David Lawrence Coe

Reviewed by Peter J. Scaer on 09/23/2022

Many have recognized that the Psalms in all their rugged beauty are more relevant than ever. But the wisdom literature seems to lag behind in popularity. The Sermon on the Mount is too often treated as a kind of unattainable ideal, while the Proverbs seem perhaps outdated. But there may be no more valuable book for today’s world than Solomon’s Proverbs. Wisdom is in short supply. What wisdom literature teaches us is that the world is created in a certain way, and that there is an underlying and accessible reality beneath all things. Consider a world in which marriage has been undefined, and no one can define, with any kind of confidence, the meaning of a man or a woman. But wisdom takes us deeper. Wisdom literature reveals to us a life that has meaning, a life that is lived according to God’s purpose and design.

David Lawrence Coe, a professor of theology and philosophy at Concordia University, Nebraska, has done the church a great favor by authoring his accessible and engaging Provoking Proverbs. The book’s structure is simple and helpful, matching proverbs to each of the Ten Commandments. This volume would work well for any age group, from youth to seniors. It is especially helpful that Coe offers a template for putting the proverbs to memory, so that the wisdom of God might be planted in our hearts and enrich our lives. Along the way, Coe offers insightful and amusing anecdotes and observation. One of the best parts may be Coe’s plan to put to memory ten proverbs, one for each of the commandments.

Perhaps this book fits our age so well because it is so countercultural. The world teaches us that we are our own creators and that there is no such thing as reality, only my truth and your truth. This secular aimlessness has left many without rudders or compasses. In a world where pride is given a month in its honor, we would do well to put certain proverbs to memory, such as “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).[1] In a world where money matters, are we tempted toward stinginess? Proverbs 28:27 reminds us, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” But entitlement is not an option, and hard work matters, as we read in Proverbs 28:19: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” What should a young man look for in a woman? Proverbs has plenty to say, and Coe leads us to the passages and puts them into an easy-to-follow context. No doubt, these proverbs are bound to hit us and hurt us in different ways. Each of us is prone to a certain kind of foolishness. So, let the proverbs have their way with us. And use this book with your young people, at home, in school, and in church. Use it in college classes along with Aristotle. Compare and contrast. When you feel sheepish to speak about things, let Solomon start the conversation, and let David Lawrence Coe be your guide.

[1] All Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.