Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms

By Daniel J. Estes
Grand Rapids : Baker (2005). 448 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
17.2 (Fall 2006) : 240-241

Robert Chisholm’s Handbook on the Prophets (2002; see TMSJ 16/2 [2005]:328-32) and Victor P. Hamilton’s two titles, Handbook on the Pentateuch, 2d ed. (2005) and Handbook on the Historical Books (2001) are companion volumes to Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms in Baker Academic’s handbook series. Estes intends the book for “advanced undergraduates, seminary students, pastors, and lay teachers of the Bible” (9). This reviewer required Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms for courses on OT wisdom literature that he taught to seminary students in Myanmar and Singapore and will continue to use it for all such courses in the foreseeable future. For students with limited resources and limited means to obtain books of value, this volume provides excellent verse by verse expositions of Job (11-139), Ecclesiastes (271-392), and Song of Songs (393-444).

Coverage of the Book of Proverbs (213-69) is thematic (twelve themes arranged alphabetically: cheerfulness [224-27], contentment [227-32], decisions [232-35], diligence [235-36], friendship [236-39], generosity [239 -43], humility [243-45], kindness [245-48], parenting [248-52], purity [252-54], righteousness [254-57], and truthfulness [257-61]). The author selected these twelve themes as representative of “procedures and virtues that are constituent parts of a life characterized by wisdom” (224). Selected psalms with wisdom content (arranged according to ten psalm types) comprise the treatment of Psalms: introduction (Psalm 1; 152-55), descriptive praise (Psalm 145; 155-58), nature (Psalm 29; 159-62), declarative praise (Psalm 138; 162-65), lament (Psalm 13; 165-72), imprecation (Psalm 109; 172-77), messianic prophecy (Psalm 22; 178-85), enthronement (Psalm 98; 185-90), wisdom (Psalm 127; 190-96), and trust (Psalm 46; 196-99).

A fairly detailed introduction discusses such matters as authorship, date, unity, literature, structure, setting, purpose, theme, poetry, interpretation, and theology for each biblical book. For the Book of Job, Estes provides excellent argumentation for establishing the setting in patriarchal times (22-23).

Within the expositions, the author consistently refers to the Hebrew text for the discussion of key words and for the solving of interpretive problems and is not reluctant to tackle even textual critical issues (cf. 66-67 with reference to Job 13:15). Ecclesiastes receives the greatest amount of attention and detail. In fact, Estes’ excellent commentary on that book could stand alone. The exposition of Eccl 3:11 provides one of the volume’s most memorable and repeatable lines: “In other words, humans are bound by time, but they are wired for eternity” (313).

Although Estes’ volume is thoroughly evangelical, an occasional dubious statement occurs. For example, he refers to the parables of Jesus as “literary fictions” (18; see also, 325). He also lends too much credence to mythology and legend supposedly employed in Job. If Behemoth and Leviathan truly reveal God’s omniscience and omnipotence, they must be real rather than “fantastic or legendary creatures” (121; see Job 40:15). In Eccl 1:16 he resorts to claiming that the writer of the book probably made “a slip” (297), rather than supporting the inerrancy of the text. Estes does not hold to Solomonic authorship, describing Qoheleth’s “masquerade as Solomon” (304) and his construction of “a royal fiction” (286).

This volume utilizes the NIV as the textual base for exposition. In the bibliographies Estes does not list secondary literature (articles, essays, and monographs) of note prior to 1992, since recent commentaries cite the earlier items (10). Readers will find the bibliographies very helpful in the pursuit of significant resources. The brief topic index at the conclusion of the volume (445-48) is not extensive enough to make a valuable contribution—a Scripture index would have been far more useful.