Being in a class this semester on “The Writings”, and having my term paper include an exegesis from Proverbs, I was looking forward to what insights this book might have to offer into the proverbial mindset. The goal of the book, as expressed in the preface is to provide a gateway to understanding and remembering the proverbs in a way that suits the more topic-based orientation our 21st century thinking process.
As it happens, the best part of the book is the preface, where you find a nice summary of contemporary scholarship on Proverbs. It’s generally helpful and sets Proverbs nicely in its ancient near eastern context. Afterword, all the Proverbs are systematically ripped from their original contexts, and organized according to topics that are seemingly organized by every noun Proverbs has to offer (for instance, there’s a section for all occurrences of “bear” in Proverbs). There is no question that Proverbs sometimes reads haphazardly, but there is an organizational logic and integrity to the book, and that unfortunately has not been recognized by Dallas in this work. It would have been better titled “Proverbs Deconstructed.”
Rather than insights into the wisdom literature of Scripture, and how one can skillfully navigate within the created order in the fear of God, we are left with a list of pithy statements that more closely resembles William Bennett’s Book of Virtues than it does the biblical canon. If you want to understand Proverbs, identify a good commentary and work through it slowly, prayerfully, and confidently (Bruce Waltke has produced an excellent commentary on Proverbs).