Any preacher worth his office will tell you that proper handling of wisdom literature (particularly Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Proverbs) is most difficult. Even “simple” Hebrew narratives do not always flow in chronological form as does western literature. Wisdom literature adds another twist in that it not only is designed to impart wisdom, it requires wisdom from God to rightly draw out the meaning. In his book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, Dan Phillips leads us by the Word of God to rightly understand this part of the His Word. And he does it with a good sense of humor that should have you smiling broadly, if not laughing out loud. This is not a commentary – it is a guide-book to this overly familiar book in God’s Word.
This book has eight chapters:
Essentials for Understanding Proverbs
The Stated Design of Proverbs
The Foundation of Wisdom
WISDOM: Seeking and Finding
Relating to God by Trust and Worship
Skill in Godly Relationships
Skill in Godly Marriage
Skill in Godly Child-training
There are four appendices, covering the question of human authorship, word studies in Proverbs, an examination of Proverbs 22:6, and preaching and teaching from Proverbs.
Throughout this exceptional book (I only regret not reading it when I first bought it a couple years ago), Phillips keeps front and center the need we all have for a healthy fear of Creator God as the beginning of wisdom and as the posture that keeps us from being full of self and/or comfortable with sin. Says the author – “A God-fearer today is the man who has repented of his good works as well as his bad, trusted Christ alone as his Savior, relied on Christ’s righteousness alone, by the grace of God alone, and taken God’s Word alone as his marching orders, with God’s glory alone as his uniting motivation. That is the man who fears God.” AMEN!
Brothers and sisters – this entire book is founded on this very perspective. It will serve the body of Christ very well.
In telling us how to gain wisdom, he compares it to getting bread. Though the Lord’s prayer includes “give us this day our daily bread”, one doesn’t merely wish or pray for bread. He works for it, goes to where it is, buys it. The same principle, he tells us, applies whether we are after wisdom or whole wheat – pray and work. Creator God rules by means as well as ends.
In helping us understand the large volume of verses expounding foolish behavior, having just discussed the child who honors his parents, Phillips writes, “By contrast, in Proverbs the foolish child is neglectful during his years of instruction and learning (10:5), disregards what he has been taught (19:27), is abusive and insulting to his parents (19:26), is stupid (17:25, 19:13), ignores correction (31:1), and hangs around with sorts of people his father warned him about (1:10. 24:21, 28:7).” Which of us see our younger selves in this summary? Perhaps we are grieved by a close friend or a child of our own who embodies this whole-hearted foolishness. Our hearts should break – yet we should trust in God and cry out to Him for mercy on the fool. For no man can rescue a fool from his God-hating position, none of us can debate or argue the spiritually dead man to come to life. Let us continually thank the Lord for having delivered us from darkness and pray without ceasing for those who are perishing, while we proclaim the gospel to them.
I am tempted to tell you all the good things in this book – but then I would violate the reason for this review. Let me be content to assure you that each chapter and appendix will prompt you to think biblically, will cause you to repent of foolishness or a casual attitude towards the Word of God, will encourage you to trust God all the more and show you the joy that is ours as we walk as children of the light.
The chapter on child-training is worth the retail price of the book. Among the many good things he teaches us, Phillips says, “We must not rear our children in a certain way because it will work (pragmatism); we must rear them in such as way because it pleases and honors Yahweh (fear of Yahweh). God’s pleasure and glory must be our focus. Then we can trust the results to Him with a clean conscience (Prov 16:1, 3, 9).”
One of the comments that made me smile with irony – his style is priceless while the observation is sobering – is in the chapter on marriage. “Modern Christian thought often drinks long and deep at the trough of sociology and psychology, adds a sprinkling of Christainoid pixie-dust, and then merely closes in prayer.”
Lastly, I will tell you about the 3rd appendix, covering Proverbs 22:6. You know the text – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. How many of us have given serious thought to this verse? Do we know what Solomon meant, or our we content to merely see the words and allow our culturally trained brain and self-righteousness nature to guide to a conclusion? I’ve read of the interpretation Phillips argues for here and found it to make much more sense than the way I’ve been this verse all my life. He will make you think deeply, even if you do not agree with him.
I’ve been in contact with Dan Phillips and found him to be very cordial and brotherly, even though I told him I abhor dispensationalism (which he holds to). I dare say we would be friends if our paths crossed. He passed this along to me –during November the Proverbs book is actually on sale for 65% off. You have to order it from Kress here in Texas (http://bit.ly/18iX5b5), and use the coupon code BR60833557256.