Published by The Good Book Company on September 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Devotional
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In the Proverbs, God offers us wisdom for real life and he shows us Jesus, who was wisdom personified and exemplified.
This accessible, absorbing expository guide to the Proverbs by Kathleen Nielson brings these ancient sayings to life, helping ordinary Christians to see what it can look like to enjoy living in line with God’s wisdom in the great multitude of everyday situations and decisions we face.
This book has more application than a typical commentary, making it a great resource for personal devotions, as well as useful for leading small-group studies or sermon preparation.
The book of Proverbs is a difficult book around which to fashion a cohesive commentary. Like most ANE wisdom literature, Proverbs is a compilation of sayings that are loosely connected and function as statement of the way things usually go or the way things ought to be, not necessarily the way things will be. Yet, the book exhibits a clear structure that necessitates a contextual reading. This distinction has stymied laypeople, pastors, and academicians alike, particularly when attempting to develop a lay-level commentary on the book. So it’s with all that in mind that I dove into Kathleen Nielson’s Proverbs for You.
I think it’s important to note that Nielson’s academic credentials are in literature, not in the Old Testament or in theology in general. The result is that this not a deep dive into the culture or setting of the book, just a studied commentary on the ESV text. In effect, Nielson is an educated layperson and competent in her exegesis, but she is not an expert on the text.
This becomes obvious in various parts of the text, most notably her by fiat assertion that “most agree” that the Proverbs 31 woman is meant to be a real-life woman. While I lean toward that interpretation, it’s actually a very contentious debate in the academic community. Neilson also does not do due diligence in discussing the alleged “corporal punishment” passages of Proverbs, believing that interpretation to be settled when it is not.
Overall, I suppose Proverbs for You meets the expectations I would have of a lay-level commentary written by a non-expert in the field. I disagree with a few exegetical points. I don’t find the discussion very robust or full of information that isn’t already obvious. It’s perhaps better read as a devotional or companion book than as a commentary. With so many other lay-level commentaries written by experts, I’m not sure what value this one adds to the literature on Proverbs.