studying for a few sermons on Proverbs, I’ve read sections of Ray Ortlund’s Preaching the Word commentary on Proverbs. It’s pushed as a pastoral commentary for pastors and their churches, while some examples can be helpful, Ortlund doesn’t keep the ancient context in mind (such as how Israel lived under the Mosaic covenant). The examples can be helpful, but he often makes a beeline for Jesus, the New Testament, and application (I haven’t read the whole commentary, so I can certainly be wrong).
Yet for any pastor or teacher, how do you preach Proverbs? I think it would be wise to teach it thematically. On the other hand, Proverbs isn’t written thematically, and Overland is a huge benefit here. He shows the thematic unity between different blocks of material, chiasms, detailed outlines of each block, and how to read these blocks as a unit. For some pastors or teachers, Overland might get too deep into the nitty-gritty, and there isn’t much application. But for many Proverbs scholars and for those who crave details (like me), Overland’s commentary is a treasure trove.
Pair this with Waltke’s two-volume commentary (NICOT) (see his shorter abridged volume if you’re short on time) and Treier (Brazos), Koptak (NIVAC), and Longman (BCOT).
- Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary
- Author: Paul Overland
- Hardcover: 704 pages
- Publisher: Apollos (July 21, 2022)
Buy it from Amazon or IVP Books UK!
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