the psalms langauge for all seasons of the soul

The Psalms: Language for All Seasons – A Review

the psalms langauge for all seasons of the soulIntroduction

Last January—as I completed my seminary degree—I took a class on the book of Psalms. Between the class discussions, the reading assignments, and the papers, my eyes were opened to the powerful truths found in the Psalter. By looking at the psalms of praise and lament, one can observe how the Israelites prayed to God in every sort of situation. The Psalter, then, is an important—and often neglected—prayerbook for the church.

In The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul, editors Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard, Jr. seek to provide the church with a helpful tool in understanding and preaching/teaching the book of Psalms. Featuring a notable list of contributors, this book includes 19 essays covering several facets of the study of Psalms. Each essay is short, accessible, and geared towards the pastor or seminary student. Combined together, these essays strive to demonstrate to the church that the psalms are useful for “All Seasons of the Soul,” as the subtitle suggests.

Structure

In Part 1: Psalm Studies in the Twenty-First Century, the contributors provide some historical context to the study of the Psalms, evaluating where we have been, and a vision of further areas to expand the study of the Psalter. Bruce Waltke provides a narration of his personal journey through studying and teaching the Psalms. Willem VanGemeren surveys some of the modern literary approaches to the Psalter. C. Hassell Bullock discusses how the Psalms have been used throughout church history. He encourages readers to follow him in making the Psalms “the heartbeat of my theological and devotional life” (49).

For Part 2: Psalms of Praise, the essayists look at the psalms that express joy and praise to Yahweh. Francis Kimmitt studies Psalm 46, highlighting God as rescuer and deliverer. Robert Chisholm, Jr. looks at several psalms (especially Psalm 74 & 89), showing how the psalmists demythologize the sea, allowing the imagery to serve as a reminder of God’s good creation. Andew Schmutzer writes on Psalm 91, noting how the New Testament uses themes and images from this psalm.

In Part 3: Psalms of Lament, the focus turns towards psalms of lament, those that describe the sorrow and sadness that is part of the human experience. Michael Travers looks at how David, even in the midst of confessing his sins to God, still can praise the Holy and Merciful One. Walt Kaiser looks at the nature of lament throughout the Bible, especially comparing the lament psalms with the book of Lamentations. Allen Ross (one of my favorite authors!) calls attention to the “Thou” (or “you”) pronoun found in lament psalms; he sees these psalms as bold cries to God that evolve into bold petitions for God to reverse the problem and restore the petitioner. Daniel Estes looks at the incredible transformation that occurs in several of the lament psalms: the psalmist moves from pleading with to praising God. Randall Gauthier concludes this part by studying Psalm 54 in the Septuagint (Psalm 55 in English translations), seeing how the Septuagint translators handled the text.

For Part 4: Considering the Canon, the contributors look at the composition and ordering of the Psalter and how it affects our reading of the book. Robert Cole provides a compelling defense of reading Psalms 1–2 as an integrated introduction to the entire book. David Howard sees the theme of divine and human kingships as central, unifying the entire book. Michael Snearly focuses on the last book of the Psalter (Book V), stating that the book is intentionally shaped to provide the reader with hope in the promises to David. Tremper Longman III ends this section by studying the last psalm (Psalm 150), noting how it serves as a fitting conclusion to the entire Psalter.

The final part in the book, Part 5: Communicating the Psalms, contains excerpts from sermons based on specific psalms, thus demonstrating how others approach preaching the psalms. Mark Futato relies on Psalms 16 & 23 to show the overflowing abundance of blessings we receive from the Lord. David Ridder uses Psalm 84 to powerfully describe the feelings expressed by pilgrims longing to be near to God. David Howard, Jr. provides another notable contribution to this book, this time preaching an important message of how to communicate to God in times of suffering, based on Psalm 88. Concluding the book, John Piper provides a solid defense of missions in the 21st century, based on Psalm 117.

My Thoughts

As a whole, this book is a well-written, diverse look at several prominent areas of Psalms studies. The footnotes and bibliography alone are worth the cost of the book, especially for students doing any work in the book of Psalms. The first three essays (by Waltke, VanGemeren, & Bullock) were personally helpful to me, not only in tracing the history of Psalm studies, but also in seeing the heart of these notable scholars. And the heart and passion of all the contributors is evident in every essay, turning this academic work into a delight to read. For example, look at the conclusion of David Howard’s essay on divine and human kingship:

We can see that the Psalter tells the story of God’s kingdom, both in its cosmic dimensions—he is King over all the nations, rulers, nature, etc.—and it its earthly dimensions, mediated through the sons of David. And the Davidic king, as the “son” of God that we have seen, points the way to Jesus, the Great King, and the great “Son of God” (206).

Some essays were stronger than others; I found great value in the essays by Waltke, VanGemeren, Bullock, Chisholm, Ross, and Howard. Some are a bit too technical, but still useful for in depth exegesis or writing on a seminary level. Because many of these essays originally came from papers given at ETS, there is some disunity between the essays, causing the book to fell less unified than it could have been.

Conclusion

The collection of essays found in The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul covers a wide variety of issues relevant to Psalms studies. Editors Andrew Schmutzer and David Howard, Jr. have done a fine job in gathering some very good contributions from notable scholars. I can see this book being helpful for pastors looking to preach through some Psalms, as well as seminary students studying and writing on the Psalter.

Book Info

Thanks to Moody Publishers for a review copy of this book!

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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