This massive two-volume commentary is perhaps the most significant exegetical work on the Book of Proverbs in the last one hundred years. Waltke provides a thorough exegetical analysis of Proverbs that leaves no stone unturned. Between the two volumes, approximately one thousand pages are directly devoted to exegesis and interpretation, more than one page per verse. (Proverbs has 915 verses in the Hebrew text.)
This commentary is a testimony to the author’s interpretive insight and skill, and to his vast experience as an educator and preacher. He discusses text-critical, lexical, and syntactical issues in a cogent manner that will make the volume user-friendly for preachers. Of particular value are the word studies that appear throughout the interpretive notes, as well as the abundant cross-referencing. These features are especially important in Proverbs, where it is vital to examine the various facets of any given theme and the lexical nuances of wisdom vocabulary. Waltke is also sensitive to how literary structure, parallelism, and figurative speech impact exegesis. Along with the interpretive notes he includes an annotated translation of the text, accompanied by detailed technical notes that address, for the most part, text-critical matters.
Waltke includes an extensive introduction to Proverbs (133 pages in length) that covers the following topics: title, text and versions, structure, ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, authorship, and theology. A lengthy bibliography follows the introduction. The treatment of introductory matters is uneven—the section dealing with the book’s title is only one paragraph in length (and could have been subsumed under “authorship”), while the theology section covers seventy pages. Much more could and perhaps should have been said about ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature (pp. 28–31). Those interested in this important area will want to supplement Waltke’s brief overview with William McKane’s lengthy discussion in Proverbs: A New Approach, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 51–208. Other useful surveys of ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature can be found in John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 169–200; and Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 56–83.
Waltke’s discussion of the book’s theology is especially useful and should be read before one studies Proverbs, for it provides the framework within which the book’s many details are to be interpreted and synthesized. Scholars have struggled to integrate Proverbs into Old Testament theology, but Waltke argues that this “apparent lack of integration . . . is more superficial than real” (p. 64). Following the lead of Walter Kaiser, Waltke points out that Proverbs, like the Law and the Prophets, calls for people to fear the Lord. Like the Law and the Prophets, Proverbs depicts Yahweh as the Creator of all things and as the just King over the created order who intervenes on behalf of the needy (pp. 64–65). Waltke arranges the theology of Proverbs under the following headings: (1) God, (2) Revelation, Inspiration, and Tradition, (3) Anthropology, (4) Pedagogy, and (5) Christology. The treatment of anthropology is the most extensive. Here he discusses the teaching of Proverbs as it relates to human beings in general, the wise and the fools, and male and female.
One might wonder how Waltke can legitimately derive Christology from Proverbs. He explains, “Christian theology calls for integrating Proverbs into the Christian faith. . . . Its sayings have a direct relevance to the Christian even while being superseded by the fuller revelation in Jesus Christ” (p. 126). Waltke then proceeds to argue that the figure of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a “type of Christ” and to show how Jesus surpasses Solomon’s wisdom. This Christocentric approach to Proverbs is certainly in line with the viewpoint expressed in Article One of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Doctrinal Statement, that all Scripture centers on Jesus and is not “properly read, or understood, until it leads to Him.” Waltke is a reliable guide in this regard.