Hear My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9
A review of Daniel Estes', "Hear My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9.," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Estes, Daniel J. Hear My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1997 174 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-8028-4404-9.
Proverbs is often the sort of book that people refer to as a source of wisdom but do not spend much time or effort in trying to understand what that means. Estes has changed that with a volume that studies major themes related to the first nine chapters of the book. These comprise a generally agreed upon section to the book and indeed form an introduction to the remainder of Proverbs insofar as they summarize the major themes. Thus, for example, in his chapter on world view, Estes notes that Proverbs 1-9 assumes that a just and righteous God has created a world order that people may orient themselves toward and embrace with all their lives. The fear of the Lord, a key principle in the wisdom literature, is the desire to please God by respecting the divine order of the world.
Clear values taught in Proverbs 1-9 include teachability, righteousness, and life. Distinctive to Israelite wisdom is the inclusion of the mother along with the father as instructors. This suggests the home and community as an appropriate context for instruction; rather than the government school as it is found elsewheree in the ancient Near East. Education in the fear of the Lord leads to love for and commitment to wisdom, godly character, security, material and worldly prosperity, and a personal knowledge of God. The curriculum includes material arising from the observation of nature and human behavior, from the ancient Near Eastern wisdom tradition, and from the distinctive revelation of God. Estes identifies the types of approaches used by the author of Proverbs to convey teaching: address, description, incentive, invitation, and commands mixed with various types of statement: conditions, reasons, illustrations, consequences. First as a guide and then as a facilitator, the teacher provides the moral framework and then enables the maturing student to make moral decisions within that framework. The student, on the other hand, is called upon to listen attentively, respond obediently, and assimilate what is taught into the heart.
If there is a difficulty with Estes’ irenic approach, it is that scholars are almost always referred to in order to support rather than to represent varying views. Thus, although Estes seems to take the view of “home schooling” in ancient Israel (the references to “mother” as well as “father;” e.g., p. 32), he refers with approval to the view that scribal schools existed. Again, on p. 43, is wisdom “skill in living within the moral order of Yahweh’s world,” or is it “the unending quest for the meaning of man’s experience of life and religion”? Nevertheless, this study is a wonderful compendium of observations and insights regarding the use of Proverbs 1-9 in the light of some modern education approaches.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament