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Book Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Bartholomew and O’Dowd)

Old Testament Wisdom Literature Bartholomew O'Dowd

What does the Bible have to say about wisdom? Can pithy poetics really form character? In their new book Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd present a theological introduction to the Bible’s wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3.19 says God created the world by wisdom, yet most 21st century Westerners have lost the wonder of creation. Christians are saved through the blood of Christ, what do we need to understand about the world? Being in a real covenantal relationship with Yahweh brought Israel together with the God who both created the universe and who redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Knowing his law meant knowing how to life. It meant wisdom and understanding (Deut 4.6). How can man expect to find it, and how can 21st century Christians apply 3,000-year-old Old Testament wisdom to their lives?

Summary

Chapters 1-3 bring us into (1) Israel’s world of wisdom—they believed that they were in covenant with the one God who created all of reality and who was the source of knowledge. Yet, as Job expresses, they knew their knowledge was limited. Next (2), the authors take a tour through Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom to bring us into the flow of thought around Israel. Chapter 3 makes a plea for poetry, which “gives us a nuanced understanding of people, language and culture” (51). Stating a mere proposition such as “God is omnipotent” is very different than “declaring that God rules ‘the raging sea'” or that he can “draw in Leviathan with a hook” (69). Poetry brings imagery to the stories which make up our life. 

At 160 pages, Chapters 4-9 make up the core of the book. The authors spend two chapters on each of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In the first chapter on each book, rather than rehearsing the main gist of each book, they describe the book’s theological function. Each book’s second chapter (“Chapter B” as I call it) explores a particular theme in that book.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1-9 develops a character-consequence scheme. Here, your character (wise/foolish) determines the consequences in your life (life/ruin). Proverbs 10-30 nuance this idea and bring exceptions to the rule. These proverbs are not categorized by topic, but seem to be written chaotically and at random, just the way life is. In chapter B, the authors examine how wisdom is embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman, though she is not a real person for no one person could do what she does. Rather, that figure represents the extent to which wisdom reaches and the practical ways of living in which wisdom is required.

Unlike Proverbs 1-9, Job and Ecclesiastes “focus on profound experiences of apparent contradictions to the character-consequence theme,” which deepen our faith and our wisdom and form our character (285). The authors note, “Ecclesiastes is performatively enigmatic, just like suffering, and Job is long, at times tedious, with all those speeches, just like suffering” (318). Sometimes the text’s form is just as important as what it says.

Job

Job asks “Where can wisdom be found?” (28.20). His friends think they know it all, yet in the end Job is to make sacrifices for their foolish words. Job replies like a human being—he gives strong responses, fears, worries, and contradictions. Just like the process of suffering, all people learn as the conversation of suffering goes on. They change their answers from one idea to another, even being hopeful at points (Job 28), before plunging back into suffering again, and still yet before God shows up in a revealing way. Chapter B examines Job 28 and how we, limited in our understanding of all things, must go to the One who stands outside of creation to obtain wisdom.

Ecclesiastes

Similarly, Qohelet in Ecclesiastes looks for meaning in the world through his own autonomous wisdom—which is actually “folly” because Qohelet’s search occurs apart from God. The book “ultimately affirms life and joy… but only as the end result of a ferocious struggle with the brokenness of life” (189). Job presents bodily suffering; Ecclesiastes presents mental anguish. It’s not enough to have a high IQ. Job had money. Qohelet asked difficult philosophical questions. But wisdom requires us to admit our finite creatureliness before the infinite Creator. We, like the woman in Proverbs 31, can embody wisdom and image God. Chapter B takes up the topic of time, seeing the larger story, and using our time well.

Chapters 10 looks at wisdom in the NT through the coming of Jesus. Chapter 11 gives an OT theology of wisdom. The chapter both summarizes and expands on what has been said previously. Wisdom is related to creation and how the world works. It is brought about by the Creator who is also Israel’s Redeemer. God’s good creation links his wisdom with his law/covenant with the prophets. Chapter 12 applies wisdom to our present life concerning education, politics, spirituality, the ordinary, and the dark night of the soul. For example, even after we receive salvation, we still want to be the captains of our souls. We have “false selves” that we want to put on to protect ourselves, and God uses suffering to dismantle those false selves. The authors refer to C.S. Lewis’ image of someone buying a small cabin in the woods. She thinks it’s great to have God come live with her… until he begins to tear down walls and change out the stairs. He wants to revamp the whole house, and it hurts. But believing that he is great and good will help carry us to the end of the darkness that feels like our closest friend.

Recommended?

I greatly appreciated Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s theological interpretation. According to Ecclesiastes, how can we know if we truly have wisdom? Job 28 tells us that man searches high and low for treasure, yet even Abaddon and death themselves do not have wisdom (v. 22). God doesn’t come out and give us all the answers we need. How can man expect to find it, and how can a 21st century person apply 3,000 year old wisdom to their lives? The authors look at the meaning of the texts and what is really going on. Teacher and pastors would do well to read this book. Hopefully more people will grasp the importance of these important, often ignored Old Testament books. All people of all statuses everywhere can receive wisdom and they can use it, but it starts with fearing the Lord who both calms the raging seas, who condescends to know us, and who has descended and ascended to save us.

Lagniappe

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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom (Tremper Longman)

Fear of the Lord is Wisdom Tremper Longman

What is wisdom? Is it knowledge to be well-applied? Is it ethical? Theological? Proverbs mentions the Lord, but is it more like a “Confuscious says” kind of idea which anyone can use, even pagans? In his book, Tremper Longman (the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) believes that the heart of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” Throughout his book, Longman, who has written numerous books and commentaries on wisdom literature, engages in “canonical interpretation” (181). No biblical book is an island, but each is to be interpreted among the rest in the canon. Thus Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job must agree. Even if there are major differences, there is no discord among them. Even more, “the Lord” in Proverbs is the covenantal God of Israel—Yahweh. To fear him is to know him and follow him within a covenantal relationship.

Section one looks at Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (abbreviated as PEJ from now on), which, though wisdom literature, have their differences. Yet we must read them together to know God’s teaching about wisdom.

Proverbs—“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” with fear meaning to acknowledge God in all of his greatness and majesty. Our very “existence depends on him” (12). This fear does not make us run, but “makes us pay attention and listen” (13) and it leads to obedience. Wisdom is both ethical and theological. Because of who God is, we stand and listen and obey. Woman Wisdom represents God, and Woman Folly represents the false gods (for the gods live on the highest hills, cf. Prov 9.3, 14). So, in the second part of Proverbs (10-31), even when God is not mentioned the proverbs remain theological. For example, to be wise is to obey and honor one’s parents (10.1) for it means you are properly worshiping and honoring God (Exod 20.12).

There are two speakers (and two messages) in Ecclesiastes. The first is Qohelet (taken to be “a literary construct… to get the reader to think about the meaning of life”), the second is a father speaking to his son, with his perspective being the correct one (36). For Qohelet, God has set eternity in our hearts, yet we do not understand “when the right time occurs” (33). We do not know what God is doing from beginning to end. Yet Proverbs teaches that the wise man does know the proper time to apply certain proverbs. Rather, the father (at the end of the book) gives his son an “above the sun” look at life. Human wisdom comes up empty in the end, but fearing God leads to life.

Job—most of this chapter is a summary of key points throughout Job. Job’s three friends repeat a retributive theological argument ad nauseum. The argument never changes nor develops, the volume just gets turned up. Longman says that Job is not about theodicy, or how to persevere through suffering, it is a debate over wisdom, “and Job’s suffering is the occasion for the debate” (47). In fact, Job agrees to the friends’ retribution theology. Job’s take: he is blameless, but since he is suffering, God must be unjust. He admits that wisdom is hidden from all, even the sea and death don’t know where it is. Wisdom is found in God alone (28.28), and after Job meets God, the reader sees that submission is one’s proper response to God within a relationship with him.

Part two looks at wisdom sayings (ch 4) in Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Song of Songs, in the prophetic literature. Deuteronomy and the Psalms bring together (God’s) law and (God’s) wisdom, and the prophets show that having the law doesn’t equal having wisdom. Rather, fearing and knowing God and following his law bring wisdom. The Song of Songs, though not “wisdom” literature per se, connects with Proverbs in an ethical and practical way—love and be faithful to your own spouse.

Longman tries to cover a lot of ground in thirteen pages in chapter four, which, while leaving me wanting more, it also left me feeling quite empty. When talking about the prophets he spends a lot of time quoting examples but only gives brief statements about true wisdom and how they emphasized knowing God rightly. Those brief statements were often swallowed up by the many biblical quotations; it seemed to be a rehearsal of much of the text (though not completely).

In chapter six Longman views both Joseph’s wise actions in light of PEJ and Daniel’s wisdom in light of Proverbs. They were figures of wisdom. Part two ends with chapter 7, a look at Adam and Solomon who both had wisdom but who instead both chose folly. The king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 thought himself to be wise but was compared to prideful Adam. For both Adam and the king of Tyre, submission to God in all matters is wisdom lived out.

Part three observes the source of wisdom (ch 7). Is it revelation? Ultimately, wisdom comes from God. Proverbs testifies to the ten commandments, and even though Proverbs utilizes some Egyptian proverbs, ultimately the Egyptians were fools because they did not fear Yahweh. “All truth is God’s truth,” and to follow God and his instructions is wise.

In chapter eight, God in his wisdom created an ordered cosmos, and the more we discover the more wisdom we gain in living this life as his dependent creatures. Yet this ordered world is also a fallen one, and even the wisest of persons can, and might end up, in desperation due to the pervasiveness of evil. “The world is warped; we are warped,” and the ordered world, and especially its disordered citizens, does not always follow its order like we expect it to (142). Yet there is hope amid the frustration. Jesus, who experienced the world’s frustration, has brought redemption through his death and resurrection, and a new creation is coming our way where all vanity/frustration will be cleared away.

The rest of part three sets wisdom literature within its cultural ANE context (ch 9), and examines the relationship between wisdom, law, and covenant (ch 10). God’s law expresses how his covenant people should live.

In part four, Longman mines Proverbs for a retributive theology (ch 11). Job clearly teaches against it, but so many verses in Proverbs state that if one does/not do x, he will/not gain y (185). Doesn’t this sound like prosperity teaching? Yet Job was blameless but received suffering, and Qohelet sees injustice in the midst of righteousness. Proverbs are not promises, and Job and Ecclesiastes are “offering a corrective to a misreading of Proverbs” (186).

In chapter twelve, Longman then searches to see if there was a group/class of sages or a school of wisdom in Israel, and asks how a woman is to read the book of Proverbs which seems directed mostly to males (ch 13, see my post).

Part five looks at wisdom in the apocryphal books and Dead Sea Scrolls (ch 14) and in the NT writings (ch 15). Jesus is compared to Woman Wisdom, specifically that found in Proverbs 8. In Proverbs 8 (and all of 1–9 where she is mentioned) Woman Wisdom is a poetic personification, but one that is not a prophecy to be fulfilled (by Jesus or anyone else). Jesus embodies God’s wisdom, but he does not fulfill all of the details of Proverbs 8.

The book ends with two appendices—(A1) wisdom in the twenty-first century; (A2) is wisdom literature a genre? Appendix 1 brings some good application and perspective to living in today’s world. Longman believes that the Christian counselor is the best example of an OT sage. He or she must know Scripture well and be able to apply it, must have a good relationship with God, and ought to be able to, with practice, insightfully figure people out as they counsel them and then apply God’s real-world wisdom to their lives—practical, ethical, and theological wisdom.

Recommended?

As he notes in his book, the idea of wisdom has been given short shrift for a long time. It’s something that been likened to something stodgy old people have who have learned from their mistakes but they don’t want to admit they had fun doing it. Or some see it as having mass quantities of knowledge, like living in the ivory tower and waxing eloquently with every word. Instead, as Longman believes, it is EQ: emotional (and social) intelligence. It is knowing how to live in this world among its people, knowing how to serve them well, and how to survive this life without being ruined (at least by our own foolishness). Pastors, teachers, and students would be well served by Longman’s treatments.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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How Should Women Read Proverbs?

Why does Proverbs 1–9 present a father instructing his son against a strange (or “foreign”) woman? Are daughters not important enough to learn and receive wisdom? Why must folly be presented as a woman? And why is the woman portrayed so poorly in certain proverbs (21.9; cf. Eccl 7.25–29)? Also, the only female character in Job, his wife, urges Job to “curse God and die” (Jb 2.9). In his chapter “Wisdom and Gender” in his new book, The Fear of the Lord is WisdomTremper Longman states, “One cannot deny that they [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job] are male-oriented… though it is also the case that some elements within these books empower women” (202).

Woman and Mothers

First of all, though the father is instructing the son, he puts his wife’s instructions on the same level as his:

1.8Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching 

6.20My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.

It was extremely rare in the Ancient Near East to acknowledge the mother in this way, putting her instructions as authoritatively equal to the father’s. Other proverbs emphasize respect for one’s mother:

10.1A wise son makes a glad father,

but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.

15.20A wise son makes a glad father,

but a foolish man despises his mother.

At the beginning of Proverbs 31, King Lemuel offers a teaching which he received from his mother:

31.26The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

This comes before the well-known section on the Proverbs 31 Woman—a section that is not about a wife whose sole purpose is to pop out babies and stay home all day making sandwiches. Rather, she is a “noble woman.” Walter Kaiser says that the noble woman 

is depicted as a competent manager of goods and real estate, an expert business woman in cottage industry, a competent mother and wife, and a personwith a strong sense of personal worth able to carry out her sphere of authority with resoluteness and great efficiency.

She is full of practical knowledge, wisdom, and social skills: 

31.26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

31.28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her.

In the Song of Songs, the Shulammite woman speaks just over half of the time. Although not the author, her voice is filled with import and significance. 

Forward to Eden

Longman states that in the garden of Eden, “God created woman from the man’s side, clearly indicating their equality. The woman is not created from Adam’s head as if she is superior or from Adam’s feet as if she were inferior, but from his side, showing mutuality and equality” (206). He then notes that Eve was created as Adam’s “helper” (Hb, ‘ezer) though it might be better to translate that word as “ally.” In his relationship to Israel, God is also referred to as ‘ezer (Pss 33.20; 89.18–19; Deut 33.19) so it does not denote an inferior status. Adam and Eve had a joint task in guarding the garden of Eden.

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes “adopt the ancient Near Eastern practice of fathers instructing their sons,” and these two books reflect the patriarchy of the time (207). We live after in a different redemptive-historical time, which is post-Christ’s death and resurrection. Longman argues that when a woman reads Proverbs 21.9, she should substitute the word “woman” for “man.” In a footnote, Longman believes that parents took the content of Proverbs and taught them to their daughters also. Why allow the sons to be wise with money (17.16) but not the daughters? Surely, being in covenant with Yahweh who redeemed them out of Israel, parents would want their daughters to be wise, righteous, and godly.

Patrick Schreiner, in his new book The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, says that the father, king Solomon (Prov 1.1), is teaching his son the wisdom and understanding (1.2) which stems from God’s instructions (Deut 4.6). The kingly father is “training him to be the ideal king who establishes David’s forever dynasty. The good king will rule in wisdom and righteousness by obeying the Torah. He is to decree laws (Prov. 16:10), execute justice (Prov. 31:89), and pour out wrath on evildoers (Prov. 16:14)” (70). If that is the case, then it makes sense why a son is being spoken to. On the one hand, even the other males wouldn’t fit this category for none of them were in the line to rule. On the other hand, the king was to display wisdom, understanding, justice, and righteousness to Israel so that they would follow suit. Both men and women could know and apply Proverbs to their life.

Lady Wisdom and the Noble Woman

What about Lady Wisdom found in Proverbs 1–9 or the noble woman in Proverbs 31.20–31? Longman says that woman can switch the genders to Manly Wisdom and the noble man (cf. Ps 112 which resembles Ps 31.20–31). Many may already be doing this. Why is wisdom portrayed as a woman? Because the father is talking to his young son. He portrays wisdom and folly as women to keep his sons interest while presenting them in their proper forms. What I mean is that Dame Folly is presented as seductive, loud, and lazy, sitting at the door of her house and calling men over (Prov 9.13–15). That is foolishness. That is a sluggard. Those who follow the way of foolishness (and those who do so by literally going to commit adultery) will cost them their lives (especially when the spouse comes home, see 7.20, 23). Dame Folly stands for the false gods 

Lady Wisdom, by contrast, builds her house (9.1). She slaughtered her meat and mixes the wine for a banquet (v. 2). She sets the table and sends out invitations (vv. 2–3). She works. She has practical knowledge and knows how to get things done well. Rather than eating in secret (v. 17), the way of wisdom provides an opportunity for joy at a public banquet. Longman adds, “Woman Wisdom stands for Yahweh’s wisdom, indeed for Yahweh himself” (250). 

Whether male or female, wisdom calls and says,

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (9.5–6).

(You can read my review here).

The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom Treamper Longman

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Book Review: God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life (Tim Keller)

God's Wisdom for Navigating Life Keller Review

Many Christians use New Years resolutions to revamp their Bible reading. Tim and Kathy Keller have provided a daily devotional in the book of Proverbs (with some readings in other biblical texts). Proverbs requires a year (and more!) of daily consideration. It’s full of so much thought, and it is a book that reminds us that “you’ve never really thought enough about anything” (ix). Having just come out with a year devotional on Psalms, Keller says, “Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith. Proverbs is about how, having trusted God, we should then live that faith out” (ix).

Proverbs are not truths that are true at all times. It is a “poetic art form that instills wisdom in you as you wrestle with it” (ix). Two ideas, sentences, or phrases are brought together to hit at a truth from different angles. They require you to wrestle with their meaning to know how to live. Keller gives an example. Proverbs 12.15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” whereas Proverbs 16.25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.“ The fool thinks a way is correct, but it leads to death and ruin. Yet, at the same time, ruin can happen to anyone. There is order in the world, but there is sin and chaos which come about from fallen sinners.

The reader is encouraged to read the book with someone else or with others. Most of the devotions end with a question to consider and a concluding prayer. Keller provides two other questions in the Introduction for the reader to consider each day:

  1. Where in your life or the life of someone else have you seen this observation illustrated?
  2. How can you put this observation into practice—in thought, attitude, word, or deed?

Instead of going straight through Proverbs, Keller organizes Proverbs into seven different sections.

  1. Knowing Wisdom
  2. Knowing God
  3. Knowing the Heart
  4. Knowing Others
  5. Knowing the Times and Seasons
  6. Knowing the Spheres (e.g., marriage, sex, parenting, money and work, power, justice)
  7. Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God

Keller doesn’t stop with Proverbs, but looks to Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Jesus is the fulfillment of all wisdom. He is the “greater Solomon” (Lk 11.31).

Keller is insightful and convicting. In section six, when it comes to justice, Keller pinpoints talking about righteousness and justice when it comes to the poor, asking questions such as:

  • “How are you building your character and relationship to God now, so that you will be able to do the sacrificial thing when the time comes?” (332)
  • Unjust social systems are set up which prey on the poor and helpless: low wages, excessive interest loans, prejudice against minorities and immigrants, and legal battles where the rich often get away scot-free. “Compared with those who are truly poor, most of us are wealthy in the eyes of the world. How are we being judged as believers for our use of the resources God has given us?” (334)
  • There are multitudes of ways that poverty can come upon someone. Fire. Divorce. Hurricanes. A bad loan choice. sometimes the people circumstances come upon made a rash, unwise decision. Sometimes it just sprung upon them. “How does compassion for the poor express itself in your life?” (335). “Do you need to confess any ways in which you have believed that the poor have brought their poverty on themselves by their agency alone? What have you deserved at the hands of God for your sins? What have you received?” (336). “What possessions of yours belong to others? How will you get them to those people? “(337).

Recommended?

If you’re looking for a new devotional book, I would recommend Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. Each chapter is short and only takes 1-2 minutes to read yet sometimes can take all day to consider. Keller helps us to consider the Bible each day more as God’s people. Have been made righteous in Christ, we should be living righteously before God and to others—our spouses, children, coworkers, and the poor among us. Having the wisdom of God available to us, we should work to gain more of his wisdom—to live well, to flourish in the new covenant, to serve, to work hard, to relax, to offer help, to be a good friend, to know what to do when difficult situations arise—to God’s glory. 

Lagniappe

Buy from Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Review: Proverbs (TOTC)

Proverbs

Derek Kidner was a brilliant British Old Testament scholar who taught at Oak Hill Theological College before becoming Warden of Tyndale House. The book of Proverbs (TOTC) is just one of the many commentaries Kidner has written (see here for the full list).

The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series is almost complete (we’re still waiting for Boda’s Ezra-Nehemiah volume), while the TNTC series has been completed. In general, the volumes in the series are kept at a moderate length, and there are comments to encourage devotional thought. Still it should be said that these volumes are exegetical in nature, and, as Kidner writes, “the meaning of the text must be even a short commentary’s first concern” (9).

Outline

Kidner begins his commentary in Part One with a brief study of the Book of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Israel. Wisdom literature was important to Israel (and should be important to us) because “there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet [are] decisive in personal dealings” (13). You wife may be beautiful, but is she a brawler (Prov 25.24; 27.15)? Your man might make your sides hurt with laughter, but is he wiser in his own eyes than seven men with good sense (26.16)?

Second comes Wisdom in the Ancient World. The authors of Proverbs likely used both original and material from their Mesopotamian neighbors. Yet the book of Proverbs is set within the context of YHWH who reveals himself to his people. Unlike the ‘Babylonian Job,’ Israel’s Job (and Israel themselves) knew the things that were pleasing to their God. “Egyptian jewels, as at the Exodus, have been re-set to their advantage by Israelite workmen and put to finer use” (24).

Kidner finishes Part One with a survey of the structure, authorship, date, and text of Proverbs.

In Part Two, Kidner shows us a glimmer of Israel’s jewels in a series of 8 subject-studies, reoccurring themes in Proverbs:

  • God and Man
  • Wisdom
  • The Fool
  • The Sluggard
  • The Friend
  • Words
  • The Family
  • Life and Death

These 24 pages were by far the favorite section for Mari and I. “You have to be good to be wise” and “you have to be wise to be really good” (30). Even more so,

you have to be godly to be wise; and this is not because godliness pays, but because the only wisdom by which you can handle everyday things in conformity with their nature is the wisdom by which they were divinely made and ordered” (30).

To not be wise is to be the fool who has “no idea of a patient search for wisdom” and his mind is closed to God. It is to be the sluggard, the figure of the tragi-comedy.  He will not begin, finish, nor face things. Because the sluggard learns not from God-given examples (e.g. the ant), it is far too late for him to learn when he is confronted his own wasted life. The wise person takes note and does not imitate the sluggard. Ever.

In the next section Kidner divides Proverbs into 7 main sections. He looks at the meaning and usage of words, where they are found throughout Proverbs and other OT books, and how a word or phrase might be better translated.

The volume ends with a short concordance 10 pages in length “that helps locate lost sayings (in territory notoriously hard to search) and encourages further subject studies” (9).

The (Brief) Chocolate Milk

Kidner is both clever and concise with his words. Rather than getting a 1,000 page commentary of dense syntactical, grammatical, textual details, one gets a brief comment on almost every verse of Proverbs. This makes the commentary easy to use for devotional reading, as each chapter on Proverbs doesn’t require you to read 30+ pages. Instead, most of Kidner’s chapters run about 5 pages each.

But something must be said about this brevity, a disappointment found by both Mari and I. 

The Spoiled Milk

While Kidner writes that “the meaning of the text must be even a short commentary’s first concern” (9), I must defer to John Frame who wrote,

Imagine someone saying that he understands the meaning of a passage of Scripture but doesn’t know at all how to apply it. Taking that claim literally would mean that he could answer no questions about the text, recommend no translations into other languages, draw no implications from it, or explain none of its terms in his own words. Could we seriously accept such a claim? When one lacks knowledge of how to ‘apply’ a text, his claim to know the ‘meaning’ becomes and empty—meaningless—claim. Knowing the meaning, then, is knowing how to apply. The meaning of Scripture is its application. (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 67).

While I’m sure Kidner would know how to apply the truths of Proverbs, the application is often left on the cutting room floor. To give but one example, on Proverbs 18.8 (“Tidbits of Gossip”) Kidner comments,

Delicious morsels (RSV) is a more likely translation than AV’s wounds; modern scholars agree in deriving it from a verb ‘to swallow greedily’. See subject-study: Words 1 (1), p. 43. The proverb is exactly repeated in 26:22 (121). 

When it comes to actual devotional use, this commentary is hit and miss. Sometimes it works, and others times it isn’t. I would like to have seen more of Kidner’s wordsmithing in this commentary, particularly how Christ is the Wisdom of God and how Christian are to use this godly wisdom in their life.

Recommended?

Like apples of gold in a setting of silver, Kidner words are fitly spoken. Yet I wouldn’t recommend this as your first Proverbs commentary. For the same price you could get Duane Garrett’s NAC volume Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs or Eric Lane’s Proverbs volume in the Focus on the Bible series. Kidner will prove helpful on the subject-studies, the outline of Proverbs, and some critical-textual matters. If you want to go even deeper, head over to Longman and Waltke.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Derek Kidner
  • Series: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 17)
  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (February 13, 2009)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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