The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15

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The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. By Bruce K. Waltke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, xxxv + 693 pp., $50.00.

One of the best in-depth evangelical OT commentary series in recent years has been the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by R. K. Harrison and R. L. Hubbard, Jr. The newest addition to that series is The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 by Bruce Waltke. This work is a tremendous contribution to that series.

Any work or article by Waltke is worth reading. The author of numerous articles and books (for a fairly complete list, see J. I. Packer and S. K. Soderlund, The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke, pp. 327-32), Waltke is perhaps best known for his commentaries on Genesis, Joshua, and Micah, as well as his massive work on Hebrew syntax (Are Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax) co-authored with Michael O'Connor. In this commentary on Proverbs, Waltke combines his extensive knowledge of Hebrew and ancient Near Eastern literature with a wide acquaintance of secondary literature on Proverbs. The bibliography Waltke includes on Proverbs covers 38 pages.

Waltke begins his commentary with an extensive introduction. Not counting the bibliography, the introduction comprises 133 pages. It covers the entire book of Proverbs, not only chapters 1-15. Waltke first discusses the Hebrew text and the versions; then he discusses the structure of the book of Proverbs. Here he interacts with the views of so many critical scholars that it is a bit overwhelming at times (though certainly thorough). Next, he gives a brief survey of relevant ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, followed by a more thorough discussion of the authorship of the book. Waltke accepts that most of the Proverbs were written by Solomon, as the headings of the book attest, with sections collected by the men of Hezekiah, and two smaller sections written by Agur and Lemuel. He sees the final editor probably living during the Persian period (p. 37).

The two sections that complete the introduction are both outstanding. Under "Forms of Proverbs" Waltke provides a miniature introduction to Hebrew poetry and poetics that is both succinct and helpful. Since Waltke uses many poetic technical terms throughout the commentary, it is good that he provides a definition of most of them here. He concludes the section by illustrating most of the poetic devices using Prov 26:1-12. Waltke then discusses the wisdom genre, subgenres in the book of Proverbs, and the book's setting.

The final introductory section, "Theology," is both thorough (over 70 pages!) and well presented. After an introductory discussion of the theology of Proverbs and biblical theology, Waltke discusses the theology of Proverbs under five general headings: God; revelation, inspiration, and tradition; anthropology; pedagogy; and Christology. He gives an extensive analysis of "Woman Wisdom," whom he identifies not as Christ, but as a personification of "Solomon's inspired wisdom, the communication of which is the book's aim and rationale" (p. 86). While Waltke rejects the equation of Woman Wisdom with Christ, he does see the figure as a type of Christ (regarding Christ's wisdom, the antitype, as superior to Woman Wisdom, the type). Under anthropology, Waltke discusses the various words used for the wise and the fool; deals with the rewards of the wise (including a discussion on whether Proverbs promises too much); and treats the various proverbs concerning man and woman, husband and wife, and father and mother. The sections on Hebrew poetry and theology alone are probably worth the price of this book.

In the preface, Waltke outlines his approach to the commentary: on the one hand, the text is addressed to "the pastor, student, and Bible lover"; on the other hand, the footnotes are mainly for "scholars who want to document a point and/or to research it in greater depth" (p. xxiii). This is precisely the approach he carefully follows throughout the commentary, and Waltke has succeeded admirably on both fronts. …