Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches

David Firth, Philip S. Johnston, editors IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL January 25, 2006
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This collection of fifteen essays was written by participants of the 2004 Tyndale Fellowship Old Testament Study Group. After an introductory overview of recent trends by David Grant Howard Jr., the following topics are addressed. Tremper Longman III compares the biblical psalms with ancient Near Eastern hymns and prayers, concluding that “the uniqueness of Israelite prayer is found not in form but in [the] nature of the deity addressed” (p. 59). Philip S. Johnston explores the emotions, causes, and resolution of distress portrayed in the psalms. James Hely Hutchinson discusses the theme of praise in terms of vocabulary, grammar, poetic intent, form, and theology. Jamie A. Grant argues that the psalms are much more royal than Gunkel’s original eleven royal psalms would allow; yet they are applied to common persons as well as emphasizing Messiah’s humanity as intercessor and example. Jerome F. D. Creach reviews biblical texts and sociological theories regarding the original worship settings for many of the psalms.

Craig C. Broyles discusses the symbolic significance of the ark and cherubim in the Bible and especially Psalms, concluding that the lack of prominence of the cherubim-ark in the Psalms is due to disuse of the ark in late monarchic rituals and its complete absence in the postexilic period. David G. Firth notes that the canonical form of the Book of Psalms invites a teaching as well as a worship function. Gordon J. Wenham explores the ethical message of the psalms as they reflect principles from the Decalogue, describe the righteous life, and point to God as example and ultimate Judge. Andy L. Warren-Rothlin applies linguistic theory to obtain a better understanding of metaphor in the Psalms, particularly body idioms. Michael LeFebvre argues that “torah-meditation” (Ps. 1:2) is the wholehearted proclamation of Mosaic instruction. Gerald H. Wilson outlines the unified, canonical shape of the Psalms, which points to the final message that Yahweh is King. Dwight D. Swanson examines implications of the Qumran Psalms fragments for aid in understanding the formation of the canon. Dale A. Brueggemann summarizes the use of psalms in the New Testament. Timothy M. Edwards offers an introductory survey of the interpretive traditions preserved in the Targum Psalms.

There is much to commend in this book. However, in light of the essential similarity between the Masoretic shape of the Psalms and that of the Septuagint, arguments that the Masoretic form became authoritative relatively late (in the first century A.D.) remain unconvincing. Too little is known about the order of Psalms 1–89 in the Qumran anthologies to draw conclusions about the shape of any “canonical Psalter.” Overall this book is an excellent guide beyond general introductions to the Psalter into theologically and pastorally relevant topics.

—John W. Hilber

January 1, 2007
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2007 vol. 164 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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