I know that I have been posting chapter reviews of The World-Tilting Gospel, but when I received this book, also by Dan Phillips (who blogs here and here) I started reading it and could not put it down. It has greatly impacted my life and I plan to go through it with my family soon. My wife is probably tired of hearing me go on and on about what I have read from it every day and how challenged I have been by really examining my life in light of the truth of wisdom from Proverbs. So without further ado, let me get to my review and tell you what I have found as I have read and digested what Dan has written in this book.
Obviously, this book is a study of Proverbs. It is not a verse by verse study, but rather a study of the authorship, structure, language, and major themes of Proverbs. He has done a great deal of research (as evidenced by his footnotes and bibliography) and puts it all to great use. He doesn't lean on these resources excessively and makes a point to show where he agrees and disagrees with them on various points. In fact, one of the main things I appreciate is how Dan goes back to the Biblical basis and pulls from the context of the various verses in order to defend his position instead of merely leaning upon the work of others. He also masterfully employs many word pictures to bring to mind manifestations of both wisdom and folly and the different concepts that Solomon presents to the reader in Proverbs.
Speaking of Solomon, Dan makes a point to establish the authorship of Solomon for all of Proverbs, except for the last two chapters (where each chapter states the original source for itself). He also provides us with background information about Solomon and the source of his wisdom, which is important to keep in mind since Proverbs is a book about wisdom.
He then takes the time to explain the structure of the book (a seemingly difficult task) and to develop some of the intricacies of Hebrew poetry. Here we gain some valuable insight into how we need to look at the Proverbs and read them. I had never been exposed to any teaching about Hebrew poetry, so I have found this particularly helpful for my own study in the book of Proverbs. Dan also makes the important point that "Proverbs by design lays out pointed observations, meant to be memorized and pondered, not always intended to be applied 'across the board' to every situation without qualification." He also explains the major types of proverbs, which will help you in examining the proverbs and how each line builds upon the other.
So now that Dan has detailed the structure of Hebrew poetry for us and shown us some examples of the types of proverbs, he takes us through Proverbs 1:2-6 to show us what the self-claimed purpose of the book of wisdom is. It is at this point where Dan really starts to break down the Hebrew language and gets us to examine exactly why and how we should be reading Proverbs. He lists out the benefits and shows how the text goes beyond us just learning what is wise and foolish, but moving into practicing it. His development of this point is crucial to how we grow in the fear of Yahweh. He also shows how Proverbs clearly shows that believers of all levels of maturity can gain from the reading and application of Proverbs. So no matter who you are, you should continually be looking to this book of wisdom for guidance and spiritual growth.
We are then taken to the bedrock of the book of Proverbs, and really the Christian life...Proverbs 1:7 - "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; Wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle." (this is Dan's translation, which he calls the DJP) Dan goes to great length to explain what exactly the fear of Yahweh is and isn't so that we aren't confused by some of the misconceptions out there. He also makes sure to let us know that "'fear of Yahweh' is where we must start, if we are ever to hope to gain wisdom and understanding" and that "The idea is more that of a foundation". We don't just start and leave it behind, but we build upon it continually.
After developing what the fear of Yahweh is, Dan shows us what the fear of Yahweh brings, as explained in the book of Proverbs. These types of sections really make this an invaluable resource because Dan takes the time to search Proverbs and show the verses where we are shown what the fear of Yahweh brings to us. And he follows that up by searching Proverbs to show us different verses showing what the opposites of the fear of Yahweh are. So not only do we know what we need to look for, but we know what to avoid!
Dan then takes some time to explain just how it is we are to seek and to find the treasure of wisdom. There is much here that we all need to pay attention to so that we don't miss out on wisdom. He also delves into how it is that we are supposed to relate to God. There is a good bit of explanation of what exactly it means to trust God and this is an area that is key for Christianity in our day and age. I say that because it seems there are many misconceptions of what this means and how it really works. Dan does a great job here of showing us the truth.
In the last three chapters of the book, Dan moves into the application of Proverbs with regards to our relationships with others. The first regards godly relationships in general and contains a lot of good thoughts for all of us to keep in mind as we look for close friends. The second deals with godly marriage and I can't imagine any married person who would not be greatly challenged (in a great way) by this chapter. And the last chapter covers godly parenting...once again, who does not need to improve in this area? He is faithful to Scripture in each of these chapters and I have found myself examining how I can improve in each of these areas since reading through them. In fact, by the grace of God, I have seen improvement and have been encouraged to increase in wisdom by acting upon the teaching of Scripture that Dan has developed here. These three chapters alone would make this a must-buy for any Christian!
Dan tops it off by explaining that Proverbs should point to the fact that we have all fallen short and that we all must count on Christ's perfect work. I am glad that he brought it back around to the Gospel because both unbelievers and believers alike need to keep this in mind. What a wonderful Savior we have and how thankful I am every day that He chose to save a sinner like me.
From there, we move into the appendices, where Dan takes on a few topics from the text in a bit more depth. The first one covers the authorship of Proverbs. I never knew that there were so many people who argued that there were other authors of the first 29 chapters of Proverbs, but Dan lays out the arguments and the commentators who put them forth for us to see. Then he goes to quick work in refuting them. I must say that he left me quite unimpressed with the arguments against Solomon's authorship.
In the second appendix, Dan breaks down the usage and meaning of the key words from Proverbs. Dan does a great job of bringing out the true meaning from the original Hebrew text and breaking it down to the level where a layman can easily follow. He says that this appendix is mainly for the student of Hebrew, but I've never studied it and I found this section quite helpful and informative.
He moves from there to the meaning of Proverbs 22:6 and I would highly recommend that everybody read this appendix and take it to heart. I must say that I feel that the English translations get this one wrong and I am quite thankful that Dan has taken the time to set the record straight.
And he finishes the book with the last appendix on teaching and preaching through the book of Proverbs. I hope that many a pastor/teacher read this and decide to teach through the book. It is certainly not covered in most churches and I would say that is to our detriment. I have personally seen a much more determined effort in my own life since I have read this book and really gotten more depth from my study of Proverbs. My hope and prayer is that many will read this book and see the same in their own lives.