Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms

By Tremper Longman III
Grand Rapids : Baker (2006). 608 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 272-274

The commentary series of which this volume is a part targets primarily the needs of “scholars, ministers, seminary students, and Bible study leaders” (12). It is confined to Psalms (3 vols. by John Goldingay), Proverbs (by Longman), Song of Songs (by Richard S. Hess), Job, and Ecclesiastes. Tremper Longman III, the Robert H. Gundry professor of biblical studies at Westmont College (Santa Barbara, California), is the editor of this series as well as the author of this particular volume. He has authored or co-authored more than twenty books, including commentaries on Ecclesiastes (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1997), Daniel (NIVAC; Zondervan, 1999), the Song of Songs (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2001), Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary; Tyndale, 2006), and Jeremiah and Lamentations (NIBC; Hendrickson, 2008). Longman also wrote How to Read Proverbs (InterVarsity, 2002).

A general introduction (21-87) precedes this volume’s commentary section, providing detailed examination of Proverbs’ title, canonicity, authorship, and date (21-26), social setting (26-28), text (28-29), genre and literary style (29-36), structure (36-42), ancient Near Eastern background and relationships (42-56), theology (56-61), relationship to Ecclesiastes and Job (61-63), relationship to the NT (64-69), extrabiblical developments of the metaphor of Woman Wisdom (69-72), and selected theological topics (72-87). Longman’s introduction rivals Bruce K. Waltke’s longer introduction (2 vols., NICOT; Eerdmans, 2004) in its detail and exceeds introductions in both Duane A. Garrett’s (NAC; Broadman, 1993) and Paul E. Koptak’s (NIVAC; Zondervan, 2003) introductions. One significant aspect of Longman’s approach to Proverbs is in his rejection of any systematic structure to Proverbs 10–31 (15-16, 40-41). In other words, he believes that the collections in the final two-thirds of the book are arranged randomly (with an occasional rare grouping) without a context to help the reader understand the individual proverb. In regard to the relationship between ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and the Book of Proverbs, Longman states that they merely share “an international tradition of wisdom” (54) that possesses some similarities.

Longman’s commentary consists of three sections: translation (his own with technicalities relegated to footnotes), section-by-section interpretation with repetition of translation to mark off each discussion (supported by both bibliographical and technical footnotes), and theological implications (including some discussion of application and relationship to the NT) following each section’s commentary. For example, the commentary for Proverbs 1 begins with the translation of all 33 verses (91-93). Its interpretation commences with 1:1-7 as a section including an introduction (93-94), verse-by-verse comments (94-103), followed by identification of theological implications (103-4). Then the next section (1:8-19) is covered in the same fashion (104-10), followed by 1:20-33 (110-14). Some chapters, though possessing multiple sections, have only one discussion of theological implications (e.g., chapters 2 and 5; 126-27, 163-65). Due to Longman’s view of the random nature of Proverbs 10–31, he provides no treatment of theological implications for those chapters.

In his commentary, Longman views Woman Wisdom as representing “not only Yahweh’s wisdom but Yahweh himself” (59). However, he does not mean that Proverbs 8 prophesies concerning the Messiah (70, 212). Rather, the NT identifies Jesus as Wisdom herself (68). According to Longman, “Seeing this connection between Jesus and Woman Wisdom has important implications for how Christians read the book of Proverbs” (ibid.). Thus, wisdom in Proverbs is ultimately a choice between God and false gods, not just a way of living or thinking wisely. Being one of the most controversial issues of interpretation in Proverbs (203), this issue of Wisdom’s relationship to Yahweh (and/or Jesus) provokes one of Longman’s longest treatments of theological implications (208-13).

Proverbs 11:30 is a crux interpretum, with commentators taking a number of different views. Longman identifies three major interpretive approaches, including the popular “winning souls” and leans toward the view that “the actions and advice of the wise preserve and enhance the lives of others” (266). Unlike Koptak (see review of Koptak’s work in this issue of TMSJ), Longman interprets 13:24 as a reference to corporal punishment (292). The topic is significant enough in his opinion to require an entry in his “Topical Studies” appendix (“Physical Discipline,” 564-65). Proverbs 22:6 presents another crux. The commentator first warns that the reader must recognize “some built-in ambiguities” (404) in order to prevent being too dogmatic when applying the text’s principle. Secondly, he reminds the reader that these proverbs are not laws or promises. As he puts it, “The proverb is simply an encouragement to do the right thing when it comes to raising one’s children” (405). In regard to the “son” in 30:4, Longman indicates that the preceding four rhetorical questions in the context make it clear that “the questioner is asking about human beings” (523).

In his “Topical Studies” appendix (549-78), Longman offers alphabetically arranged entries on twenty-seven select topics touched upon by individual proverbs in the randomly organized final two-thirds of Proverbs. Examples of these topics include “Alcohol” (550), “Appropriate Expression of Emotions” (551), “Business Ethics” (553), “Illness and Health” (558-59), “Messengers” (563), “Rumors/Gossip/ Slander/Insult” (568-69), “Table Manners” (572-73), and “Women/Wife” (576-78). The volume closes with a fairly extensive “Bibliography” (579-93), “Subject Index” (594-96), “Author Index” (597-99), and “Index of Scripture and Other Ancient Writings” (600-608).

As with other volumes in this series, Longman’s Proverbs presents ministers and seminarians, as well as informed laymen, with a welcome addition to the growing number of recently published commentaries on Proverbs. Wise expositors will utilize a variety of these commentaries as guides in the study of this important section of God’s written revelation.