Waltke, Bruce K. and Ivan D. V. De Silva. Proverbs: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 472 pp. Pb; $38.00. Link to Eerdmans
When Eerdmans published Bruce Waltke’s two-volume NICOT Proverbs commentary in 2004, reviewers immediately recognized it as one of the most comprehensive and insightful commentaries on Proverbs written in the twentieth century. It was one of those books reviewers call “magisterial.” Now fifteen years later, Waltke and his student Ivan De Silva have simplified the technical aspects of the earlier commentary and brought it up to date.
The authors are clear; they did not simply condense the earlier commentary. There is considerable revision, primarily in the recent literature now cited in the footnotes. Most influential is Michael Fox’s two-volume Proverbs commentary in the Yale Anchor Bible (2008, 2009). The only new research in the commentary is on the “foreign woman,” the Sitz im Leben for the dissemination of Proverbs in ancient Israel, the existence of doublets, and a few exegetical comments in the body of the commentary.
There are several differences from the original commentary. First, the book now conforms to the Chicago Manual of Style and Hebrew translations are more gender neutral, although in sections addressed to a son the masculine pronoun is retained. Second, Waltke translates the divine name as I AM. Readers familiar with Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007) will be familiar with this practice. Third, unlike the original commentary, the shorter commentary does not arrange proverbs into larger meaningful clusters. Since the shorter commentary does not engage in a detailed exegesis of the Hebrew text, the clusters are less evident. Fourth, the shorter commentary includes a subject index so teachers and pastors can quickly find proverbs on a subject (pages 442-55).
The sixty-two-page introduction discusses the various collections within Proverbs, suggesting “Solomon’s fingerprint can be found in all but the last two collections” (p. 6). After a very brief notice of Ancient Near Eastern parallels, Waltke introduces readers to the features of Hebrew poetry and the wisdom genre. Two-thirds of the introduction is a theology of the book of Proverbs, including expected topics like God, Revelation and anthropology. Proverbs commentaries normally include a section defining the wise and the fools. The wise are the righteous, the ones who are upright and blameless. The wise fear the Lord and will receive their reward, including wealth and life. In contrast, the fool is unrighteous, senseless and sluggardly. They too will receive their own reward, the grave. Because experience demonstrates many wise people suffer and fools prosper, Waltke asks, “does Proverbs promise too much?” After looking briefly at three common suggestions for solving the problem, Waltke suggests the promises found in Proverbs are “mostly validated by experience” (p. 43). Proverbs tell the truth, but not the whole truth (there are exceptions). The book is a “primer on morality for the young” (p. 44) and does require trust in I AM.
Since this is a Christian commentary, it is not surprising to see a section on Christology. Since the original commentary, Waltke contributed two books on reading Psalms as Christian scripture, The Psalms as Christian Worship (Eerdmans 2010), The Psalms as Christian Lament (Eerdmans 2014, reviewed here) and The Psalms as Christian Praise (Eerdmans, 2019). Like the Psalms, Waltke argues the Proverbs are directly relevant to the Christian, although the book is surpassed by the teachings of Jesus (p. 57). He also includes several pages surveying and evaluating the “Wisdom Woman as a type of Christ” (p. 59-61). Although commonly found in early church discussions of Christ, the apostles themselves ever use Proverbs for their Christology. He does offer a short list of “striking similarities” between the personification of wisdom and John’s representation of Jesus (p. 61).
The body of the commentary works through the book verse-by-verse, usually devoting a brief paragraph to each saying. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and the editors removed most technical details of Hebrew syntax present in the original commentary. Most readers will have no trouble following the commentary.
Conclusion. In the introduction to the volume, the authors state the commentary is “intended for the Bible lover” (xvi). This shorter commentary is exactly what most teachers and pastors need for understanding the book of Proverbs. Eerdmans is to be applauded for publishing this affordable major commentary and making Waltke’s work available to a wider audience.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.