The Practical Wisdom of Proverbs

By Louis Goldberg
Grand Rapids : Kregel (1999). 218 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 258-259

Very few dependable resources for the study of the book of Proverbs are available for lay people and pastors alike. This small volume is an excellent introductory guide. Goldberg’s alertness to the nuances of the Hebrew language in the original text is like a glass of cool water to a thirsty man. In addition, the author is sensitive to NT parallels and applications. He also brings a knowledge of rabbinic materials to the text by way of illustration and amplification.

The Introduction (13-24) provides the reader with helpful discussions of wisdom literature, the nature of a proverb, and the interpretation of proverbs. Chapters 1-7 (25-111) are a running commentary on Proverbs 1:1–9:18. Chapters 8- 12 (113-216) present the most significant and frequent topics contained in Proverbs 10:1–31:31. Those topics include God and man (113-39), the believer and his emotions (141-65), family relationships (167-80), speech, laziness, and folly (181- 201), and life and death (203-16). Goldberg employs Proverbs’ Hebrew vocabulary to subdivide topics. For example, his treatment of the topic of God begins with proverbs employing “LORD” (Yahweh), the most frequent divine title (115-37). Then, those proverbs employing Eloha[sic]/Elohim (137-38) and “Holy One” (138- 39) are discussed.

Sunday school classes and Bible studies operating on a quarter system will appreciate the volume’s arrangement into thirteen sections (an introduction plus twelve chapters). A brief bibliography (217-18) concludes the volume. Unfortunately, Goldberg’s bibliography omitted a reference to the very helpful volume in The New American Commentary series by Duane A. Garrett (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs [Nashville: Broadman, 1993]). In addition, the volume’s usability is hampered by the lack of a Scripture index by which the reader could readily access its wealth of information on any particular passage of Proverbs.

In his treatment of Proverbs 8 the author holds a mediating position. Wisdom is not the Messiah, but is “in the living Word, Jesus the Messiah” (106, Goldberg’s emphasis). Goldberg consistently translates the Hebrew prohibitive with the negative -!H (’al) as “do not even begin to . . .” (cf. 34, 35, 50). Such a rendering is not improbable in some cases, but it might be overdoing it to apply it to all occurrences in Proverbs. The subjective negative (’al) is commonly employed to reflect urgency or immediacy, while the objective negative (!J-, lÇ) indicates legislation as an emphatic (or, permanent) negative (cf. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990] 567).

Louis Goldberg (Th.D., Grace Theological Seminary) was formerly Professor of Theology and Hebrew Studies at Moody Bible Institute. He is now Scholar in Residence with Jews for Jesus in New York City. For more than twenty five years Dr. Goldberg has been spending his summers in Israel assisting indigenous congregations.